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A Nice (HeatCageKitchen) Thanksgiving

Happy Monday, Dear Readers:

Are you over the food coma yet, or are you wondering when you’ll ever be done eating turkey new and different ways? HA–you know me, I’ll eat turkey anytime, and frequently do. Still looking for fresh turkey thighs around here. . .haven’t found them yet, but I managed to procure four at the Mandeville Whole Foods this weekend. (Turkey is cheap right now!) I was so happy when the little guy offered to butcher a turkey to give them to me, I said, “if you can do that for me, I’ll kiss you.” He looked a bit nervous, and replied, “I don’t think we’re allowed to do that, Ma’am.” I smiled and said, “Yeah, it think my boyfreind would be a bit upset with me, too.” Guess he’d never had that before; he was about 17, I think. Well, I’m a Texan, and I’m a tough customer, but I appreciated the help.

My cashier, Monica, knew exactly what I was talking about when I complained about no place for your coffee in grocery baskets here. (More on that later–and WF actually does have them.) Turns out she lived in League City for a while, and Clear Lake–and she misses HEB as well! My new BFF there. I told her all about our FABULOUS Clear Lake HEB, and how I used to have lunch on Saturdays with Miss Sunie, Miss Lei and Miss Carolyn’s wonderful samplings. But as nice as she and Lisa were yesterday, it’s getting easier, even though I still miss my HEB.

We’re going to have to take a trip to Clear Lake and buy groceries soon.

BF had to go to work early Saturday morning, but I was up early, and managed “bright-eyed and busy tailed” without the addition of caffeine, much to his dismay. BF can’t handle perky that early. He was looking for duct tape in the truck as we drove to town. (One guess.) But I’m here at the library, telling you all about my Thanksgiving.

We’re no longer taking the bucolic Cow Road, because *that* main road is now repaired after the August flooding literally broke it in several places. I’m gonna miss Cow Road, but maybe not all that much. . .it was kind of spooky at night. Episodes of The X-Files start out on settings much like Cow Road.  I warned BF to lock his door when we were going home, in case *something* came out of the woods, opened the door and pulled him out of the driver’s seat. This amused him to no end.

The other night, I was heading over to pick him up for 9:15 pm, and since it was cold, I took a cup of hot tea in a lidded travel mug.  I told BF I was on my way, and halfway down Cow Road, he texted me that he was getting ready to leave. I stopped The White Knight and texted back that I was “bumping and grinding down Cow Road.” When I arrived at his place of business, I let him know that I was bumping and grinding and managing a cup of tea when he texted, and I had to stop to text back, slowing me down. He was quite amused.

I’ve also visited the local Ace Hardware Home & Garden Center. They have more than just home and garden stuff. They have stuff for animals. They also HAVE animals–baby chickens!

What a cutie!

Well, hello, there!

They carry Leghorn, Ameraucana and Bantam varieties. The Leghorns are brave, they’ll walk right up to you and say hi. The Bantams are indifferent. But the Ameraucanas are, well, chicken! When I got close enough to take a picture, they all ran to the back of the cage, like I was trying to hit them. Poor babies. When I told BF about these little darlings, he asked, “you didn’t bring any of them home, did you?” They were $3.49 each, and I actually had enough in my purse to bring three of them home to the Casa. But no, we have a 60-pound pit bull puppy who will eat nearly anything, including jumping crickets (I have personally witnessed this behavior), so I figured the little darlings were safer at the hardware store in the heat chamber. They’re just adorable, though:

What's going on here?

What’s going on here? (I think this is the Leghorn variety.)

I enjoyed seeing them so much. . .I went back the next day just to visit them again. (BF didn’t know what to make of that, but it’s just around the corner from the library.)

See? These Ameraucanas are chicken!

See? These Ameraucanas are chicken!

They also have warm, soft bunnies and doves. And, maybe one or two other farm critters. But although they had supplies, there were no cats. Darn good thing. BF promises that we will, at some point, acquire a feline for me, but I warn him not just yet. Here’s one more cute picture of baby chickens:

Aren't they cute?

Aren’t they cute? (I think these are the Bantam, but I may be wrong.)

BF’s BFF tells me that the grew up with chickens, and they’re not that cute. Oh, well. Let’s talk about a bigger bird.

As I mentioned last time, at nearly the last minute, I found myself making a full-on Thanksgiving dinner for four and a half people: me, BF, his daughter, her better half and their nearly 3-year-old son. My head was buzzing with all the details and reverse-engineering the process: when to make the brining liquid and when to add the turkey to it. When to start on the make-ahead sides, what I needed to make on Turkey Day. BF, to his credit, stepped back and let me do what I needed to, and just said with a smile, “this is your show.” In return, I promised him the best turkey he’d ever had, and I believe I delivered, based on what I heard from everyone. (Well, the wee one didn’t say much about it.) BF was also ultra-helpful in doing some tidying up, removing a lot of stuff from the dining area, including several large clear-plastic storage containers filled with my sewing patterns and a myriad of automotive things that, for the most part, belong in the garage. He went back and swept, mopped and put everything right so we could all enjoy a pretty nice meal.

We certainly did, except for one detail: BF’s daughter promised to bring mac & cheese and a pecan pie, BF’s favorite. Unfortunately, she only showed up with mac & cheese. BF was VERY disappointed to miss the pecan pie, but he did manage to find apple pie in the evening at his Dad’s house. She promises to deliver a pecan pie at a later date.

What did I do? What didn’t I do? My back still hurts from standing up for two days! But I had a blast, and all the dishes are finally washed. Let me take you through all this. Warning: I didn’t get pictures of everything. That’s how crazy-busy I was for 2 days.

BF was off work Monday and Tuesday, and we did some stuff in the house. He went back to work on Wednesday, working until 9:00 pm, and I stayed home to get everything started. I got up early, whereas BF slept later. But I got right on it, getting the turkey into the drink (brining fluid, that is.) Since I had half a jar, and we had an 8-pound turkey breast, not a whole turkey, it was plenty enough to brine the whole thing. That went into the fridge early, then I started on other things. I pulled supplies I knew I would need:

The setup

The setup (well, part of it, anyway.)

And why are those potatoes there? Mashed potatoes were requested. I also made sure these two were full and ready to rock:

Salt & Pepper--gotta have it.

Salt & Pepper–gotta have it. (Gorilla glue, behind the pepper, was not part of our Turkey Day. It’s just sitting there.)

Oh, and another special request:

Yes, she did.

Yes, she did.

I bought three boxes of this drek, I mean, holiday dinner staple, just to make sure we had enough, and I have one box left. You know what I did with it, right? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I decided to make two loaves of cornbread: one was an old Martha Stewart recipe from her big green compendium book, and one was from Babycakes, the vegan/gluten free variety.

Real, glutinous cornbread.

Real, glutinous cornbread. I think I made this for the GER once or twice.

Why both? Well, the MS recipe was for dinner at the Casa, and the vegan loaf was to take to his father’s place later. Turns out BF’s dad is a diabetic, and I brought it so that he could enjoy some with coconut oil and agave syrup. Well. . .he already had some, but I told him if he didn’t like it, I’d take it home, because I like it! No word yet on if he liked it or not. But first was the *real* cornbread, then the vegan version:

Ready for Thanksgiving!

Ready for Thanksgiving!

The “regular” cornbread recipe, which I may post eventually, is pretty simple but uses a fair amount of butter, which is why it’s so darn GOOD! (A stick and half, to be exact.) Sure enough, everyone loved it, as they always do. We still have some in the fridge, but I may freeze it if BF is sick of cornbread.

Once I got all that done and the washing up finished, I went onto. . .you know. One of my favorite Thanksgiving staples.

The start of something good.

The start of something good.

Yes, that’s the infamous Cranberry Ginger Relish (it’s no longer on Martha Stewart’s website, but a printable is available on the Recipes page.) I’ve made it many times, and it’s always a hit. Until now. Everyone said it was “OK.” Even BF. I was really disappointed–I made it with regular sugar, not SomerSweet. It always disappears, even with real sugar, but not this time.

Cranberry Ginger Relish. Oh, yes.

Cranberry Ginger Relish. Oh, yes.

I made a double batch, some for us, and some to take with us to BF’s Dad’s place later in the evening. It’s easy and you can make it a couple of days in advance. No word on if he liked it, or if the rest of that group liked it, but our little group said “it’s OK.” Oh, well. . .I finished what was left over time and burned it off washing up and moving stuff around in the studio. More for me!

Also done in advance: from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, delicious Green Beans Gremolata. I did enjoy BF’s face when he asked, “what’s gremolata?” Another “pesto moment” with a cute quizzical look on his face! I explained it, of course, as a fresh seasoning blend, which it really is. Blanched the green beans, then put them into ice water, and then made the gremolata. When I finished that, I packed it up, then drained and packed up the green beans and stashed them in the fridge. And then I started the washing up.

The kids (I can say that now) were slated to arrive at 11:00 am. Of course, they didn’t make it until about 1:30, which threw me off, but gave me lots of extra time to make sure everything was DONE. Thursday I got up about 7:00 am or so, and went to work. First up: drain, rinse and pat dry the turkey:

Drying off the turkey means the butter will rub on easier and stick better.

Drying off the turkey means the butter will rub on easier and stick better.

I used my roasting laurel, which holds the turkey UP in the roasting pan. It also garnered another funny look from BF–“what’s that green thing for?” I explained that, too, as politely as I could. It’s not my intent to confuse him, only to explain. But I don’t want to sound like I’m talking down to him either, because that’s not my intent, either. But I do enjoy the funny looks!

Next up: butter it up!

Outside. . .

Outside. . .

And inside.

And inside.

This gives the turkey a nice crispy skin and keeps it moist and tasty. Since it sat in the drink all night, it didn’t need any additional seasonings like salt or pepper. It was 8 pounds, so at 350, it baked for 2.5 hours. Once that was in the oven, I did more washing up and got started on the mashed potatoes.

Low-carb folks don’t normally have potatoes, but of course, I was asked, so I did.  (I also made some waffled hash browns for breakfast last week, I think on Wednesday–BF enjoyed those, too.) Using another Ina Garten recipe, I peeled and boiled some potatoes. While those were boiling, I warmed a stick of butter and some half-and-half in a small saucepan. When the potatoes were done, I put them into the stand mixer (BF also lifted that heavy thing up for me), turned it on low, added the melted butter and half-and-half, salt, pepper, and a half cup of sour cream.

Perfect Mashed Potatoes!

Perfect Mashed Potatoes!

What Ina tells you in the book is that you can set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, and they stay hot and tasty for 30 minutes or more, but you might need more liquid. I didn’t–and this worked very well for me. Best mashed potatoes ever, and they stayed perfect more than 2 hours after they were cooked, just like this.

But get this: since sour cream only comes in a whole cup, I took some out for the waffled hash browns and dipped mine. I offered BF some, and he declined–seems he doesn’t like sour cream on baked potatoes. Thankfully, I didn’t tell him that was the “secret ingredient” in the mashed potatoes–he would have been mad at me for doing that.

Next up was a subject of much contention: sweet potatoes. Longtime readers know I can’t stand the ridiculous treatment given to these nutritional gems around the holidays, which includes marshmallows, maraschino cherries, pineapple, corn syrup and other unnecessary additions. I made my favorites, but. . .they stayed in the oven too long, darnit, and were a bit over-done.

Sweet Potato Frites

Sweet Potato Frites

GRRRR. . .I’ll eat them. Just can’t seem to recapture the magic the first time I made these in 2002 for me and the GER. We couldn’t stop stuffing our faces with them that day, but this time. . .darnit.

Next up: stuffing. But not just any stuffing. I begged BF to let me make STUFFLES!! Yes! Two boxes of stuffles, and put them in the little oven to keep them warm. I couldn’t resist:

STUFFLES!

STUFFLES!

Those went over very well. The next day, I offered to make BF a sandwich with the stuffles, and turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy in between. He declined my inventive idea. (They make sandwiches like that at Starbucks, you know.)

Because I was being daring, I decided to try my hand at Ina’s Perfect Homemade Gravy. You know what? They LOVED IT!! I kid you not–I even used pan drippings from the turkey. It was pretty easy–start out by caramelizing the onions:

BF couldn't believe I was cooking that much onion, but he was thrilled with the result.

BF couldn’t believe I was cooking that much onion, but he was thrilled with the result.

I had to explain what that meant, but to his credit, BF gave me the space to do everything, and he was not disappointed. In fact, they were all expecting gravy from a packet. Oh, NO. I kept cooking the onions, despite BF’s skepticism:

Twenty minutes later. . . .

Twenty minutes later. . . .

See how much browner they are? By this time the turkey was done, and I took it out to sit for 20 minutes under a foil tent. I removed some of the pan drippings and added them in. Then, as instructed by Ina, I started sprinkling in. . .flour:

Yes, real flour, not the gluten-free type.

Yes, real flour, not the gluten-free type.

Cook that a little:

This cooks out the "raw flour" taste.

This cooks out the “raw flour” taste.

And then add two cups of hot chicken (or turkey) broth. Ina specifies that she prefers homemade, but. . .well, this came from Trader Joe’s:

It must be heated, or I think the gravy will seize up.

It must be heated, or I think the gravy will seize up. (I think.)

Next up was a tablespoon of Cointreau, or other good brandy. Well. . .I opened up a couple of those boxes marked “Amy Liquor” and pulled this out:

img_3569

I added one tablespoon when BF wasn’t looking, and when it was all stirred up and cooked in:

Gravy!!

Gravy!!

I added in a tablespoon of cream, which was optional, and stirred it well.

See that Cranberry Grab-It dish on the burner above the saute pan? That burner is also the “air vent” for the oven. When you use the oven, that burner gets very hot from the air vent, even though the burner is turned off. I put that dish there to warm it up so that the gravy wouldn’t go into a cold dish. Worked like a charm, too.

Then it was cleaning that pan, adding oil on high heat, then the green beans and heating them up. (I put my red universal pot lid on top to heat them faster.) A few minutes later, I took them out and put them in another serving dish, topped them with the gremolata, tossed them and covered them.

Then we heard the car door shut and the dogs making noise.

When BF’s very nice daughter brought in the hot mac & cheese, we immediately went to putting food out and having some. We had a great time. His daughter raved about the gravy, and all of them just loved it. I took a taste, and agreed that, for the first time, I like it. So, maybe one day I’ll try this again gluten free. A Facebook commentor on Dr. William Davis’ Wheat Belly offered the suggestion of thickening gravy with arrowroot in place of the flour, so I may try that at some point. (Shhh! Don’t tell BF.)

I went through at least a pound and a half of butter for Thanksgiving. BF was shocked when I told him we had no more butter, but it’s the truth–even the butter dish was empty. So when I hit Whole Foods on Sunday, I bought a pound.

Incidentally, did you know there’s a difference in the way butter is packaged on the east coast and west coast? I’ve noticed that when I’ve bought butter at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, they come in short, fat sticks, rather than the longer slimmer ones we get down here in the South. Turns out there is a reason for that–the ones we get here are known as “East Coast Elgins,” and the ones west of the Rockies are called “Western Stubbies.” Since Trader Joe’s is a California-based company, well, you get it. Whole Foods is based in Austin, but they also sell Western Stubbies, but I’m guessing it’s because they were primarily a west-coast store for so many years. (The first one in New Orleans was in the French Quarter, and was the size of a Circle K, until they built a bigger one in Metairie.)  I found this out when I was looking at OXO’s website. You can read a little more about that on The Kitchn’s website.

We went to visit BF’s father, sister, and brother-in-law later in the evening. BF’s brother and sister-in-law brought a big spread that people were in various stages of enjoying; that’s where he found the apple pie. It was very rushed and busy, but we had a nice time with them as well.

So. . .next up is Christmas, and I have no idea what we’re doing or where. I hope to be able to do more slow cooking and maybe a bit of waffling, too. Maybe brownies, maybe cake, maybe sweet rolls–whatever they ask for, I’m up for. But I’m getting back on my regular low-carb/gluten-free/somewhat Paleo eating style, best I can.

Give some thought now to any upcoming holiday gatherings, office parties, and Christmas lunch/dinner celebrations that you’ll be attending, and what you might need to bring. Feel free to search the archives here, or start looking for some inspiration online. Start with Martha Stewart’s website, The Pioneer Woman’s website (she has a recipe section just for Christmas), The Kitchn, or jump in with both feet and get on Pinterest. Other celebrity chefs have websites and recipes, and they’re too many to list here (just pick one!) Create your “Holiday 2016 Recipes” board and start pinning. The Food Network also has a huge database of recipes (well, DUH.) But if you want more, well, ask yourself a question.

What’s your favorite grocery store? HEB’s website has a whole section for holiday things–products, recipes, etc., and you can order HEB things from the website from all over the US (except coffee to California.) Go here to find lots and lots of HEB’s recipes–just pick one. (Wait–Chocolate Pecan Pie? That could put BF on his knees!) Kroger has a general listing of recipes, while Randall’s also has a page for Christmas recipes. East-coast readers familiar with Publix will also enjoy their recipes and meal planning page. Louisiana-based Rouse’s has a recipe page as well–so if you’re looking for some Louisiana food for your Christmas dinner, take a look there. (Winn Dixie doesn’t have anything, I checked.) Trader Joe’s has a very nice recipe site, primarily using their own products, and so does Whole Foods.

No, I will NOT be making those “mirlitons.” Longtime readers know I hate them, whether you call them that, “Mexican pears” or “chayote squash.” They’re good for one thing: breaking windows. Wait a minute. . .Hatch chili bread? In Louisiana? Hmmm. . . .

OK, folks. . .I think I’ve bored you enough with getting started on Christmas early. Just think about what you’ll be doing, OK? Whether it’s a church function, going to someone’s house, or just doing Christmas dinner alone the way I did for many years, you’ve got time right now. Try out a recipe or two, gather any unusual ingredients that might be harder to find on December 20th, make room in your pantry, fridge and freezer for them, and plan your menus,but GET STARTED. If you find yourself with a last-minute invitation, check your Pinterest board for something you can make quickly or looks good.

I’m all about getting ahead of problems. You can ignore it, but it won’t go away. And if you are going to be alone, do what I did for all those years–make a delicious dinner and enjoy yourself. I recommend some good old-fashioned British comedy DVDs, too–and if you have cable, the Doctor Who Christmas special, which is always well-done and spectacular. No cable? See what your local library can get for you, by interlibrary loan, if need be. But as always, START REQUESTING THEM NOW. See if your PBS station runs Doctor Who or other British TV. Or you’ll be watching stuff on YouTube on your phone.

Library’s closing. I gotta go, but I’ll be back again real soon with more foodie things.

Happy Dining!

 

 

The Thanksgiving Post: Apples and Spaghetti Squash

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I hope you’re feeling better by now. The election, and all the associated nastiness, is over for a while. Now it’s time for transition, and hopefully, getting back to whatever passes for “normal.” It was a nail-biter, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop eating BF’s ice cream. (I didn’t eat all of it, just a little.) We stayed up until 3:00 am or so watching the results, and back-checking CBS News on our phones against what was showing up on Facebook in our feeds. Bizarre–I’ve never done that before, but we finally hit the sack once it was all over. Good thing we didn’t have anything planned for the next day, and he was off work. No more sugar-laden ice cream, and the weight is going back down again, thank heavens.

Time for some comfort food, OK? Keep reading, there’s a recipe for you shortly.

We’ve been doing some renovation type of cleaning in the Casa, which includes having one of his, um, ex-girlfriends finally come get her stuff out of his house. She’s got some of it, but some still resides for a few more days. (What are we, Public Storage?) His daughter took the things she wanted and I helped her clear out stuff she didn’t want. All that’s left is his friend from the Navy. Well, with moving stuff around and out, painting the back room for my soon-to-be studio office, and clearing car parts out of the house, we’ve set up a little breakfast area by the kitchen:

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino for Amy!

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino!

This is my IKEA Tarno patio set that we just put there and put a tablecloth over, and BF decided to add my tiny lamp (Lampan, also from IKEA.) I repaired the miniblinds which had been damaged by a passed-on pooch, and cleaned the window really well. Know what? It’s kind of nice to have breakfast right there, or dinner. When we get things better situated, we’ll put my regular dinette there, and I’ll repair more of the miniblinds, now that I know how. (Looked it up on eHow and learned on the fly.) The blinds are closed so you don’t see that the Casa “beautification project” has not yet carried over to the patio out front.

After my trip to New Orleans on Sunday, where I bought some lovely pork chops, chicken sausage  and chicken thighs for us, BF decided Monday to get. . .one of those “kits” to make tacos for lunch on Tuesday. I kid you not. At least he had the sense to get the crunchy taco kit, which has corn tortillas. No word about “gluten free,” but there was no wheat or its derivatives in any of the ingredients that I saw, so I was glad about that and reluctantly took part. (It does say that it was partly produced with GMO ingredients; my guess is the corn, which I rarely eat.) He asked me to brown the ground beef to get started, and of course, twenty minutes later, we had tacos–because he went into the living room to watch more TV. GRRR. . .but I got the job done.

Dinner was Mustard Pork Chops in the Crock Pot, which I may post soon. It was pretty good, and worthy of doing again. Because he really wanted. . .tacos. . .the chicken shifted to lunch on Wednesday, where I made him, for the first time, Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatora, or “The Hunter’s Stew,” which, in Nigella’s case, is “lazy hunter’s stew.” (It only takes 30 minutes.) Although it’s long been a comfort food favorite for me, this was his first taste of it. Thumbs up–he likes it, and I can make it again for him. (Thanks.) The next day for dinner at work, he took some with a cup of rice, since he thought it “needed” some. No problem, I cooked up a small batch of white rice for him and added it to the container. Along with a slice of made-from-scratch pound cake from his friend’s birthday, he was all set for work.

Now, if you’re interested in making this “hunter’s stew,” I want to point something out that’s not immediately obvious: although the printed recipe calls for a half-cup of pancetta cubes–which is perfectly acceptable, albeit expensive and hard to find here–you can also slice up 3 or 4 slices of bacon in place of it. That’s the way I’ve always made it since I saw the original show.  The show may be on YouTube; you’d just have to look for it.

It really is a nice comfort food. Even if it does come from across the pond. You’re welcome.

I’ve been in the larger Winn-Dixie in Hammond, and indeed they do have more organic produce. Surprise–they even have fresh sushi. I still hate sushi, but–they have it! I did some recon in the morning, and then did some shopping later in the day, mostly meat, eggs, butter, cheese, etc. I almost–ALMOST–thought I was in Kroger. And I kept saying “I live down in La Marque. . .” which, of course, is in Texas. Well, it’s probably because I felt like I was in Kroger. I sure do miss my HEB, though–the pork loin roasts I used to get on sale for $3 in HEB are something like $12 here. What’s up with that? I did find a nine-pound pork loin that was about 3 feet long, but we don’t have any place to store that monster. Another time.

Rouse’s has purchased a rival grocery store chain, so there will soon be a Rouse’s in Hammond for me to visit, right near that Winn-Dixie. That’ll be good, too.

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Thanksgiving is coming. It’s next week! I really have lost my sense of date and time. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I won’t be cooking turkey. That’s OK, I cook turkey all year long (I just wish I could get turkey thighs here; maybe Albertson’s has them.) I asked BF the other night what our plans were for Thanksgiving; he said his brother usually does a big spread, and we would attend. (Just have to figure out what I’m going to wear.) Well, if I’m allowed, I’ll bring some of that fantastic Cranberry-Ginger Relish and maybe one or two other small things, but I warned BF that I would likely eat before I went. Longtime readers know that things like sweet potato pie, sweet potatoes with other abominable things added to it and all things bread, pie and gravy are not coming my way. I’ll be happy to have some turkey–maybe a little mashed potatoes, too–but no gravy, please! Gravy, to me, kills the taste of everything under it. So this will be interesting, and maybe I’ll pull the Nordic Track out in the morning before we go.

Think I should just stay home and watch Britcoms?

So, what do you do when you’re hosting such an occasion and have health concerns to consider? (Besides panic, that is.) Or, surprise, his new girlfriend is a vegetarian, and he’s going vegan soon too? Knowing this in advance helps, of course, but sometimes you don’t, so having some extra vegetable dishes helps (just don’t use chicken stock!) I’ve written about these kinds of things before, and you can also get some help on Martha Stewart’s website, under “All Things Thanksgiving.” Sur la Table has also published its annual Thanksgiving Guide, and it’s available online or as a free download to print. BF and I caught a bit of the Rachael Ray Show the other day, and someone named Clinton Kelly was making dishes you could make in advance: Turkey Meatballs, a Roasted Vegetable Soup (which looked pretty good, actually), which you could make in advance and freeze, then serve from the Crock Pot and some popover kinds of things with smoked salmon.  The Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash is really good, too. Of course, if you’re looking for something specific, please check out the worlds’s biggest idea database, Pinterest.

One thing I can’t emphasize enough is getting started on your Thanksgiving planning early. Get that turkey NOW, if you haven’t already. Get your brine mix, or make it, NOW, because the turkey has to thaw first, AND you have to make the brine ahead of time. Buy your ingredients early, especially the unusual stuff, like puff pastry or something else that everyone will be looking for like fresh or dried sage. Doing potluck? Ask and assign people a specific dish–dressing, veg, cornbread, whatever–so you avoid the problem of everyone stopping at the grocery and picking up a cake or cupcakes at the last minute. All dessert and little turkey does *not* make happy dinner guests, you know? A broad variety of different vegetable dishes, and maybe including maybe a pilaf or risotto (using vegetable stock) can keep everyone happy and well-fed while including the vegetarians and not calling them out for it.

Brining a turkey? Here’s one from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman (warning: it has brown sugar) and one from Martha Stewart’s website. If you want to brine a turkey–and I highly recommend it–get going. Now. Juniper berries might be hard to find soon.

It’s also a great time to dust off the slow cookers and the waffle makers if you’re not using them regularly. Make sure all your appliances work before the big day, too. And isn’t there something you can slow-cook or waffle ahead of time? (Cranberry Ginger Relish can be made a few days in advance, thank heavens.)

Yes, it’s time to get your thinking cap on. Quick. Whether you’re hosting or just attending, it’s time to take inventory so your Thanksgiving will go well and everyone, including yourself, will enjoy themselves. (Here’s some advice I wrote about last year that may help.)

Here’s another tip: READ your recipes and understand them before you shop and get started. Case in point: last night I decided to make something new for me and BF. Seems he’s never had eggs with tomatoes in his life, despite his claim of “I’ve been all around the world!” So, I found this recipe for Skillet Eggs and Tomato Sauce in one of the Everyday Food cookbooks last night, and asked him if he’d like to try it. He said he would try it, with a bit of reluctance in his voice. (Next question I asked: “Do we have any anchovies?” Oh, the look on his face was priceless.) In the book, this recipe makes two servings, not the four that’s on the website. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the book called for a HALF can, 28 ounces, of tomatoes. Skimming over the ingredients, I just figured I could use two cans of tomatoes, 14.5 ounces. That’s pretty much the same, all right? WRONG–it was, indeed, way too much tomato, and that was his first comment. (I ate them, though.) I noticed the difference when I put the book away–and then made a note of it. He said he’d like to have it again, with half as much tomatoes. Done. (And maybe an anchovy, too, but don’t tell BF–I hide that kind of stuff in a drawer of the fridge.)

The point: please READ carefully and understand before you do something dumb like I do sometimes. Especially for Thanksgiving. OK? Don’t forget the hot mess I made when I invited The GER over a few years ago. It can happen to you. READ. Please.

Now, would I leave you without help for Thanksgiving? Of course not.

Remember last time, when NM handed me a bunch of apples to take home? Well. . .I did put them in the Crock Pot, and darnit, they were pretty tasty! I made them at the same time as the pork chops, but not because I had pork chops. BF wasn’t wild about them cooked, he’d rather have fresh. But, it’s fall, and it feels like fall, so I wanted to try something different.

I actually made two batches, in two different slow cookers, to see what would happen with two different sweeteners–SomerSweet and Agave Syrup. I think this would make a great lower-carb/gluten-free alternative to the traditional apple pie. Either for everyone, or just for guests like me who would rather keep the calorie count down.

If you’re planning to have an apple dessert, or more than one, for Thanksgiving, this is an easy one to toss in and forget for a while. I actually made it a second time with bigger, fresh red apples so I could take pictures and show you how it’s made.

When I cruised through Pinterest to find apples in the Crock Pot, I didn’t find much in the way of healthy versions–mostly, they were loaded with sugar. GRRRR. . .but of course, we have alternatives in our world, don’t we?

The setup

The setup

Yes, that’s the same sherry vinegar I have around to make Cranberry Ginger Relish, but since I don’t use it often, and it only takes a small amount, I decided to try it in this apple dish. You could use red wine vinegar, or just leave it out if you wanted. But I found that the sherry vinegar added a nice depth of flavor that’s not often in apple dishes.

I started out by washing all the apples, of course:

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

The first time I made this, I used just cinnamon. I decided to use apple pie spice for this incarnation, because I’m glad I did. I made some using this recipe, but because not everything is unpacked, I couldn’t find any allspice. So, it was back to Winn-Dixie for more after I picked up BF from work Sunday afternoon. He wanted some hot chocolate because the weather had turned cold. While he was prowling around looking for that, I went to the spices. Hmmm. . .should I get the stuff called “natural,” which is a rather nebulous word on food products, or get the brand I frequently bought in Houston?

It's "natural," whatever that means." No, it's not organic, I checked.

It’s “natural,” whatever that means.” No, it’s not organic, I checked.

 

That's more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

That’s more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

I picked up that bottle that was $1.64 and put it in the little hand basket. Then BF returned to the spice aisle and was of the impression that I’m not getting what I wanted. He then said to me, “Look! Here’s all the ‘allspice’ you could ever want, right here!”

He called this "allspice."

He called this “allspice.”

Oh, he was so funny, gesticulating towards all those spice blends. Giggling, I took the little bottle out of the hand basket and showed it to him:

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

BF was in the Navy, you know. Fortunately, he was *not* on KP in the galley (kitchen), or he would have been keel-hauled for making that mistake. He only had to put up with me laughing at him all the way home.

This apple pie spice mix recipe from Life Made Sweeter is quick and easy, and I made a double batch to make sure I had enough:

The setup

The setup

 

Just blend them up!

Just blend them up!

 

Bottled, but I couldn't find my label maker in time.

Bottled, but I couldn’t find my label maker in time.

And use it like you would the store-bought stuff. No sugar or other additives to worry about. (Of course, yesterday, I found another carefully packed box marked “Amy Pantry,” which had not one, but two bottles of allspice. GRRR.)

Back to it–I started by putting a bit of olive oil in the bottom of the crocks:

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Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering if there’s a deliberate reason for a black and white crock. Well, yes, and I used it–the black one was mine, a replacement during a Karma of Spare Parts incident, last year, I think, when I sent the 4-quart crashing to the floor on a Sunday. They no longer had white, so black it was. The white crock belongs to BF. The difference came in handy: the black one had apples cooked with Agave Syrup, and the white one had apples cooking in SomerSweet.

Neat, huh? (Worked for me!)

Then started cutting the apples and adding them to the crock, and rolling them around in the oil:

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Yes, I was drinking coffee whilst I made this. It was early, and cold that morning.

Then I added in the apple pie spice mix to both crocks:

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Added about a tablespoon of vanilla extract:

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

Then added in a tablespoon of the sherry vinegar to each one:

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

And then I added the respective sweeteners:

Agave in the black one

Agave in the black one on the left

 

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the right one

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the white one on the right.

Mix it all up again to coat the apples with the rest of it:

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Agave pot

 

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SomerSweet pot

And cooked it on low for about 4 hours.  What happened? Well. . .it was interesting, and BF gave me his honest opinion (I only had to needle him a little bit.)

Hmmm. . .looks like Miss Food Blogger forgot to take a picture of the results. Oh, well. I had three things going on at once. . .and we just ate them!

While BF would prefer eating apples raw, he said that the apples cooked with SomerSweet were a little less sweet, and still somewhat crisp, although they weren’t hard like a fresh apple. The agave syrup crock apples were softer and sweeter than the others, and that’s the one he preferred.

If I had cooked them longer they would have probably been a lot softer, and maybe even soft enough for applesauce. But peeling all them apples? No thanks. It was just something to use them up the first time.

Agave syrup works for a lot of different things, including a replacement for honey, with less of an insulin spike than honey would give. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, I just read about these things.)  SomerSweet’s primary ingredient, erythrytol, is a sugar alcohol that’s also quite sweet and works like regular sugar, also without the insulin spike.

For you and your guests who don’t want pie or other heavily-sugared dessert, baking apples in your Crock Pot may be a good alternative to have around, and in the Crock Pot, couldn’t be easier. But why wait for Thanksgiving? Apples are in season now, and available all year around–make some this week or this weekend, and see how you like it. Tweak it to make it yours, and offer it with pride on Thanksgiving Day. It’s one of those things you can set and forget.  You may be asked to make it again next year, or even before then–and what would be wrong with that?

Now for another side dish that’s also low-carb. Spaghetti Squash. Have you tried it? I have. They’re hard as a rock and can be somewhat dangerous to cut, especially the larger ones. Easiest method I knew of, until now, was to cut it in half, scrape out all the seeds and strings, coat the inside with a touch of olive oil, and roast at 350F cut side down for an hour.  I used to use the toaster oven to roast even the larger ones, but now I don’t have a toaster oven. What to do? Well. . . .

I also follow a blog called Half Baked Harvest. I found a recipe there a while back, and I may have posted it here, but I can’t find it now. HOWEVER–a few weeks ago, this recipe for Crockpot Spaghetti Squash with Lasagne Bolognese showed up and got my attention. I haven’t made the Bolognese sauce yet, but I might one day.

But cooking a spaghetti squash in the Crock Pot? Why haven’t I tried this before?

Tieghan makes up her sauce, adds it into the Crock Pot, then puts the whole, untouched spaghetti squash right on top the sauce. No kidding. So I pulled out the big one and put the (little) squash in it, because the ovals were needed for the apples.

I just pulled off the sticker, washed it off, dropped it in, turned it to low and left it alone for a good 8 or 9 hours.

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You put the food in, put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on, and leave it alone:

Really--just let it go.

Really–just let it cook itself.

I did this early on Monday, and about suppertime, this is what came out:

It's cooked, it really is.

It’s cooked, it really is.

And out comes a perfectly cooked spaghetti squash:

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Either use a good potholder or wait til it cools, then cut it in half to remove the seeds. Once you’ve got the “guts” out of it, scrape out the “spaghetti” with a fork into your serving bowl:

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Photo credit: BF, because I can’t do this and snap the picture.

Add some butter, salt and fresh herbs:

I only had rosemary handy.

I only had rosemary handy.

Mix it up well, and if needed, re-heat in the microwave or on top the stove, or leave in the oven to keep it warm:

Yum.

Yum.

And you’ve got delicious and perfectly cooked spaghetti squash for your vegetarian guests. (You could also use olive oil if you don’t want to use butter.) But don’t be surprised if the non-veg folks dig into it–spaghetti squash is delicious when cooked well and seasoned right. (If only I could get BF to try a bite of it; he hates squash across the board.)

So, did I give you some new ideas for a great Thanksgiving meal? Alternatives for your guests, maybe? Or just something different and deliciousi for dinner this weekend? (November also has 29 *other* dinners to prepare besides Thanksgiving, you know.) I hope this helps, and I hope everyone has a tasty and happy Thanksgiving next week.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Amy, there you go again, banging on about SomerSweet again. You have the last three cans of it in existence!” Well, here you go. I hope to finish the post on a new replacement for SomerSweet for you, but I want to reach out to the company and find out more from them. I will tell you that I found it in Whole Foods in Mandeville, it’s called Swerve, and the company is located in New Orleans!

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More to come on this, hopefully soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!