Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Big Show!

When lining up Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in my mind, it's difficult to pick a favorite. I love the macabre whimsy of Halloween, a holiday that allows you to decorate cupcakes with zombie hands and eyeballs. One that permits a decorating scheme derived from the most twisted fantasies of Tim Burton without frightening your neighbors. Christmas seems like a default shoo-in, what with the gift-giving and cookie-baking and sheer magic that one feels from dusk on December 24 to the break of dawn the next morning. But Thanksgiving holds a special place for me, with its culinary focus and excuse to break out the very best wedding gifts out of your china cabinet. In my family it's my holiday, the one I get to host. It deserves as much reverence as other holidays, but is increasingly victim to holiday-creep as Black Friday entreches greedily upon its territory. When you can't find canned pumpkin through the forest of candy canes at the grocery story in mid-November, you know something is deeply wrong with this country.
It is in this spirit, I beseech you fellow foodies, demand your Thanksgiving! Occupy the poultry aisle! Boycott the Christmas Tree lighting taking place a week and a half before Thanksgiving even happens (I'm looking at you, Woodburn Outlet)! We have traditions to uphold, and Christmas can wait its damn turn.
This year was an especially fantastic Thansgiving, if I do say so. Time was on my side: with my new job at a company that thinks that giving employees a life outside work might be a good idea, I had 5 glorious days off: Wednesday through today. This meant I had all day Wednesday to prep and decorate at a leisurely pace, and actually enjoy what I was doing without knocking myself out. I always enjoy hosting holidays, but sometimes I do feel like I'm going to pass out. Preparations began on Monday, when I made that famous cheese spread. This year I made a new dip, Martha Stewart's caramelized onion and bacon dip, and... we have a new tradition! This is a savory dream come true. I was a little concerned that there were too many onions, but you cook them down for over an hour until they're soft and yielding, and they take on a unique sweetness that is the perfect compliment to the beautiful bacon chunks. I served them with good, hefty kettle chips, but it also tastes great on Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches in place of mayo. Onion dip and cranberry sauce. Who knew? And isn't that second-day sandwich what we're all here for?

But what really ran away as the star of the day was the old stand-by, deviled eggs. Although they are a stand-by at each of our family holidays, from Easter to Christmas Eve, I haven't attempted them in years. I made a terrible batch a few years back by following a Paula Deen recipe, which called for like a whole cup of mayonnaise. Disgusting! That just waters down the yolks and makes them taste like lard. You want the eggs to still taste like eggs, just slightly enhanced with just a tablespoon of mayo, a little mustard, a splash of vinegar and festive paprika. Is it as old-fashioned as a pregnant 60's housewife smoking while chugging down a Manhattan? Perhaps. But every time I see some remodeled/deconstructed/up-kicked recipe for deviled eggs with bacon, crab, capers, fiddleheads, whatever is the ingredient du jour, I cringe. JUST LET THE EGGS BE EGGS, PEOPLE! You'll run out of them before you even mix up the punch (so be sure to hoard some extras in the fridge).

With my surplus of time this year, I got to try out a cute idea I'd seen in Martha Stewart Living several years ago. They're cornucopia placesettings made out of ice cream cones. You take each cone and place the end in a steamy spout of a teakettle, letting it soften and become malleable after about one minute. Curl the end up to create a cornucopia-esque tail, then place on a baking sheet to dry. Dip the open end in white chocolate, then in crushed pistachios to create that... uhh, I don't know what it's called, but I know it looks like a cornucopia. Now they're ready to be adorably placed on each plate, filled with jelly beans (I was hoping to find some kind of veggie-shaped candies, but apparently those aren't around, so I took Martha's much easier suggestion).

The only bad part? There's not a hell of a lot people can do with them (do you really want to chew on a pistachio-covered ice cream cone?), so they pretty much ended up in the trash. But they really LOOKED cool for about an hour.

As is our family tradition, we had about five times as much food as our small crowd required, such as dual desserts (my mom's wonderful pumpkin pie, and the new recipe I tried this year for cranberry cheesecake at Matt's request). I have a gigantic Ziploc bag full of turkey in the deli drawer, a Pyrex full of sweet potatoes, a ton of green bean casserole, and loads of cranberry sauce. I'm trying to Iron Chef this stuff as much as I can, without resorting to that disgusting recipe on the Best Foods radio spot ("take all your leftovers, mix with mayo and bake!" Yeah, I didn't believe it was real either...but it is). Last night I made spaghetti with chicken sausage, and made crazy-good garlic bread by spreading leftover sharp cheese spread on baguettes. Topped with some Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle and broiled for 5 minutes, and I could have eaten this as a meal on its own. Did I mention I'm totally not going to weigh myself this week?

But that's okay. Because Thanksgiving is a chance to break out your best ingredients, test out a new recipe you'd never have the time or need to do the rest of the year, and see the family who can't all gather in the same room normally. You may make a bunch of dishes and chow down a few extra calories, but it's a small drop in the bucket of a whole year of routine.

1 comment:

  1. You couldn't find those pumpkin shaped candy corns? I would have thought they'd be on sale from Halloween...