It’s the time of year to give thanks, we’re told, as if we needed reminding or never did it any other time, but right now, post election, I am especially, particularly, very, very thankful that one of the messiest, ugliest, stupidest presidential campaigns of all time is finally over.
So, having vented my spleen (what a great expression!), let’s get on to other, more important things we can, in fact, be thankful for, such as family, friends and food. That, after all, is what Thanksgiving is for: a time to gather around a table laden with all the expected dishes your family loves, to look across the table into the faces of the people you care about, and to share laughter as you make more memories to add to those of past years.
There will be an empty chair at our table this year, not for the first time, nor for the last. One of the facts about being alive is that there will also be losses, some expected, others perhaps not. For a brief bit of time I didn’t think I could face this coming Thanksgiving with the reality of this recent loss too fresh, but then I began to remember.
So many other Thanksgivings, filled with hilarity, silliness, unusual occurrences, odd events and always, always so many dearly loved people, from babes to ancients, sharing food that carried with it all of its own memories. Who knows what memories I’ll carry away from this next, very unusual for me, Thanksgiving, but I know now that I wouldn’t want to miss it.
I have only one more thing to add before we get to the essence of Thanksgiving, the food; and it is that I urge all of you who may be reading this, and who will be with family and friends on turkey day, please take an extra moment just to look at each one and say to yourself, or to them, “thank you for being in my life.”
As I said above, the three prime elements of Thanksgiving are family,
friends and food, food, food. In our family, we now have so many “must have” favorites, it’s difficult to include them all, especially when it comes to desserts. Pumpkin cheesecake, of course, but there must also be pumpkin pie, hopefully pumpkin flan and then, one year, Aunt Thelma shows up with this stunner of a pie, which became a “must have.” If you’d like a change from pumpkin pie, do try this.
SWEET POTATO MAPLE PIE
For the crust: 1 cup pecans
2 T. sugar
1 ¼ cups flour
6 T. (¾ stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
½ t. salt
3 T. ice water
Pie weights or raw rice, for weighting the shell
For the filling: 2 ½ cups sweet potato puree (see note below)
1 cup half and half
3 large eggs, beaten lightly
¾ cup pure maple syrup
1 ½ t. maple extract
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
¼ t. ground cloves
½ t. salt
To make the crust: In food processor, coarsely grind the pecans with the sugar; transfer to a bowl. In the food processor, blend together the flour, butter and salt until mixture resembles meal; add this to the pecan mixture. Add 3 T. ice water and toss until the water is incorporated. Press the dough onto the bottom and up the side of a 9-inch, deep pie plate, crimping the edge decoratively. Prick the crust with a fork and chill it for ½ hour. (You can make this in advance and keep wrapped and in the ’frig until you’re ready to use it.)
Then, line the crust with foil, fill the foil with pie weights or the raw rice and bake in the middle of a preheated 425 degree oven for 7 min. Remove the foil and weights carefully, and bake the crust for 5 min. more, then let it cool.
Make the filling: In a large bowl, whisk together the sweet potato puree, half and half, eggs, maple syrup and maple extract. Whisk in the spices and salt and whisk until the filling is smooth. Pour into the cooled crust; bake in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 min., or until it is just set in the middle. Remove and allow to cool on a rack. Serve topped with whipped cream drizzled with maple syrup.
Note: To make sweet potato puree, peel and cut into 1-inch cubes about 2 lbs. sweet potatoes; steam on a steamer rack set over boiling water, covered, for 20-25 min. or until very tender. Put through a ricer or beat them with an electric mixer until smooth.
As long as we’re on the subject of sweet potatoes, forget the old sweet potato topped with marshmallow casserole and try this outstanding gratin.
SWEET POTATO GRATIN
1 garlic clove, minced
3 T. unsalted butter
1 T. flour
1 cup heavy cream
4 sweet potatoes (or about 2 ½ lbs.), peeled and cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick rounds
½ cup fine fresh bread crumbs
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a small skillet, cook the garlic in 2 T. of the butter over med.-low heat, stirring, until it is softened. Add the flour and cook mixture, stirring, for 3 min. Stir in the cream and bring mixture just to simmer, stirring occasionally.
Arrange the potatoes in layers in a well buttered 11-inch gratin dish; season them to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the cream mixture over them; bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 1 hr., or until potatoes are tender.
Remove from oven, use a soft brush to baste the top with the cream mixture and sprinkle it with the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.
Drizzle the gratin with the remaining 1 T. butter, melted, and return to the oven. Bake it for 15 min. more, then put it under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat for 1-2 min., or until top is browned. Serves 6.
There are so many stuffing (or is it dressing) recipes out there, all good, but what’s inside that big bird is one thing that doesn’t have to be the same every year, nor does it have to be roasted inside the bird. I personally prefer this unusual “stuffing” served on the side, but you can do it either way.
SAUERKRAUT APPLE STUFFING
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter
3 T. firmly packed brown sugar
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped (or about 2 cups)
1 ½ lbs. sauerkraut, rinsed and drained well
½ t. dried thyme, crumbled
In a large skillet cook the onion and celery in the butter over med.-low heat, stirring, until they are softened. Stir in the brown sugar, garlic and apples; cook mixture, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the sauerkraut, thyme, salt to taste and stir the stuffing until it is well combined. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, in the ’frig overnight to develop the flavors. Bring to room temp. before stuffing into the turkey. Makes about 8 cups uncooked stuffing, or enough for a 14 lb. turkey.
Alternatively, spoon stuffing into a shallow baking dish and bake it, covered, in a preheated 325 degree oven for 1 ½ hrs.