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Thanksgiving Advice from the HeatCageKitchen

Hello, Dear Readers:

This time every year, home cooks all over America fret about Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s the idea of cooking a turkey. Maybe it’s the idea of hosting the “perfect” Thanksgiving dinner. Or maybe it’s because they really, REALLY can’t cook. Whatever the reason, I’m here to try and shed a little light on having an enjoyable and un-harried time at your own party. One place to start–but by no means is the be-all and end-all–is this link to Martha Stewart’s website, with everything Thanksgiving. There are even meatless recipes for your vegetarian guests, or if you just don’t want to deal with a bird.

Before we get started. . . .

Is Domino’s Pizza part of your regular dinner routine? Well, check out Domino’s new Ultimate Pizza Driving Machine. Four years in the making, it will ensure your pizza is hot and fresh with the built-in warming oven that opens to the outside. No passenger seats means that your pizza delivery person is solo, and there’s more room in the vehicle for what’s important–pizza, drinks, sauces, and dessert. If that’s what you do for a living, of course. Or if you just love Domino’s. I’m sure we’ll be seeing one of those cruising around Clear Lake one of these days.

What do I tell you about getting free coffee from Starbucks? Register your card!!!

Last week I got an email that Starbucks Rewards members could get a “free scoop” of this year’s Christmas blend in advance from stores from 2pm to 5 pm. I hopped in my ride and went (as well as one other stop), asked for it, and was handed a HALF POUND BAG. No kidding.

It's HERE!!

It’s HERE!!

See what you get for being a diligent Starbucks customer?

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The downside is that it’s regular coffee, not decaf, so I’ll be using it a tiny bit at a time. I’ve just about finished last year’s Christmas blend:

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Bought on sale AFTER Christmas for half price

Starbucks 2015 Christmas Blend will be available soon in stores. Rewards members can order it now (including decaf) from the Starbucks store online. I told Neighbor E about it–except that he doesn’t drink coffee. BUT–he went and got his half-pound, and now he has a gift for his sister, or anyone else he wants to give it to.

This weekend ushered in Houston’s real fall weather with rain and wind. It may be COLD for Thanksgiving, and if so, that will be great.  I made what I believe is my final batch of pesto for the year, because those plants probably won’t get any bigger–and will likely be gone in the next few weeks. But that’s OK, you know my freezer is stocked with delicious, freshly made PESTO. (Now to get sweet peas in the freezer instead of the “regular” ones.) Bring on the Pea Pesto Soup!

One of the new basil plants ended up being a feeding stem for the neighborhood slugs. I just left the poor thing alone, so that the slugs will eat that and leave my other two to grow.

Elsewhere in the garden, I have seven little jalepenos growing, and the Anaheim/Hatch peppers seemed to have slowed down a bit. That’s OK, I have some in the fridge, and will probably just roast them up and put them in another slow-cooked breakfast quiche. The jalapenos, I have no idea yet. The two Meyer lemons are ripening and getting bigger, and I’ll probably pick them in December. There are two bell peppers coming, and once they start turning red, they’ll be brought inside for. . .something. I made a pot of chili and used the first one, which turned a beautiful shade of red over a week.

The celery stalk that’s been re-growing for a while is probably in need of cutting and using. I need to plant more celery, the garlic and lettuce pretty soon, too. One of the pepper plants I received after our monthly garden lectures didn’t make it, but the one I bought recently seems to be doing OK. The parsley is growing back, and I’ll use that soon. There is one tiny Key lime on the bottom of the tree, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen with it. I’m re-growing some green onions and they’re already shooting up several inches. I’ll transplant the new ones into the container soon. The sage, which I’d hoped would be ready for Thanksgiving. . .well, nothing happened. Might need to go buy one at Kroger, along with some organic celery so I can grow more.

Now let’s get on with Thanksgiving. Again, remember two things:

  • You will prepare 29 other dinners in the month of November
  • A turkey is a big chicken. If you can roast a chicken, you can roast a turkey successfully

Several years ago, I was watching Nigella Lawson make an appearance on either Martha Stewart’s or Rachel Ray’s daily show. It was right before Thanksgiving, part of the promotional tour for one of her books. She mentioned that a British friend who’d moved to New York didn’t know how to roast a turkey. She called on Thanksgiving Day for help, keeping Nigella on the phone until the turkey was done. I don’t even want to know how much that phone call cost.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do that. Assuming you had Nigella Lawson’s phone number.

As I mentioned in the last post, your humble waffle-making appliance can be redeployed to open up to a whole new world of helpful culinary possibilities. This includes Thanksgiving–especially dessert and any breads or rolls you may be considering serving. My suggestion would be to do some research now, roll it around in your head, and test out one or two (or more) recipes beforehand. So when it’s time to start preparing and cooking for Thanksgiving, you know how the waffled brownies or stuffing waffles will come out, and you’ll be ready. If you are cooking for a family, they’ll enjoy trying out the new recipes, too. (Unless they’re like my eldest brother, or the recipes don’t work.)  Many things will cook faster in a waffle iron, and if you need more than one, ask your friends, relatives and/or guests if they would bring one for you and your Thanksgiving Day “staff” to use. (The simpler the machine, the better.)  Don’t worry about if they’re all square or round. If you have more than one and they’re mixed, use the square machine to produce breads, and the round ones for dessert–that way you can keep track of what everything is. And that book on waffling wouldn’t be a bad thing to get, either–lots of good recipes for both bread-y things and sweet things, too. All I’m saying is give it some thought.

Think about that for a minute–hot, crispy waffles from stuffing. Hot, crispy cornbread. . .waffled. Even mac & cheese, waffled. The possibilities really are endless–and unique. (Just keep them warm in the oven or toaster oven until dinner.)  Start trying recipes now and you’ll be ready for Thanksgiving.

Speaking of appliances, consider your Crock Pot, too. I have a low-carb recipe on the recipes page for a chocolate custard that you make in the Crock Pot a day or two in advance and refrigerate. There are more recipes available online for anything you want to make for Thanksgiving. Borrow a Crock Pot from a friend who’s not using theirs; ask nicely. Again, planning ahead, give it some thought, maybe even making a schedule (which is a good idea for a big affair.) Will you have to cook something overnight? Make sure you plan for that.

A frequent suggestion from people like Ina Garten is to make as much as you can in advance. (Hint: The Crock Pot is perfect for this!) Cranberry sauce, for instance, can be made and refrigerated three days ahead. This recipe for Cranberry Ginger Relish has never failed me. (A printable copy is also available on the Recipes page.)  It’s simple, it’s absolutely delicious, and can even be made sugar-free (If you have some, SomerSweet is wonderful, but other comparable sweeteners can also work–try them out first if you have diabetics attending.) I highly recommend finding sherry vinegar for this recipe–I found the last bottle at Cost Plus World Market, but any upscale grocery like The Fresh Market, Central Market, or Whole Foods may have it as well.

You can find downloadable planning guides from Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma at these links. (It seems I kept the paper one from 2007; wonder if I should toss it.) Martha Stewart’s website has  Everything Thanksgiving, and The Food Network also has a “make ahead Thanksgiving” to make and freeze. And everyone’s new favorite redhead, Ree Drummond, has your back with more recipes and a section for what to do with it the day after.

And that’s just off the top of my head. Even grocery store websites have them, like Texas-based HEB and the east-coast grocer Publix. You may have your own favorites, too–that’s OK. But start thinking now, and make your lists and schedules before you realize it’s tomorrow!!

I will also remind you of the day I had the GER over for Thanksgiving two years ago. We’re still friends, thank heavens, but read what *not* to do in that post. Like start a glass of wine and keep refilling and drinking it. While cooking. He’s still not over that one.

Don’t forget about spatchcocking a turkey. Yes, it works for any bird, but with a turkey it’ll cook a lot faster than the standard roasting. I did it last time, and got no complaints about the turkey from the GER:

Looks a bit strange, being flat, but it cooks a lot faster

Looks a bit strange, being flat, but it cooks a lot faster

If you have a turkey roaster like I used to, it can, all year long, double as a secondary oven. Roast your turkey in it at the holidays, but use it for whole chicken, turkey parts, or other things the rest of the year. (I got rid of mine when we no longer had the “Buddhist Thanksgiving.”) Remember–110 vs. 220. If you have enough room, and a large family, this is a good thing to have around. Our hostess one year put that roaster in the laundry room–but that’s fine, because it kept it out of the way. But once or twice a year? Spatchcock that bird and get it done faster.

Turkey roasts at 350F and comes out just fine, whether you spatchcock it or leave it whole. Honest, my mother still believes that you have to cook the turkey at 200F for 8 to 12 hours to “kill all the germs.” Don’t do this–350F is a better temperature to do that, just like a chicken. Here’s a basic primer on roasting turkey, from The Food Network.

Generally, you allow 13 to 15 minutes per pound of turkey. That means a 10-to-12 pound turkey will cook in 2.5 to 3 hours. A turkey 20 pounds and up will take about 3.75 to 4.5 hours. You MUST check the temperature and make sure that the MEAT registers 165F in the thickest part of the breast or leg, without touching the bone. If you can “shake hands” with the turkey, that is, jiggle the leg, you’re probably done–but use that thermometer before you take it out of the oven. When you do, let it rest for 20 minutes or so before carving.

Now, how do you prep that turkey? Longtime readers will know I’m a big fan of brining a turkey, but you have to prepare well ahead of time–this takes a few days. First, if the turkey is frozen, you have to let it thaw in the fridge for a few days. THEN you prepare the brine. THEN you prep it for the roasting part.

You can make your brine or buy some. I’ve bought it when I’ve done it, but between The Food Network and Martha Stewart, you can find away to do it yourself. Oh, and don’t forget The Pioneer Woman’s turkey brine, too. But you can also find turnkey turkey brining supplies at both Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma (who also has smoked and pre-brined turkeys available, some in organic.)  Both Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma have lots of recipes on their pages as well–so there’s no shortage of ideas. Still–plan ahead, and make a schedule if need be.

“Stuffing,”as we know it, is probably not the best thing to make–cooking it inside the turkey, as we now know, can be problematic. Many people cook “dressing” on the side in a baking dish to prevent things like salmonella from undercooked parts. I’ll agree with that, of course, but many people don’t. I get that–but in my kitchen, I’d rather not risk making someone ill from one the molecule that didn’t get cooked. If you want to cook stuffing inside the bird, go for it–just don’t over-stuff it. There was, at one time, a stuffing cage available, but I don’t remember where I saw that one. You put the stuffing into the wire cage, put it inside the bird and roast it. When it’s done, you just simply pull the cage out of the bird and serve it.

But you know, stuffing waffles sounds like a lot more fun. I mean, why not? If you’re game, you can make more than one kind of stuffing, and waffle them up. Don’t like that idea? Consider Rachel Ray’s idea for Stuffin’ Muffins–bake the dressing in muffin tins, and everyone gets the crunchy part! (Here’s a along with an accompanying video.)  I’ve actually done my own stuffin’ muffins, but not that recipe, and they were well received.

Side dishes are as varied as the people who cook them. What do you like? What don’t you like? (Please don’t tell me about sweet potato casserole with marshmallows and other sugar-overload ingredients–that’s one of those things I hate and won’t eat.) Personally, I really like Ina Garten’s roasted Brussels sprouts–they’re roasted at a high heat for an hour, and they really are good when they’re salty like French fries. I haven’t made these in a long time, but they are hot, salty, and delicious, especially right out of the oven.

Oh–and another thing. You may find yourself with a vegetarian guest. No need to leave them out. Martha Stewart also has a selection of vegetarian recipes to chose from, which also may double as side dishes. That acorn squash recipe with the grapes is from Clean Slate, and I plan to make it with quinoa one day. If you know someone is vegetarian, you can easily plan ahead. If not, make one or two, and you’re covered.

I will say that when we did the Buddhist Thanksgiving, (which was also a potluck) you never knew what was going to show up. Sure, we had turkey, dressing, dessert, and some traditional things. But we also had Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Japanese rice balls, sushi, taco salad, and anything else someone decided to bring. Cultural diversity on your plate–delicious, and not entirely traditional, but it sure was fun.

Sweet potatoes are wonderful when they are roasted just like white potatoes, and butter is added, along with salt if needed. Why would anyone completely obliterate sweet potatoes with marshmallows, pineapple rings and Maraschino cherries? UGH. Here’s the best sweet potato recipe ever--use regular or smoked paprika, not hot, and don’t bother with lime wedges. Make sure your oven is working properly, and bake them in a single layer. You’re welcome. (There is also a Sweet Potato Gnocchi recipe in Will It Waffle? that I haven’t tried.)

What’s for dessert? Depending on how many people you have, you may want to make small amounts of more than one dessert, or double up on one particular dessert, such as a pie or a cake. How complicated of a recipe are you willing to make? Are you the person who would pick the most visually appealing dessert and make it no matter what? A pie from scratch, including handmade crusts? Or are you asking people to pick up pie at the grocery the day before? Give that some thought–and include your waffle maker in your thoughts, too, like the Waffled Apple Pie. (Or anything you might find on Pinterest, YouTube or Facebook.)

If you’re looking for something less complicated than a multi-layered cake or hand-made pies, these Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Squares are easy to make and very delicious. Now, I LIKE pumpkin, I don’t LOVE it like some folks do, but this recipe is great. Canned pumpkin puree is available year-round. They sound a bit odd, but these came out delicious and perfect, and you can make them anytime you want them. This was an Everyday Food recipe many years ago, and I made them to bring to a Buddhist meeting. There wasn’t a crumb left, so that made me feel good.

If you are dead-set against anything pumpkin, here’s an easy, seasonal dessert that will have your guests asking for seconds–Pear And Sour-Cherry Flat Pie. Using frozen puff pastry, dried sour cherries and fresh pears, it’s pretty simple to put together, although you must keep the puff pastry cold until you’re ready to work with it. As always, read the directions before you start, and make sure you have a) all the correct ingredients, and b) plenty of parchment paper. I ran out the Thanksgiving morning I made this pie, and used aluminum foil instead. (I made two of them, of course.) I just didn’t have time to go get any parchment paper that morning. So we had to pick the pie pieces off the aluminum foil (and vice versa) when serving. But it still went over well. Also, the Dufor’s brand of puff pastry was unavailable here, so I got what I could find–plenty of Pepperidge Farms.

An apple cake is also a safe bet, and recipes abound for those too. I can’t seem to find the apple cake recipe I made ONCE that was from the October 1996 Martha Stewart Living, but I did find the applesauce that you use to make the cake. Since I was recently married, and working full time, I had to make the applesauce one weekend, freeze it, then make the cake the next weekend, or maybe the day before Thanksgiving. It was wonderful! My recently-widowed aunt raved about that cake for years. If I ever go back I might try to bring her one of those cakes, or maybe send her one for Christmas if I can figure out how.

Yes, this was long before I went gluten free.

Also, may I respectfully suggest getting as many of your ingredients as you can now, especially popular things like the puff pastry, cranberries, etc. Anything that you can freeze ahead of time would be a good thing to do. How do I know? As I say, I speak from experience. I know, particularly with something in Martha Stewart Living, that I’m not the only one who wants to make something and needs that one ingredient nobody buys the rest of the year. Grocers have no idea there’s an uptick in sales coming for that one thing, and they’ll run out because they were unaware it was going to be something everyone wanted. So if it calls for frozen puff pastry, cranberry preserves, or anything else that isn’t a regular grocery item, I get it in advance and make sure it’s in my pantry, fridge or freezer. Because if you wait for a few days before Thanksgiving, you’ll realize that a lot of folks got the same idea. Shop early, freeze or refrigerate whatever you can, and start early.

Additionally, you’ll want to check your regular pantry supplies and make sure that if you need something, you have it.  Make sure you have enough, and maybe extra, of staples–flour, sugar, salt, pepper, limes, lemons, etc. Anything you’re used to just reaching into the pantry or fridge for–make extra sure you have plenty. Here, I know that Kroger is open during the day, but in many places, there aren’t any stores open. Once again, I speak from experience.

Now–if you are NOT hosting a party, not invited to one, or will likely be alone on Thanksgiving–take heart. It’s OK to do that.

Read this excellent one-page article on the idea of the Orphan Thanksgiving from the November 2013 issue of Martha Stewart Living. It’s a different take on a non-traditional holiday. If you have friends who are in the same boat–no family around, can’t go, don’t want to go, whatever–consider starting a new tradition, or even just having Thanksgiving with your motley crew together this one time. That’s how the “Buddhist Thanksgiving” got started, for people not going anywhere that year. I got experience doing Thanksgiving for people who were happy to be there, enjoyed everything and went home and talked about it. I would not spend another wretched, dismal holiday with people (in this case, family)  who had nothing nice to say to me after a six-hour drive and two carefully crafted desserts (one a sugar-free cheesecake for the diabetics.) In 2005, when the idea was proposed, I jumped on it, and we started the Buddhist Thanksgiving that was great while it lasted.

I decided too (on the six-hour drive back from New Orleans) that if I’m going to be alone on Thanksgiving, I’ll cook what I want, do what I want and watch whatever TV I want. Know what? I cook some favorites, (turkey thighs are the best!) maybe try one or two new dishes, watch some good old-fashioned British comedy, and enjoy the day. Watch whatever you like–football, reruns, maybe rent DVDs (or borrow them from your public library like I do.) For Christmas, I order several holiday episodes of Britcoms that I don’t have, like Keeping Up Appearances. And of course, at the end of the evening, the now-annual Doctor Who Christmas special. I try not to do too much housework on the actual holiday, like washing clothes or something, in order to enjoy a real “holiday.”

But if you are going to be alone, away from home, or away from those close to you, make the most of the day if you can. If you have to work. . .well, I’ve done that too. But if your Thanksgiving Day is going to be solitary, away from family and/or friends, or just not what you’d like, keep reading.

Have a nice dinner anyway, turkey and cranberry and the like if you can pull it off (even if you’re making–ugh–Stove Top.)  If you’d rather something non-traditional, roast chicken, pork roast (Crock Pot!) or even a chuck roast. Potatoes, or whatever YOU like as a side dish. (Quinoa is always good, too.)  For dessert–your favorite, whether it’s apple, pumpkin or pecan pie, a cake of some kind, or whatever dessert you like the best. Chocolate? Go for it. But enjoy the day YOUR WAY, whatever you can create or obtain. Doesn’t have to be expensive.

Make yourself a nice dinner. Enjoy it with a nice wine, if you drink. (If not, no big deal.) Enjoy your dinner, and be grateful for all that you have, even if it isn’t everything you want. (I’m working on that myself.) Be happy, even for a little while. Have a friend who’s alone? Invite them, if it’s possible. Watch some if you like, or go out for a walk if the weather’s cooperative. (And if you have snow, do enjoy it!) Enjoy what there is to enjoy, since all we have is today anyway.

If you’re in an area where it’s cold already, make some hot chocolate or something else warm to enjoy. (Like some decaf coffee, or cappuccino if you have one of these little pots.) If you have one, light the fireplace (if it’s cold enough) or just camp in and enjoy the warmth of the TV. If you’re in an area where it’s warm, and there’s a beach–well, go for it. Find a way to enjoy a holiday if you’re able to.

Holidays can be difficult on single people, or folks who are, for whatever reason, all by themselves. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. It’s up to you, and up to you to figure out how you want to enjoy it.

I’ll invite the GER again this year, but he may decline like he did last year. That’s OK–I’m going to enjoy turkey, cranberry ginger relish, and anything else I feel like making again. Dessert? Who cares? I’ll find something to make!

Whatever you make, however you celebrate it, do enjoy your Thanksgiving. Be safe, be happy, and be ready–the next day, all the pumpkin stuff goes away in favor of peppermint and Christmas everything, starting with the infamous “Black Friday.” Now you see why you need to be happy? If you’re going shopping the next day, you’ll need all the strength you can get.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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