Thanksgiving 2013 has come and gone. My daughter, Christine, her husband, David and sons Mitchell and Evan hosted Thanksgiving again this year as they have done for many such Thanksgivings. In my mind Thanksgiving is the “perfect” holiday…no hype or hoopla, just family and food and being thankful for all of your blessings.
As usual, I planned on bringing stuffing and a desert. No big deal. But then I started searching for my stuffing recipes. I had two favorites that I have made for years…. a cornbread and green onion stuffing and a wild rice and bread crumb stuffing. I went through all my recipes…several times…and could not find them. Okay, I should at least know the wild rice and bread crumb stuffing by heart. I could wing it…ha, ha.
And “wing it” I did. I combined a box of Uncle Ben’s Original Long Grain and Wild Rice (cooked according to directions on box) with a large bag of herbed stuffing bread cubes and a good amount of chopped onion, red pepper and celery which I sauteed in a stick of butter with a generous amount of rubbed sage stirred in. I poured a can of Swanson turkey broth on top of that and, for good measure, added one beaten egg. I stirred all of that together until well combined and baked in a greased baking dish, covered for 20 minutes, and uncovered for another 10 minutes or so. It turned out great, thankfully.
But what about desert? Anything chocolate, I was sure, would be a hit. But cheesecake was always a hit as well. And, I decided, cheesecake was it. Now I had to find a recipe. My springform pan had mysteriously disappeared, so I searched the internet for a “cheesecake pie” and found what looked to be a very promising recipe.
That recipe, however, had a gingersnap crust and I had some graham cracker crumbs that I wanted to use up so I made a graham cracker crust according to directions on the box.
The cheese filling was simple to make:
Cheesecake Pie Filling
1 lb. (2 8 oz packages) cream cheese
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. heavy cream
lemon zest (optional – I didn’t include it)
Fill a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with water and place on bottom rack of oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. The cheesecake pie will bake on the rack above this pan of water. The water will raise the humidity in the oven and keep the top of the cheesecake from cracking (this did work!)
Beat the cream cheese and sugar together for several minutes until light and fluffy. Add the salt and vanilla extract to incorporate. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Slowly beat in the cream until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Pour into prepared pie crust and bake until top is slightly browned and puffy and center doesn’t jiggle…in my oven this took about an hour and 20 minutes; however, I would suggest you start checking at about 50 minutes or so and keep checking until you feel it is done.
Turn the oven off and prop the door open a little (I used the handle of a wooden spatula) and leave it to cool in the oven for an hour. Remove from the oven and continue to cool until cool enough to refrigerate for several hours before serving.
Now this particular recipe had a salted caramel topping. It sounded kind of interesting, so I thought I’d give it a try. But, in addition to the granulated sugar called for in the recipe, it also listed 2 tablespoons of light corn syrup. I only had dark corn syrup and I wasn’t about to go out and buy a bottle of light corn syrup for only 2 tablespoons. I couldn’t find any alternative recipes using dark corn syrup but I did find several recipes that didn’t use corn syrup at all. So I went with one of those recipes that used granulated sugar mixed with a little water, which you bring to a boil and let cook until it gets relatively dark. Then you remove it from the heat and slowly add in a little butter and some heavy cream.
Every recipe I saw had warnings that the mixture might bubble and foam (causing severe burns) as you added the cream and butter…you had to incorporate them in small increments and stand well away from the pot. I considered buying a prepared caramel sauce or melting Kraft caramels but I thought that was the wimpy thing to do. I also read stories of pots being burned …so severely burned that they had to be thrown out afterward.
So, with a considerable amount of trepidation, I started the process. It took several minutes for the sugar and water to boil to a brownish color (hard to see through all of those boiling bubbles in the bottom of the pot). I removed the pot from the heat and carefully added a tiny bit of butter and a drop or two of cream and stirred with the wooden spatula. Nothing…no foaming and no bubbling. Clearly, I had done something wrong! But I continued to add the butter and cream until it was all incorporated. I transferred the mixture to a heat proof bowl and covered with plastic wrap until cool enough to refrigerate. After several hours in the refrigerator, the consistency was fine and the caramel certainly tasted good. It wasn’t quite as dark as I had expected and perhaps I should have continued to cook the sugar and water a little longer but it was fine as it turned out.
The bottom of the pot wasn’t burned but it had a solidified mass of the mixture around the bottom edge that was as hard as rock. I added more water to the pot and warmed over low heat until all of that melted. The pot cleaned up just fine.
I drizzled the caramel on the cheesecake just prior to serving and sprinkled a little coarse crystal sea salt on top as well. I think I should have used sea salt flakes but my local grocery store didn’t carry that. The pie turned out wonderfully. The caramel is not necessary as the pie is great without it (I know, I made a second one for myself without the topping).
I can well recall the first Thanksgiving Christine and Dave hosted. It was just after they were married and just after they had moved into their first house. In my opinion, Thanksgiving is the hardest holiday to host. You’ve got a zillion hot dishes that all have to be served at the same time.
When I was growing up, in our family tradition at least, Christmas was more of a breakfast / brunch with fresh kielbasa and another Slovak sausage that are slowly cooked in heavy cast iron skillets (the aroma is heavenly). Baked ham, scrambled eggs and hash brown potatoes would be served along with homemade bread, nut rolls and little pastry cookies filled with jam. And don’t forget the prepared hot horseradish served with the sausages! A cold brunch was served at Easter, which was extremely easy to prepare for. Compared to Thanksgiving, they were simple holidays to cook for.
But Christine wanted to host Thanksgiving in her first house. I think there were about 14 people that year. There were two sets of grandparents on Dave’s side as well as his parents. My mother and brother and his family were there. And, of course, everyone brought something … both hot dishes and deserts. The kitchen really didn’t have much counter space. So just depositing all this food somewhere was tricky. And then heating it all so that it was hot and ready to serve at one time was a logistic feat. The turkey was being carved (Dave does a great job at carving) and the rest of us are moving creamed onions, green bean casserole, turnips, two kinds of sweet potatoes, two kinds of stuffing and other side dishes from the microwave to the top of the stove to the oven in an attempt to heat them. Nevermind someone is trying to mash potatoes and someone else is trying to make the gravy! Amazingly, everything was heated perfectly and all was delicious!
I thought for sure Christine would never host another Thanksgiving again. But, here she is, still doing it. And I guess practice does make perfect. When I walked into her home this past Thanksiving, the kitchen counters were gleaming and spotless. There was a gorgeous arrangement of fresh flowers and tiny little pumpkins artfully displayed on one of the counters. The delightful aroma of roast turkey was in the air but otherwise you would never know they were about to serve Thanksgiving dinner. It looked like a picture from “House Beautiful”.
Her turkey was a gorgeous shade of mahogany and the meat was moist within. The mashed potatoes were creamy and the mashed sweet potato, apple and kale medly was delicious! In addition to the tossed salad she had a Bacon, Green Cabbage and Brussels Sprout Coleslaw that was out of this world….I had to get the recipe (which follows):
Bacon, Green Cabbage and Brussels Sprout Coleslaw
6 slices thick cut bacon, cooked and chopped
4 cups shredded green cabbage
20 fresh brussels sprouts, cleaned and thinly sliced
3/4 cup of thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup and 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1/8 cup white vinegar
1 Tbsp. agave nectar
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
Mix the mayonnaise, vinegar, agave nectar (if you don’t have agave nectar I would suggest just adding a teaspoon of sugar) and seasonings together and toss with the cabbage, sprouts, onion and bacon.
The roasted carrots were out of this world! I think the fact that these were very fresh carrots (not those old packaged carrots commonly found in the grocery store) made the difference. They were tossed with olive oil, orange juice, thyme and crushed garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper, covered with aluminum foil and baked in a hot oven (450 degrees) for 25 minutes or so and then roasted uncovered for another 10 minutes.
The garlic green beans were fantastic as well. The beans were bright green and cooked to perfection (quickly placing the beans in an ice water bath after cooking for 5-7 minutes made the difference between overcooked beans and these beautiful beans). Saute thinly sliced garlic gloves in butter and olive oil, toss in beans, season with salt and pepper and you’re good to go.
I just wanted to document these Thanksgiving recipes here in this post so I’d be able to find them next year (or before).
Thank you Christine, David, Mitchell and Evan for a lovely Thanksgiving.