Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Post-Thanksgiving Post

While it would have made sense for me to have blogged about our Thanksgiving dinner, I didn't. I was having way too much fun cooking to remember to take pictures, and I realized that many of our family favorite dishes don't really translate well in a visual way. Plus, frozen vegetables plus a can of cream of mushroom soup hardly strikes me as blog-worthy. (Tasty, yes, blog-worthy, no.)

But what about the Monday after Thanksgiving? The leftovers are just about gone, but there hasn't been a new mission to the grocery store. What then? Especially when it's awfully cold outside?

My family has a love for a soup that we call Pumpkin Soup. I say we call it that because it doesn't have any pumpkin in it. I've never made it with pumpkin. (Too much work, all that scooping.) I suppose it's more accurate to call it Winter Squash Soup. But somehow that name doesn't have the same ring to it.

But with some vegetables dying a slow and ugly death in the crisper, it was time to use them or lose them.

Get a big pot. Peel and coarsley chop 3-4 carrots. Coarsley chop half a "head" of celery (including the leaves). Peel and slice 3-4 potatoes (last night I used sweet potatoes and may make that a permanent change). Dump those in the pot and cover with water (or chicken broth...I used water because of the vegetarians). Simmer. Add thyme to taste (add more than you think you need...it's the defining flavor), and salt and pepper.

Leftover alert: this is a great time to use leftover mashed potatoes or cooked carrots!

Simultaneously, cut a winter squash in half, scoop out the seeds, place in a casserole dish along with 1/2" of water, and put it in a 350 degree oven. Bake while the other vegetables are simmering.

After an hour, remove the squash from the oven and scoop out the flesh (carefully - it's hot), and add the flesh to the vegetables and stock. Simmer until the carrots and potatoes are soft enough to mash with a fork.

Transfer contents of pot to the blender (it takes my blender two batches, so you'll need another pot or a big measuring cup or a bowl for half the mixture) and carefully blend until smooth. Carefully. Because you might get a big mess. Use the lowest speed and hold that lid like your life depends on it.

Return to the original pot, taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Delicious with a salad and muffins. Or at least that's what my kids tell me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving plans

I've been so busy posting every day on my other blog that I've neglected this one. Truth be told, my kitchen has been neglected a bit, too, but Thursday it'll be back in action!

This year we're potlucking with two other families, one of whom includes a 20-year-veteran chef. He's in charge of the meat, which, at press time, is going to be Cornish hens.

My family has a few "traditional" dishes we enjoy on Thanksgiving, which I'll be making. I'm still trying to decide about bread. I'll either bake bread or attempt to make rolls like my mom makes every year. Last time I tried to make them, it was a hideous failure. It's been fifteen years, however, and I'm a better cook. I think it might be time to try again. Plus, I have a better kitchen these days.

I put a great deal of thought into our Thanksgiving menu when we had our first Thanksgiving in our new house. That was two years ago. Last year we went out of town, to Craig's family. This year we're home again, leaving the next day to see my brother get married. Since we're potlucking, I'm not concentrating too much on the menu. Just on making sure the dishes that have to be on the table for my family are there.

From that feast two years ago, a standout was the roasted winter vegetables. It's a flexible recipe, but make sure you start early. Like the same time as the turkey. They need to cook a long time. If you don't time them right, you'll have raw vegetables on the table. I write from experience, as they were, indeed, undercooked on Christmas, when the ham took much more space in the oven than the Thanksgiving duck had.

I got the original recipe from the Food Network's website. You'll notice that the recipe is on a very small scale. So there's math to do. I also switched to new potatoes, upped the ratio of Brussels sprouts because oh my Craig does love them, substituted sage-infused olive oil (thyme-infused, rosemary-infused, or mixed with white truffle oil would all be good choices), added fresh sage to the herbs, and used kosher salt. So, by the time I'm done with it, it's more like this:

2# new potatoes, scrubbed, skins on (cut the big ones in half)
2# sweet potatoes, 3 carrots and 2 parsnips, scrubbed, skins on, in 1/2" thick slices
20 Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 heads garlic (may need more, since my son had discovered garlic this year), cloves separated and skins removed, poke holes with a toothpick
3 sweet onions, preferably Vidalias, quartered
1 each red, yellow, and green bell peppers, julienned
1 jar kalamata olives, pitted, drained
bunches of fresh herbs - rosemary, sage, thyme (and if you're feeling it, parsley, too, but only if you start singing)
Black pepper, to taste.

This is my once-a-year opportunity to use the clay roaster. It's perfect for this dish.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and prepare vegetables.

In a large roasting pan (or tagine), add potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts. Add olive oil and salt, and toss thoroughly. Roast in oven for 20 minutes.

Add garlic and onions and toss with oil in bottom of pan. Roast for 20 more minutes.

Add bell peppers, olives, fresh herbs and black pepper. Toss with the oil in the pan and return to oven. Cook for 20 to 40 minutes longer, turning once or twice or until vegetables are nicely browned but not charred. Serve immediately.

If you're cooking this with other foods that need a lower temperature, that's okay. Just increase the cooking time. Test the potatoes for doneness with a fork.