Thanksgiving

jellosalad1Every family has their traditions. The things that make the holidays particularly memorable to them. When it comes to Thanksgiving those traditions almost always revolve around food. What graces the table is just as important as who sits around it. While some people may choose to experiment from year to year some things just aren't allowed to change. Usually it's a side dish. Sometime it's not very healthy or even classy, but it must be made.

In the case of my family it's Jell-O Salad. It has graced our holiday table for as long as I can remember. I have tried to trace the origin as it is distinctly American and probably a recipe that came from the company itself. It certainly is not something my very Polish grandmother would have created on her own. She was an expert baker and this is just too pedestrian for her talents. The closest version I came to finding online had it published in 2000. That's about 30 years too late. That version also included walnuts, which just sounds gross. They would totally mess up the the smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture of the dish.

I can only imagine she started making it to placate the unrefined palates of her four young grandchildren. I mean, who would ever pass up Strawberry Jell-O with bananas. It seemed more like a dessert than a side dish and added a little sweetness and color to our plates. Even when we were older we had her continue to make it, because it just wasn't the holidays without it.

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turkeyLast month I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner and a Christmas dinner. The only thing missing was a crowd around the table. Why the feast? I was developing recipes for Roast Turkey, Brown Sugar and Mustard Baked Ham, Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Lightened Green Bean Casserole, a Holiday Salad (with pomegranate seeds and pepitas) and Harvest Apple Stuffing. I also created some recipes using leftover ham and turkey and for a few fun things you can make for the holidays to give as gifts like Peppermint Bark and Chocolate Chip Cookies in a Jar. The recipes were for Grocery Outlet and will be featured in a brochure for customers. 

Having never hosted my own holiday dinners for 10+ people, I learned a lot! I shopped for as much of the dishes as possible at Grocery Outlet, after doing my planning and creating shopping lists. Of course making lists of what you need to buy is important, but being open to swapping out ingredients if you find something delicious and on sale is a good idea too. I was planning to use dried cranberries in the salad but found pomegranates were a better choice at the time. 

When it comes to holiday meals, the main thing is to have an enjoyable time with your family and guests. If that means buying a pie instead of baking one, so be it! Concentrate on putting your energy into the things that matter most to you don't make yourself crazy trying to do everything. Most importantly? Have fun!

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This year, in our house, we're cooking our version of Suzanne Goin's succotash.  Of course, Suzanne Goin doesn't call it succotash; in her book Sunday Suppers at Luques, she calls it sweet corn, green cabbage and bacon.  We call it succotash because we throw in some lima beans and way more butter:

Cut 6 thick slices of bacon into small pieces and cook in a casserole until crispy.   Remove and drain.   Melt 1 stick of butter in the remaining bacon grease and add 1 sliced onion and some salt and pepper.   Saute for a few minutes, then add half a small green cabbage, sliced, and cook until wilted.   Add 2 packages of cooked frozen lima beans and 2 packages of frozen corn.   Cook about 5 minutes, stirring, till the corn is done.   You can do this in advance.   Reheat gently and add the bacon bits.   (Of course you might be able to get fresh corn, in which case feel free to overreach.) 

 

- Recipe courtesy of Nora Ephron

 

stuffingNo matter what you say, my mother made the best Thanksgiving. It was not at noon or at four; we ate at dinner time when it was dark. Stuffing was my favorite part and still is unless you make creamed onions. When it's my assignment I use this recipe. One reason it doesn't taste quite like hers is that I don't have old bread. She calls it turkey stuffing but that can't be right because she never made turkey, only capon. My father did not eat turkey and nobody knew from brine.

Esther Kaufman's Long Island Simple Stuffing: 8 cups stale white bread cubed, no crusts; 1 cup minced onion, 1 tablespoon salt, ½ cup butter, 1 cup diced celery with leaves; parsley, sage, thyme and pepper. Dry out the bread at 325°F but don't let it brown. Cook the onion in butter, add the seasonings. Add the celery, cook 3-5 minutes. Pour over the bread, mixing well, and stuff the bird. It was perfectly okay to stuff . . . then (after seat belts and before helmets were fitted at birth).

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pumpkin.jpgPumpkin pie has been typecast. It always plays the same role: The Thanksgiving Day Dessert.

This is unfortunate because pumpkin pie has great range and versatility. In addition to being a great lead, it's a talented supporting player too. Think of the possibilities: pumpkin pie muffins, pumpkin pie cheesecake, and my favorite, pumpkin pie pudding.

Every year, weeks before Thanksgiving, I would anticipate my mom's pumpkin pie: a light, flaky crust filled with sweet, custardy, walnut studded, spiced pumpkin. The only thing better than a slice of her pie on Thanksgiving Day with a dollop of whipped cream was a slice of her pie the next morning for breakfast. To me, nothing beats chilled pumpkin pie.

So it wasn't unusual when one fall day a couple of years ago, I had a serious hankering for my mom's pumpkin pie that couldn't be satisfied. Sure, I could have called her for the recipe, but it never would have tasted as good, and buying one was out of the question. I reluctantly decided to make vanilla pudding with pumpkin pie spice instead. It was so good that the next time I made it, I added canned pumpkin and nuts. After several more experiments and many happy mouthfuls later, I present Pumpkin Pie Pudding with Candied Pecans and Whipped Cream.

 

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