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.
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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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