Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Could Go For A Turkey Sandwich, How About You?

The kitchen is finally cleaned up and everything is put away from dinner. Must be time for a turkey sandwich!

I love turkey sandwiches as much as Thanksgiving itself. It's the reason for the whole turkey thing , as far as I'm concerned. It's all about the sandwiches.

This is an updated list of last year's turkey sandwiches I have known and loved -- and still do. Ham is an acceptable substitute in most cases, but give me a few slices of roasted turkey breast and I could make a feast between two slices of bread.

How does your favorite turkey sandwich compare? 

Pier 39 Turkey Sandwich
Kaiser Roll
Turkey Slices
Cranberry Sauce
Leaf Lettuce

Dam Turkey Sandwich
Pita Pocket
Leaf Lettuce
Turkey Slices
Stovetop Stuffing Patty
Canned Cranberry Sauce Slice

Fist Full of Feast
B-i-g Pita Pocket
Leaf Lettuce
Turkey Slices
Cranberry Stuff
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Gravy, if you dare

Thanksgiving Dinner Sandwich
Good Homemade Bread Slices or Rolls
Turkey Slices
Fresh Cranberry Orange Relish
Leaf Lettuce

Classic Turkey Sandwich
Store Bought White Bread
Sliced White Meat Turkey
Iceberg Lettuce

Hearty Thanksgiving Turkey Club Sandwich
Pumpernickel Bread
Turkey Slices
Crisp Bacon
Havarti Cheese
Cranberry Sauce
Leaf Lettuce

Little Gobbler
Dinner Roll
Cranberry Sauce

Print Recipes

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From Cora Cooks to You!

Sweet Potato Pudding - A Twist on Tradition

Sweet Potato Pudding is the one dish that makes my Thanksgiving just right. The benchmark for the real and true holiday dinner.

While many families enjoy some form of sweet potatoes as part of their Thanksgiving meal, mine is the only family I've ever come across that prepares them with a twist.

We are not typical brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, coconut, pecan or marshmallow people when it comes to sweet potatoes. We do not boil, bake, microwave or mash them.

I suspect if we didn't have any Sweet Potato Pudding, we wouldn't have sweet potatoes at all.

My Great Aunt Martha first made this dish for us so many years ago that I don't ever remember any other sweet potato dish at our holiday meals. Every year she would walk into my grandmother's house on Thanksgiving Day with one very small casserole dish of the golden orange treat we all craved. Due to the small amount she made, each individual portion amounted to about a spoonful, so we treasured and savored every delicate morsel.

No one dared ask Aunt Martha to bring, maybe, two dishes of Sweet Potato Pudding. We just assumed the preparation was so labor intensive, the ingredients so costly and rare, that we were fortunate to have just one taste at Thanksgiving and another at Christmas. We'd shake our heads in wonder, but never asked why the single dish.

Eventually, my mother and grandmother could stand it no longer and became co-keepers of the recipe, thus assuring the continuation of our treasured holiday tradition for future generations, god forbid something should happen to Aunt Martha.

That's when they discovered the answer to the unspoken question. And, indeed, there was a very good reason she never doubled her recipe.

Sweet Potato Pudding, a la Aunt Martha, was made with grated, raw sweet potatoes. Hand grated, raw sweet potatoes. Lots of hand grated raw sweet potatoes went into that single, small dish.

Now, Aunt Martha was from very sturdy stock, and lived most of her life on a farm. Hard work was certainly not anything she shied away from but, apparently, she drew the line of sacrifice at knuckles scraped raw, hands cramped and arms strained -- even for her family.

My grandmother, Beema, and my mother passed the Sweet Potato Pudding duties back and forth for all of hand-held box-graters years that followed. Sure, they made a larger recipe than Aunt Martha ever did, but they always let us know a supreme sacrifice had been made for us, as we sat down to our generously prepared two spoons of that heavenly pudding.

The advent of the Cuisinart significantly reduced the risk of raw knuckles, hand cramping and muscle strain, and increased the amount of Sweet Potato Pudding passed at our holiday table. But it is a bittersweet reward.

Our holidays are missing Aunt Martha and Beema, the people who created the tradition we still enjoy today, some 50 years later. But with each sweet bite I savor, I will always remember them, for the love and tradition they gave our family -- our very own Sweet Potato Pudding, with grated, raw sweet potatoes

Happy Thanksgiving!

4 cups grated, raw sweet potatoes 
1 1/2 cups sugar 
2 eggs, beaten 
1/2 cup melted butter 
1 1/2 cups milk 
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, toss sweet potatoes and sugar to mix. Add beaten eggs, melted butter, milk and nutmeg.  Pour into a heavy casserole dish and bake covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 40 - 45 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp on top.

 Print Recipe

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Cranberry Chronicles

Like so many of my fellow food bloggers, I guess, visions of cookbooks dance in my head.

But not just any cookbook. I want my very own cookbook. Just like my friends who've had their first cookbooks published just this fall.

In the last few days, I may have seen my future as a cookbook author, and maybe as a blogger too.

A cookbook title has come to me -- in a vision -- from Google Analytics and Sitemeter.

Can it be that my sudden success with the almighty number gods is due to a post I did last year about making my own Indian Trail-esque Cranberry Orange Sauce. ITCOS is was a frozen blend of chopped cranberries, oranges and sugar. The taste was fresh, clean and sweet/tart -- and it made a jolly jello salad for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

My future is cranberries? Really?

I like cranberries, a lot. And I have several cranberry recipes. But . . .

The jello salad mold that my grandmother made every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas came from the recipe on the Indian Trail carton. Our family was not alone in this tradition, based on the number of people looking for the stuff, which is what I was doing.

But now that I've tracked down the sad but true facts from Bay Valley Foods, I've become the food blogging expert source for this information. All because I published the recipe for my own version  of ITCOS.

Me? Food blogger turned investigative reporter? I sent an email to Bay Valley Foods asking why I couldn't find it in my local market.

The metrics don't lie though, and the numbers are high. Well, for me anyway. In the last week or two, my blog has generated more traffic than ever before. Well, to be more precise, cranberries have generated more traffic on my blog than anything ever has before.

Cranberries! My claim to Google fame is from little ol' cranberries.

Hundreds and hundreds of people all searching for Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce -- and they're coming to me!

I cannot disappoint them. My readers.

And so it seems I may finally have the answer to the questions that keep me up until the wee, small hours of the night, toiling away at my computer.

Is this how I make my mark as a food blogger? Is this where my blog is going? Is this is to be my niche in the crowded food blog world?

That's the answer? Cranberries!

Yeah, I'm kind of surprised too.

Wonder what the stats say about loyalty of readers seeking cranberries? 

My niche is cranberries, huh?

The good news -- I'll only have to blog for one month out of the year, at least until I can expand the horizons of cranberry lovers everywhere. Should I go worldwide with this?

Do they eat cranberries anywhere else in the world?

Note to self: Chapter One -- .

The bad news -- the cookbook thing has already been done, about six times. Yeah, really! But if I can break out above the top ranking cranberry cookbook (#680,194 on Amazon,) I'll be set!

I suspect you already have a favorite holiday cranberry recipe. Most of us do.

But tell me this, do you have a cranberry cookbook?

OK, let's just try this for now. If you're hoping to shake things up a bit this holiday season -- and you know how much the family appreciates an unexpected shift in holiday tradition, don't you -- I've got a good start on my book, and I've listed all some of my favorite cranberry recipes here.
I promise, I'll never be too big to remember the little berries that started it all.

The Cranberry Chronicles . . . I don't know . . .

Six cookbooks about cranberries already? Really?

Back to the blog-to-cookbook drawing board . . . again! . . . sigh . . .

Printer Friendly Recipes - click on recipe name

print recipe

print recipe

There is no reason to hide the fact that there are many, many people who grew up on the Ocean Spray wiggly cylinder cranberry sauce. No, I don't know how they make it, but at least you can find it on the store shelves any time of year, anywhere in the U.S. (and probably Canada, but I've never looked there, although I did have Thanksgiving there once -- Canadian Thanksgiving. They eat the same stuff we do, just a month before we do -- second Monday in October.) Cylindrical cranberry sauce is still my choice for adding to a turkey or ham sandwich -- or my favorite sandwich of all time -- pita, smeared inside with mayo, stuffed with lettuce, turkey, a sliced disc of cranberry sauce and a disc-shaped patty of stuffing/dressing/or Stovetop. Hey, I just thought of this! -- add mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes and that green bean casserole stuff too, if you can shove it all in that pita, that is. A new sandwich is born - Fistful of Thanksgiving! Yum!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Baked Pineapple Casserole - A New Tradition

T-minus 5 days and counting.

Thanksgiving planning is requiring an unusually high degree of flexibility on my part this year. 

I'm still coordinating scheduling conflicts to determine who will be here, and when we will eat. 

The guest list has undergone a number of changes. As it stands now, we have four tables in three rooms, with plenty of room to add another. And goodness knows we'll have enough food!

The cooks have been contacted and have their assignments, and a license to bring anything else they choose. They always do anyway!

Two turkeys and one ham.  Gail carves, because she can make a platter look like this, and now no one else will even go near the turkey carving knife now.

We have plenty of side dishes for everyone -- and his brother! That's why we need so much food. We've got a lot of brothers!

Aunt Cora's Best Mashed Potatoes In The World has been ordered. Gail makes the mashed potatoes. Janet tried to tell her kids that I don't make them, it's just my house, but I still get the credit.

Denise wants to try a new sweet potato recipe this year. Not everyone has adjusted to the traditional dishes of the smaller family units within our growing blended family. We are the family of inclusion. We want everyone to feel comfortable, and have plenty to eat. 

That's not really a problem. We've usually got enough food to last for the whole weekend, even after I fill plastic containers and shopping bags for all the locals to take home. 

The hostess is not complaining about leftovers, so no one else should either! It may take a gentle nudge with the hip to close the refrigerator anytime before Saturday, but I can live with that.

Baked Pineapple Casserole is one of my mother's recent contributions to our Thanksgiving meal. She introduced it a few years ago and it was a keeper -- for her anyway. She said it doesn't matter if anyone else likes it, she making it! I like it too, but the recipe below is mine. I like it better. 

Thanksgiving is a welcome time of year for counting our blessings.

Like big hearts to welcome new family and friends to our table . . . 

and open minds to share new traditions and make them our own . . .  

and good humor to adapt to change, both good and bad . . . 

and warm, loving thoughts of those we will miss around our table this year . . .

Earth to Cora! Do you have Joey's Pop Tarts on the shopping list yet?

Uh oh!

Next on my list of things to do -- make a shopping list!

The countdown continues . . .

1 20-oz. can pineapple chunks
1/2 c. sugar
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 c. shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 c. melted butter or margarine
1/2 c. Ritz cracker crumbs

Drain pineapple, reserving 3 tbsp. juice. Combine sugar and flour, and stir in reserved pineapple juice; add cheese and pineapple chunks, mixing well.  Spoon mixture into a greased 1-qt. casserole.

Combine melted butter and cracker crumbs, stirring well; sprinkle over pineapple mixture.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until crumbs on top are lightly browned.  Makes 4-6 servings.

Print Recipe

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Harvest Table - A Work of Art

My friend, Sally, who lives in New Hampshire, sent this picture of her autumn harvest table arrangement -- a little something she just threw together. Simple and beautiful.

I think the big leaves of whatever kind of greens they are and the pale green colors of the squashes make it.

I'm going out to the garage to root around in the big plastic tub of fall decorations to see if I have what I need to create something similar.

What if I don't have any of those green leafy things though? Then I'll want to go to town and dig through all the fall stuff at JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts, Wal-Mart, and maybe I'll even have to drive all the way to Steven's and Target. Time. Trouble.

If I can't get it together, then I'm going to print out five copies of the picture on the color printer and glue them around an appropriately sized cardboard box and set it in the center of my table.

Come to think of it, I can go to the garage another day.  

So . . . shall I put up a picture of my box arrangement when I've finished it?

Would you like for me to send you my new Autumn Harvest Table Arrangement Kit?

Will that be the Economy Kit -- 5 photos plus glue stick, box not included, or the Deluxe Eco Kit -- Economy Kit, plus shipping box that doubles as part of the arrangement?

Thanks, Sally! You're always such an inspiration to me!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pioneer Woman Book Tour - Meet Me In St. Louis

See our smiling faces! That's my daughter-in-law, Kristen, with me at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, waiting for Ree, AKA The Pioneer Woman.  Her book signing tour stop in St. Louis, sponsored by Left Bank Books, was moved to accommodate the large audience. SRO -- which I had to explain to someone who wasn't sure what I meant. Huh? SRO means the 500-seat cathedral was packed.

I made the two-hour drive to St. Louis this afternoon and, in a week full of coincidences, guess what happened? Just as I crossed the river, I glanced over to the lane of traffic merging from Jefferson Barracks VA Hospital. And what do you think I saw?  Or, rather, whom do you think I saw? (Who, whom -- it's too late to diagram sentences, so that's my best look/sound test/guess. Sorry grammarians.)

I saw Kristen! No kidding! Of the hundreds of people getting off day shift and pulling onto the crowded lanes of I-255, at the exact instant I was nearing the end of my two-hour drive, Kristen merged right in front of me! Insert Twilight Zone music here. Strange goings-on in my normally dull little world. First, the kooky incident with the shortbread earlier in the week, and now this!

So anyway, I dialed up Kristen on my cell (without taking my eyes off the road, or my hands off the wheel, of course) and before I could say I was behind her, she said she could see me in her rear view mirror. Then she obligingly slowed down to a cautious-mother-in-law-just-in-from-the-prairie speed and I followed her home. 

After a quick change, we headed downtown and arrived early enough to get a good seat. We bought all the books we could carry in two shopping bags and then made a few friends while we waited. At one point in our wait, the church pastor stepped up to the mike, welcomed guests and invited everyone to explore the historic cathedral building, with the self-guided tour brochure  provided, during our wait. It is a beautiful old cathedral.

I thought the book signing was well organized and the Left Bank Books people (and Ree, of course!) were very accommodating. LBB had plenty of books available for us, transactions were handled efficiently, and Ree, after answering questions from the audience, sat there for hours and hours, cheerfully signing each and every book handed to her! I've never been to a book signing with an author who was so kind and patient! 

While we waited, Kristen and I decided to help all we could by writing the name for each inscription on the bookmark LBB had placed inside, and then we inserted the bookmark and tucked the jacket flap to mark the page to be signed. After we got in line, the LBB workers helped others do the same thing and I know that speeded up the process tremendously. That, and the fact that Ree can talk and sign simultaneously! 

Our new friends, who sat in the pew next to us, were Dee Ann and her daughter, Sadie, along with their friend, Katie, all from Mount Vernon, IL -- which is also a two-hour drive from St. Louis (but only a one hour drive from my home!) Small world! Half of our pew and several others were from the Illinois side of the river!

You do know which river I'm talking about don't you? I hope so, 'cause if I had a smartypants quiz, that would be on it!

Back to the book tour. Ree came out and talked a few minutes and then took questions from the assembled book lovers . . . oh, let's just call 'em as we see 'em . . . Pioneer Woman fans! She even did a bit of Ethel Merman for us. Kristen didn't know who Ethel Merman was, but was amused nonetheless.

In the meantime, Marlboro Man stepped out into the audience to snap a few pictures, just as two little boys made their way to the pulpit to get a better angle on Mom/PW and Dad/MM. Let's just say, the whole family knows how to work the room! And Punk Son#1 charmed the crowd a little later, too, as they waited in the long line for Ree to sign their books. He signed cookbooks -- and the hand of one very cute little girl! Sorry, no picture. I still haven't mastered rapid-fire photo ops in dimly lit stone cathedrals. 

It was so good to see Ree after all this time. Well, maybe not so long. We were just in Chicago in July for BlogHer '09. And then we were in San Francisco in September for BlogHer Food '09. We food bloggers are very busy people, I guess. OK, some a little busier than others, I'll admit. While I'm checking out the new Schnuck's in Des Peres tomorrow (they have wine to drink while you shop, and it's all in the interest of food blogger research, you know!) and then heading home tomorrow, Ree will be in Chicago on Thursday . . . and Minneapolis on Saturday . . . and Los Angeles on Sunday . . .

And then I'll be home, in my kitchen at Prairie Wood, trying to get a handle on Thanksgiving dinner, not to mention find enough tables, for 32 30* people.  Two fried turkeys and one ham . . . or two hams?

Hey, back up a minute. Does that make me, Cora The Prairie Woman Cooks?

I guess not. 

Back to the blog drawing board. 

*Grant, your mother says you better cook a lovely Thanksgiving dinner for your wife, who will be working on Thanksgiving Day . . . she is ever so nice to your mother. The recipe links are all in the left sidebar. ;-)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Shortbread - Sweet, Simple, Serendipity

I've been working on this cookie post for a week and thought it would be just perfect for announcing the winner of the Jolly Holiday Cookie Baker's Dream Giveaway. I know that what I'm going to say will be difficult for you to believe, as you read on, but I promise this is a complete and total coincidence. A little weird, in a good way . . . but . . . well, you'll see . . .

My favorite cookie of all time is shortbread.  I love shortbread, in any form, but this is the form my homemade shortbread takes.

I bake my shortbread in a ceramic pan with hearts and flowers that leave a raised design on each cookie.  I've had it forever, but the Brown Bag Cookie Art people in New Hampshire are still making pans like this, in a artful array of designs.  Some pans are like mine, others are square and cut into smaller cookie squares.

When cut apart, the scalloped ruffled-edge triangles my pan makes are known as "petticoats."

Of course, shortbread also can be pressed into any round or square baking pan. No special equipment is required and the cookies will still be wonderful.

The Brown Bag company includes a little booklet with recipes and instructions with their pans, just like this one.

Print Recipe

Nothing is easier than making delicious, beautiful shortbread. Four ingredients -- butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and flour. Five minutes from mixing to oven, and then thirty minutes to bake. This classic version is still best,  in my opinion, but there are lots of variations in both sweet and savory flavors. 

A couple of tips for perfect shortbread baked in a ceramic pan -- spray the pan with cooking spray before pressing in the dough, prick holes in the dough after placing in the pan, bake in the top on-third of the oven, remove when the entire surface is browned, cool for ten minutes, invert and tap cookie out of pan, cut into shapes with a sharp knife (I use a pizza cutter!) while still warm. That's it.

You will be delighted by the every-so-slight flaky resistance of the center. The sandy texture melts into a sweet buttery sensation in your mouth. Oh, yes! Just sweet enough. Shortbread seems so simple and, yet, it is so surprisingly good, in a gotta-have-another sorta way!

Some people get fancy and dip part of the cookie, or the whole flat side, into melted chocolate and let them dry on wax paper before serving. I wouldn't know about that. Shortbread is never around here long enough to even wait for chocolate to melt!

Little boxes or wrapped plates, filled with homemade shortbread and tied with bright bows are a perfect hostess gift, neighbor gift, teacher gift, or anyone-anytime gift.

If you really want to be sweet, give a new ceramic shortbread pan filled with it's first shortbread as a gift to anyone who loves cookies or is a baker. 

It's sure to be a favorite -- a gift that keeps on giving!

And speaking of cookies . . . and gifts . . . the winner of the Jolly Holiday Cookie Baker's Dream Giveaway is Karen of the blog . . . are you ready . . . I'm not kidding . . . this is just too bizaare . . . her blog is called SHORTBREAD! Yeah, I know, I couldn't believe it either when her name popped up! Congratulations Karen -- I guess it was meant to be!

Karen, I'll send out your box of baking goodies right away, but how about sharing your favorite shortbread recipe here while you wait? You know, a little Shortbread serendipity for all of us!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Here it is. Just like I promised.

I've got a big box full of yummy stuff to make your cookie baking dreams come true this holiday season.

The really good stuff for baking cookies. The stuff that's nice enough for gifts. The very items you've promised yourself you would buy someday . . . when you could afford it . . . or you remodeled your kitchen . . . or the kids graduated from college . . .
Today could be your someday. 

So what's in the box, you ask?
  • A quartet -- that's four, count 'em 4 -- of those jolly holiday Wilton Comfort Grip cookie cutters. No more cheap metal cookie cutters that rust and cut into your hand when you press down. No more risking your life for cute cookies!
  • A bright, shiny new heavy-weight aluminum baking sheet to assure your cookies are baked to perfection. It doubles as a make-up mirror -- it's just that big and shiny! (I've had four of these baking sheets for about ten years and they're still shiny!) Of course, I use them all the time! Who said that?
  • A perfectly-sized-to-fit-the-baking sheet, genuine Silpat mat -- yeah, the real big one -- for crispy or chewy cookies that won't stick, break or bend when you remove them from the bright, shiny baking sheet. 
  • A cushy-comfort handled OXO turner/spatula to gently lift your cookies off the slippery Silpat mat, and give the proper amount of support to keep them safe from baking sheet to the cookie jar. Disaster-free baking. What happens after that is your responsibility.

    Jolly Holiday Cookie Baker's Dream Giveaway Big Box
    Valued at $75.00 and made possible by my generous earnings from Cora Cooks. 
    Not really. My generous earnings are not that generous. But I am!

    What do you need to do to enter for a chance to win this big box of tools for baking perfect cookies?

    Just tell me your favorite cookie recipe in the comment section below.

    You know . . . The recipe you take out every year for the holidays. Or the recipe you make when you need to take something to a bakesale or potluck supper. The cookies that your mom made and had ready when you got home for school. The special recipe for cookies you send to preschool snack time or pack into your freshman's first semester care package.

    So enter a comment below and tell me about your favorite cookie recipe -- it doesn't have to be a cookie-cutter cookie. Leave your comment by midnight on Saturday, November 14. I'll publish the randomly drawn winner's name on Sunday.

    Be sure to check in on Sunday to claim your prize, or I'll have to choose another winner's name. This stuff is too good to sit in a box on my dining room table, waiting to be claimed.

    And I've got 35 people coming for Thanksgiving dinner. I need all the extra space I can find!

    Also, if you want, send me your favorite cookie recipe at coracooksblogATgmailDOTcom. Send it by Saturday, so I have time to get it posted here to share when I announce the winner's name. Your name.

    The box is ready to be rushed to you, in plenty of time to bake some delicious sugar cookies, in jolly holiday shapes, to delight your family and friends.

    Don't you just love cookies . . . and holidays . . . and big boxes of jolly holiday baking stuff!

    Now scroll down to the comments. Click. Type in your favorite cookie. Click.

    And then go box up your old cookie sheets and rusty cookie cutters! I'll be in touch.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Five Years Later And November Is Still About Thanksgiving November 2009

    (my monthly food column for Heartland Women)
    November 2009

    Wow! This is my 59th column for Heartland Women. Can you believe it? Little did I know, back in December 2004, when I wrote my first column for the second edition of this newspaper, I would still be here five years later, still writing about food and wondering why it took me so long to fall into such a fun job.

    That makes this my fifth November to write about the grandest of all food holidays—Thanksgiving. Well, actually, when I checked back through my archives, November ’05 was more about barbecue than turkey, but let’s just chalk that one up to all the years I spent living in the land where everyday is barbecue day, including holidays.

    In spite of my love for food writing, I fear I’ve fallen victim to the classic November conundrum for food writers—coming up with something new and interesting to write about Thanksgiving. This has to be the most challenging holiday column of the year. Thanksgiving is the ultimate American holiday for food – full of traditions not to be tampered with – and a menu that is pretty much set in stone for most families. Gobble, gobble, gobble . . . it must be turkey!

    Well, maybe not everyone serves turkey, but we all feel obligated to make excuses if we don’t. And the same is true with stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries, the ubiquitous green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. Just try to serve pizza or a burgers with fries—or anything else you know they love every other day of the year—and prepare yourself for the protests.

    Dare we ask who decided we should eat turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberries for Thanksgiving anyway? I mean, we’re reasonably certain that the Pilgrims ate some kind of fowl for their feast, but nothing like the broad-breasted turkeys of modern America. And do you think Pilgrims really mashed all those potatoes without an electric mixer? I’ve even read that there was a shortage of sugar after that first year in Plymouth, so I seriously doubt that tart cranberries made the cut for the first holiday feast.

    It’s probably not just the food we love about Thanksgiving, although having plenty of food is always a good idea when a crowd gathers at your house. I suspect we also love Thanksgiving so much for its ritual and tradition. We like knowing what to expect – the familiar, comfortable feeling of being surrounded by family and friends, all-day football, a gracious feast and a nap. Don’t forget the nap!

    Just how do we know which elements of holiday rituals to maintain through the years, or when it’s time to spice things up with something fresh and new? Are we more influenced by relentless advertising hype for a trendy new convenience food, or a stunning magazine cover featuring a new way to prepare the perfect turkey, or a tempting new recipe from a trusted friend? Or should we hold fast to the familiar warm-fuzzy feeling that comes from passing Great Aunt Martha’s Sweet Potato Casserole to the brother seated next to you?

    Often circumstances beyond our control force a change in family tradition. For many years, our family holidays maintained the same degree of flexibility required of every other day in the life of an Air Force or airline family. Rarely were we able to make the trip home to spend holidays with either of our families. Having time off for Thanksgiving or Christmas in the Air Force required determination, patience and more than a little luck. There was the ever-present risk of unexpected last minute changes to even the best-laid plans.

    We became accustomed to holidays for our little family of three often that required some creativity and adaptability on our part, just to be together. We always had Thanksgiving; it just wasn’t always on the fourth Thursday in November. But, in a way, that became our tradition, as much as turkey, cranberries and pumpkin pie. We were happy just to share a turkey sandwich sometime around the end of the month of November, and maybe a piece of pumpkin pie was nice too. Everything else was gravy!

    Now that we are home in Southern Illinois, our newest Thanksgiving tradition means more to us than anyone can know. Both of our families now gather here, with us, for the real Thanksgiving. And our “family” continues to grow every year as we welcome newlyweds, in-laws, parents of in-laws and friends who are not related to any of us, into our fold. It is a wonderful feeling of togetherness, with just a little chaos thrown in for good measure. We love it!

    Sadly, this year we will be missing my brother, David, whom we lost this past winter. The loss will be felt by all of us, but I am hoping that our old and new holiday traditions will fill our hearts with memories of all the happy times when our family was all together.

    This Thanksgiving, and indeed every day, I am most thankful for my little family of four, my parents, our siblings, their spouses, our nieces and nephews, and all the dear friends we have in the many places we have lived. I cherish the peace and joy that come from familiar events and the unexpected pleasures in our lives from year to year.  And I feel fortunate for every new opportunity that offers a chance to change and grow. We are also grateful for the jobs we have now, as well as the many people who have answered the call and continue to serve their country and their communities on holidays.

    The recipes for column #59, Season To Taste’s Thanksgiving #5, are some of my favorites and a few new takes on familiar holiday dishes from my friend, Libba. According to Miss Libba, her husband, Mike, is the real cook in their family, but she always seems to have a good recipe to share with me, so I suspect she cooks more than she wants us to know.

    I am so grateful for readers like Libba, and all of you, who show up here every month to see what I’m cooking. Enjoy all your favorite holiday dishes and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

    Libba Burns

    1 can (15 oz.) Libby 100% pure pumpkin
    1 ½ cups chicken broth
    1 tsp. ground sage
    1 can (12 fl. Oz.) Carnation evaporated milk
    ¾ cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
    1 large green onion, finely chopped

    Cook pumpkin, chicken broth and sage in large saucepan, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil. Stir in evaporated milk and cheese. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring frequently, until most of the cheese is melted. Sprinkle with green onion before serving. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Soup may be warmed in a slow cooker until serving time.
    Print Recipe

    Mike & Libba Burns

    1 ½ loaves Italian-style bread
    1 stick unsalted butter
    1 large onion, chopped
    2 celery stalks, minced
    1 cup pecan pieces
    1/3 cup raisins      
    ½ cup chopped parsley
    2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
    1 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. pepper
    2 eggs
    ¾ cup chicken stock

    Cut 1-inch off ends of loaves and rim off bottom crusts. Tear bread into ½-inch pieces and set aside. In a large heavy skillet, melt 4 tbsp. of butter. Add onion and celery and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, approximately 10 minutes. Add contents of skillet to bread cubes, pecans, raisins, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Toss well to combine. In a small bowl, lightly beat together eggs and chicken stock until blended. Pour egg mixture over bread and other ingredients and mix together. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in oven-safe casserole dish: add stuffing and flatten to fit dish. Cook in 325–degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Dot remaining 2 tbsp. butter over stuffing and cook for another 10 minutes. (Can be done to here 1 day in advance.) Cover and refrigerate. Before serving, remove from refrigerator; bring to room temperature and bake in 325-degree oven for 1 hour.
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    Libba Burns

    2 lbs. sweet potatoes
    1 large grapefruit
    3 tbsp. unsalted butter
    1/3-cup light brown sugar
    ½ tsp. salt
    2 eggs, well beaten

    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

    Peel potatoes, cut into approx 2-in. pieces and place in large pot with enough water to cover.

    Using a vegetable peeler, remove just the yellow zest from the grapefruit and place into pot with potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender; 20-40 minutes depending on how many potatoes.

    While potatoes are cooking, blanch peeled grapefruit in the boiling water for 30 seconds; rinse under cold water and then remove all of the white pith.

    Section the grapefruit and then, working over a large bowl, remove all of the membranes and seeds, reserving the grapefruit pulp and juice.

    When potatoes are cooked, drain, discard grapefruit zest and set aside to cool. Place cooled potatoes, grapefruit pulp & juice, brown sugar, butter & salt into a food processor and puree until smooth. It may be necessary to work in batches, again depending on how many potatoes you are using.

    Add eggs and mix well to blend. Pour mixture into a well-buttered 6 to 8-cup soufflé dish; place dish into a Bain Marie and bake for 45 minutes or until center is set.
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    Libba Burns

    1 lb. Brussels sprouts
    4 slices bacon
    2 tbsp. olive oil
    salt and pepper to taste

    Use food processor with slicing blade to slice Brussels sprouts ¼-in. thick. Cut bacon ¼-in. pieces. Put olive oil into hot skillet; add bacon pieces; cover and cook on high for 2-3 minutes, until crisp and brown. Add Brussels sprouts and salt and pepper to taste; cover and cook for 1-2 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, tossing occasionally, for 2 minutes, or until Brussels sprouts are tender, but still firm. Serves 4.
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    The Odaniell Family

    2 - 1# loaves Italian or sandwich bread
    1 ½ c. diced onion
    1 ½ c. diced celery
    1 bay leaf
    2 tsp. poultry seasoning
    ½ tsp. dried thyme or 1 tbsp. fresh
    1 stick butter, melted
    1 pt. fresh shucked oysters with liquor
    4 large eggs
    salt and pepper to taste
    chicken stock, if needed

    1. Tear bread into pieces and allow to get stale for one day in brown paper bag or allowed to dry partially.
    2. Melt butter in pan and lightly sauté onion and celery with bay leaf (discard bay leaf after sautéing.)
    3. Pour butter and veggies over bread in a large mixing bowl.
    4. Sprinkle in dry seasoning and toss to blend.
    5. Lightly beat eggs and add to mixture.
    6. Pour in oysters with liquor and fold until well blended.
    7. Mixture should be creamy and wet, if not add some chicken stock.
    8. Add salt and pepper to taste.
    9. Bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes in covered casserole; uncover and bake for additional 15 minutes. Thermometer should read at least 205 degrees when done.
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    2 lbs. green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
    4 tbsp. butter
    1 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary leaves
    2 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
    salt and pepper to taste

    Steam or boil green beans until they are tender-crisp; drain beans. While beans cook, mix the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and heat on low until the butter melts. Place the beans in a serving dish and pour orange sauce over them. Serves 8.
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    (Adapted from Atkinson Milling Company)
    2 cups self-rising cornmeal
    2 tbsp. sugar
    1 tsp. poultry seasoning
    2 tbsp. butter
    ¾ cup finely chopped celery
    ¾ cup chopped onion
    2 tbsp. chopped pimento
    2 eggs, beaten
    1 ½ cups milk
    ¼ cup melted shortening or oil

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine cornmeal, sugar and poultry seasoning. Melt butter in a skillet and sauté celery and onion to soften. Stir in pimento remove from heat. Add eggs, milk and shortening to cornmeal mixture and stir until just moistened. Fold in onion mixture until just blended. Pour into greased muffin pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on top. Serve warm.
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    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Drop In & Decorate - 10,000 Cookies = 10,000 Smiles

    Just last year - where does the time go! - I wrote in my column for Heartland Women, and in this blog, about my friend and fellow food blogger, Lydia Walshin, and the wonderful nonprofit organization she founded eight years ago. This year, when I found out that Lydia and her merry band of bakers are about to bake and decorate their 10,000th cookie to donate to shelters, food pantries and other community help agencies, I had to write about Drop In & Decorate again. That is a lot of cookies!
    Lydia Walshin

    When I met her at a Boston blogger event, Lydia, who is from Rhode Island, was only the second food writer I'd ever met in person. But when I found out that she had started her own tax-exempt nonprofit organization, Drop In & Decorate, I was really impressed that I'd met someone who could take the seemingly simple act of baking cookies and turn it into such a grand idea.

    Photo from Drop In & Decorate

    It seems that Lydia, like me, was not much of a baker when she set out to bake cookies and decorate them that first year. The gingerbread cookie dough she and her friend baked and decorated together proved to be quite the baking challenge. A challenge that included the icing colors, mixed up by their helpful husbands, which offered little enhancement when spread over the very brown gingerbread cookies. More friends were called to rush in and smooth over the cookies with new icing colors. The cookies turned out to be a success, much to the delight of the staff and residents at a local emergency shelter, who were the first recipients of the bakers' generous holiday spirit.

    And that's how Lydia's idea for Drop In & Decorate Cookies For Donation was born!   

    By the next December, with a better cookie dough, a bake-ahead plan, and an improved technique for icing cookies, baking was underway again. This time, the group of cookie decoraters was pre-arranged, and several more help agencies were able to receive the beautifully wrapped cookies to enjoy during the holidays.  And the decoraters let it be known that they were available for the following year too!

    Photo from Drop In & Decorate

    Since then, the idea of Drop In & Decorate cookies for donation parties has been adopted by groups of all kinds -- at home, work, school, places of worship and community centers -- and they take place throughout the year for various holidays, like Mother's Day. Communities far and wide have people of all ages baking, decorating, packaging and donating cookies for local agencies. As Lydia says, "It's a simple idea, in a complicated world, and something anyone can do." And it sounds like so much fun too!

    If you’d like to host your own Drop In & Decorate® event, Pillsbury and Wilton would like to help.  You can write to lydia AT ninecooks DOT com for more info on how to get some free coupons and cookie cutters.

    Pillsbury has donated 50 VIP coupons, worth $3.00 each, off any Pillsbury product -- including sugar cookie mix, icing and flour -- to be distributed, first come, first served, while supply lasts, to anyone who plans to host a Drop In & Decorate event (max. 5 coupons per person). And Lydia says they'll include a Comfort Grip cookie cutter, donated by Wilton, while their supply lasts.

    This year, Lydia is hoping to have groups baking cookies to donate in all 50 states! Soon, that 10,000th cookie will come out of the oven to be decorated and donated to a shelter, food pantry, or other nonprofit agency serving the basic human needs of people in communities far and wide. Wouldn't it be nice if that special cookie came from your home and brought a smile to someone where you live?

    Photo from Drop In & Decorate

    When you come back here tomorrow, I'll have even more cookie goodies for you. The Cookie Baker's Dream Giveaway is going to make one lucky baker SMILE like this little guy.

    Here's a hint - get your best cookie recipe ready and I'll see you then!