This Year’s Thanksgiving Challenge….The Flu

So my challenge last year was the vegan menu.  However if you’ll recall (see last year’s post) I was pleasantly surprised with all the dishes and everyone – vegan and carnivore – seemed full and happy.

This year’s challenge is that it’s only a few days before the big turkey day and my son has the stomach flu.  Poor kid.  I got a touch of it last night, but nothing like he has.  His grandparents have already bowed out of coming for the holiday.  I certainly understand.  Who wants to come to a potentially guarantined household?  And that’s the problem for me too.  The wondering who else may be sick on Thanksgiving?  Will I get worse?  What about my husband and daughter?

Being that I try to make dishes ahead, I already have cranberry sauce made, as well as a tart crust.  I opted out of the lackluster pumpkin pudding (see previous post about test) for a pumpkin ginger tart instead.  At least we have something, right?  I could put the cranberry in the pie tart and call it a cranberry tart.  I feel like everyone remembers the sweet stuff anyway.  How bad could that be? 

I’m thinking positively and today I picked up my heirloom turkey.  It was already ordered, so I really didn’t have much of a choice.  Because our group is so small this year (and getting smaller), I decided I’m going to try brining the bird.  I feel like I’m the only person to have never brined a turkey.  I’m feeling confident because it’s not a 15 pounder.  I’m not going to worry about making space and the bag leaking all over my fridge, since I’ll be able to get my petit 9 pounder in a large stockpot.

At the very least the turkey will come in handy for turkey noodle soup if we all get sick.  Here’s crossing my fingers our planned menu goes somewhat as planned.  But if it doesn’t happen, we’ll do it another night. 

Here’s our favorite brussels sprouts recipe for Thanksgiving or the rest of the year.

Leaf Us Alone Brussels Sprouts

(pg. 205, Petit Appetit: Eat Drink and Be Merry)

Although they are one of my favorites, I realize Brussels sprouts are not welcome by many. I think they get a bad rap because they are usually boiled, bland, and still rock hard in the center. Peeling the leaves and discarding the center core, makes for an entirely different taste and texture. And yes, you and your kids may even have a new green favorite. Note this takes time and patience, but little hands make great peelers.

Makes 6 servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil.

Cut off bottom stem or core of each sprout. Carefully peel away the leaves until it becomes too hard to peel. Cut off bottom core again and peel more layers. Continue cutting and peeling until it is too difficult to peel apart.

Place leaves in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and stir until all leaves are coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir again.

Spread leaves onto prepared baking pan in a single layer. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes, until leaves are cooked and start to crisp with golden edges.

Kids Korner

I brought these to the table to peel while my children were having a snack. It must have looked interesting as both my four year old and 18 month old starting peeling, too. I told them they were Brussels Buddies. My son just kept telling his dad “We’re only eating the skins.”

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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 care2.com) 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.

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