Saturday, November 19, 2011

happy (almost) thanksgiving!

the only tg picture i could find on my computer.

I cannot wait for Thanksgiving. Christmas certainly has its charms, and I'm excited to start singing carols, wrapping presents, and looking for snow (that's a pre-Christmas possibility in Nashville!), but Thanksgiving has a special place in my heart. It's not just that food takes center stage, although I certainly enjoy that. I just love the whole idea behind it:  the devotion of a full day to gratitude. 

Also, I can't write this post without mentioning that I have a special ancestral tie to this holiday. My mother's side is descended from Stephen Hopkins, one of the passengers on the Mayflower and thus a participant in the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth. My grandmother, forever the Bostonian, never let a Thanksgiving pass without reading aloud to us "The Women of the Mayflower," an essay on, you guessed it, the women of the Mayflower. As a chubby five-year-old, I didn't quite see the value in delaying supper to hear a history lesson, but of course now I look back on the tradition with fondness. I am amazed at how vividly I remember sitting on one of my parent's laps on that ugly green couch, half-listening, half-daydreaming about pecan pie.

Anyway, that's a long enough trip down memory lane. Twenty years later (!), our family has both shrunk and grown, we have Thanksgiving at the beach with a substantially smaller crowd, and we have a copy of Grandma's essay to read to ourselves. Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday, though, and I want to share with you what we're planning to make this year. Some of these recipes we've had before, and some of them are variations on family favorites. I'm also using this to highlight some of my go-to recipe websites and sources (although most of them have already made appearances on here).

This is a pretty traditional menu with a few twists. We've never been much for changing it up on Thanksgiving, and although I'm all for culinary creativity, on this holiday I like to take the familiar route. Maybe this will provide a little inspiration for your menu or prompt you to share some of your favorite Thanksgiving memories or dishes. Regardless, I hope that you have as much to give thanks for as I do.

a thanksgiving menu
for snacking and drinking:
   the modern relish tray (The Kitchn)
   cocktail suggestions (Cooking Light)
   beer pairings (Saveur)
   wine pairings (food52)
sides (the best part!):
   beet salad with chevre and walnuts (Williams-Sonoma)
   cranberry-pepper jelly (Bon Appetit)
   summer squash casserole, aka "Sarah's foot casserole," but that's another story. 
      (Southern Living)
   spicy roasted green beans with bacon candy (Tasting Table)
   creamy mashed potatoes (Cook's Country) and gravy (just wing it...get it?)
   golden-crusted brussels sprouts (Serious Eats)
   spicy creamed onions (Saveur)
   cornbread and sausage stuffing - my favorite! (Cook's Illustrated)
   herb-roasted turkey breast (Ina Garten)
   maple-glazed ham (Real Simple)
   pumpkin-praline pie (Cook's Country)
   sorghum pecan pie (The Lee Bros.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2011

apple-cardamom upside down cake

A year ago, I wouldn't have recognized the flavor of cardamom. I had unknowingly tasted it before in Indian dishes and maybe a Scandinavian-influenced sweet or two, but I certainly would not have been able to pin it down. It's slightly floral (but not in a potpourri kind of way), earthy, with a little bit of black peppery kick. In this recipe it's combined with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, so you're not smacked in the face with cardamom flavor. Thus, it's a good introduction to the spice if you're not sure you'd like it on its own.

A few notes on potential adjustments to the recipe:  next time, I think I'll up the whole-wheat/oat flour ratio to half of the flour (3/4 c white, 3/4 c whole grain). I might even add some whole oats; the substantial amount of spices in the cake can support a heartier texture. Also, you could reduce the sugar a bit, to maybe a cup or so, since the caramelized top already bring the sweetness factor up a notch. A few spoonfuls of honey in place of some of the sugar would be nice as well. Oh, and maybe some toasted walnuts or pecans on the bottom with the apples! (This is the first time I made this, so bear with me.)

In short, you could do a lot with this recipe to make it totally yours. I think it's pretty forgiving, considering I accidentally used baking soda instead of baking powder and then just added some cream of tartar to make up for it, and it still tasted great.

apple-cardamom upside down cake
adapted from the kitchn 
12 servings
per serving:  285.5 cal, 8.4g fat, 54.9g carb, 1.8g fiber, 2.9g protein, 8+ weight watchers

8 tbsp salted butter, divided
1/2 c dark brown sugar
3 medium apples
1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat or oat flour (or a combination)
1 tsp cinnamon, plus extra to sprinkle over apples
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c milk
3 eggs
1 1/2 c sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt 6 tbsp of the butter in a small saucepan and add the brown sugar. Let bubble for a couple of minutes, then pour into 12 x 8" pan (13x9" would probably be fine, too; your cake will just be a little thin). Keep the saucepan out; you'll use it again.

Peel, core, and slice the apples, and lay them flat over the butter-brown sugar mixture in the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, spices, salt, and baking powder. Warm milk and remaining butter in saucepan over low heat until the butter melts. Meanwhile, beat the eggs until they are thick and pale, 3 to 5 minutes. Add sugar and beat 5 minutes more. Add flour mixture and milk, and stir until the batter is smooth. Pour batter into pan.

Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then invert onto serving platter. If having for dessert, serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

uh-oh, this piece fell apart. guess I have to eat it!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

the fall of freddie the leaf

All of my friends who work in college admissions are wrapping up their last recruitment trips of the season, and as they've relayed their stories about cheap hotels, missed flights, and clueless high schoolers, it's just begun to sink in:  I'm not in that world anymore. I'm a student again, and I've stayed put for the months of September and October for the first time in three years.

Okay, so three years may not sound like long, but I've only been alive for 25--that's 12% of my lifetime! (Yes, I had to pull out a calculator to do that math.) Dealing with change has never been my strong suit, and although I think I am exactly where I should be, I'll be honest--this has been an adjustment.

For some reason all this change reminds me of a book I read as a child, The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. Although the author wrote it to explain to children the complex idea of death, it's really about life, and change, and hope. It's not a sad book.

As I reread the story, it spoke to me in a new way, one part in particular:
Freddie loved being a leaf. He loved his branch, his light leafy friends, his place high in the sky, the wind that jostled him about, the sun rays that warmed him, the moon that covered him with soft, white shadows. Summer had been especially nice. The long hot days felt good and the warm nights were peaceful and dreamy. There were many people in the park that Summer. They often came and sat under Freddie's tree. Daniel told him that giving shade was part of his purpose.
"What's a purpose?" Freddie had asked.
"A reason for being," Daniel had answered. "To make things more pleasant for others is a reason for being. To make shade for old people who come to escape the heat of their homes is a reason for being. To provide a cool place for children to come and play. To fan with our leaves the picnickers who come to eat on checkered tablecloths. These are all the reasons for being."
I loved Charleston, and I still do. I loved my friends there, my home, the water. But I couldn't fulfill my purpose there. The crazy thing is, I don't even know what that purpose is yet, but I know I needed to come here to find it. So here I am.

P.S. - Forgive my navel-gazing for a moment, and expect a recipe soon! I sat down to write a post about apple cake, and this just came out.