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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Alternatives

I've always had a rather, well, strained relationship with turkey. Sure, I'll eat it roasted and sliced on bread with some mayo, just as long as someone else has done that roasting and slicing. Maybe it's my genetic predisposition to obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I just cannot abide by the thought of that much turkey carcass in my kitchen, covering everything it (and I) touch with salmonella.

We've tried other proteins. A whole salmon. Guinea hens. Tofurkey at my aunt's house (awful! Just awful.). Dinner out, at the Left Bank Brasserie. I've made two pumpkin pies for a family of five, one "regular" and one low-fat, whole-wheat, less-sweet version that burned black in the oven and tasted like nothing. Every year for the past four, I've yelled, cursed, cried, and fought with family members who take a hands-off approach to the kitchen and then try to micromanage our Thanksgiving.

This year is going to be different. No burned fingers, no last-minute runs to Safeway for whipped cream, no pre-made gravy mixes. Most important of all: NO TURKEY. I have officially declared a moratorium on whole turkeys. There will be nonesuch fowls sitting around raw or cooked in my house, thank you!

So, of course, I have had to devise an alternate plan for the family meal. Our shared cuisine is usually Japanese, truth be told, but I can't even hold a candle to my grandmother's cooking, and she has put the kabosh on cooking for over four people. My mother couldn't cook an appetizing meal to save her life (sorry, Mom, you know I love you), let alone figure out portions for six. This is where I come in. I'm taking the best hints I've learned from Grandma, the Food Network, and the piles upon piles of cookbooks and blogs I read to help me out on this most stressful of food-related holidays. Below is my planned menu, and a few ideas for your last-minute meal!

Roasted beet salad with goat cheese: I got three beets (two red, one golden) the size of my head at the weekend farmers' market, and I am determined to convince my family that beets are much, much more than the canned kind. The beets will be wrapped in foil, roasted at 400 degrees for an hour, and allowed to cool overnight before being cut into wedges and tossed into a salad of greens with goat cheese.

Garlic-rosemary new potatoes: The very thought of mashing potatoes to a smooth, creamy texture makes me angry. I love a crispy-skinned, smooth, garlicky potato that hasn't been adulterated with cream and butter. Tyler Florence's recipe is so easy and consistent, you can do it with your eyes closed. If potatoes don't offer up enough carbs for everyone, I'm serving dinner rolls on the side--store bought.

Pot roast with whole mushrooms and onion: I have never actually made a pot roast before. My grandmother, Alton Brown, and Gourmet Magazine all tell me it's pretty easy. I plan on adding whole mushrooms and a couple of roughly chopped onions to the pan when there's an hour left to go, just to up the deliciousness factor. Is cornstarch enough to make gravy out of the resultant liquid?

Green beans dressed in lemon juice, olive oil, and grain mustard: This is another farmers' market find, there is a bag of piles and piles of fresh, snappy green beans sitting in my crisper drawer, dying to get out. They're just going to be blanched quickly in boiling water and tossed with a quick dressing. Lemons from my backyard are free, so what the hey--may as well capitalize on those!

Kabocha pie: the piece de resistance. Kabocha, as I hope you now know, is a Japanese pumpkin--green rind, hard as a rock, and small, but DELICIOUS. My grandmother (why is this post all about her? I don't know!) remembers having to eat green-fleshed, unripe kabocha during World War II on her uncle's farm, because everyone was so desperate that they would come in the night and steal all of the pumpkins. Now, sixty years later, she's learned to love ripe kabocha, and I think she'll love this updated pumpkin pie. Kabocha flesh is somewhat drier than your regular canned pumpkin or sugar pie pumpkin flesh, so it takes more moisture added to create a smooth paste for pie/custard, FYI.

Now, the best part of Thanksgiving dinner is always the side dishes and pie. I've pulled together a list of mouth-watering alternatives to the traditional yams and stuffing from our friends at other blogs--enjoy!
-From the Food Channel, the addition of bacon and cheese to creamed corn sounds like heaven in my mouth. If you wanted a mac'n'cheese variant, this one sounds like a winner to me!

-Brussels sprouts with pearl onions, one of my favorite vegetables to pan-roast and serve with pasta. Try it drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or tossed with walnuts for extra crunch.

-Potatoes au gratin. Got to love the cheese+potatoes+butter combination. Scalloped potatoes are also a super-classy mashed potato option.

-Japanese sweet potato, baked in the oven. These gems have papery, rust-colored skin and a golden flesh that will literally melt your tongue off if you eat it piping-hot. Poke holes in the imo (potato) with a fork and oven-roast right on the rack, with a tray underneath to catch the sap that dribbles down. Yes, they're that sweet!

-Cave Cibum has a lovely recipe for scones with bacon, cheddar cheese, and scallions that sound like the perfect breakfast in bed, midnight snack, or clam chowder indulgence partner to me. God loves a terrier, but God also loves scones, I bet.

-Featured on The Kitchn, a savory kabocha and tofu pie. This recipe piques my interest because it uses firm tofu, when often in tofu-baked-goods recipes you'll see silken tofu as an egg substitute. I love this one, because it's like a quiche you wouldn't feel so guilty about eating half of. Did I just write that out loud?

-For pumpkin pie "haters" (WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU), the Food Gal has a solution. Pichet Ong's kabocha cheesecake looks divine, and if there is anyone who does a better "fusion" dessert than P*Ong, I would be pleasantly surprised.

-The Recipe Girl made her mark on Ina Garten's Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart, a recipe I've always thought would be a good way to use up that half-can of pumpkin puree and brown banana languishing on the kitchen counter.

That's Thanksgiving to me this year. I'm thankful for my family (my grandmother, obviously!), for having a good, steady job at this time of upheaval, and that I'm back in California. It may be raining out here, but at least it's not snowing when I have to trudge out to the grocery store. It's the little things we have to learn to be thankful for, right?

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