Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thanksgiving Prep 101

Thanksgiving is my favorite cooking holiday. And that’s saying something, because I love, love, love to cook.

Last year, even as a rather rotund pregnant, bed-rest lady—my Dad and I achieved a whole new level in our Thanksgiving culinary expression. We’ve been honing our skills for 10-years now. I’m not sure who is the chef and who the sous-chef in our cozy pair; that pretty much depends on whose selected recipe we are working on at any given moment.

Anyway – it was a triumph. And I can’t wait for this year. I start my planning early, and devote time to menu development and even centerpiece, linen, and place card theme.

Yup. I’m dork. Love it!

But I am looking for menu insight.

Here was last year’s menu – and I am currently working on this year’s, with the goal of it being ready at the end of the weekend.

The big difference, 2-turkeys.

I order my turkey from Mannino’s Market in Cottleville, and they only go up to a 24-pound bird. Even Straub’s in STL stops there. And with our guest list, I need at least 30-pounds, plus Leon loves leftovers and we will have family in town, so I really want 35-pounds.

That’s a lotta bird.

But the question before us: do we do the SAME recipe on both, or go a little crazy and do something really fun with the second?

Okay – back to that menu:

  • Roasted Brined Turkey stuffed with citrus, garlic and herbs (yum-OOOO!)
  • Citrus Turkey Gravy (a recipe of Liz Gaunt, preparred by her mother-in-law that was awesome, awesome, awesome!)
  • Wild porcini mushroom, chestnut, and sausage dressing (note to self: don’t be a hero this year and try to roast and peel your own chestnuts, OW – I have no fingerprints left – go buy at Straub’s)
  • Martha’s Mashed Potatoes (yum – a staple, and a must-do because Leon has a deep aversion to any sort of “weird” potatoes. Remind me to tell story about our first Thanksgiving and Gret’s fancy potatoes … it involved herbs and gruyere)
  • Brussels Sprouts and Almond Creamy Casserole (a delicious recipe from my dear, dear friend Krista – amazing and I don’t usually LIKE Brussels sprouts!)
  • Trinity Lutheran’s Cranberry Relish (small country parish, nuff’ said)

  • Balsamic Roasted Sweet Potatoes (this is the recipe that never ends. Over the years, we have halved it, and halved it again and still could feed a small brigade; I am done with this recipe. Its departure opens up a coveted slot for some other noble veggie to claim … hmmm, see the poll in the margin!)
  • Herb Cheddar Biscuits (a MUST do – courtesy of my Martha Stewart Living 1999 magazine … yummmmmm)
  • Dollar rolls (yes, the cheap brown-n-serve, I love 'em and therefore they earn a spot amongst all the fancy sides!)
  • German Chocolate Pecan Pie (this replaced my standard Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie, which I think needs to make a return because it’s my personal favorite … although, according to my notes from 2007 it was a keeper – and yes, I keep notes in my cool monogrammed recipe binder that Leon got me from Williams Sonoma (yeah!). It has a whole section for recording holiday menus … triumphs as well as failures … hmmm… what to do)
  • Traditional Pumpkin Pie

  • Rolling Meadows Vineyards White Niagara

I am going to bring back some sort of delicious sweet potato dish. I have a recipe for a sweet potato gratin, but Martha also just released her famous sweet potato spoon bread ... I also found this recipe for a Potato Mushroom Pie that looks to be amazing ... Decisions, decisions!

But here's where I would love ideas:

  • A bird recommendation
  • A new veggie pick (see the poll, and you can check the recipes out at
  • And any great, must-do, must-have recipes that you think I should add.

I actually haven’t put any of my Thanksgiving recipes onto our family recipe site – call me evil …. Hehehehe … I just really want to be that great-great-great-grandma whose herb cheddar biscuits just can’t be replicated beyond the grave.

You know? The stuff from which true legacy is made.

Monday, November 10, 2008

names and terms.

So, there’s a fresh Web site that was publicized in MidWest Living (okay, I totally just ruined any perception that might yet be lingering out there that I am—in any way—cool … obviously, I’m not) …

Anyway, it’s a great site. Check it out.

And with the presidential election over and done, and the “transitional” government in motion—it’s a perfect place to reminisce about all those candidates who have fought the good fight, and faded into the dusty pages of well-worn U.S. History texts. Here, the candidates of yesterday lie in stealthy wait to besiege some poor high school junior faced with that most horrifying tool of torture: the names and terms quiz (my former history students should be groaning right now … )

Maybe you still “Like Ike,” or think that “Four More Roosevelt Lucky Years” sounds like just the ticket. Perhaps you are or were and initial-fan of RFK, JFK, LBJ, or—to lose the rhyme pattern there, just good old FDR.

Some of us still long to commemorate the obvious winners like Regan, Nixon, Ford, Truman, Clinton, and Carter (hmm, no editorializing here). Other more sensitive souls may wish to pay homage to the underdogs —the man (and in some cases woman) nobody remembers. But hey—he ran for president, which in theory suggests Udall, McGovern (can a name be more positively presidential?), Humphrey, Goldwater, Chisholm (female), Landon, Muskie, and Hart weren’t exactly slouches.

Looking through the pages and pages of t-shirts at this kitschy site—some that honor legends, and others that recall nobodies—you find the brilliant campaign slogans, and concerns of years gone by.

And I can’t help but wonder how posterity will define this last marathon season of campaigning, slogans, stumping, and mud-slinging. We’re in such a rush these days either to define our own greatness, or boast others failures that I think the pundits and political prophets believe they can determine how future generations will define all of this.

They can’t.

And it’s refreshing to be reminded of that as I poked around the site.

Retro President: Fashionably nostalgic official.

Hmmm. That’s a humbling legacy for anyone, I would think. And I guess it reminds me that true presidential greatness is a mantle earned with time, and bestowed by the future.

As for me, I think it’s an “All the Way with Adlai” tee for Dad, and maybe a Kennedy Onesie for Syd this Christmas.

I wonder if they have any William Jennings Bryan gear. They should. I believe he once said: “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.”

I wonder if he said this before or after he ran for the White House 3 times? Good man. Good man.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

seasonal senses.

Revel in the living that is "fall".

With its sights: long, lingering walks backlit by tall shadows cast by the end-of-summer sun. Bold hues presented against bluer skies than you can even define. Heaps of uniquely orange-colored, oblong harvest (with a little child perched atop the bounty!). Homes outfitted with a sense of exuberance, color, and warmth. Rows of vines empty of all but the last lucky bunches of sweet grapes that escaped the vintner's clip. Faces lit by the glow cast from an outdoor fire.

With its tastes and its sounds: Crisp apples. Succulent pears. Crunchy leaves. Sweet-savory molasses treats, pumpkin breads, and robust flavors of roasted squash, and cauliflower soups. Tangy stews and bold chilis. New spices and herbs complement fall as sage, marjoram, savory, and rosemary replace the cilantro, basil, and thyme of summer.

This year, I am definitely savoring each moment. Last year found us worrying over Sydney’s birth; me on bed-rest; Leon stressed. It was difficult to notice leaves changing, and we certainly didn’t find time for pumpkin hunting, backyard fireside meals, canning concord jelly with friends, or bringing out those favorite sweaters.

This year has been robust and lasting. Our little family is enjoying it immensely. And we even had Halloween to enjoy with not-just a “childlike” zeal, but with a happy, smiling, wiggly little lovebug.

I wanted to simply share a few of my favorite fall recipes, including a new one for Pumpkin Banana Bread … so, download George Winston’s, Autumn from iTunes and spend time mulling the quiet lead into the crush of the holiday season.

Pumpkin Banana Bread – a fresh take on a classic

2 cups sugar
2/3 cup cooking oil
4 eggs
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup water
1 15-ounce can pumpkin
½ cup mashed ripe banana
¾ cup chopped pecans (optional)

1. Grease the bottom and ½ up the sides of two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans; set aside. In a very large bowl, beat sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

2. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Alternately add flour mixture and water to sugar mixture, beating after each addition just until combined (never over mix your dry ingredients!!) Beat in pumpkin and banana. Stir in pecans. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pans.

3. Bake in 350 degree oven for 50-to-60 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick comes out clear. Cool in pans for 10-minutes, remove. Cool completely.

These next recipes link to our family recipe wiki ... enjoy!

Bistro White Chili – Perfect for a fireside meal in the backyard with family and friends.

Chewy Molasses Cookies – Think of those delicious Starbucks’ treats, grab your favorite fall blend and enjoy

Hearty Country French Stew - Great for an afternoon of slow cooking.

Next up, I am trying a cauliflower and chantrelle mushroom soup – and will certainly post if it turns out as yummy as it appears in the magazine, and I also have a recipe for a pear, apple, and cranberry cobbler. Leon doesn’t love apple, so … I may need to find some other willing testers here at home!

At any rate, whether you bake, cook, or order your fall goodness from a local haunt, enjoy your autumn. Be nourished by the season, and bid farewell to the last evidence of summer with calm and joy – be at rest for the hibernating season to come. …

Onward and Upward!