You can thank me later for this Thanksgiving Masterpiece

Looking for advice on how to wow them with a gourmet Thanksgiving feast without being a kitchen slave?  Want a meal to remember without being married to the kitchen?  Me too! Below you’ll find easy to follow instructions to recipes with magical combinations and twists that make all the difference, without all the work. 

Thanksgiving and Family (Oxymoron?)

A lot of people complain about the family part of thanksgiving.  Not me.  A lot of people dread the drive, the talk of the drive, their in-laws, and out-laws, and sisters in-law and the like.  Not me.  The unofficial who-made-the-best-pie-this-year competition, the which-family-did-the-most-selfless-deeds-in-the-spirit-of-thankfulness competition.  Not me. It’s not that I’m a better person or above such things.  I’ve been out of town.  Literally. By some “coincidence”, I’ve been away for the past five years while my husband packs up the kids, the car and twenty years on the couch to share space, time and memories with his folks.  Not so this year.  The gig is up.  2010 marks the year I actually eat my own turkey, get stuffed on my own stuffing, and have a lovely time with everyone.  (Note to self: bring lots of books)  For the first time in a long time, I will be present as my worth as a mother, wife and daughter-in-law is judged by the juiciness and tastiness of a simple (hurry-up-and-swallow-so-we-can-watch-the-game) meal.  Below, you’ll find the menu in which I put my faith & marriage.  I have been told it rocks.

MY TOP SECRET THANKSGIVING MENU:

Wild Mushroom Stuffing –you’re welcome

Juiciest bird you’ll ever eat

Pumpkin Pie

Sweet Potato Fries

Saucy Cranberry Sauce

Sweet String Beans

Salad

Lemon Squares?  (maybe, maybe not…)

Apple Pie

 

WILD MUSHROOM STUFFING

 What you need:

Wild Mushrooms

Shallots

Leek

Thyme &/or herbs d’provence

Bread –Challah works well

Apple

Walnuts

Oil (olive)

Salt

(Add celery if you must)

What you do:

Saute mushrooms in oil

Sauté shallots and leek in olive oil

After 1 minute, add thyme/herbs to shallots & leek

Cut and add bite size pieces of apple

Cut and add sized pieces of bread

Mix mushroom, shallots, leek, apple and bread together

Add walnuts

Add a dash of salt

 

THE BIRD

Rinse and pat bird dry

Rub it with minced fresh garlic & thyme (inside and out)

Drizzle & rub in a wee bit of honey (too much will make it burn)

Drizzle with olive oil & salt

I put oranges inside bird, some people put in stuffing, but I like my stuffing on the side

Put breast side down in large pan

Cover with thick foil, making a tent shape with small opening on top

Cook at 400 for 30 min

Then at 325 according to your mother-in-law’s instructions

Use a meat thermometer to help you know when it’s ready

 

ORANGE STUFF

Here’s the deal.  I think sweet potato pie is gross, so I make pumpkin pie with the meal, as well as maple sweet potato or sweet potato fries.  No one’s ever complained. 

Endless Preamble to Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Here’s the thing: growing up as a Canadian Jew, I didn’t celebrate thanksgiving, so I didn’t know that “we” ate pumpkin pie.  Holy cow, here’s the thing: you can make it dairy or non-dairy.  You can make it just barely sweet and serve it with the main course, or doll it up for dessert with a little more love (sugar or maple syrup) and mountains of whipped cream.  You can used canned pumpkin (call me lazy, but I choose not to spend the day cutting & pureeing the fresh stuff –I tried it once, and didn’t like it).  I tried heavy cream and condensed milk once each to see if they were worth the calories, and no one tasted the difference, so I use milk, soy, almond or rice milk when I please.  I used to make my own dough, but have decided that store ready graham crust is too good & easy to resist.  You can sweeten your pie with just about anything, sugar (brown or white), honey, syrup (maple, agave…).  * This part is actually worth reading: The only tricky part is the proportions.  After years of R&D I can tell you this with confidence: 2 large (28oz) cans of puree, make three pies when you follow my recipe.  I like to think I’m tricking my kids into eating something healthy, but I think they might be onto me… 

 

 PUMPKIN PIE

What you need:

3 store bought crusts (graham cracker crusts rock, but are dairy)

2 large (28oz) cans of pumpkin puree (not pre-spiced)

1 cup milk (1%, 2%, soy, almond, rice…)

6 eggs

¾ cup of sugar or maple syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 tablespoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger powder

½ teaspoon nutmeg

pinch of salt

What you do:

Mix all the ingredients together & pour into crusts.

If the crust is a bit higher than the puree, soften the tops so it falls on edges of puree.

Use a hand mixer if you want a fluffier pie.

Bake for 1.5 hours at 375.

(*note to self: hide the whipped cream)

All right folks, here’s the next installment:

SWEET POTATO FRIES  *warning: these will disappear

(I tried a recipe for maple syrup sweet potatoes, and to my surprise they weren’t a big hit, so I’m sticking with an old favorite)

What you need:

6-8 Medium or large sweet potatoes

What you do:

Soak & scrub potatoes

Don’t peel them.  The vitamins are in the skin, silly!

Slice them into French Fries Shape

Cover baking sheet with parchment paper

Place them on baking sheet

Drizzle olive oil (at your discretion)

Douce with spices (I’m partial to thyme, but anything will do: Oregano, Herbs d’Provence…)

You may prefer just to add a little salt &/or garlic powder.

Grill or bake in 400 degree oven for 40 min or so

SAUCY CRANBERRY SAUCE

Here’s the thing about cranberry sauce:  It takes about 1 minute to make, and everyone will just ooh and ahh, as if you actually did something.  Plus it’s kind of fun (and dangerous if you’re too close) to hear those critters pop as they cook.

What you need:

1 pack fresh cranberries

1/2 cup sugar

1 lemon -juice & zest

 What you do:

Toss a pack of fresh cranberries in 2 cups of water.

Add ½ cup of sugar.  (more or less to your liking)

Bring to a boil and let it simmer til it’s soft. (20 min or so)

Add lemon juice, lemon zest, simmer a bit more then cool.

Told ya!

SWEET STRING BEANS

I’ve been told we need something green on the table.  I’m usually a very healthy cook, with a salad and vegetable at every meal (what?!?!  ketchup doesn’t count?)  But who in their right mind is going to think about well balanced anything on gobble for 24 hours as if you’re a turkey day? Anyhow, here’s a vegetable,  just for show. 

What you need:

String beans

Soy sauce

Oil

Honey/ brown sugar  

Garlic powder, salt & pepper

What you do:

Wash, dry and trim string beans

Drizzle with oil, soy sauce, honey / brown sugar

Sprinkle with garlic powder, salt pepper                                                                  

Grill or saute

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I would be a better cook if only…

A lot of people feel incompetent in the kitchen. They are haunted by nightmarish thoughts such as: I’m not creative / I don’t know how to use spices / I never have all the ingredients / entertaining is a disaster…

Order in The Kitchen

For a lot of people, organization is the problem. Your symptoms look something like this:

  • You never really know if you have too much, too little or just the right amount of food
  • You might not always have your meal ready on time / entertaining is a disaster
  • Your kitchen looks like a war-zone
  • You can’t find ingredients / utensils or serving plates / forget to serve a course now and then

You never really know if they have too much, too little or just the right amount of food

Too much: you’ll have leftovers! Too little: your guests will have started that diet they’ve been pushing off! Just the right amount? Is there such a thing? If all the food is eaten, it might have been the perfect amount or… half the people didn’t get a bite. If there are leftovers, it could be because the food stinks, you forgot flatware, no one touched the roasted lamb because they’re all vegans. Who knows? Just do the math for how much to make based on the amount your family eats and hope for the best. You can always add humus, a fruit plate, tabouli, bean salad etc. last minute (not that I’ve ever needed to…) I keep a couple of boxes of tabouli and cans of beans on hand just in case. Look up my bean salad recipe or come up with some back up dishes of your own –it’ll relieve a lot of stress. Finally, never underestimate the power of the freezer. You’ll never regret having a few extra desserts or dishes in there for “emergencies”.

You might not always have your meal ready on time / entertaining is a disaster

If your company is so dreary and tacky as to expect food upon arrival or are too drippy or thoughtless to help you finish things off, you shouldn’t be inviting them over in the first place. Ever hear of wine & hors d’oerves? beer & nuts? tequila & salsa? Have a drink & a light snack ready to nibble on and warm up the crowd (ie. help you stall for time). Try to remember that entertaining is supposed to be fun. If you find yourself sweating like a beast, yelling at family members (no comment) or napping in your dinner plate, it’s time to assess what’s going on. Make a schedule and figure out how long each course should take to make. Try to have baking and cooking time overlap with chopping & mixing, ie. you should never just be waiting for something to come out of the oven –use your time wisely. If the veal takes an hour longer than expected (and it’s always worth waiting for), start with soup and salad and serve the veal last. Tell them that’s how they serve it in Moldovia. If your guests are super impatient, save the veal for tomorrow’s company! If you’re unlikely to do that, just make the best of it. Show off your new ceramics collection, play charades, cards and just chill.

Your kitchen looks like a war-zone

Try to clean up as you go along. Don’t keep piling stuff in the sink, hoping it’ll go away. You might just need the cutting board & your favorite (& only?) knife again. So take a minute every once in a while to create order. You’ll likely work faster in a cleaner kitchen. Also, you don’t want your guests losing their appetites (or cookies) when they stumble into your disaster zone. If you’re going to the trouble of preparing a beautiful meal, you really don’t want your kitchen to look too slovenly. We’ve all peeked in restaurant kitchens praying we like what we see –same here.

You can’t find ingredients, utensils or serving plates, forget to serve a course now and then…

Tip 1: Make a list of all the dishes you’ll be serving.  Keep it on the fridge or in a drawer

Tip 2: Take out all the serving pieces, toppings, plates, napkins… in advance

Tip 3: Make a post-it reminding you where you left Tip 1 (just kidding)

Tip 4: Give everyone a job: eg. your husband pours drinks & clears dishes

For those of you who lament: “I’m not creative, I don’t know how to use spices…”

Try this: Pick up a cookbook and follow the recipe! Better yet: Follow my site religiously. Ask a friend, neighbor, relative for ideas. No one really cares who invented the dish, they just want to eat it! Try out new spices and see how you like them. (It might be best to do this for the home team, before trying it on guests). If you’re a really horrible cook, you can only get better! If you’re a great cook, you can only get better. If you’re the “I’m not creative type”, you’re probably not having fun in the kitchen, and that is a problem. If this is the case, and it’s serious, you must do one or more of the following: cook with music, a friend, a sip of iced coffee/tea/wine (whatever floats your boat). Pretend you’re hosting a cooking show (who isn’t?) and reveal family secrets etc. to the audience.  Let your hair down and let us know how it went.

P.S.  If none of the above works, hire a personal chef (and send me some recipes!)

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WIMIA? (read: Would I Make It Again?)

Well, the good news is, there were no casualties & my friends are still speaking to me, but holy cow, I made one weird meal. Not only was every recipe brand new, but I went all out on the herbs, spices and textures. Was it a success? My eight year old wasn’t impressed: “You’re serving this?” “Go to your room young man.” I replied. “I’ll have you know that cold hard gruel is very much in vogue in the northern reaches of Mongolia”.

First off, I want to let Nigella off the hook. While we do share a striking resemblance, I can’t really say these are her recipes since I played around with them so much. Was it the best meal I ever make? Not by a long shot. But it was neat watching my guinea pigs, er, my guests react to each strange course.

First course was a very spicy meat/soy pate served on a purple cabbage leaf –yes, I tried to trick ‘em. I was supposed to serve the Iced Pea Soup first, but I had two thoughts:

1. If I start with the soup, they’ll run

2. If I start with the spicy pate, their mouths will be on fire & they won’t be able to taste anything else.

Nigella’s Thai Crumbled Beef in Lettuce Wraps became Thai Soy Pate. I used red birdeye chillies for the first time, tons of lime juice & zest. Instead of Thai Fish sauce –which I don’t own & probably can’t because it’s not kosher, I used steak sauce. Instead of coriander, I used cilantro. I’ve been known to do that. Still, there was something missing: there was too much bite & not enough balance, so I threw in some shredded coconut (yes, leftover from Passovers 2004), which tied it all together. I think if I had bothered to look for the crumbly soy meat substitute instead of grabbing the mushy log I saw first (perhaps the word sausage should have tipped me off) it would have been crumbly (no relation to crummy) like the lady said. The litmus test: would I make it again? (here on the phrase known as: WIMIA?): Yes. But I’d make sure the soy was crumbly, better yet, I’ll try it with real meat. The plates came back empty, case closed.

The Pea Soup was OK, not great.  Somehow, I thought it would taste more green and less pea (the picture was so pretty…) In fact, I spiced it up with curry at the end because it was quite bland. I threw in a lot of fresh mint from our garden, but I think it was overpowered by the vegetable stock which I almost never use & now know why. Also, the next day I noticed the sour cream I added was low fat, oops. WIMIA? Perhaps, but without stock, with sauted leek & definitely try fresh peas instead of frozen. For the record: seconds were served.

I said I was going to make Lamb Kababs and Slow Roasted Garlic & Lemon Chicken.  I lied.  I made a combination of the two with tofu, and I have to say, it worked. I threw garlic, lemon (juice & wedges), olive oil, fresh thyme (from our garden) & zaatar on some tofu cubes. It was a little pasty looking because I sauted it instead of grilling it –I couldn’t bear to turn the oven on for one little course. Next time I hope to grill it (& remember to add the white wine). WIMIA? Yup.

I also made the Beet Root Salad. Nigella was right, you can eat raw beet. In fact, it was so sweet and I was so spiced out at this point that I actually served it au naturel. That is correct, I served my guests naked shredded beets. There were so many other flavors on their plates at this point that a) it didn’t stay naked for long (who does?) and b) it was a refreshing reprieve.

While it’s fun and important to try new things, if you’re shaking like a leaf & eyeing the PB&J for backup, you know you’ve gone overboard. I’m glad I did it, but if I were you, I’d add one or two new dishes at a time.

P.S. I must confess I prepared an arugula, fig, goat cheese & toasted walnut salad for last course/salvation which vanished within seconds. No comment.

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Correction:

Listen, when I say I’m going to grab a few ideas from Nigella, I mean just that. It doesn’t mean I’m going to follow the recipe to the T, use the same spices, bake or broil or fry just cause she says so. I’ve got a few great ideas from her “Forever Summer” cookbook on pages:

10 Thai Beef Wrap

24 Cold Pea Soup -my husband thinks he hates peas so this should be fun

54 Raw Beetroot (also known as beet, jeez),

109 Lamb Kebabs &

138 Slow Roasted Garlic & Lemon Chicken

… but I might not serve the beets raw, the meat will be tofu (since my guest is a vegetarian), and where she uses parsley, I might use dill, where she uses dill I might use anise. You get the idea, but you might not have the guts to do it, most of my friends don’t. My dear friend, here’s some age old wisdom for ya: Try it, you’ll like it.  Make the recipe your own, leave out an annoying / time consuming stage that won’t make or break it, substitute an ingredient just for kicks. You can do it!

My basil plants are calling out to me, Just this morning, the devil made me buy two beautiful bottles of extra virgin olive oil -but I’m fighting off the Caprese urge with all I’ve got.

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Caprese Again?

I’m having good friends over for Shabbat lunch.  If I serve the same “perfect summer meal” one more time: Caprese &/or Gespacho &/or Cold Pasta Salad &/or Arugula Salad, I’m going to turn into a tomato.   My plan:  I’m going to grab a fun summer cookbook, maybe Nigella, flip to 5 random pages & call it a day.  No matter how much you like the old favorites, at some point, you gotta give it a break.  Then again, my mom’s been serving the same insane roast beef / meat & rice / carrot pudding Shabbat dinner for decades, and believe me, noone’s complaining.  I’ll keep you posted.

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Let’s Get Cookin’

EASYBREAZYGOURMET – What does it mean? 

I love food.  I love inventing new recipes.  I love having company, and my guests seem to think I serve scrumptious, distinctive, exquisitely displayed food.  That warms my heart, I aim to please.  But most of all, I want to still like my guests when they arrive and I want to have fun.  I don’t want to be a cranky, exhausted wreck.  (I save that for my husband).  This blog is going to be a place where I share visions, secrets and short cuts that will help you become your own easybreazygourmet. 

I’ll also be answering those million dollar questions such as:

Do I really have to use large eggs when baking?  –  Is it worth spending the extra fifty cents on flour, sugar, chocolate?  –  Can I use a standard teaspoon to measure salt, vanilla, etc.?  –  Do I really have to use cream of tartar?      * send in questions!

I’ll blog about:

  • Ways to make food healthier.          
  •  When it’s okay to cut back on/replace sugar/eggs/oil/ butter/ chocolate etc.
  • Holiday foods.
  • Foods around the world.
  • How to stop preparing the same old meals.
  • When to use herbs such as thyme, basil, oregano & sage.
  • Which type of oil to use when.
  • How to jazz up old favorites by replacing onions with leeks, shallots, chives or scallions.
  • How to stop making your kids the same lousy lunches.
  • The Nerdy Foods We Love to Eat: Fondue, Layered Dip, Potato Skins, Quiche and you know it: Tuna Casserole (I’ve never made one, but I can’t wait) 

Last night I dreamt that I was about to apprentice with a French pastry chef.  When I showed up for work, I was (oddly) delighted to discover that she was in fact a short order cook at a diner. Her expertise: bran muffins.  To me it was poetry.  I love it all.  I love the finer stuff.  I love the simple stuff.  I love good food, period.  But if I can make it easier, faster, cheaper & healthier – I will!

Here at easybreazygourmet.com I’m going to share saucy secrets, tips and tales and I hope you’ll do the same.  Tell me if my ideas helped or if you have better ones. I mean it!

Til next time… (read: It’s snack time…)

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