Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Menu

I've been blessed/cursed with the willingness ... no, the need to entertain, so I've always welcomed opportunities to make myself crazy with food preparations. Over the years, I've come to learn how to make things just as fun, but much less crazy for me (and all onlookers), so that I can actually enjoy my company while they're here. This year, I think I've topped myself. Today is the day before Thanksgiving, and I only have one dish to prepare tomorrow, and it's not the turkey.

I cheated a bit with this year's prep. Since my house is tiny and cannot possibly accommodate even a modest Thanksgiving crowd, my in-laws have opened their home and their oven to me. My mother-in-law is making the turkey and gravy this year, and I will handle the rest. She has even agreed to make an organic turkey ... bonus!

My prep wasn't crazy at all this year. I made and froze several things over a week in advance, including most of the desserts, the cranberry sauce, and the soup. Other dishes, I spread out over the last few days. With the exception of the asparagus, which will need to be made fresh tomorrow, everything can be made in advance, and in many cases, flavor will actually be enhanced by a couple days of sitting in the fridge.

From ideas to execution, this Thanksgiving has gone almost exactly as planned. The main substitution I've had to make was to my roasted vegetables. I had planned to make roasted butternut squash and brussel sprouts, but as the health food store did not have brussel sprouts, I needed to replace them with something else. It happens that I still had a couple of things remaining from my last CSA delivery: purple cauliflower and a mystery root vegetable, which turned out to be a tiny celery root. So, in they went with the squash, and I think it may have even worked out for the better. And what a fun color scheme!

Less of a concern was a change to my stuffing. I had planned to make a spelt stuffing, but as I couldn't find an adequate spelt bread, and I didn't have time to try to make one myself, I went with a 3-grain fresh bread. As I understand it, spelt is lighter than whole wheat, so that would have been great, but I think the bread I used will be very hearty and flavorful, so that could be just as good.

Perhaps one of the most important skills to master as a home cook is the art of substitution. As I've said before, and will likely say again, recipes are a starting point. The moment we become rigid about them is the moment we commit to buying expensive, unnecessary, out-of-season, and/or unacceptable ingredients. That doesn't bode well for the wallet or the palate. Going to the grocery store with a list, but also an open mind and some flexibility will allow you to get the best deals and the tastiest food for your family. Now, that's something to be thankful for!

My Thanksgiving menu is a celebration of the season, as Thanksgiving was meant to be. This is what all, or at least most, meals should be. Going downhill into the frost, as it were, this will be a harder mantra to live by, but when fresh, local produce is available, it's hard to find any reason not to take advantage.

Here is what I am serving (* indicates original recipes):

Red grapes

Root vegetable soup garnished with coconut milk*
Whole grain dinner rolls

Main course
Turkey with gravy
Cranberry apple pomegranate sauce*
Sauteed asparagus spears with toasted chopped almonds and parsley*
Whole grain stuffing with apples and cherries
Roasted butternut squash, purple cauliflower and celery root with sage*
Yams with maple-sugar struesel

Apple pie with half whole wheat crust
Pumpkin chocolate chip cake with cinnamon icing
White macadamia healthy truffles*

Here's to hoping the food brings the family together, and that we all have lots of things to be thankful for in the coming year! Salud!

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