We Adopted a Turkey! Hooray for Martha!

This is a conflicted time for our family.  My daughter being a vegetarian and my sister and brother in law, the vegans, don’t want to think about turkeys being slaughtered for Thanksgiving.  My parents will have a turkey.  How the bird gets cooked and carved is for the carnivores in the family only.  In an effort to off-set the killing of many turkeys our family has decided to help save one.  Really it’s about donating money to help care for a turkey that has been rescued from a factory farm.  There are many such animals at Farm Sanctuary, a rescue in New York, Northern and Southern California.   A visit to the sanctuary in Los Angeles led to my daughter’s vegetarianism a few years back.  Where she learned “Animals are Friends, No Food”.

So my daughter choose this adorable turkey, named Martha to adopt.  When I told my family about the adoption campaign at the dinner table (we were eating something vegetarian) both my kids were excited.  My son, the carnivore, said he’d even pay the $30 fee.  My daughter was let down at first when she realized adopting the turkey meant in name only and it wasn’t coming to live with us as a pet.  Next, she had to think about putting her own money in to contribute to Martha’s care, which I said was the deal.  However she came around and there was a $5 per child share with mom and dad picking up the last $20.  It seemed fair.  My daughter was so excited that she called and told her grandmother who adopted another turkey, Minerva while they were on the phone together.  I wish my daughter would use those sales skills when it’s time to fundraise for her school.  She hasn’t put it together that her grandma rescued Minerva but will be buying another bird, a dead one to eat.

We’ll see what happens…..That’s what makes holidays interesting.



Ready, Set, Safety. Tips for Planning and Creating a Healthy Holiday Meal

If you’re making your list and starting to plan for next week’s turkey dinner there’s a great website created by the Partnership for Food Education to help.  This resource has info on everything from how to choose, store and cook a turkey as well as some fun food prep activities for kids and yummy recipes to please everyone at your table.  Check it out here.

Once the planning and shopping is over and you’re ready to get into the kitchen here are a few things to remember in terms of home food safety for your holiday meal: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

  •   Clean – Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food; wash surfaces often with hot water and soap.
  •   Separate – Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your shopping cart, grocery bag and in your home refrigerator; use separate cutting boards for fresh produce and for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Keep in mind your turkey shouldn’t be lying next to your spinach, and yams, until everything is cooked and on your plate.
  •   Cook – Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause illness. Your turkey should be cooked to a minimum of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the temperature of your stuffing as well! Best and most healthful results come from preparing and cooking the stuffing separately – outside the bird.
  •   Chill – After a big holiday meal, we’d like to think everything will keep while we take a quick nap; however for safety, your delicious leftovers need to be refrigerated promptly – within 2 hours. Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40 °F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of food poisoning at home.These reminders to follow the Fight BAC!® basics are from The National Turkey Federation and Partnership for Food Safety Education.



Stuff It! Peppers That Is.

Peppers are great little colorful bowls to put some healthy fare.  It’s a great way to use up ingredients in your fridge or reinvent some left-overs.  Any grains will do as well as sauteed veggies, meats, tofu, etc.  The good thing about these is they can be made easily for everyone’s tastes and dietary restrictions.  Last night I sauteed some ground turkey with fresh thyme and garlic.  Then cooked some black forbidden rice.  I combined the rice and turkey and added some spinach chiffanade and filled the half sliced pepper.  I topped it off with a bit of parmesean cheese and put it in the oven to bake for about 35 minutes.   These are quick and easy and pretty too.  They went with tomato soup and a crusty french baguette.

(As for those dietary restrictions you may notice something from the photo.  Two are without cheese – my husband is cutting back.  Two have just the rice mixture without turkey – for my daughter.  But it was easy to please everyone.)



Turkey Warning…

There are a few new food recalls concerning dairy, papayas, cat food and 36 million pounds of ground turkey.  There’s been one death and 77 illness of salmonella in 26 states due to the contamination.  The FDA is cautioning people not to eat ground turkey and products made with ground turkey.  Here’s the whole story…

Here’s a chart of the Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures from foodsafety.gov.
Use this chart and a food thermometer to ensure that meat, poultry, seafood,
and other cooked foods reach a safe minimum internal temperature.


Remember, you can’t tell whether meat is safely cooked by looking at it. Any
cooked, uncured red meats – including pork – can be pink, even when the meat has
reached a safe internal temperature.

Why the Rest Time is Important

After you remove meat from a grill, oven, or other heat source, allow it to
rest for the specified amount of time. During the rest time, its temperature
remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys harmful germs.

category Food Temperature
Rest Time
Ground Meat
& Meat Mixtures
Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb 160 None
Turkey, Chicken 165 None
Fresh Beef, Veal,
Steaks, roasts, chops 145 3 minutes
Poultry Chicken & Turkey, whole 165 None
Poultry breasts, roasts 165 None
Poultry thighs, legs, wings 165 None
Duck & Goose 165 None
Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird) 165 None
Pork and
Fresh pork 145 3 minutes
Fresh ham (raw) 145 3 minutes
Precooked ham (to reheat) 140 None
& Egg Dishes
Eggs Cook until yolk
and white are firm
Egg dishes 160 None
Leftovers & Casseroles Leftovers 165 None
Casseroles 165 None
Seafood Fin Fish 145 or cook until
flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.
Shrimp, lobster, and crabs Cook until flesh is
pearly and opaque.
Clams, oysters, and mussels Cook until shells
open during cooking.
Scallops Cook until flesh
is milky white or opaque and firm.




Thanksgiving Meal Wrap Up

So Thanksgiving is already over.  While ours was small.  We unfortuantely scared away the grandparents with the flu.  On the actual day, everyone was healthy.  All in all I was pleased with the food.  I always like the walnut mushroom stuffing.  My son picked mashed potatoes, though in years passed it’s been sweet potatoes.  The kids were great helpers with the brussels sprouts.  Really a fool spoof way to get a brussels sprouts hater to turn the corner.  Because grandma didn’t come and bring my kids’ requested pumpkin bread, we even managed to make a few loaves, so not to dissappoint. (We even shared with the neighbors)

However there was a dissappointment and that was the main attraction…the turkey.  I did the brine.  Everyone always says how great it tuns out.  But not for me.  Not for this bird.  I followed the directions.  Managed to spill some of the brine all over the kitchen.  Those bags can be tricky with so much liquid.   The bird browned and it tasted fine.  But fine really isn’t what we’re looking for.  There was something missing.  I realized what it was about 3/4 of the way through cooking.  There was no juice.  Where were the pan drippings?  And there was no aroma.  Why didn’t the house smell like roasted turkey.  My best guess is that the moisture stays in.  Well I want moist, but I also want drippings and aroma.  So next year it’s back to the wine and butter baste only.  Always worked for my mom.

On a high note was one of the best desserts I ever made.  No really.  It was Lilly Pulitzer’s Gingered Pumpkin Tart.  This was amazing.  The perfect mix of sweet and spicy.  I thought the crystallized ginger would be too much and was serving it on the side, until everyone asked for more.  The ultimate was fresh whipping cream and a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream.  I’m already trying to determine what occassion to make it for again and who I should share it with.

The kids were in charge of the table decor.  Note the colored tea lights (those are usually for outside).  There was a bit of a squabble over who would make placecards.  So my son made them for dinner and my daughter cleared those and set hers out for dessert.  They also made a stick centerpiece in the shape of a turkey.

Take a look…

peeling brussels
Ellery and her cranberry sauce
Me and my bird
the centerpiece arrangement
A piece of the gingered pumpkin tart

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.”


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.


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).