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My whole family, what there is of us, will be together on Thanksgiving. This year we are especially thankful. Last year on Thanksgiving my brother’s wife was in the hospital with a stroke. My brother and his step sons had a hasty turkey dinner a couple of weeks later before driving 45 minutes to the hospital in Pittsburgh, as they did every day, to visit. Cathy didn’t return home until Christmas Eve.
Her health is still fragile and my brother is hobbling around on a broken ankle, so I’m preparing most of Thursday’s dinner and hauling it to East Liverpool. Joining us will be my loveable sister and her husband and son, and two of Cathy’s sons and their families – a dozen of us in all. I will cherish every moment, because who knows which Thanksgiving will be our last together?
As the years pass, the food on the table becomes both less and more important. It’s less important that every dish wows the diners, and more important that the food reflects family traditions and evokes memories of those no longer here. Still, I can’t bring myself to make my mother’s Spartan stuffing of cubed white bread with melted butter, salt and pepper. Mom, what were you thinking?
I will also make the Bourbon-mashed sweet potatoes my brother requested and the homemade cranberry sauce with port wine and toasted pecans that everyone likes. These are not family recipes but ones I fell in love with as a food writer and shared with my family about 20 years ago. I guess that makes them traditional family recipes now.
I will not argue with my brother, even though our politics are different. I will not tell him how to roast a turkey after the fact, even though he’ll probably not roast “correctly.” I will not rib him about his taste in wine or football teams. I’ll just tell him that I love them.
If only Mom were around to enjoy the truce.
• 3 quarts cubes of day-old bread
• 2 slices bacon, chopped
• 1/2 cup butter
• 1 cup chopped onions
• 3/4 cup chopped celery
• 2 cups peeled, chopped apples
• 1/3 cup broken walnut halves, toasted
• 1 tsp. dried thyme
• 1 tsp. crumbled dried sage
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. pepper
Buy good bakery bread and let it sit overnight without a wrapper. Cut it into slices if necessary and then into 1-inch squares. Measure 12 cups into a large bowl.
Fry bacon until crisp in a large skillet. With a slotted spoon, transfer to the bowl with the bread cubes. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the skillet with the bacon fat. Add the onions and celery and cook over medium heat, stirring every minute or so, until the onion is soft and tastes sweet. Stir in the apples and cook 5 minutes longer. Add remaining butter and melt. Transfer everything in the skillet to the bowl with the bread cubes and toss well to distribute the fat.
Add walnuts, thyme, sage, and salt and pepper and
stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes enough to stuff a 16-pound turkey.
Note: To cook the stuffing outside the bird, beat 3 eggs with 1 cup chicken or turkey broth. Pour over bread mixture and spoon into a greased casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until steaming hot all the way through.
HELP U COOK
Tomorrow I will enjoy my brother’s roast turkey and politely refuse his offer of leftovers, knowing my back-up turkey is at home soaking in brine. On Friday I will smoke the turkey in my Weber. I have compared grill-smoked turkey with moist, juicy birds expertly cooked in the oven, and grill-smoked wins hands down. Nevertheless, I’m supplying directions for cooking the bird two ways—on the grill and in the oven by the high-heat method, my second-favorite way to cook a turkey.
Turkey on the grill: Place a foil pan in the bottom of one side of a covered grill, and about 30 charcoal briquettes on the other side. When the charcoal is ashed over, place an oiled, unstuffed turkey on the grid over the pan, opposite the charcoal. Cover grill. The vents should be wide open.
Cook for 2 to 3 hours for a 10- to 18-pound turkey, turning bird top to bottom and front to back and adding more charcoal every 45 minutes. Do not open lid except when adding charcoal and turning the turkey. Roast until an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 degrees. Transfer to a platter, cover with foil and let rest for 30 to 40 minutes before carving.
Quick-roast turkey: Heat oven to 475 degrees. Place an unstuffed turkey on a wire rack in a large, shallow roasting pan, breast side up. The turkey must not hang outside the pan. Pour 1/2 inch of water into the pan. Roast uncovered in the lower third of the oven until the breast meat registers 160 degrees — about 1 3/4 hours for an 18-pound turkey
or 2 hours for a 22-pound turkey. Check the temperature of smaller turkeys sooner. If the turkey begins to brown too much, tent loosely with foil.
When done, remove from oven, transfer to a platter and cover tightly with foil. Let rest for 30 to 45 minutes before carving. The turkey will continue to cook during this period, so do not skip this step. Serves 12.
HELP U COOK II
What’s Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? Break a teensy bit with tradition and ignore the recipe on the can of pumpkin. Use my recipe instead, which I usually make with homemade roasted and pureed pumpkin, but which works great with canned pumpkin, too. The spices are bold and the texture is heavenly, thanks to the cream in the filling.
Tony and I polished off one of these last weekend, thanks to a tradition started by my mother – pre-Thanksgiving “tester” pie. You’re welcome to steal the idea. It’s delicious.
ULTIMATE PUMPKIN PIE
• 1 or 2 small pumpkins, about 2 or 3 lbs. total
• Pastry for a 1-crust, 10-inch pie
• 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water
• 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1 tbsp. flour
• 1 tbsp. molasses or dark corn syrup
• 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp. ground ginger
• 1/4 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
• 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 2 cups pumpkin (cooked, drained and pureed if fresh)
• 3 eggs
• 1 3/4 cups cream
• 2 tbsp. brandy, Bourbon or rum
Roll out pastry and fit into a 9 1/2- or 10-inch pie pan. Crimp edges. Brush edges with egg-water mixture. If desired, roll out scraps and cut into the shapes of leaves. Brush with egg-water mixture and bake the leaves on a cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden.
In a large bowl, combine sugars, flour, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Stir in the pumpkin.
In another bowl combine eggs, cream and brandy. Slowly pour into the pumpkin mixture, whisking until smooth. Pour into pie shell.
Bake on the middle oven rack at 375 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the filling comes out clean. When wiggled, the filling should still move slightly in the center. Cool. Decorate with pastry leaves if desired. Makes 1 pie.
From Linda Z.:
I was just reading about your Lemon Wafer Crunches in a December 2013 email and wondered how to find the recipe. I looked on your blog and it doesn’t go back that far and I must not understand the search process. Is there a way to link to your recipes online? Thanks!
Dear Linda: Sorry, but we have no search function on my website or blog. Mimi Vanderhaven publishes my newsletter and handles that end of things, and we originally agreed not to make past recipes available in case I wanted to turn them into a cookbook. Our thinking has changed since then, but posting the recipes – especially earlier ones — and creating a search function is time-consuming and I don’t want to impose. I have all of the recipes on my computer and although they aren’t alphabetized with a search function, I can usually find them and satisfy requests.
Here’s the cookie recipe you want:
LEMON WAFER CRUNCH
• 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. (10 tbsp.) unsalted butter, room temperature
• 1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 2 tbsp. loosely packed, finely grated lemon zest
• 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
• 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1/4 tsp. baking soda
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• Coarse sugar
Cream together butter and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl. Blend in vanilla, zest, and juice, stopping once to scrape sides and bottom. Mixture will look curdled. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, mixing until blended.
On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into an 8-inch-long log and roll in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Twist the ends to seal. Chill for 2 hours or overnight.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap dough and roll the cylinder in the coarse sugar, pressing gently so sugar crystals adhere, and rocking cylinder back and forth to keep its rounded shape.
Cut dough into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes or just until the edges are a light golden brown. Cool 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.
Note: The recipe is from Bev Shaffer’s “Cookies to Die For.” I added some leftover cranberry sauce to half the dough to create spiral cookies (press each piece of dough into rectangles, stack one on top of the other and roll up like a cigar before wrapping and chilling.)
From Mary D.:
Famous Dave’s pickles are delicious. They’re sweet-hot and sold at Marc’s.
Dear Mary: Yay! More pickles!
Not sure if this will sound weird to you but
I was cleaning out the refrigerator and found two blocks of cream cheese. The expiration date is February 2014. Can I still use? Thanks.
Dear Olga: Your question doesn’t sound weird at all, because I have a 3-month-old block of cream cheese in MY fridge. The key is whether it has been opened or not. Sealed cream cheese will last quite a while. When it goes bad, you’ll know it. Open and see if there’s any mold. If not, and if it smells sweet, enjoy.