Twenty-one (21) days. Three (3) short weeks. Millions of turkeys meeting their fate in the meantime, and billions of cranberries, too. Yes, that's right - Thanksgiving approaches. But not loomingly, in the menacing way that Christmas does, with its stressful days (or evenings, I should say, pantingly afoot before the shops close) of shopping, mind-numbing brainstorming (I can't possibly give my dad another tie, can I? I think I filled the tie quota about 13 years ago), and wasteful gift-wrapping (family and friends, I'm warning you - this year, wrapping paper is just not happening for me).
No, instead, Thanksgiving rolls its way into your life relatively peacefully - your only moments of stress being the decision about whether or not you should shell out extra dough for the heritage birds, or wondering if your table has another leaf for those four more guests you just invited, or whether this year you should make two pies or three. (Three! Three! Come on, please?)
I happen to think that there's a wealth of Thanksgiving goodness hidden in the archives of this website, so to help with your menu planning or potluck contributions this year, here are my favorite gems from years past that you really can't live without, I swear it.
I'd serve this as an appetizer. You can bake the dough in the morning, then have a helper slather it with creme fraiche and dot the salmon roe on as your guests arrive. Eating it will keep them distracted in the living room (well, that and some nice, cold white wine) while you frantically busy yourself in the kitchen, wondering if it's okay that you never got around to taking a shower. It's Thanksgiving! No one cares.
Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Zest
I won't lie, slicing pound upon pound of Brussels sprouts can get tedious, but you can do this in the morning, in that weird moment when the turkey's in the oven and your pie dough is in the fridge and a strange quiet descends upon your kitchen. Oh right! Or else just make your food processor do the job. The sprightly lemon zest and zingy mustard seeds (that's the variation I prefer) completely transform this somewhat - er - misunderstood little vegetable.
Butternut Squash Curry
Sometimes I get a little tired of the whole English Colonial thing that permeates the Thanksgiving table, don't you? This variation is a welcome change to your usual mashed squash or sweet potato dish. It's beyond delicious (and if you haven't discovered curry leaves, now's your chance), but not so exotic as to totally freak out your great-aunt Gladys who is just now beginning to understand that adding salt to your vegetables might actually be a good thing.
I. Love. These. Leeks. Can I say more? I don't know. I love them, luuuuuuv them. Just imagine them wrapped silkily around the tines of your fork, a dollop of mashed potatoes gilded with gravy balanced on top. Is water forming in your mouth right now? Okay, good, I convinced you.
Butternut Squash Pie
If you ignored all my other exhortations above, fine, I could live with it. If you ignored this pie? I would simply throw a fit. It is the best squash pie I have ever made, including the one from The Pie and Pastry Bible, which I always thought was the gold standard. The link to the recipe is embedded in the post. Please make sure you read my notes, though - there were some issues with oven temperature and timing in the original recipe.
Apple Quince Pie
You need an apple pie on Thanksgiving, you just do. And this one is apple pie that died and went to heaven. An all-butter crust with text-book flakiness, meltingly soft quince perfuming the filling, a towering profile worthy of any diner dessert - it's a stunner. The process is a little daunting, I won't lie, but the rewards - rewards! - are worth everything.
Cranberry, Caramel and Almond Pie
Ha! See? Three pies! Of course. It makes total sense. Forget pecan pie, by the way. This is the nut pie you should be making. (Nut pie, that's got a ring to it. A charmingly derogative nickname, perhaps?) It's tart and sweet and sticky and crunchy - textural bliss and the most elegant thing on your dessert buffet. And it's a comparative cinch, too. Just remember your mantra with this one: pie weights, pie weights, pie weights, and you will be fine.
And then there's this luxurious dish I made the other night that was just meant for the holiday table. I first read about it in Chez Panisse Vegetables, where it appears flavored with thyme and bolstered with potatoes and a goodly amount of cream. But at home the other night, without potatoes or thyme and with only a glug of cream left, I adapted it with what I had and produced a plush puree that was sweet and earthy and so good that we literally ate it with a spoon. Next to a burnished turkey, it would just shine.
Delicata Squash and Celery Root Puree
2 Delicata squashes (about 1 pound)
Salt and pepper
6 sprigs sage
4 cloves garlic
1 medium celery root
1/2 cup cream
1 bay leaf
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Split the squashes in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and pulpy fiber with a spoon. Brush the squashes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put 1 sage leaf and 1 clove of garlic in the cavity of each squash half, and bake on a baking sheet, cut side down, for about 40 minutes, until completely tender.
3. Peel the celery root, cut it into small chunks, and put them in a pot of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, until tender. In another saucepan heat the cream, the remaining sage, and the bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, turn off the heat, and let the mixture steep.
4. When the squash is done, remove it from the oven and discard the garlic and sage. When the celery root is done, drain it. Put the squash and celery root in a pot and puree with an immersion blender, or put them both through a food mill or ricer. Add the cream mixture, and thin with milk or water, depending on the desired consistency. Adjust the seasoning, reheat, and serve.