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Thankful for time

The pre-Thanksgiving stress and nerves may be setting in, so take a deep breath as the focus shifts to a fulfilling menu of classic American trimmings.

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 8, 2012

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In his book “Born Round,” former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni takes several pages to describe the organized frenzy his mother experienced each Thanksgiving. The order for battle began the weekend before the big event with lists and Post-its to help ease her anxiety of hosting the dinner for his large extended Italian-American family. I laughed out loud as I read this portion of the book, especially each time she bothered her husband “don’t forget to pick up the cannoli.”

There should be no frenzy and anxiety over this most American celebration. My culinary mantra is clean out the refrigerator, keep the menu simple, prepare as many dishes a day or two in advance and face the reality that the majority of us are not Martha Stewart.

Thanksgiving is the most traditional of holidays. This is not the time to tamper with it. Each family has its favorite dishes and looks forward to enjoying them each year. I know mine does.

Growing up, we never ate mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. Sweet potatoes joined the turkey because my grandmother loved them and would often add one to her pot of vegetable soup. I don’t recall Brussels sprouts because they became popular in the late-’80s. Green beans, homemade stuffing prepared with challah, a relish tray for added crunch and her homemade apple strudel (no phyllo please) were served with homemade pumpkin pie.

Our Thanksgiving dinner has settled in nicely through the years. I purchase an organic turkey from Godshall’s Poultry in the Reading Terminal Market. After I warm it to room temperature, Sandy and I walk the five minutes to the Parkway to catch part of the parade, come home and watch the dog show. Then the bird goes into the oven around 2 p.m.

I made cranberry relish from scratch last year for the first time. I could not believe how easy it was. The cranberry relish, Mushroom Stuffing and Sweet Potato Soufflé are made the day before Thanksgiving.

The late Nora Ephron believed, as I do, that Pepperidge Farm crushed herb stuffing mix is the best basis for it. She also believed that making pie dough from scratch is too much work. Buying the dough or a ready-made one for pumpkin pie, using canned unsweetened pumpkin, is the relaxing route.

Here are side dishes for a delicious Thanksgiving. Next week we will turn our attention to the turkey, Brussels sprouts and homemade cranberry relish.

Mushroom Stuffing

Ingredients:

1 large onion, diced
1 shallot, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
1-1/2 pounds of mushrooms of choice, wiped clean and diced
1 Braeburn apple or 1 Anjou pear, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of Canola oil
1 12-ounce bag of Pepperidge Farm herbed crushed stuffing
1 32-ounce package of chicken or vegetable broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Place the onion, shallot and celery in a bowl and toss well. Place the mushrooms in a bowl. Keep the apple or pear on the cutting board.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium. Add the onion, shallot and celery and sauté for about five minutes. Place the vegetables in a large bowl. Add the mushrooms and sauté them until they give up their juices, for about five minutes. Place them in the bowl with the vegetables. Blend well. Add the apple or pear and blend. Add the stuffing mix and about half of the broth. Blend well. Add more of the broth if the stuffing feels dry. It should be quite moist. Season with the salt and pepper.

Spray a large baking dish with vegetable spray. Place the stuffing in the dish. As your turkey rests, place the stuffing in the 350-degree oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Serves six.

Sweet Potato Soufflé

Ingredients:

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Sprinkling of cinnamon
4 extra-large eggs, separated

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