Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Thanksgiving Feast

Every family has its own traditions for Thanksgiving. There are several dishes that usually make it to our family table each year. During the day we snack on cheese, crackers, and veggies, plus whatever tastes we steal off of dishes while we cook.

In recent years we’ve introduced a harvest-style salad with various combinations of field greens, raisins, craisins, nuts (usually almonds
or walnuts), apples, and other delicious autumn-evoking ingredients.

We also always have bread or warm rolls with butter. Some years we have soup, such as the butternut-cider bisque I made last year for the occasion. The bisque is made with chicken (or vegetable) broth, butternut squash, carrots, celery, onions, and cider, and then finished with cream. As the soup simmers it fills the house with the scents of a satisfying Thanksgiving meal.

Other dishes that always make the table include ambrosia, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. The ambrosia is one of those classic 1950s-era dishes made with mini-marshmallows, shredded coconut, maraschino cherries, mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks, and sour cream. It may sound strange or even outdated, but I swear it’s very delicious and definitely loaded with sugar and nostalgia. Cranberry sauce always graces our table, and we tend to serve two versions—one from the can and one made from fresh cranberries. The mashed potatoes are usually made with roasted garlic and, of course, butter! They are tasty and creamy and a must have on any Thanksgiving table. Stuffing is also a classic dish, and we use my grandmother’s recipe for this annual holiday. Our version is composed of wheat bread, celery, Bell’s poultry seasoning, onions, sausage, salt, pepper, and chicken broth to keep it moist while cooking.

Of course we roast a classic turkey every year, but we have a couple of vegetarians in the family so we usually have a vegetarian option like faux turkey or chicken. I’ve taken over the turkey the last couple of years and determined how to make the perfect turkey. It involves butter, and lots of it! First take fresh herbs like sage, thyme, and rosemary and mince them. Then take a stick of butter (at room temperature so it’s soft) and mix the herbs in until they are evenly distributed in the creamy goodness. When it’s time to roast the turkey take the butter and rub in all over the skin. Then take some butter and lift the skin of the turkey and spread the butter between the flesh and the skin. As the turkey cooks the butter will melt into the meat, keeping it nice and moist and preventing it from drying out. Instead of filling the bird with stuffing, cook the stuffing in a separate dish and fill the cavity with sliced carrots, celery, onions, apples, and herbs to imbue the turkey with even more flavor. Then just roast the turkey as you normally would, let it rest, slice, and serve!

Dessert tends to change every year—there’s no one particular dessert we have, although we tend to have at least one pie. This year we’re serving apple-butter pumpkin pie, apple crisp, and cookies. We’ll also be making whipped cream with local cream from Meadowbrook Farms and sweetened with honey.

Whatever you and your family serve this year I hope you all have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

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