21 November 2010

Thanks for Thanksgiving

I must apologize for my lack of posts the past 2 Saturdays! It's terribly difficult to write anything of value or creativity when one's head is spinning and the coughing refuses to subside! In any case, I'm back now with with some lovely Autumn memories and a scrumptious pie recipe for you all, which I hope you enjoy as much as I have!

This Thursday marks one of the, if not the biggest, "foodie" day of the year. Thanksgiving day is a favorite holiday for many including myself, but not just because of the consumption of food itself. In my family it's always been about all the details that pull the day's big event, the grand dinner, together. From baking the traditional pies with homemade crusts the day before, to setting the beautiful fall table with shades of cream and pumpkin, chocolate brown, golds and greens while the sounds of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade whisper from the television in the background. My very favorite part of the entire process, though, has always been the menu planning, followed closely by seeing everyone enjoying the food, the conversation and one another.

The planning begins around the first of November and is honestly never finalized until the morning of Thanksgiving day! While there are rarely any variations on the traditional menu, I always make it a point to try incorporating a new twist on an old favorite. I may roast asparagus instead of serving sprouts or string beans, there might be whipped sweet potatoes (Actual sweet potatoes, not the more common jewel/garnet yams) with pecans instead of the staple marshmallow topped ooey-gooey yams of the 1950's table, or the dressing may be more on the sweet side, full of raisins and granny smith apple chunks and whole-wheat bread rather than the more tradition savor, herb-filled white bread dressing with which most of us have grown up.

This year, I am hosting Thanksgiving which I only do once every few years since we normally end up spending the day playing games and sharing time with my in-laws, or if we are incredibly lucky, my side of the family is able to come and we spend the day enjoying the music of my uncles, Chris and Jim and the stunning voice of my lovely cousin Rose.  While I always miss my family desperately this time of year if we are unable to gather and share the season, we all know each-other is loved and missed, and most importantly we are all so incredibly grateful for one another every day of the year.

Back to the food!  This year my menu is going to consist of a very traditional spread full of warm Autumn flavors and leftovers to enjoy for days, my husband's favorite part just after having a perfectly roasted Turkey leg all to himself. In addition to the menu listed below, while we play Scrabble, Pinochle and Uno Moo, we'll be savoring some lovely cheeses, a perfectly retro relish tray and deviled eggs, spiced mixed nuts. To quench our holiday thirst, a Sparkling punch made by combining:
2 liter Talking Rain pomegranate-lime sparking water
32 oz (half a large bottle) Apple Cider 
32 oz Pomegranate Cranberry Juice 
(or other 100% fruit juice)
Mix well, add ice and a few orange slices 
OR make a nice flavored ice-berg by filling a round cake pan to 2/3 full 
with juice, layer orange slices and freeze until set. 
Place in punch bowl and pour in other juices, 
and sparking water and mix with ladle. 
This will keep the punch cold without watering it down! 

 Finally, may I present
The 2010 Calkins Thanksgiving Menu 
(subject to change up to 11/25/10 12noon!)
  • Citrus herb roasted turkey (Stuff the cavity with quartered lemons, oranges and onions plus a few smashed garlic cloves. Make an herb butter and rub all over the outside of the bird including UNDER, as well as over, the skin!)
  • Mashed Potatoes (especially for my sis-in-law, Kaijsa) made with greek yogurt, butter and simple seasoning
  • Scratch-made gravy made with chicken stock, pan drippings and cream plus lots of pepper
  • Dressing with fresh herbs, lots of celery, onion and raisins, pecans and pork sausage
  • Undecided baked yam dish reminiscent of the aforementioned old-fashioned candied yams (for my dad-in-law, Bill) 
  • Classic green bean casserole (for my husband, made with fresh green beans this year by mom-in-law, Karen)
  • Cherry Cranberry Orange Cinnamon sauce
The green bean casserole was something new when I shared my first holiday meal with my now in-laws. My grandmother's table never saw it, and I'd honestly never had it growing up. Oh, how the salty, creamy, awful deliciousness of it all made me think I was seriously ripped of as a kid all those years! No, it's not good for us, it's not attractive, it's nothing a true foodie would admit a liking for, but once a year we have it, we enjoy it and we look forward to 364 days later when we'll partake again. 

Dessert this year will be a wee bit different as I have created two new pie recipes (One is a version of the classic pumpkin, one is full of walnuts, pecans and molasses) which have no refined-white or brown sugar, and instead rely on agave nectar for the sweet factors. These recipes were created because everyone deserves to enjoy a tasty traditional dessert full of flavor and fall spice without worry of restrictions for those who need to keep an eye on the glycemic index and blood sugar levels. We'll be heading over to the in-laws' house on Wednesday create these 2 specialty pies so I can share these lovely recipes with the whole family.

Here's the recipe for  my agave Pumpkin Pie to share with your family for a slightly more healthful Thanksgiving dessert. Enjoy!

1 Par-baked pie shell of your choice. (I use the recipe from Bob's Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour and bake it for 10 minutes at 425)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
For the filling, in a large mixing bowl, combine:
2 large eggs
1/3 cup agave nectar or raw honey
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice 
1 16oz can pumpkin puree OR  16 oz (2 cups) fresh pumpkin puree
1 12oz can fat-free evaporated milk

Mix well with whisk and pour into prepared pie shell
Bake at 425 for 15 minutes then turn oven to 350 and bake for another 40-50 minutes until a knife/cake tester comes out clean. After cooling to room temp, serve with agave-sweetened cinnamon-vanilla whipped cream! 

May you all have a beautiful Thanksgiving experience this year. May you enjoy the 3rd round of snacking late at night straight from the Tupperware containers as much as you enjoy the first meal around the table surrounded by family, friends, and memories new and old. After all, it's more than the meal we should take time to enjoy. Cheers!

30 October 2010

Bloody Brew and Moldy Bones

Today we hosted a small gathering for our close friends with young kids, mostly around our son's age, to have some good clean Halloween fun!

While I was hoping to make a lot of the edibles from scratch I decided to take a page from Ina Garten's many books and go with a few store-bought items and a couple of simple, but delicious, homemade treats.  It turned out to be a great decision!

What I made:
Bloody Brew: Pom juice, Grape Juice, Lime-Pom Sparking water
Spinach and Blue-cheese Pinwheels: Puff pastry sprinkled with smoked paprika (a favorite spice of mine!), blue cheese crumbles and whole leaf spinach. I intended to omit the spinach and just go with the blue cheese and cut the pastry into "bone" shapes but the pinwheels were slightly less time consuming and just as tasty in wheel form!
Sugar cookies: Pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies (used a recipe I'm not too pleased with) sprinkled with orange sanding sugar
Caramel apples: Granny Smith apples covered in caramel, extra dark chocolate and chopped pecans
Creepy crawly crunch: Three types of cereal, coconut and 2 types of nuts coated with a cocoa honey sauce and roasted. It's completely addictive and full of healthful things like honey, whole grain cereals and pecans!

We also served veggies and chips with hummus, various cheeses and wheat Ritz, and, of course, a candy bar well-stocked with gummy brains, worms and teeth, wax lips and mustaches and other assorted sweets and treats!

It was a wonderful day shared with some beautiful, amazing families who enrich our lives by simply being part of them. I hope your holiday weekend is a smashing success with loads of treats and perhaps a few tricks to keep us on our toes...

Happy Halloween, all!

22 October 2010

Pork Chops and Applesauce

Welcome! As an introduction to my world and the art of food, as well as the enjoyment of it all, please savor a few tidbits from my family's kitchen history. 

Mom Gina: An amazing cook and baker. Everything, from chinese food to maple bars, was made from scratch when my sister and I were young. Jump ahead about 10 years: The nest becomes empty and she resorts to sauces and gravies from jars and cans, potatoes from a box and...gulp, frozen pie crusts. Cut to present day: She's back in the kitchen with fresh ingredients, enormous cookbooks bulging with new ideas and she's loving it! 
Best meal: Fried Chicken, Potato Salad and Lemon Meringue Pie (even with a frozen crust it's pretty fantastic)

Sister Gwennie:Didn't have much interest in being in the kitchen or cooking/baking when we were kids. Now she cooks often using whole wheat pastas, doctoring up boring canned foods with some seasoning and spice, and creating great family meals.
Best Meal: Whole Wheat pasta with from-scratch Vodka cream sauce

Gram (Mom's mom): A wonderful woman full of stories, sass and song, but a dreadful cook. Eating her buckwheat pancakes was like trying to chew through a manilla envelope filled with chunky glue, bless her heart. 
Best meal: Toast with honey

Grandma Shirley (Mom's step-mom): I'll just say this. Every holiday when I was a child was spent at her house with all the kids setting the beautifully huge family table, the passing of creamy mashed potatoes, green tossed salad full of love and veggies from her garden and perfect homemade desserts. There were a lot of imperfect things about that home, but food an drink were as close to perfection as a child can hope for, especially considering in the garage there was a huge shelf full of every beverage you could ever want and a freezer stocked with ice cream treats for months!
Best meal (from what I recall only having been a teenager when I saw her last): Sandwich made with Humboldt Bay sourdough bread, mayo, mustard, thick slices of ham, homegrown "frilly" (green leaf) lettuce and tomatoes, and sharp cheddar cheese, on the side of which was always a nice cold glass bottle of V8. I'm not a fan of sandwiches but I truly, madly, deeply love this sandwich.

Grandma Robbie (Father's mom): I'll put it this way. If ever we were headed to her home for a meal, we'd stop and eat on the way. Not only was the food inedible, there was rarely enough to feed everyone, try as she might. 
Best Meal: Delivered Pizza 

As for me...
I was always in the kitchen, even if it was just to watch what mom was creating from bottles of spices, sacks of flour and sugar, crinkling packages of chocolate and simmering pots. Together we made fortune cookies, no-bake drop cookies, swedish meatballs, roasts with all the trimmings, and on and on. For my 9th birthday I decided I was old enough to prepare my first full meal and would do so for my birthday dinner. I grabbed one of mom's sticky drip-covered, well-loved cookbook (probably Betty or Joy) and found a simple recipe for Lemon Pork Chops. They were thick-cut, seasoned with S&P and topped with a slice of lemon. After baking a while they were smothered in a sauce made of ketchup and brown sugar. For the sides, I seem to recall scratch mashed potatoes with loads of butter, and frozen peas or something along that line, and of course, we can't have pork chops without apple sauce! Mom and sister were both very surprised at the meal and I was incredibly proud of creating such a feast. My abilities and tastes have matured quite a bit since then, thankfully, but the foods I most enjoy sharing are those that warm the belly, the soul and create memories through simple, healthy fresh ingredients and buckets of love. Still, I continue to learn and grow as a cook and a baker and am incredibly fortunate to have a precious son who already enjoys cooking and baking as much as i ever have, and a darling husband who is always up for being the quality-assurance expert on any new recipes! There's an entire world of flavors, ingredients and methods to explore and I look forward to sharing the journey with you! 
Best Meal: BBQ Ribs with Roasted Corn Salad, Grilled Veggies and for dessert, Sea Salt Almond Caramel Brownies OR Apple Pie.