Thanksgiving: An Invitation To A Global Feast

Every once in awhile, a book will show up unannounced on my doorstep, thoughtfully selected by my cousin for me. It sometimes arrives unexpectedly, and is always a welcome surprise. Earlier this year, one of her gifts was 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, and if you haven’t read it, I heartily recommend it. The book traces the lives and food of five immigrant families newly arrived in the United States who, at different times, lived at 97 Orchard in New York City. The author uses the cultures that these families represent to detail the impact they have had on our food today. The result is a rich description of the food traditions brought to America, peppered with recipes.

This year as we approach Thanksgiving, a food-on-steroids holiday filled with family culinary traditions, of generations and in-laws skirmishing about what goes in the bird, and whether it’s blasphemy to deep-fry the turkey, I am reminded of this book. And I remember that tucked inside the annual friendly bantering, is a common thread of passion to preserve treasured family recipes and traditions that have been passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter.

This country, perhaps like none other in the world, is a melting pot of cultures. Thanks to the diaspora of people from all corners of the world, our dinner table has been infused with a wide variety of dishes steeped in history and tradition going beyond the time this country was colonized. Over time, this infusion has given birth to the distinctive regional cuisines we now enjoy and show up at the Thanksgiving table. Point in case:  all across the country this week, millions of menus in both restaurants and homes will feature a traditional Thanksgiving menu of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams and pumpkin pie. But a table in New England may look different from one in the South. For example, in Boston, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner isn’t complete without cranberry sauce and a mincemeat pie.  But in New Orleans, where both French and Spanish settlers developed one of America’s strongest regional cuisines, the table may feature a Turducken, a Cajun creation that cooks a chicken inside a duck, which is cooked inside a turkey, and the stuffing may incorporate crawfish and Creole pork.

The interesting thing is, as new traditions continue to be born with every new family arriving in America, the archetypal Thanksgiving dinner of our American childhood is never lost. For example, one Thanksgiving, I enjoyed a tropical dish of brown sugar glazed plantains served as an alternative to candied yams, prepared by a Costa Rican host. I know a Guatemalan family who makes tamales with various fillings, including a sweet potato puree, for Thanksgiving. One of the beauties of Thanksgiving is that it’s a porous meal that can easily absorb and embrace all the cultures of this country without ever losing its intrinsic identity. Instead, it’s a reflection of who all are, and where we come from, as we gather together at the table to share our food with each other.

In this spirit, consider this an invitation to all of you to join me at a global Thanksgiving feast, potluck style. What dish will you share that brings a piece of your cultural heritage to our table?

My genealogy, on both sides of my family is strongly English with some Scottish mixed in. The dish I’ve chosen for this potluck feels representative of that lineage to me, and so I’d like to share this recipe for a simple dressing featuring oysters that my great-grandmother served at her Thanksgiving table every year. It’s one she got from another branch of the family, so it’s been around for several generations now. To this day, many members of my family wouldn’t consider having Thanksgiving without it, and as new spouses are added into the fold, this is a recipe they all request.

This year, I’ll be serving it for the first time. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 Mamma’s Cornbread Stuffing

1 recipe cornbread

8 slices of bread

4 stalks celery

I medium yellow onion

2 -4 eggs (personal preference)

4-5 cups chicken broth

2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

1 tablespoon sage

Salt and pepper to taste

1 container shucked oyster (optional)

  1. Rub cornbread between palms to make fine texture. Repeat with bread.
  2. Finely chop celery and onion and sautè in oil until tender.
  3. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and blend with hands. Adjust liquid until thick and consistency of cornbread batter.
  4. Pour into 3-quart casserole dish.  Press oysters into mixture at intervals.
  5. Bake at 350° F.
Posted in Grains, Side Dishes | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Fall Kale Salad with Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

kale salad with spicy roasted sweet potatoes

Fall Kale Salad

Yesterday I posted my recipe for Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes as part of my Gifts From The Kitchen series that included a gift idea of a spice rub. The Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes are great as a stand alone side dish for dinner, but the leftovers are fantastic warmed up and tossed into a kale salad for lunch the following day.

Fall Kale Salad with Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients…

  • 1 bunch kale (I used dinosaur kale, but curly kale will work great too)
  • Generous pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 cup Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes
  • 1 crisp apple, cored and sliced (I used Granny Smith)
  • 2 slices bacon* (for Wimpy Vegetarian version; this is optional)

Making It…

  1. Remove the central vein from the kale leaves and discard; slice the kale into thick ribbons, and wash and dry well. Sprinkle the salt over the top of the kale and massage the leaves until you can feel them relax. They’ll become limp and moist. Squeeze the excess moisture out with a paper towel.
  2. Slice the bacon slices across their width into 1/2″ short slices; these are lardons. Fry until crisp, and drain.
  3. Combine the kale, Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes, bacon lardons and apple slices together and toss in a vinaigrette. I suggest the below Apple Cider Vinaigrette.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Ingredients…

  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 pinch each of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Making It…

  1. Whisk the salt and pepper into the apple cider vinegar a few times to dissolve the salt.
  2. Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified.
Posted in Apples, Greens, Potatoes, Salads | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Gift #4: Chipotle Spice Rub and Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Gift from the kitchen: chipotle spice rub

Roasted sweet potatoes tossed in chipotle spice rub

For those who might be new to my blog, I’m doing a series of Gifts From the Kitchen as we all ramp up for the holidays. These are gifts you can use for a gift exchange with family or friends, or bring to a dinner party for an easy and useful hostess gift.

Truthfully, all these gifts are great ANY time of year, not just just for the holidays – for example this spice rub is a great gift during the summer BBQ season! As we all know, a nicely balanced rub can elevate a very simple dish of ribs to something very special.

Feel free to create your own rub for the level of spiciness you prefer, but my husband and I both like spicy food, so this rub is one I use a lot year-round for both steak and veggies. In fact, it’s the same spice mix I used on my recipe for Broiled Spicy Steak with Garlic Chips on a Gorgonzola Crostini that I entered into a recipe development contest a couple years ago on FOOD52 that made runner-up status against a lot of other great-tasting contenders.

Spice rub for meats or veggies

Chipotle spice rub for both veggies and meats

Chipotle Spice Rub

Ingredients…

  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon oregano (Mexican oregano in particular is a great choice here)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika (Pimenton de la Vera is by far my favorite)

Making It…

  1. Combine all spices in the bowl of a mortar and pestle and lightly mash them together.
  2. Pour into a nice gift container.
  3. Tie a cord or ribbon around it, strung through a small card with the recipe for the spice mix.
Roasted Spicy Yams

Spicy roasted sweet potatoes


Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients…

  • 4 sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons (or to taste) Chipotle Spice Mix
  • 1 tablespoon shelled pumpkin seeds

Making It…

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Peel the potatoes and cut into medium-sized cubes. Toss in olive oil.
  2. Sprinkle the potatoes with the Chipotle Spice Mix, toss again, place on a baking sheet, and roast for 30 minutes, or until tender.
  3. Serve warm with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds.
Posted in Condiments, GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN, MY PANTRY, Potatoes, Side Dishes | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

The Backup Plan: Kabocha Squash Soup

In our over-scheduled lives that feel overwhelming from the moment the alarm jolts us awake every morning, do people have time to cook anymore?

If you’re working a job that makes you feel completely depleted at the end of the day, do you have the energy to make the series of decisions it takes to make a dinner for yourself and others at the end of the day?

If you’ve been pulled in so many directions by your family’s needs all day, and, oh yeah, had to find a plumber to come open a drain plugged up by only God knows what, do you even have the desire to pretend you’re ‘living the life’ in Provence where you drift dreamily out to your lush garden with your children who always wear white clothes that never seem to get dirty or wrinkled, to be inspired to whip up some simple but creative meal for everyone, while sharing a meaningful lesson on food to your children?

Then you’re a better woman than I.

There’s a lot of debate going on about what we cook for ourselves and our families at the end of the day. Are we reaching for processed food because it’s an easy fix for our hunger? Or do we live on take-out? And is canned soup really so bad if the alternative is un-assuaged hunger or a dinner of cookies?

At various times in my life, I’ve gone through long stretches of time of doing all the above: I’ve probably made hundreds of meals based on processed food; I’ve dined on take-out for long stretches when I’ve found myself in jobs that were taking more from me than giving back; and in my 20’s, I sometimes would just have cookies for dinner before heading out with friends to play some tennis. Sometimes life – both good and bad – just gets in the way of our taking care of ourselves.

These days I try to plan my life a little better, now that I’m not just cooking for myself. I’ve finally learned it’s good to have a backup plan. For me, that means such things as doubling a soup recipe and freezing half of it in small, individual freezer-safe containers that can be easily defrosted for a quick healthy meal. Then all I need to make is a salad filled with seasonal fruit or veggies to round out our meal. Some soups are hearty enough to stand on their own for dinner, like chili or a posole; while others are a perfect lunch or light dinner, like the below Kabocha Soup.

Kabocha squash freshly roasted

Before diving into the recipe, a little about kabocha squash. Although most types of squash are believed to have originated in Mesoamerica, kabocha may have been cultivated independently elsewhere, and is today considered a Japanese pumpkin. We usually see them in the stores with a beautiful blue-green, slightly bumpy skin, although red kabochas have a brilliant red-orange color. Inside, the flesh is bright, almost fluorescent orange that’s texturally reminiscent of sweet potatoes when cooked. And you can just imagine all the beta-carotene that’s in a cup of it! So in answer to the above question, opening a can of soup is better for you than cookies for dinner, but this Kabocha Soup is much, much better for you than the canned.

Kabocha Squash and Apple Soup with Coconut

Cook’s Notes:

  • I used Fuji apples.
  • I used a food processor to purée the soup.
  • You can double the recipe and freeze half of it in individual freezer-safe containers for your backup plan for dinner at the end of a hectic day.
  • Sometimes I roast kabocha whole, to save time, but I feel the best flavor comes from roasting them halved. The squash flesh is a little sweeter, and has a caramelized edge to it, due to having the flesh exposed.

Ingredients…

  • 1 – 2 kabocha squash, weighing 5 pounds total
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ½ apples, cored and coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (preferably homemade)
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder (sometimes I’ve used as much as 1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 2 ½ tablespoons coconut milk
  • 1 glug sherry (1 – 2 tablespoons)
  • Toasted squash seeds for topping (optional)

Making It…

  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Cut the squash in half with a sharp knife. Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp and place in a bowl of water. Lightly oil the squash and place face down on a baking sheet. Roast for one hour, or until the flesh of the kabocha is tender. Remove from the oven and let cool until you can easily remove the skin. Coarsely chop the flesh.
  2. Heat up the olive oil in a large pot and add the onions and apples. Sautè until soft.  Add the squash and the broth and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes to meld the flavors, and purée with a food processor, countertop blender or immersion blender until the soup is velvety smooth.
  3. Reheat the soup and add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 10 minutes and serve.
  4. Optional: sprinkle a few toasted squash seeds over the top of the soup.
Posted in MY PANTRY, Soups, Squash | Tagged , , , , , | 38 Comments

Creamy Pumpkin Polenta with Apple and Feta Crumble

I have had pumpkin on my brain for weeks, thinking of all the ways I want to use it. And then I realized I was just sitting around and thinking, but not doing very much about it. Honestly, sometimes I think about something so much that it’s almost like I really did it…

Then I decided to roast my own pumpkin and got very motivated. Nothing like trying a new, simple technique to get me going. In fact it was so much fun, you might be seeing a few pumpkin recipes before the season is over. But first up: Pumpkin Polenta. As a note, the last three recipes I’ve posted this week combine together to make this an easy dish!

This Pumpkin Polenta makes a great lunch with a salad. It warmed me up on a chilly day, and stayed with me all afternoon. I’ve provided some tips on making polenta in the below Cook’s Notes, but for some great information on the history of polenta and more tips in making it, this is a great article to relax over on the Global Gourmet website.

I made this with a terrific Apple and Feta Topping, but my husband, a confirmed carnivore, likes this with some meat. When he first tried it, he really liked it but said it needed some good stuff. Thinking he meant some cream or cheese, I asked what he thought I should add. His response: Meat, and lots of it….

So, if you’re looking for something more hearty, you can take a more ‘wimpy vegetarian’ approach and serve this with roast chicken, pork or top it with a brisket stew. Me? I thought it was perfect with the Apple Feta Crumble 🙂

Creamy Pumpkin Polenta

Cook’s Notes:

  • Polenta is famous for its tendency to thicken and can be made to a variety of consistencies ranging from firm to soft. General rule of thumb for firm polenta (aka very, very thick), use 1 part polenta to 3-4 parts liquid; for soft polenta, use 1 part polenta to 6-8 parts liquid. 
  • Polenta comes in fine, medium and coarse grain. The finer the grain, the less creamy it will be, so I tend to use medium or coarse grain with the later being my favorite for a creamy polenta like this recipe.
  • Polenta thickens over time and should be served immediately. Ideally, get everything else ready and kept warm until the polenta can be served. If this isn’t possible, and the polenta must sit on the stove for a bit, it’s best to keep it warm in a hot water bath, if possible. Alternatively, you can ladle in some hot liquid just before serving and stir to allow the polenta to absorb it.
  • Tips for a creamier polenta: 1) use a coarser grain polenta; 2) add fat at the end in the form of milk, cream, butter, and/or cheese; or 3) add a pinch of baking soda. Be careful with the baking soda, as more than a pinch can turn the polenta to mush, which isn’t quite as attractive as creamy 🙂 . Even creamy polenta should have a mouthfeel of some of the texture of the grain. Also, be aware that the addition of even a pinch of baking soda will speed the cooking.
  • If making your own vegetable broth, this would be a great one to add chunks of pumpkin to, and/or stripped corn cobs to increase the pumpkin and/or corn flavors.

Ingredients…

  • 5 cups vegetable stock, divided (preferably homemade)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 2 ¼ cups pumpkin purée (preferably homemade)
  • ½ cup apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice, or to taste

Making It…

  1. Bring 4 cups of the vegetable stock to a simmer with the butter. Add the polenta and stir the polenta thoroughly.
  2. Once the polenta begins to thicken (about 5 minutes), reduce the heat to low and add the pumpkin purée and apple cider. Continue to stir. Once the polenta has considerably thickened (after about 15 minutes), add the cream cheese, cream, salt and allspice.
  3. Ladle additional hot stock into the polenta as needed for the consistency you prefer. I used a total of 5 cups of broth, but the amount will depend on the age of the grain, the heat of the stove, and the coarseness of the grain.

Apple Feta Crumble

Ingredients…

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 crisp apple, cored (I used Granny Smith)
  • 1/2 Serrano pepper, minced
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 2 teaspoons crumbled feta or goat cheese
  • 2 teaspoon toasted pepitas
  • 1 large garlic minced
  • pinch minced sage
  • splash balsamic vinegar

Making It…

  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT the balsamic vinegar.
  2. Cook until the apples and onions soften and become slightly golden (about 15 minutes). Add the splash of balsamic vinegar and stir for 1 minute.
  3. Serve on top of the polenta. Add a little salad on the side, pour a cup of tea, and relax.

Posted in Apples, Grains, Side Dishes, Squash, Vegetarian Main Meals | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Gift #3: Spiced Pepitas

I keep pepitas around the kitchen all year round and use them to top off salads, pastas, stews, and a wide variety of vegetable dishes. Or, just acappella, for a snack without any accompaniment at all.

Pepitas is the Spanish culinary term for pumpkin seeds. Also commonly used in Mexican cuisine, pepitas date back at least to the time of the Aztecs, as pumpkins originated in the New World and were brought to Europe with the Spanish explorers circa 1500. Letting nothing go to waste, the Aztecs used the flesh as well as the seeds in their cooking. They’re a very healthy addition to most any dish, and are a great source of protein.

As an additional historical note, pumpkin oil is extracted from hulled seeds. High in polyunsaturated fats, the oil is a good source of heart-healthy omega-3, according to the Director of Nutrition at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But it takes a LOT of pumpkins to get a significant quantity of pumpkin oil: roasted and pressed, the seeds of 30 pumpkins yields 4 cups of oil!

I’ve amended this posting per my friend LiztheChef’s comment below suggesting this could also be a great Gift From the Kitchen. Great idea, Liz. This could be combined with sunflower kernels and pine nuts too, wrapped in little colored plastic bags, tied with ribbon with a gift tag.

Just starting to sauté

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Cook’s Notes:

  • You can use unsalted pumpkin seeds bought at a store or farmer’s market, or reserved them from pumpkin. Seeds from butternut squash work well here too!
  • Feel free to use whatever spices strike your fancy!
  • If you toast up the seeds you retrieve from a pumpkin or other squash, scoop out the seeds and place in a bowl of water. Let soak for 30 minutes. The soaking starts to separate the stingy squash fiber from the seeds, making it MUCH easier to detach the seeds. Let them dry out before toasting.
  • I use this same recipe when toasting pine nuts.
  • This can also be done in the oven at 350° F.

Ingredients…

  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • pinch ground cayenne pepper
  • pinch ground smoked paprika

Making It…

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.
  2. Heat a small sauté pan over medium – low heat. Add the pumpkin seeds, tossing frequently as they brown.
  3. Cool and store in an air-tight container.

Other Roasted Pumpkin Seed Recipes That Caught My Eye This Week…

Mike’s Baking


Posted in Condiments, GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN, MY PANTRY | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Roasting a Pumpkin

Fresh from the oven

Who knew this would be so easy and so rewarding? I’ve used canned pumpkin for years without a trace of guilt. But this year, motivated by this blog posting by BakerStreet, I decided to try my hand at roasting my own. So off to the farmer’s market I went to get a nice Sugar Pie Pumpkin to work with. I’ve seen them in the stores for years, but have mostly used them for table decorations that get tossed after Thanksgiving.

I do feel a little guilty about that, I must admit.

I love to make things like this that get popped in the oven and roasted while I can multi-task on any number of other things. Or just sit and read the newspaper while feeling like I’m actually working my tail off roasting my own pumpkins like a pioneer woman. What a gift.

In fact, I kind of forgot about it (hate that), but it was so forgiving that it was just fine. Maybe even better. The skin just naturally fell away from beautiful pumpkin flesh that was so aromatic that my kitchen smelled like autumn for hours.

All ready to be roasted

Roasted Pumpkin Puree

Cook’s Notes:

  • I roasted my pumpkin whole, but you can cut the pumpkin in half and roast that way too. It will roast faster. Go to BakerStreet’s blog posting on this to see how she did hers!

Ingredients…

  • 1 pumpkin (I used a Sugar Pie Pumpkin)

Making it…

  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Place the pumpkin on a baking sheet and roast for 1 hour or until soft.
  2. Remove from oven and let sit until cool enough to handle. The skin should easily peel away from the flesh. Remove the seeds and the super-stringy part of the pumpkin and soak in water to more easily detach the seeds from the pumpkin fiber.
  3. Either mash the pumpkin flesh with a potato masher or put into the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a blade, and whirl it like crazy for about 15 – 20 seconds.
Posted in Squash | Tagged , | 20 Comments