Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Little Merry Sunshine Style

I love Thanksgiving. I love to cook Thanksgiving dinner. I love to have people over. I love using the fancy dishes. I love the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I simply love all of it.

This year's Thanksgiving is being celebrated with my dad and brother. They are both busy tackling my "Honey Do" list while I cook away. Yesterday, Dad and I re-tackled the outside Christmas lights because he thought I should move into the 21st century and away from the colored lights that were 30 years old. I have to say, the new lights are beautiful, although nothing rivals my next door neighbors wooden reindeer, polar bears, and rock formation with fake flowers. Hopefully, no one will rearrange the reindeer this year. But I digress.

Dad and Dave are currently building the storm door for my sliding glass living room door and next will tackle a project in the crawl space, I think. Dave may go up on the roof just to check things out like he does a couple of times a year. Football will appear on TV soon and they will take their rightful places on the couch and in the La-Z-Boy. Beer and yelling at the TV may be involved. All while I continue to cook.

Yes, Thanksgiving tasks are divided along traditional gender role lines, but on this day, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner to me is about the tradition. The family. The love that I feel when I pull out recipes that have been passed down from 3-4 generations. I may not have known the women who cooked Thanksgiving before me, but on this day, they're each a part of me as I use their recipes and tweek them with my own stamp. As I write this, my good friend Bergsie of Kittens Farting Rainbows and I are having an email conversation about Nana's fruitcake, which she is going to make this year. Bergsie sees cooking "as a creative process and a way to connect with other people and history." I couldn't agree more.

This year's Thanksgiving includes not only traditional family recipes, but also two new ones shared with me by friends.

Night-Before French Toast (see below)
Orange Juice and Coffee

Sweet & Sour Meatballs
(I'm only preparing appetizers because I have them in the house and don't want Dad and Dave to starve)

Pumpkin Bisque
Green Beans with Sliced Almonds
Nana's Corn Bread Stuffing (stuffed in the bird) (see below)
Fresh Cranberry Sauce (use the recipe on the back of the package of fresh cranberries)
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Soufflé (see below)
Giblet Gravy (see below)
Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
Pumpkin Spice Bars (see below)

As I tweeted last night, I don't know how to cook for 3. I know how to cook for 23.


Night-Before French Toast
1 (10 oz) long, thin loaf French or Italian bread (almost anything will work)
8 large eggs
3 cups milk
4 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon (or to taste)
1 tsp. vanilla (or to taste)
2 T butter, cut into pieces

Grease 9x13-inch cake pan. Cut bread into 1-inch slices; arrange in layers. Beat eggs with all ingredients, except butter; pour over bread. Cover with foil; refrigeratore 4-36 hours. Bake, uncovered at 350 for 45-50 minutes; dot with butter. Serve with syrup, honey, yogurt, sour cream, fresh fruit or powdered sugar. Perfect for brunches.

JLG Note: My dear friend Debbie Nelson shared this recipe with me at her fantastic Halloween brunch. I don't measure cinnamon or vanilla. I don't think you can ever have too much of these ingredients. Use what you like. I also only cooked for about 40 minutes because the top layer was getting too well-done. Very light and airy. Dad and Dave went back for seconds.

Nana's Corn Bread Stuffing
Bake corn bread (according to the recipe on the Quaker Yellow Corn Meal box) in a wrought iron skillet.
Brown about 10 slices of bread (JLG Note: I like the grainy wheat bread).
Crumble corn bread and bread slices together in a big bowl.
Add 2-3 raw eggs, poultry seasoning (2 tsp or so) and boiling water to mix dressing.
Add 2 onions and celery, chopped and browned in butter.

You can stuff the dressing into the turkey or you can put it all in a pyrex dish and cook separate in the oven, but you cannot stuff the turkey the night before. Stuff it just before you put it in the oven.

JLG Note: You need enough boiling water to hold stuffing together, so there's no real specific amount. I actually prefer to use vegetable or chicken stock. I also add dried cherries to my stuffing. I usually have dressing in the turkey and in a separate dish and I put the separate pyrex dish in the oven for the last hour the turkey is cooking.

Sweet Potato Soufflé
6 Sweet Potatoes
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup chopped pecans

1. In a large stockpot, cover sweet potatoes with 1 inch of water; boil for 20 minutes, or until fork tender. Drain, allow to cool and remove skins.
2. Preheat oven to 350. Grease or butter a 2-quart casserole dish.
3. Place potatoes in a mixing bowl and with an electric mixer, beat on low speed until potatoes begin to break up. Increase speed to medium high and blend until smooth.
4. Reduce speed to low and add sugar, milk, butter, vanilla, eggs, and salt. Mix well.
5. Allow any potato "fibers" to remain on the beater and remove. Pour sweet potato mixture into the casserole dish.
6. Prepare the topping in a small bowl by whisking together the brown sugar, flour, butter, and pecans. Sprinkle topping over the potato mixture and bake for 40 minutes.

JLG Note: I got this recipe from my blog buddy Living Oprah, who ran a contest for Thanksgiving recipes on her Facebook Fan Page. A woman submitted this recipe saying that her grandmother always made it and now that her grandmother is gone, she and her sisters make it every year.

Nana's Giblet Gravy
Turkey giblets (liver, heart, gizzards, and neck), boiled and sliced into small pieces
6-8 cups stock from the turkey drippings and the leftover water from boiling the gizzards
2 tsp poultry seasoning
2 large T of uncooked Corn Bread Stuffing, held in reserve
3 T cornstarch
some cold water (btwn 1/4 and 1/2 cup)
Dash of salt
some freshly ground pepper
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

1. Take the giblets (liver, heart, gizzards and neck) out of the turkey and boil them in water. It takes about 5 hours to boil them down so that they are tender enough and you'll have to keep adding water throughout the process. Make sure they are just covered with water. I add water about every 45 minutes. Because it takes so long to boil the giblets down, you'll want to start this early in the morning.
Once they are done, remove the meat from the neck of the turkey and throw out the bone. Slice up the remaining giblets into small pieces.
2. Bring the stock to back to boiling and add the giblets, raw stuffing and poultry seasoning.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the cornstarch and water. Add to the stock and stir constantly.
4. Reduce the heat and cook for 2-3 minutes.
5. Salt and pepper to taste.
6. Line your gravy boat with the sliced egg and pour giblet gravy over it. Do not add eggs directly to gravy because it will not last and the gravy will go bad.

Pumpkin Spice Bars
1 pouch Betty Crocker Pumpkin Spice Cookie Mix
1 cup Butter, melted
3 eggs
1 cup Betty Crocker Rich & Creamy Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup chopped Walnuts

1. Mix together cookie mix, melted butter and eggs until well blended. Spread into greased 9-inch square baking pan.
2. Bake at 350 for 33-38 minutes. Cool completely.
3. Spread frosting over bars. Sprinkle with nuts.

JLG Note: I discovered this recipe when I bought the cookie mix to make cookies and decided it would make a great dessert. It says it's bars, but it feels more like cake and is thick like cake.

About the turkey . . . everyone cooks their turkey a little differently. I do mine at 325 and base my time on the temperature. Once it reaches an internal temperature of 170 per the thermometer in the thigh, I remove it from the oven because it will continue to cook as it stands and will reach 180, the recommended temperature for serving. Do not forget to turn on the oven before putting the turkey in it. In fact, your oven should be preheated. Failing to turn on the oven will result in serving your guests raw turkey and I assure you that your mother-in-law will not be happy.

When you're cooking your turkey, if you have any questions at all, you can call the Butterball Hotline at 1-800-BUTTERBALL and speak to a turkey expert. 8am-8pm CST Weekdays through November and December. Don't feel bad if you have to call. Even President Bartlet called the Butterball Hotline.

Even Betsey and Ross got into the Thanksgiving spirit. For those wondering, they feasted on a delightful meal of Purina One for Sensitive Systems and room-temperature water. Catnip was served for dessert.

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