Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Pumpkin Soup

Several years ago, I mentioned in a post that I really thought that Thanksgiving dinner (or really any great autumn menu) should start with pumpkin soup. A have a very good friend and recipe-testing buddy to thank for finding this one on line many years ago. It’s become my standby soup to make once the weather gets that cool-crisp fall feeling in the air. The benefits are that it makes quite a bit and that it freezes really well. I usually end up making maybe a couple of batches each cold weather season to keep on hand.

Winter Squash Soup with Gruyère Croutons is definitely in the keeper file. Originally, my friend and I made this with Cheddar Pumpkins that we got at our Greenmarket. A four pound-ish pumpkin will give you the eight cups of chopped vegetable needed for the recipe. This year, however, the pumpkins were either on the too big or too little side the weekend I was craving this recipe. Instead, I actually followed the directions (shock, I know) and made it with the butternut squash-acorn squash combo.

While the flavor was slightly different than that of the soup made with a Cheddar Pumpkin, it definitely mimicked a French soupe au poitron a bit more closely than a recipe made with the former. This is based upon my distant memory of having had it once a while ago when I was in France. Served in a modest portion, this dish would make an elegant (with the croutons, which I omitted here) and not-too-heavy starter. This is also a great excuse to whip out the immersion blender to avoid all the fiddling of pouring hot liquid into a regular standing blender.

I put my vote forward as I did in my post about pumpkin muffins to ban the overly-spiced, gluey pie that is usually found on tables across the land and to serve something a bit more interesting, and maybe in this case, something perhaps slightly more authentic, at the Thanksgiving table. As I’m one of the folks who will be pulling dinner together this year at my parents’ house, I might actually get my own way.

Buon appetito!

Baked Couscous with Spinach and Pine Nuts – A Potluck Standby

Tonight, I’m heading to a pre-Thanksgiving potluck. I offered to cook whatever was needed, except for providing the meat dishes, as those are not that easy to transport. Vegetable dishes were, what I was told, most in demand. So, I decided to pull an old favorite out of my recipe card file – Baked Couscous with Spinach and Pine Nuts – which came to me from a clipping in The Washington Post, but is from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin. (This year, in addition to reworking the recipes in my mother’s card file, I also thought it would be good to tackle my own.)

My usual M.O. has generally been to opt for bringing dessert to these gatherings, as I have a no-fail, crowd-pleaser one that I save for the holidays (See last year’s Thanksgiving post). I’m a little bit sad that I’m not making that this year, but I might save that pie for our family holiday get-together. One year, when I was working overseas and participated in an enormous potluck Turkey Day meal/party, a friend and I joined forces and made about fourpies (two of the ones I made last year and two apple, if I remember correctly), and I managed to pull off preparing this same vegetarian dish as well.

This recipe isn’t just for the holidays, it is easy enough to make and goes far enough that it would be a good, tasty weeknight dinner option as well. I’ve paired it with grilled lemon-garlic-olive oil marinaded chicken to round it out and also served it at a dinner party, starting off with Middle Eastern dips and pitas. It is even flexible enough to be prepared as a vegan dish – just substitute your favorite non-dairy cheese alternative. I just used some leftover parmesan and pecorino that I had in the fridge, which worked just fine.

On top of everything else, the colors in this dish are bright and vibrant, and it will stand out at any potluck table. Oh, and did I mention that the leftovers are great to bring to work as well, if there are any, that is? Almost every time I’ve made it, there’s nothing but a few crumbles of couscous left at the bottom of the tray!

Buon appetito!

Sweet Thanksgiving – Chocolate-Pecan-Bourbon Pie

Just look at this beauty. It is my contribution to a Thanksgiving feast to which I’ve been invited. A chocolate-pecan pie with a healthy dose of bourbon. The original recipe was given to me by a former roommate from college. Over the years, I’ve tweaked it and adapted the ingredients until I think it is fool-proof and a little bit more like me. It is a great dessert to bring to share for any dinner.

This pie is a bit rich, and made even more so by the optional addition of whipped cream at the end. It is always completely devoured at any dinner to which I’ve brought it, no matter in what city or country I’ve lived. I’m bringing it to what another former roommate had years ago termed an “Orphans’ Thanksgiving.” This is just a roundup of friends, co-workers and associates who would not have anywhere else to go to share a meal with which to celebrate the holiday.

When talking on pre-Turkey Day catch-up calls with a few friends, we all agreed that these get-togethers of assorted folks that we’ve all been at in past years were some of the most enjoyable meals that we have shared. It somehow really captures the essence and spirit of the holiday, not to be sappy about it or anything, to bring people around a table to share a dinner to which everyone contributed something.

Having it as a potluck, with each person chipping in to feed the others, is somewhat similar to what we are told happened between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. I’m sure that they didn’t bring this particular dessert, pecans and bourbon being a bit more Southern, but I like to think that they served something sweet that day. Pie just seems integrally linked to this holiday.

Chocolate-Pecan-Bourbon Pie
Serves: Depends on how much you like pie (at least 8)
Total prep time: 15-20 minutes with an additional 45 for baking

1 prepared pie shell (use your favorite recipe)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
3-4 Tablespoons bourbon
1/4 cup cornstarch
pinch of salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans
3.5 ounce bar of semi-sweet (70% cocoa) chocolate, broken into small pieces

Melt butter and set aside to cool. Beat eggs, gradually add sugar and beat until pale. Pour in bourbon and incorporate fully. Add melted butter a little at a time and whisk completely.

Add cornstarch. Whisk again. Sprinkle in salt. Fold in chopped pecans and chocolate pieces. Blend thoroughly. Pour into prepared pie crust and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 Centigrade / Gas Mark 4) for 45 to 50 minutes, until top is golden brown.

Allow to cool and serve room temperature or just slightly warm. This pie can be transported cold and then warmed up (not reheated). It can also be made a day or a morning ahead of time and refrigerated until warmed up for serving.

Buon appetito e buona festa!

Kitchen Witch Tip:

That serrated knife that you have in your drawer? Guess what. Its jagged edge is the perfect tool for cutting up nuts and hacking up a bar of chocolate into small enough pieces for baking into this pie. Don’t overlook it just because it is normally kept safe for slicing up bread.

I just thought that another view of this was necessary!

Cranberry-Orange Relish Stuffed Challah French Toast

Cranberry-Orange Relish-Stuffed Challah French Toast

Finally, after having digested my post-Thanksgiving binge of Food Network programming, I can once again face my stack of holiday food magazines and think about planning some new meals. Having seen an overwhelming number of suggestions and preparations for holiday leftovers, the one that really stood out wasn’t the “101 ways to make last night’s mashed potatoes appetizing again.”  It was, instead, a segment that appeared on Thanksgiving weekend Friday on The Today Show. Tyler Florence was demonstrating to Lester Holt how to make stuffed French Toast using challah and leftover cranberry sauce from a can.

Stuffed French Toast is one of those things that I love to get when I eat brunch out someplace, but which I’ve never gotten around to trying to make at home.  “Enough with the excuses!” I thought, and decided that I would tackle this recipe. The gelled cranberry goo from a can will not enter my house, nor pass through my lips. Instead, I’m more of a cranberry relish person. That is always left over.  In fact, I found a jar of it in my parents’ refrigerator just last weekend that I know was from our holiday meal.  Here’s what I ended up making. In what might be termed an ironic (or just twisted) twist, I decided that serving it with turkey bacon hit just the right spot.

Cranberry-Orange Relish Stuffed Challah French Toast

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Serves:(4 people/2 slices per person)

1/2 recipe Cranberry-Orange Relish from bag of Ocean Spray cranberries
1-8 oz. container whipped Cream Cheese
1 loaf day-old Challah Bread
Walnuts or Pecans, as preferred
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Milk
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Butter or Oil
Maple Syrup or Confectioners’ Sugar

Prepare relish per instructions on the back of the bag. Add chopped nuts, if desired. Mix together relish and cream cheese. The best way to do this is to start with 2 tablespoons cream cheese to every 3 tablespoons of relish, taste, and adjust consistency to your flavor preferences.

Prepping to stuff challah with cream cheese mixture

Slice challah loaf into 1-inch thick pieces. Cut a slit in the center of each slice of challah and continue to cut open, leaving the sides and bottom intact, as though opening a pita pocket. Thickly spread the relish-cream cheese mixture into the opening and press down to close.

Stuffed, un-cooked French Toast
In bowl, beat together eggs, milk and vanilla. Melt butter or heat oil (whichever is your preferred fat) in skillet or on griddle. Dip each side of the stuffed challah into the egg-milk mixture and shake off the excess liquid.  Place liquid-coated challah in skillet or on griddle and cook each side until golden brown. Serve French Toast, sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar or drizzled with maple syrup, according to your taste preference.
The finished product!
Buon appetito!

Volunteering During the Season of Thanks & Giving

Bagels to be wrapped up for delivery

On Thursday of last week, most of us gathered around tables loaded with treats and feasts. As part of our national tradition, a moment of thanks is usually given, perhaps with heads bowed in prayer, maybe with the youngest member of the assembly lisping sweetly through “The Lord’s Prayer.”  The Thanks part of my holiday this year was spent with an abbreviated version of my family. It has been a good while since we’ve had a more Norman Rockwell/mythical American form of this meal. I enjoyed it but it also brought to mind the fact that I’d read recently about how many folks aren’t even getting all the benefits that they could to feed their own families.

Volunteer team cutting up carrots
There are still lots of people in this country who depend upon assistance in order to nourish themselves every day. This isn’t to get super-preachy to everyone, but just to highlight that, in this season where we give Thanks for what we have, hands are reaching out to ask us to remember the Giving part by helping donate to those who have even less.  One of the things I enjoy about living in New York is that there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer. Somehow, though, I’d never really put that energy into food-related projects. It’s not even that it is difficult to find ways to help out, as my church lists the days that the local food pantry needs folks and a volunteer newsletter I get each month always has several sessions at local soup kitchens.
Vat of chopped carrots

It took my joining my new company, and finding out that I knew the project’s team leader, to wake me out of this malaise. Finally, I put my culinary interest to some good use. I signed up to help with meal prep for an organization that serves food to those who cannot feed themselves due to severe and debilitating illness. I’d prefer for privacy reasons to keep the organization’s name mum, needless to say, they are very well-known. Our few hours one Sunday afternoon a month, make sure that the raw materials of what goes into many meals are ready for the cooks that the organization employs. The volunteers don’t do any of the actual cooking, but these photos are of some of the fruits of our labors on one recent visit.

Tub of chopped celery

Most of what we do is chop, peel, chop, and chop some more. If you ever wondered what industrial-sized, 50-pound bags of carrots looked like when they are cut up, check out the photo above.  There is a certain rhythm to the chopping and a nice rapport that develops with our fellow prep cooks. We chop, we chat, we tell stories, we get to listen to 80’s tunes I haven’t heard in years via the radio that always seems to be blaring, no other volume allowed. Having viewed others’ techniques, I’ve decided that, while my knife skills could use some work, I am definitely not at the bottom of the ladder in that department.  On this occasion, after carrots, as you can see, we had celery. Another group was doing onions, lots of onions. My guess was that we were creating the basics for soup, as we were dicing everything. After that came peppers (see below).

Pile of chopped peppers
This was by far the easiest of the food items we’d ever had to cut. I think that there was a general group consensus that we need to do more peppers and fewer root vegetables (last time we’d had turnips). Not that we actually do get to choose, mind you.  So, in this season of Thanks and Giving, I am going to pledge to try to do more of the latter, especially to organizations that feed others. I am also going to give lots and lots of Thanks that I haven’t been put on onion chopping duty…as yet.
Buon appetito!

Pumpkin Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Ah, it’s that time of year again. The magazines are filled with recipes for turkey with trimmings, side dishes galore, and pies, pies, pies. There’s hints for watching one’s waistline while not offending that aunt who brought over her favorite casserole, tips for trying to make those family favorites into lo-cal treats, and the inevitable pseudo-science articles about the sure-fire way to cook a turkey without giving everyone food poisoning.
I have a confession to make, however. There is one thing I just can’t stand about this holiday: Pumpkin Pie. This is a bit odd for two reasons: a. I love sweets and have been known to eat pies and b. I like pumpkin. I just don’t like the concoction that is usually presented at every standard Thanksgiving buffet. It’s just too cloying, too gelatinous, too something.
I can’t really put my finger on it, but each year I have the same problem of how to refuse to eat someone’s culinary contribution to the feast. So, my quest has been to look for recipes that present an alternative point of view to the pie. For years, I’ve searched out other options.  Personally, I’d like to see Thanksgiving Day dinner start off with a pumpkin soup, rather than end it with pumpkin pie. Somehow, I think that that would showcase this seasonal vegetable in a better light. [As a point of reference, I also want to have a ban imposed on that canned gel stuff that does nothing to show cranberries in their best light or flavor.]
Then a story on one of the websites I check out on occasion, Leite’s Culinaria, caught my eye. The cover page mentioned a Pumpkin Cake with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting*. Hmmm…..Let’s see. This sounds as though it has possibilities. Then, I started to read the reviews of those who had tried to make this dessert (a familiar habit for those who tap into epicurious.com for recipe resources). Even better, I thought, everyone seems to give it rave reviews.
Because I was really looking for something that I could bring to work for those of us who would have to staff the office until the closing hours of business on Wednesday, long after our bosses have already left for their holiday, I converted the recipe into cupcakes. I also took the suggestion of someone else who had tried it and topped them with pecans (it must be that Southern influence).
As you can see from the photo, it makes a lovely, portable result. The cake is light and moist and the frosting is just nicely sweet. The flavor is not too heavy or overly spiced (something that happens with the offending pie filling). Even my non-pumpkin fan roommate enjoyed it.  All in all, I add my four forks to this recipe. It’s a keeper. As someone who likely had a bunch of family at that first Thanksgiving so many years ago, I have no problem adding this treat to my recipe library.
Buon appetito!

*I think that, next time, I might try to incorporate the nuts into the batter. Also, it seemed to me that this batter might also make great waffles or pancakes, albeit with a few tweaks. And, yes, I used canned pumpkin. I managed to find an organic brand at the grocery store.