Sunday, November 25, 2012

And now for something Completely Different (i.e. Slightly Different)

TheOccasionist, SouthwestThanksgiving13

Change was in the air this fall as we gathered together to discuss our Thanksgiving menu.  We all agreed we needed to shake things up a bit: we were tired of making the same exact recipes year after year.  My parents go to Santa Fe every fall and return home with incredibly flavorful chile powders and whole dried chiles from the farmers' market there.  We are always struggling to find new uses for these flavors before the next round arrives.  With all these chiles at our fingertips we decided that this year would be a showcase of New Mexican flavors, in other words a Southwest Thanksgiving.  And of course everything would be different....
We sat down together to discuss the menu of new and different dishes we were going to prepare, only to find that every one of us had a dish (or two) that we apparently couldn't live without for our Thanksgiving feast.  Personally, I couldn't give up the cranberry sauce my mom has made for years.  My dad had to have the mashed potatoes.  Gravy was a non-negotiable for my mom.  Making something new and different was going to be harder than we had expected.
We came to the realization that it was our own traditionalist tendencies that kept us in a Thanksgiving "rut", and that really what was so wrong with that?  If we cared so much about keeping particular dishes in the Thanksgiving canon, then we had better embrace our "rut".
Needless to say, we mostly altered traditional Thanksgiving dishes, giving them a twist instead of having something completely different.  We had a lot of fun researching recipes and identifying "Southwestern" ingredients.  We tried to incorporate the "three sisters": squash, corn and beans.  These three grow well together because they help nourish one another, and they are a common combination in  traditional Southwest Indian diets.  We asked friends for their recipe suggestions, and even received in the mail a stack of New Mexican magazines with recipes from friends in Santa Fe.  And, I think we all had a pretty good time arguing about what recipes could and couldn't change.

Ultimately, this was our Southwest Thanksgiving menu:

Nibbles before dinner:

Pecan-Chile Dip
Roasted Chile-Pumpkin Seed Salsa
Tortilla Chips
Fresh Vegetables
Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

The dinner:

Butternut Squash Soup with Cayenne and Sauteed Mushrooms

Chile-Rubbed Turkey 
Cornbread Dressing with Poblano Peppers and Chorizo Sausage
Mashed Potatoes with Chicos (smoked and dried corn kernels)
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cilantro-Lime Pesto
Cranberry Sauce (the usual recipe with orange and walnuts)
Cranberry Sauce with Jalapeno and other earthy peppers
Pickled Red Onions


Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Ginger Ice Cream
Chocolate Chile Truffles
Caramel Popcorn
Chocolate Pecan Bark

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Hors d'oeuvres

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The bird

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The spread: (Clockwise from top left) The Turkey, Cornbread Dressing, Cranberry Sauce, Pickled Onions, Roasted Chile Salsa, Brussels Sprouts, Mashed Potatoes.

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My heaping plate

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Chocolate Chile Truffles

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Caramel Popcorn and Chocolate Pecan Bark

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All gone....

Table decor included a mix of gourds and cactus pears with a sprinkling of paper cactus cocktail stirrers for good measure.  I managed to ignore the whole "cactus" part of the cactus pears when I bought them.  I picked each one up, rolled it over to check the color on all sides, and then stood in line to check out with them cradled in my arms.  Do NOT follow my lead on this one!  I had very uncomfortable invisible cactus spines in my hands for a few hours.
The cactus cocktail stirrers I bought in Chinatown, cut the wooden pick down to about an inch long, and stuck the ends into rounds of cucumber to stand them up straight on the table.
I'm thinking maybe we'll improve upon the Southwest theme next year.  A few ideas for next time:
- Crumble the cornbread in the dressing in larger chunks
- Write out the menu on a board or mirror for guests to refer to
- Watch your hands on the prickly cactus pears

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Gourds, Cactus pears and Cactus cocktail stirrers amidst votive candles

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Gourds and cactus: Mixed messages? Perhaps, but we're allowed to on Thanksgiving

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The garden

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     A few leftover bottles of wine chillin' in the garden

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An All Day Affair: Thanksgiving Prep

TheOccasionist, AllDayCooking6

One thing I love about Thanksgiving is waking up in the morning, turning on the oven, and using it all day.  There are so many dishes to make, the kitchen becomes a stage and the cooks become performers dancing between one another, juggling knives and balancing pans.
This probably sounds absolutely dreadful to some though.  I happen to enjoy cooking, and have prepared Thanksgiving dinner with seasoned cooks who know the kitchen we use together and are organized and thoughtful about sharing the space.  However, I know that preparing the Thanksgiving meal can be a pretty stressful event.  So I like to think of it as a whole day of celebration rather than putting all the focus on the meal.  For me it begins with the preparation: Planning the menu, doing the grocery shopping, assigning tasks, beginning to cook, lots of pots of tea which melt into glasses of wine as the time comes to actually eat.
What are your Thanksgiving traditions besides the eating part?  A walk in the woods?  The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?  A quiet breakfast at your favorite diner?  Whatever you do on Thanksgiving, remember that the meal itself is only a fraction of the occasion and that there are many ways to make it memorable.

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Preparations begin with plenty of tea on hand

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Caramel popcorn

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Rolling the chocolate chile truffles

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Two sauces: Pecan-chile sauce and Roasted chile-pumpkin seed salsa

Can you guess what our theme is this year?  .... Southwest Thanksgiving!