November 20, 2012

My Thanksgiving Recipe To Eat, Drink & Be Happy

Thanksgiving dinner at my parents' house. I'll be missing it terribly this year!
Thanksgiving is only two days away, but I'm sure a lot of you have already done all the shopping and string beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and, most importantly - the turkey are resting on the shelves of your refrigerator... This is more that I can say for myself!

If I'm right about it and you've already done your Thanksgiving shopping, then you are so much smarter than I am, because I haven't done any shopping and/or preliminary preparations, which means, I would have to brave the crowd of the last minute procrastinators tomorrow hoping to have any kind of poultry left. What did I get myself into?!!
While I might have had experimented with some mashed potatoes in the past, as well as with the string beans, roasted veggies, and gravy - I've never ever in my life cooked turkey, or, to be exact - THE THANKSGIVING TURKEY, which means - I've never made the stuffing either...

My mom was very good about it, she always made the Thanksgiving dinner and my dad and I were involved with the little aspects of the preparation, like chopping stuff, cooling the wine, cutting the cooked turkey and...devouring it, of course. Those were our 'responsibilities'. But now that it's my first ever Thanksgiving celebration away from my family, I've braved myself enough to assume I can do it. And why not - I am very good at making the chicken!

So, here are my recipes for the Thanksgiving dinner I'm gonna make. These recipes I've tried before - but as a separate dish - and will use again for my very first Thanksgiving dinner with a few variations along the way, as I never ever follow any particular recipe - I invent it as I go.

So, chicken - [yes, you've heard me, there's no way I'm buy a 15-pound turkey for just a few people] - it will be roasted in the oven.

I could make as perfect Thanksgiving turkey as my mom's!
For the chicken: unwrap the chicken, wash it all very well, inside and out. And now, most important thing - you need to season the chicken inside, outside and even under the skin and no matter what herbs and spices you decide to use, the best way to get tasty chicken - [or turkey] - is to generously season it everywhere possible. 

Generously rub salt and pepper inside the cavity, along with whatever other herbs and spices you're using - you can use as simple as Italian seasoning from CVS (huh!) that has all kinds of spices and/or combine all you have (but make sure first that none of your guests have any allergies and/or dislikes for any particular spices!)

I also rub olive oil under the skin and inside the turkey with some garlic. Then, put it in the foil form filled up with a bit of water - to make the meat nice and soft inside. Now it's ready for some stuffing!

The way I'm going to do it - I will lay the stuffing around the chicken, not inside of it! Do not put the stuffing inside if you don't like it soft. I like it on a crispy side, so I'll be putting it outside my chicken. While you are doing the last steps, prepare your oven - warm it up to at least 145 degrees and then put your chicken in.

Now, the stuffing: buy one package of herb-seasoned dry break stuffing mix.

I like my stuffing to be very well seasoned, a bit spicy, and both sweet and sour, which you will achieve by combining vegetables with fruits/berries - like celery, onion, carrots, raisins, cranberry (viola - the sweet part of it), and - cherry liquor (or orange liquor - and that's the sweet part as well!). And, the best part is, it only takes 15 minutes to make it after all the ingredients have been chopped. You can also lay the chestnuts around the turkey as French do. I've had it before and it'd delicious. As a matter of fact - you can now get the canned chestnuts at the grocery stories, like Trader Joe's. It's from France! They should be already pre-cooked.

I know the extravagant cooks would tell you to cook everything separate and then combine it all at the end. I'm not like that - I'll do it all at once.

Put raisins, celery, carrots, apples, and onion and simmer in the butter for about 10-15 min. Then add the mass to the stuffing mix and stir in the liquor. Add some more butter, chicken broth and season with salt and pepper. When it looks as one whole uniform mass - now you can lay it around your chicken/turkey - and, remember, outside the chicken, not inside if you like it a bit crispy. Viola, now you can put it all in the stove, pour yourself another glass of wine - [because the first one you should have started before the poultry was even out of the fridge...] - and move on to the side dishes.

String beans - lightly steam it with some olive oil, and sprinkle it with shredded Parmesan cheese - [just because I put my Parmesan on everything, including the oatmeal, doesn't mean you can use other kinds of cheese!] - and sprinkle it with the roasted garlic bits that you'd roast ahead of time. Don't even get me started on Parmesan!

Mashed potatoes - I usually boil the young potatoes in skin - [you can peel it, if you prefer it without the skins] - till they are very tender to the point of them falling apart. I leave just enough water in the pot they cooked in to mash them well. As I mash, I add half & half, Parmesan cheese - again, salt, pepper - to taste. I mash it very well till it's all one soft mass.

Cranberry sauce - here I'll cheat. I'll just get a very good brand of the cranberry sauce slash preserves that has full berries and not just one mass of jell. However, here's a trick to customize it and make it less 'desert-y' - to add a bit of hot sauce in it! If you leave close to IKEA, I'd rather get the Swedish Lingonberry jam!

Roasted eggplant & zucchini - this is the easiest dish of them all. All you  have to do is to cut the eggplant to thin round or square/long pieces and do the same with the zucchini, only not as thin since it's more tender and will roast faster. Then lay the pieces over the foil on a flat sheet in the oven and sprinkle it with pepper, salt and some olive oil. This should go during the half-time of your chicken roasting in the oven as it doesn't take as long. By the way, you can add some sweet potatoes to roast as well.

Brussels sprouts - this is something that my mother always added to our Thanksgiving dinner, it is not really according to the American tradition, but to tell you the truth, the traditional American Thanksgiving has evolved over the years to include more and more dishes and variety of them than what it was originally. I doubt the pilgrims and Indians had all the pecans, zucchini, eggplant, celery and Brussels sprouts to their disposal! So, you can make your own Thanksgiving dinner - add a touch to it as my parents' friends used to do when I was a teenager. They were of the Spanish decent, so their Thanksgiving had a lot of Spanish flavored dishes that made it even more interesting.

So, the Brussels sprouts come from my Russian side of family. My mom would first cook them slowly on the skillet with a bit of water, so that the water steam would actually cook it. She would then add a bit of pepper, salt and olive oil as they are cooked on the skillet and then transfer it to a small foil dish and cover it with the sour cream and sprinkle it with shredded cheese on top of it. Then she'd roast it in the oven for a few minutes. Viola! It's unbelievably tasty!

Baked mushrooms with cheese and sour cream - [or as it is often called in Russia - the "Julien" style mushroom.] Here they'd call it a mushroom casserole.

It's very easy to make, the only thing it'd require is not a foil baking dish, but rather a bake-ware pot, preferably an elongated one - not round, not squared, but like this one. Here's how you make it the 'easy style' - not the traditional way as pictured here.

First of all, the mushrooms should be fresh - absolutely no canned mushrooms. You can go as far as to use the fresh wild mushrooms from a local farmer's market and/or store or get Porcini mushrooms, which are the ones I'm gonna use. 

You brush the mushrooms clean and slice - enough to fill the baking pot. Then you sautéed them with onions on olive oil till they'll get the gold color. 

In a separate mixing bowl, combine sour cream (the richer the sour cream it is, the better!), shredded cheese and pepper/sat. Mix it well and then mix the mushrooms in. Put it all in the baking pot and cover with another thin layer of sour cream and top it off with lots of shredded cheese. Now it's ready for the oven! It does not require much time as most of it is already cooked, all you need is to wait for for the cheese to melt on top and get a bit roasted (it should look similar to the top of the Soupe à l'oignon).

Of course, there is also the traditional Thanksgiving desert, but, in my case - I don't do deserts. I used to bake cookies when I was in the middle school, but only because I really felt great about making something to impress my mom, who is a great cook. I later created my own recipe for the oatmeal cookies that my mom loved, but stopped doing it as well after I moved to NYC and realized that my kitchen slash bedroom slash living room leaves little desire to bake because then everything in the apartment would smell like cookies for weeks. Now, the only deserve I have - [when I have it] - is chocolate martini and street nuts. (If you really want to know, I'll tell you where in NYC you can get the best chocolate martini, just ask!)

This said - the pumpkin pie and ice cream will be on the menu as well, but they will not be made from scratch, they'd be bought at a store. The only thing you can do to 'customize' it is to warm it up a bit by baking it in the oven for a few minutes - it'd be then perfect to be served with the ice-cream! Believe it or not, but my mom used to make both pumpkin and pecan pies from scratch. I, personally, wouldn't risk the fire alarm in our building!

Of course, you can add more to your feast, but taken that tomorrow will be my first OFFICIAL Thanksgiving dinner that I'm making myself - and from the scratch, I will make the dishes that are relatively safe and easy to make as I've made them before. Wish me luck!

Happy Thanksgiving! And, please, do share your personal recipes with me and the other readers. We want to know! To learn where else they celebrate Thanksgiving - [celebrating harvesting is not only common in America!] - click here.

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