Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday. I love a day that focuses on what’s good in life and then serves it up with gravy and football. There are no gifts, no decorations, no shopping other than the grocery store and I’m there every day of my life anyway.
My table–like yours–is a patchwork quilt of traditional family recipes, things I’ve discovered along the way, my guest’s tasty contributions and an annual new experiment. There are sacred things–the stuffing and the pumpkin pie–in which I never stray for fear of revolt, and there’s things that can be a bit more adventuresome and no one will notice.
I’ve used this sweet potato recipe for the past 15 years and it’s one of my favorites. I’ve made it so many times I had forgotten what the original recipe looked like, but here is a link to the 1997 issue of Bon Appétit. Feel free to use more sweet potatoes (I always do) and adjust the seasonings accordingly. It can be made ahead and refrigerated, just make the topping right before baking.
This easy and flavorful side is a souvenir from my youth when I thought rice only came in two varieties: Minute or pilaf.
I left the Minute Rice back in the 80’s and the pilaf seemed doomed to stay there as well until a few months ago when I resurrected it.
We’ve eaten it probably a dozen times since.
Old School Rice Pilaf
Olive oil and a couple tablespoons of butter
3-4 Angel Hair pasta nests, broken up and crumbled by hand (buy a big box and then you’ll have enough for pilaf for months)
2 cups long-grain or Basmati rice
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (plus more)
1 bay leaf
1.) Brown the crumbled pasta nests in a large pot with the olive oil and butter over medium heat for about 1 minute and then add the uncooked rice. Coat the rice and pasta with the butter and oil for a couple of minutes, toasting it by stirring constantly. Be careful not to burn the pasta–it’s super thin–but you do want it to brown.
2.) Add the broth and the bay leaf, bring to a boil, and then quickly reduce the heat to a low simmer with the lid on until the liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. (Check periodically so it doesn’t burn. You can add more liquid–water or chicken broth) if it gets too dry.
3.) Turn off the heat with the lid still on and let stand a few minutes to get the rice nice and fluffy. Remove the bay leaf and serve.
4.) Realize rice is better in 20 minutes rather than five.
A couple of decades ago for a “Halloween-Themed Meal,” I’d have put out a bowl of Frankenberry and called it a night.
Four children and the invention of the Internet later, I feel an unnatural urge to theme everything we eat in October into some sort of spooky, ghoulish or otherwise macabrely-crafted fare.
Today I came up with this Scarecrow Salad. It’s a deconstructed, then constructed again, updated Oriental cabbage salad with edamame.
And a cry for help.
1/2 head of green cabbage, chopped (2 whole leaves reserved)
1/2 head of purple cabbage, chopped (2 whole leaves reserved)
3 scallions, 2 chopped, 1 cut into 3 equal pieces
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 T. sesame seeds, toasted
2/3 c. shelled edamame, thawed
2/3 c. Chinese noodles
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 oil seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 c. oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Assemble the scarecrow on a large plater first. With the chopped green cabbage, form two “legs,” then use the purple cabbage to form the chest and arms. Place a small mound of the almonds for the head, while the 3 scallion pieces forms the hat.
Lay trimmed pieces of the whole cabbage leaves over the body and limbs accordingly to give it a cohesive look. Place a small amount of Chinese noodles at the feet and hands, an edamame for the buttons and features for the face.
This only uses a fraction of the ingredients–all of the rest should be placed into a large bowl.
Whisk the dressing ingredients together, and pour over the salad in the bowl. Toss to coat, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, but preferably 2-4. (Cover the scarecrow platter with plastic wrap and refrigerate as well.)
Serve the dressed salad along side of the scarecrow, or, after your guests have been adequately amused, explain that a tornado has blown through and Mr. Scarecrow was blown back into the bowl. He may not have a brain, but you have a stomach so all’s fair in Oz.
However you refer to it, I hope it means fun, food, friends and family. For us, it means all of those things in a cabin in Galtinburg, Tennessee.
This is a favorite destination of ours for long holiday weekends. If you’ve never been to this eastern Tennessee tourist mecca, it’s a must see attraction if Branson or the TLC network ever close.
I am by no means a historian, but after many trips to this particular fun spot, I’ve pieced together what I think can only be a logical history and a list of things not to miss during your visit.
Robert Ripley–of Ripley’s Believe it or Not Fame–was probably an original settler of the Smoky Mountains. He discovered wax relics of pop culture celebrities as he navigated the foothills in a Go-Kart and airbrushed t-shirt. He also discovered an enormous saltwater aquarium which can still be seen today. (For $38 per adult admission.)
Adding to the unique period architecture of the region which includes a staggering amount of Elvis, King Kong and Marilyn Monroe sculpture, there is an upside down museum next to the curiously beached, landlocked Titanic wreckage complete with a fiberglass iceberg and show tunes. Lest you think that is the extent of the arts in Pigeon Forge, please don’t miss dueling lumberjacks or Hatfield and McCoy dinner theatre.
The original cuisine for East Tennessee natives is pancakes, fudge and chain restaurant food. I assume. You’ll have no trouble finding any. Make sure to wash down your (again, curiously landlocked) Bubba Gump shrimp with some local moonshine, or as I like to call it, “Disqualification from the liver or esophagus transplant donor list.” See if your palate can distinguish the subtle differences between a corn mash and a corn cob pipe accidentally dropped into the still.
And just when you think you can’t stand to see another miniature golf course or a pan for your own gold and gem mine trough, you find the real treasure. Tubing down a crystal clear river with your good friends. Watching a bear (from a safe distance of course) walk through your backyard for a marshmallow leftover from a roast the night before. Playing “Guess What Left That Scat,” on your cabin balcony. Wine and a sunset on freshly swept said balcony. Stars, lots of them. A place to celebrate something. Or nothing at all.
So I hope this weekend finds you in a spot you can rewrite history. Even if it’s standing alongside of the General Lee at Cooter’s Museum and Fun Park.
This pasta salad recipe speaks to both my midwestern and fake Italian roots. Perfect for a party.
Party Pasta Salad
3 Tablespoons capers (use the rest of the jar for the salad)
3 garlic cloves
1 T. tomato paste
1/4 c. kalamata olives, pitted and sliced (use the rest of the jar for the salad)
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
Pepper to taste
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
3/4 c. olive oil
2 boxes rotelle or spiral pasta cooked al dente
1 12 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and rough chopped
1 6 oz. jar kalamata olives, sliced and drained
1 12 oz. jar roasted red peppers, sliced and drained
1 8 oz block mozzarella cheese, cubed
1 8 oz. block of cheddar, cubed
8 oz. salami, cubed
1 small red onion
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1.) Pulse first 5 ingredients of vinaigrette in food processor. Add pepper and vinegar, pulse again to blend. With processor running, drizzle in olive oil. (It will seem very salty and vinegary at this stage, but it will mellow out.
2.) Cook pasta al dente, drain and place in large bowl. Add dressing to warm pasta, and add the rest of the ingredients and anything else that sounds good. Lots of different flavors and textures makes this salad different but good.
3.) Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours but better if overnight.
We’ve discussed how they are trying to pretend summer is over for us all by starting school so a-b-c-d-e-effing early, but as long as Labor Day is still weeks ahead, we all know the truth.
Here’s a great baked bean dish to eat every day until September.
Slow-cooker BBQ Beans
(You can also bake these in a 350 degree oven for an hour, but throwing them into a Crock-pot the morning of a cookout is so much easier.)
10 oz of bacon (or more)
1 onion, large diced
1 (15 oz) can of black beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can of garbanzo beans or chick peas, drained
1 (15 oz ) can of red, white or Great Northern beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can of pork and beans with sauce
3/4 c. ketchup
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
1.) Saute bacon over medium heat until bacon starts to crisp. Add onion, and cook until tender. Place in slow-cooker along with the drained beans, and pork and beans in sauce.
2.) In a small bowl, mix together ketchup, brown sugar and vinegar. Pour over top of bean mixture and stir well.
3.) Cook on low for 4-6 hours.
4.) Get ready to repeat this recipe over multiple times because people will ask.
One of the very best happy accidents of this new venture has been how much more crowded my kitchen has become. As soon as I mentioned the new blog to my friends, they have jumped right in offering recipes, taste-testing, opinions, and wine-glass filling. The test kitchen has become my favorite place with some of my favorite people along side offering their generous and delicious additions.
Such was the case when my friend Mikki came through town this summer.
After a bottle of wine or seven, we came up with the most decadent deviled eggs you’ll ever meet. These are so good and so rich, you’ll move up a tax bracket after just one bite.
Deviled Eggs Benedict
18 eggs, hard boiled and peeled (Use organic eggs, worth the splurge when the eggs are the star of the show.)
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 lemon, juiced
1 Tablespoon champagne vinegar
4 slices prosciutto
2 english muffins
chives for garnish
1.) Cut whole eggs in half lengthwise and place on a large platter. Put yolks into food processor. Pulse until smooth.
2.) Add vinegar and lemon juice; pulse again until smooth. With processor running, add the meted butter through the feed tube and blend until smooth and creamy. Use spatula to scrape sides, add salt to taste, blend again. This should resemble and taste like hollandaise sauce.
3.) Place yolk mixture into a plastic bag with the tip cut off for piping. Pipe into eggs. If mixture is slightly runny or soft, it is ok, it will set up nicely in the refrigerator.
4.) Chill eggs for at least an hour. Meanwhile, set oven to 400°. Place prosciutto on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes to crisp up. (You could also do this on the stove top if you prefer.)
5.) Toast English muffins and lightly butter if desired. (It really doesn’t need it.) Cut muffin into small, crouton-sized chunks.
6.) Assemble eggs by placing a piece of the crisp prosciutto, muffin crouton and a sliver of chive on each one.