Thanksgiving Lessons…

So I survived Thanksgiving.  But I must say it was more stressful than I would’ve liked.  First, I kind of burned myself out with all the school actvities (see “feast” post) and recipe testing the week prior.  Yes, I loved seeing the school kids eat my little sandwiches,  muffins, etc., but sometimes I wish I was the parent who doesn’t cook and can just bring something premade (gasp!).  No, of course I would never.  However I notice the parents who pick up something lovely at a bakery or restaurant often look much more rested and happy at some of these functions than I do after baking until midnight.

I was a bit worried about my sister’s new diet too (see post about “A Vegan”) .  I’m not the person that could serve someone a plate of crudite veggies and call it Thanksgiving dinner.  So I welcomed the challenge and did lots of recipe testing (and pie eating) prior.  Thankfully the dishes turned out pretty well and everyone (especially my sister) was very appreciative.  I adapted the dressing and sweet potatoes to vegan by using the vegan sticks instead of butter.  (Thankfully wine and brown sugar come in handy).  My sister made a really good butternut squash rissotto (see recipe here on and last minute (I ran out of time) a saute of brussels sprouts in thyme and white wine.   The apple cranberry pie recipe came from the cookbook I gave my sister.  It was tart but tasty.  Although it didn’t totally set up like other apple pies I’ve made in the past.  I question the use of tapioca over flour for the apple filling.  Flour isn’t an animal product. 

Greens with Persimmon and Pecans
Greens with Persimmon and Pecans
Butternut Risotto
Butternut Risotto
Walnut, Crestnut, Sausage, Sage Stuffing
Walnut, Crestnut, Sausage, Sage Stuffing
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Orange and Ginger
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Orange and Ginger
Apple Cranberry Pie
Apple Cranberry Pie

 Of course we roasted chestnuts and peeled them.  This started as a tradition at my house growing up.  My mom would roast chestnuts to make her mother’s stuffing on Thanksgiving morning.  Then my mom, sister and I would peel them.  Of course it’s easiest to do when they’re hot, so we’d be peeling and scalding our fingers, and complaining.  But somehow that became the tradition.  Later when I was an adult hosting Thanksgiving I bought preroasted chestnuts for chestnut soup.  The soup was great, but it seemed a little sacreligious not to peel them ourselves.  So this year my kids wanted to peel too.  My mom was proud to have “three generations peeling together”.  My recipe adds water to the chestnuts in the oven which steams them and makes them easier to open.  But some of them are still tough to do – especially if cooled.

Merry Thanksmas 2009 029

Very A-peeling
Very A-peeling

So you may be wondering about the turkey.  We almost didn’t have one and went completely vegan.  Not because I didn’t order (2 weeks prior) or pick one up (fighting the crowds at Whole Foods at 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning), but because it wasn’t thawed to cook.  I ordered a “fresh” Diestel organic turkey, so I was surprised when I picked up my bird and it seemed hard and frozen.  I was assured that it was just “flash” frozen and simply has a thin crust of ice so that it could be transported and would be ready for cooking or brining in the morning.  Huh?  I took it home and  put it in the fridge.  Thanksgiving morning I made my brine (this was a first for me) and then unwrapped the turkey and it was still rock hard.  Yikes!  I was mad.  What now?  This seemed a big set-back to me.  (What are we going to eat with the two kinds of cranberry sauce/relish with?)

Luckily my mom and sister were calm and said to take it back to Whole Foods.  I figured they’d say too bad or run water on it for the next 4 hours.  I was wrong.  Going to the store on Thanksgiving at 8 a.m. is much more civilized than going the day before.  The people at the store couldn’t have been nicer.  The customer service was worried and perplexed at first, and called the butcher.   The butcher came out with 3 thawed turkeys (cancelled orders) which I could choose from.  Hooray!   So the bird was brined and quite moist and flavorful.

Merry Thanksmas 2009 046

 All and all, the meal and visit with my family was a success.   Whew!  

You can cook all day, and days before, but it all really comes down to the last half hour.  This is the time when everyone is busy, helping and more than ready to eat.  It was pretty fun.   My mom and kids were decorating the table (we had been using it for board and dice games much of the day) with final touches such as fancy folded napkins and handmade placecards.  My sister and brother-in-law were stirring risotto.  I was carving the turkey and heating gravy.  My husband was using a new video camera to capture it all and interview all the guests/family.

Aside from the visiting and food, another highlight of the day was leaving the kitchen and everyone taking a walk on Richardson Bay.  The weather was sunny and brisk and I especially needed some fresh air.  I waivered about going, as the turkey would go in late, but I gave myself a reprive from getting the dinner out on time (we had established 4 p.m.).  Dinner at 5:30 was just fine.


A Tale of Two Feasts

Both my daughter and my son had “feasts” at school today.  My daughter is in preschool and I volunteered to do the food for the feast.  As the preschool classes get older, the teachers allow the children to choose what they’d like for their feast.  They usually pick pizza.  Not exactly what I picture in thinking of the pilgrims and native americans sharing on the original day.   However at age 3, the feast is traditional (somewhat) and there is no voting on the main menu.  I like the idea of the traditional food and so I supplied all the food for the feast.  (I won’t when it’s pizza).  The menu consisted of:

mini turkey and cheese sandwiches and roll-ups

fruit salad – some balked at the orange stuff…persimon

canberry sauce

sweet potato chips

steamed veggies and carrots with dip

oatmeal-chocolate chips cookes – which the kids made

Here’s what it looked like:

mini turkey cheese

sweet potato chips

cranberry sauce

preschool feast

I have to say it went over well.  Most kids ate something, and some even asked for seconds of fruit and sandwiches.  The kids were very proud of their handmade tablecloth, which was painted butcher paper.  So cute. 

The second “feast” of the day was at my son’s kindergarten friendship feast.  This was a clever idea.  The kids in each kindergarten class were each asked to bring an ingredient, such as onion (ours), tomatoes, stock, noodles, zucchini, etc.  Then one mom went home and made soup from the ingredients and returned with it the following day.  I knew making all the other items for feast number 1, I couldn’t make soup too.  Luckily someone else volunteered, but I did offer to make pumpkin muffins to accompany.  Here they are:

pumpkin ginger muffins


All four kindergarten classes ate soup together with teachers and some families and siblings.  Each class had made their own version of turkey hats and leaf placemats, which they were proud to bring home after.  The soup and muffins were appreciated and eaten.  Here’s a picure of my son and daughter sitting together.  The teacher is so sweet and treats her like one of the kindergartners.  After just coming from her feast, I was surpirsed to see she ate more than some of my son’s friends.

kindergarten feast

I must say with all these feast preparations, shopping, cooking, packing and clean up, I’m going to need to find some energy for the real feast on Thurs.  I’ll keep you posted…


Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?…A Vegan!

My sister has been a vegetarian for years.  Surprising since when we were growing up all she wanted was bologna and hamburgers from McDonald’s.  Anyways, she is an animal lover and advocate and it only makes sense she wants to protect animals – not eat them.

However she’s recently made the switch to veganism.  Wow, I’m impressed.  It takes dedication, time and planning to over haul your entire diet to one that is free of animals products.  I’ve written some vegan recipes.  But most are simple veggie recipes, purees and others with minimal ingredients.  I really didn’t realize how much effort it takes to eat vegan until I started planning the Thanksgiving meal.  My sister is coming (along with my brother-in-law and parents, fellow omnivors) and doesn’t want me to do anything special.  But come on.  I have to do something.  I write recipes and about food, I can’t get off the hook.  Plus it’s a challenge for me – which is always good. 

My sister is planning on making a butternut squash risotto – which sounds great.  We’re still having turkey.  The veggie is no problem – roasted root veggies or brussels sprout leaves.  But then the questions…  Do I do stuffing?  Does it go with the risotto?  Do I do mashed sweet potatoes?  Am I making too many starches.  Will it all fit in my refrigerator? 


I bought a vegan cookbook which I figured I would use to research and then give to my sister as part of her Christmas gift.  I bought a few vegan ingredients to see if I could recipe test and convert a few recipes to vegan.  First was Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks to replace butter.  The gentleman at the check out told me it was the closest thing to butter.  This is not butter.  So far I’ve spread it on bread.  No thank you.  This weekend I’m going to try cooking with it.  However I was very surprised by vegan sausage.  I bought this to try for a possibe substitute for the sausage in my sage dressing.  It’s a winner and I’ll buy it again. 

Then there’s my son’s request for pumpkin pie.  Remember we roasted that pumpkin?  So I decided to test the pie crust – an oil crust.  I was confused on the directions to “roll it out”.  It just wasn’t anything more than crumbles.  However I was able to press it into the pie pan with my fingers and the results were good.  Of course the pumpkin filling was not vegan, as I added my pumpkin puree to eggs and cream.  My sister called as I was baking and I made the mistake of telling her.  She told me she doesn’t even like pumpkin pie and doesn’t care about dessert.  However now I want to make a vegan pie (especially since the crust was tasty) for the challenge.  So I think I’ll make a non-vegan pumpkin pie and a vegan apple or apple cranberry pie.  Variety is good and I’m sure it won’t go to waste.  (I already made two pies and gave some to my son’s teacher and some to my neighbor).

I’m starting to feel like I’m neglecting the rest of the non-vegan guests – so I’m getting their weigh in on the final dishes as well.  Stay tuned… (and I’m open to suggestions).


Homemade Pumpkin Puree Recipe

While our carved Halloween pumpkins are gone, we were delivered a beautiful 3 lb sugar pie pumpkin in our veggie box.  My son said “let’s make pie!”  He doesn’t really get that the pumpkin is just one ingredient in a pumpkin pie.  I said we’d bake the pumpkin but not today.  Well it was a whole week until “not today”, became “I better cook this thing”.  It is really easy to cook and make fresh puree, however to be honest 95% of the time, I buy canned organic pumpkin.  (Nutritionsist say the vitamins and nutrients are the same for canned pumpkin vs fresh and that’s why I don’t bother.)  But it is fun.  Plus now with the thought of BPA lining in canned goods, I thought the health scales are tipping to homemade.


From my 3 lb pumpkin, I now have 3 cups of lovely puree.  (This would be a perfect puree for baby).  I’m having a hard time deciding how to use the puree – pumpkin bread, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bars and on and on.  I’m sure I’ll decide soon and be baking more sugar pies in the next few weeks, stay tuned…

 Here’s what I did…

golden baked pumpkin
golden baked pumpkin


surprised how easy to peel
surprised how easy to peel
ready for seed removal
ready for seed removal
success -  pumpkin puree
success - pumpkin puree


Pumpkin Puree

You can cook the pumpkin whole if a small pumpkin (3 – 4 lbs).  If using a larger one, cut in half or quarters and place cut down on oiled baking sheet.

Makes about 3 cups

3 – 4 lb. sugar pie pumpkin

Set oven to 350F.  Line a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil and lightly oil.

Pierce whole pumpkin with a sharp knife.

Bake pumkpin in oven 1 – 1 1/2 hours or until knife pierced through to seeds easily.

When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin using your fingers or a paring knife.  Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out seeds and fibers.

Place pieces of pumpkin flesh in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and porcess until smooth.  It make take a few minutes of processing and then stopping to scrape sides for all to become blended and smooth.


Dad’s Birthday and the Burger Bar Cookbook Experience


As promised, I’m reporting back on the cookbook, Burger Bar: Build Your Own Ultimate Burgers by Hubert Keller.  Sorry to keep you waiting.   I can’t weigh in an opinion on a book until I’ve at least made a few recipes.  There’s nothing more frustrating than people who have comments and criticism based on the look, weight or photos of a cookbook.  Make something then tell me what’s it’s like.


Anyways it was my husband’s birthday and he requested making a burger recipe from the new book – Blue Cheese Stuffed Bacon Sliders.  I’ll put the burger and accoutrements together and my husband will grill it outside.  Easy enough, I thought.  However the first challenge was when trying to buy the coarsely ground sirloin at the Whole Food’s meat counter.  They did not have ground sirloin (that’s what makes the burgers a stand out and the price in a restaurant, or so I’m told) and when I asked the gentleman behind the meat counter he said too much of the meat would get stuck in the grinder.  What?  He was looking over me at the long line and his watch.  Instead of holding my own and telling him to grind it anyway, I went with the best quality grass fed beef.  I should’ve gone to a local butcher.  Next time.


I was annoyed with myself when I got home, but tired and wanting to focus on the other elements of the birthday dinner and of course dessert.  The cake requested was a flourless chocolate cake.  Easy and yummy enough.  Something I can mix up in about 20 minutes, then another 20 to bake.  My usual sprinkle of powdered sugar or cocoa wasn’t going to cut it for my kids.  They think all birthday cakes should have writing.  So we whipped up a bit of royal icing and served the cake with mint ice cream (my husband’s fav) – it’s rich, quick and perfect.


Flourless Chocolate Cake
Flourless Chocolate Cake

Back to the burgers.  I have to say they were yummy.  However there were some elements or steps that were not really necessary.  Stuffing the burgers with blue cheese didn’t add much except for time to make and worry whether they were going to break open on the grill.  Adding it to the top of the burger would’ve yielded the same flavor and not made the burger so high.  These were so tall, there was not way to get your mouth around.  We made them full size and they were messy and awkward to eat at home.  If we had made true sliders and wanted to have them at a party, they would’ve ended up on the floor (or guests would’ve been too intimated to eat).   See photo.  It also wasn’t necessary to add bacon to the meat mixture.  It was plenty on top as opposed to pieces in the meat.

 On the plus side, the sugared pears were great.  This combo with the burger and blue cheese was great and yielded a bit of moisture.  My kids loved these on the side too.  Who wouldn’t?  I’m going to remember these for salads too.  Another plus from the book was the Marinated Vegetable Salad I made to accompany.  This was easy, crisp and refreshing.  This will be a new side dish at our house for just about anything.  Even a good potluck or picnic dish.


marinated salad
marinated salad

I’m looking forward to making more of the recipes.  However like I do with most recipes, I will read and make a few changes if too complex, to edit the ingredients and steps and make more convenient.


Happy Halloween

cleaning pumpkins

Boo!  O.K. I must confess that I love Halloween.  I’ve always enjoyed this time of year, when the air is crisp and the leaves turn colors (at least a few in California) and there are pumpkins and pomegrantes to be found.  I’m one of those people that always dressed up.  As a kid my mom made fabulous costumes for my whole family – a can of pepsi (with a hat of balloons), Peter Pan (with a shadow), Sigmond the Sea Monster, a tomato (organic I hope) and many others.   My mom’s costumes set the bar high.  Now it isn’t as much fun with all the store bought creations.  Although I’m to blame too, as I never learned to sew.

Before my husband and I had kids we dressed up and went to costume parties.  I even went to work in my 20’s  as Frankenstein with complete face make-up and took the Muni to downtown San Francisco.  Did I mention I worked a stuffy insurance brokerage job?  Oh well, some laughed. 

My kids certainly love Halloween too.  In the past we kind of pushed a theme for costumes – monsters last year, insects the year prior, etc.  However 3 and 6 year old have their own ideas – an astronaut and Dan the Bakugan character (it’s a show and toy).  I borrowed a wonderful knight costume my son got from a theme birthday party and my husband worked all day on a cool pirate (complete with dreads and fake beard).

However the major event of the season is carving the pumpkin.  First there’s the experience of choosing the pumpkins – we like to go to a pumpkin farm/patch, rather than the stand on the side of the road with the jumpy.  This year both kids chose very large pumpkins.  My husband had his work cut out for him.  But he certainly rose to the occassion.  My daughter wanted “a face with 5 teeth”.  My son was intriqued by my husband’s idea (well he saw it on a home show) about an upchucking pumpkin.  He sounded gross, but I must say it was fun and unique.

My job of course is to roast the seeds.  The kids always say they’re going to get the goop from the pumpkins – why they’re shirtless.  However they start to get sticky and say it’s too yucky, so it’s mom’s turn.   Here’s what I do.  Everyone seems to like the salty and savory better than the sweet – although I make both.  There’s still a few pumpkins in stores waiting to be purchased – so we’ll continue to carve, cook and celebrate. 

carved pumpkins

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds


the gook before you cook

(rom Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry page 203)

Each person has his own technique and recipe for toasting the pumpkin seeds. For a fun tasting party at school have each family bring in their own for children to sample and vote for their favorites. Incorporate extra seeds into trail mixes for a seasonal surprise.
Makes 5 servings per 1 cup seeds

1 whole pumpkin

For 1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon curry powder, or ½ teaspoon sugar and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.


Cut off top of pumpkin and scoop out insides. Separate out as much of the pumpkin strings and flesh from the seeds as possible. Some of the slime and strings you can’t remove will provide a crisp coating on the seeds.

In a small bowl, combine seeds, oil, and seasonings. Stir until coated. Spread out seeds in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Roast for about 40 minutes, until golden brown and dry, stirring with a spatula every 10 minutes during cooking.

Let cool on paper towels and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.