Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner - It'll Be a "Cheat Day"

Thanksgiving isn't a holiday in Poland and is not really celebrated, except by American ex-pats, but many of the same foods typically associated with this Western holiday are enjoyed year-round.  Laura has already started planning our Thanksgiving feast.  This year it’s our turn to host “the kids” for Thanksgiving since they’ll be going to our son-in-law’s parents for Christmas.  Next year we’ll switch and I’m sure that’s similar to many families in the interest of fairness.  We’re not sure yet how many chairs will be occupied around the table since we always cast a net out among our friends and our kids’ friends for anyone who is facing the prospect of spending this holiday alone...”stray cats” as we call them affectionately. 

Most of our Thanksgiving dinners were spent with Peter’s parents.  Laura took over the lead for preparing the feasts very soon after we got married.  So she was in control of the menu.  The early years featured dishes that she grew up with, prepared by her Mom and Grandmothers.  But as she gained more experience and as our taste preferences changed, our menu slowly evolved.  Several decades later we have pretty much established our own traditional Thanksgiving menu.  But our list of delicacies can vary as she has been adding new dishes and new recipes to the “groaning board” - most of the time with enthusiastic acceptance. 

This year we’ve decided to cut back a bit on the number of dishes.  It’s just getting to be too much work and since most of our family seems to be on a carb-free diet this year,  Thanksgiving Day will be a designated “cheat day,”  but we want to minimize the left overs so that we’re not tempted by a week’s worth of stuffing and pumpkin pie.  In the theme of the recent Presidential election, Laura created a “ballot” of dishes we’ve prepared in past years, and everyone got to vote for their favorite versions of sides, relishes, vegetables and desserts – one each.  Of course, the turkey and stuffing were non-negotiable. 

The turkey has already been procured and is resting in the freezer.  Laura’s brand of choice is the Butterball since 35+ years of experience has established a comfort level that’s impossible to argue with.  Last week several days were spent pouring over the food ads from the newspaper searching for the best price.  I’m not sure why we put so much effort into trying to save ten cents a pound, but it is what it is.

One of Peter’s tasks is to choose the wine...and every year it’s a big debate – with himself!  There will be hours of research on line, multiple visits to his favorite wine store, tastings, discussions and more tastings.  More often than not we end up with a light and fruity Pinot Noir from Oregon, but this year he is leaning to one of the new and dry Rose’s from France.  But then there was this slight sweet Pinot Gris a few years back from Austria that was truly memorable, but then again...

However you celebrate Thanksgiving in your family, it seems that there’s no real one traditional menu any more...culinary traditions vary from family to family as each cook’s version has evolved over the years.  Each family’s Thanksgiving table usually showcases one or more family favorites...some beloved by all and some favored by just one or two.  It’s all about compromise.  For instance, Peter is not a fan of green beans sauced with cream of mushroom soup, or lime green jello with cream cheese, but if the others don’t mind my jellied cranberry sauce - right out of the can, then everyone is a winner. 

In any event, here is one of Peter’s Mom’s turkey recipes.  We published it in this space last year but it’s good enough to share again.  Frankly, we’re not sure if it is Polish or not, but we can keep that secret among ourselves.  And besides, you could always add a little fresh dill to the stuffing mix, and voila – it immediately becomes a Polish-style stuffing! 

Turkey Stuffed with Almonds and Raisins

One 14 to 16 pound turkey
½ cup butter, melted

6 slices white bread
¾ cup milk
Your turkey’s liver, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 eggs separated
½ cup raisins
3 tablespoons almonds, peeled and slivered
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon sugar
One dash Allspice
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 cup of breadcrumbs

Soak the bread in the milk and squeeze out the liquid well.   butter, egg yolks raisins, almonds and spices.  Beat the egg whites with salt until stiff.  Fold into the stuffing mix a scoop at a time, alternating with the bread crumbs. Mix lightly.

Stuff the neck and body cavities and close with skewers. Brush with butter.  Place in the oven which has been preheated to 450 degrees.  Drop the thermostat to 325 degrees and roast about 15 minutes per pound until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.  Baste skin frequently with the drippings.  Sprinkle skin with salt about half way.  Be sure to use a meat thermometer to gauge doneness (160 degrees) making sure the probe is set in the meat and not in the stuffing.   There are a ton of recipes out there for roasting turkey ...your favorite method will be great, as long as you use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show


Visions of pierogi, kielbasa, bigos, and Polish donuts were put aside for short time when this outstanding culinary exposition came to town.  These two foodies tasted around the huge convention center hall from north to south and east to west. 

There were cooking demos galore, from knife skills to pie baking,from cooking with Lindt chocolate to putting on a fancy 
party, and more.

The show always features several celebrity chefs and this year was no different, headlining:  Giada De Laurentiis star chef on the Food network,  Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons from Top Chef, Jeff Mauro-the Sandwich King, Carla Hall and Michael Symon - chefs and stars on The Chew, the legendary Jacques Pepin and his talented daughter Claudine, and more.  They were insightful, funny, endearing, and each put on a great show.  Perhaps more meaningfully, the first day was dedicated to the caregivers and spouses
of our “Wounded Warriors”, which was a stirring tribute
just before Veteran’s Day. 


We saw over 300 vendors on the exhibit floor and ever since I’ve been dreaming about hot sauces, salad dressings, cookies, cupcakes, infused oils and blended vinegars, sharp knives, shiny pots, and new windows & gutters, gourmet chocolates, and everything else about food you could possibly imagine.

We loved this yummy Greek salad dressing that pairs well with just about everything and occupies a place of honor in our fridge.

And there was a group of high school students studying the culinary arts (back in the day all we had was “Home Ec!”) Well here they were selling their own jams and jellies and making a bunch of money at it for their school and the culinary program.

 One of the more creative products we saw (and purchased) were these tiny baby speakers for I-Pads, I-Pods and other music storage devices. Stick the end on any container and it instantly turns into a portable speaker with surprising clarity.  We bought several for stocking stuffers.

Keeping with the theme of honoring our veterans, Jeanne’s Military Cookies were packaged in “mail friendly” containers, perfect for sending off those care packages to loved ones.

Thousands of foodies visited this show and smiled all day.  Look for the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in Houston and Dallas, in September 2013.