Thanksgiving Favorites

I always loved Thanksgiving as a child and remember grabbing the largest turkey leg off the platter before any of my cousins could claim it for themselves. Kai seems to feel the same, saying he can’t wait 2 (!!!) weeks for Thanksgiving food, namely fluffy mashed potatoes and crunchy topped green beans.

I remember the first time we cooked our own Thanksgiving meal. Mike and I lived in an apartment downtown and were vegetarian. I marveled at his ability to make sweet potatoes without a recipe and silently cursed the Tofurky.  I felt so thankful for the time spent together in the kitchen.

Each year has its own story and as I look back on past Thanksgivings, I cherish all the faces that shared this yearly tradition with us. A few are no longer with us and some now live miles away. Babies are born and children grow. Year after year we gather around the table together for this special feast, feeling thankful for all that has come before and all that is yet to come.

Read on for my favorite recipes and a few tips to make Thanksgiving as delicious as it was always meant to be.

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Wine: Lots of red. Any pinot noir from Oregon does the trick.

Appetizers: Relish tray full of pickles, olives and anything else I find. Celery, carrots or nuts round out the palate.

Turkey: Buy a fresh turkey if possible and plan 1 pound per person. I usually end up scouring the aisles for the smallest turkey available. Last year, I bought a 10 pound turkey at Whole Foods. Brine Monday or Tuesday. I like to dry brine the turkey. I find it much easier than a wet brine. No water sloshing around in my already crowded refrigerator. When it comes to baking it, grab a meat thermometer, especially the kind that stay inserted the whole time. Stress be gone!

Stuffing: I go for super easy and pick up pre-made stuffing mix and bread crumbs at our local market so that all I have to do is mix them together. To make it from scratch here is the recipe. The stove top is your friend.

Green Beans: Classic all the way. I follow the Campbell’s recipe and use frozen green beans.

Mashed Potatoes: Peeled russet potatoes boiled in salted water until fork tender. Transfer to a stand mixer and add butter, milk and sour cream and whip to creamy perfection.

Dinner Rolls: These potato rolls knocked my socks off when I tested them for Simply Recipes. Give them a try!

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Cranberry Sauce: I like to get a pre-made cranberry orange sauce fresh from our local grocer but if you want to make it from scratch, here is a link to their recipe.

Pumpkin Pie: I loved the depth of flavor of this pumpkin pie. Taking the extra step of cooking the pumpkin mixture deepens the pumpkin flavor while keeping the ease of canned pumpkin.

Pecan Pie: I need this pecan pie each and every year. Try this pecan pie and you won’t be disappointed.

Pie Crust: I use this crust from Smitten Kitchen but add 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and process in a food processor with the dough blade. As an extra bonus, one recipe makes two crusts which is exactly what I need. Hurray!

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Whipped Cream: Stella Parks elevates the whipping cream game to a whole new level. I also love that I can make it ahead of time.

Have fun and enjoy the time spent in the kitchen with those you love.

 

 

 

Spiced Applesauce

Raise your hand if you delighted in watching September walk out the door and October walk in. The tenth month is one of my utmost favorites of the year! Tart, crunchy apples piled high.  “New Crop” and “Local” signs calling my name at each turn. I like apples every which way. I eat them in my oatmeal for breakfast or spread with peanut butter for a snack. Last night’s dinner was a rendition of this sheet pan concoction that included bratwurst, brussel sprouts, potatoes and apples. My post dinner treat? Crisp, fresh apple cider served piping hot. Yet, one of my all time favorite ways to enjoy the season is by making applesauce. The apple chunks simmer just long enough to relax into a softer, slightly sweeter version of themselves. Adding a few spices to the pot round out the flavors and remind us that this applesauce is something all together different than the runny, bland variety.

Another reason I love October? My husband and I commemorate another year married. We gave up exchanging gifts or cards years ago but still take ourselves out for some delicious food and drinks. A quick search online informs me that the traditional gift to celebrate 18 years is porcelain. Surprisingly, toilets were NOT on any gift suggestion lists. Ha!

Also, I’m happy to say that my preschool cooking class is up and going again now that fall has begun. Last week we made this spiced applesauce in class. I know that applesauce doesn’t really need a “recipe”. The whole process in its simplest form is:

  1. Cut apples
  2. Add water
  3. Add seasoning
  4. Cook on medium until tender
  5. Mash

Yet, if I walked up to my 12 year old and gave him those directions – he would look at me with the most bewildered of expressions and (understandably) have a million questions. Though making applesauce is quite simple, if you want a walk through – I’m your girl.

Ready to get started?

Spiced Applesauce

Using fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick and star anise, this applesauce is lightly spiced and reminiscent of chai seasoning. Three pounds of apples creates a hearty 3-4 cups of applesauce. We ate it for most of a week. I like to check the bulk section for cinnamon sticks and star anise. This enables me to purchase exactly the amount needed and have the freshest products at a much lower price. Score!

Supplies:

Colander, cutting board, vegetable peeler, knife, bowl for compost, medium-sized stock pot (mine is 4 quarts), large spoon for stirring(I used a wooden one), liquid measuring cup, tablespoon, slotted spoon, medium bowl, potato masher

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds apples (I prefer honeycrisp)
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Steps:

Start with washing hands. Safe food handling is really important.

Prepare Apples:

  1. Put apples in a colander.
  2. Put the colander in a sink and run cold water over the apples to rinse off dirt.
  3. Transfer apples to cutting board.

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Cut & Peel Apples:

  1. Hold the apple firmly in one hand and the peeler in the other.
  2. Work the peeler around the apple, being sure to keep fingers out of harms way. I like to leave a little peel on each apple to add to the pretty color and chunky texture of the finished product.
  3. Set peeled apple on the cutting board and de-core by slicing the apple into quarters, leaving behind the stem and seeds.
  4. Chop each apple section into quarters.
  5. Put apple pieces into pot.
  6. Dispose of peels and core

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Prepare Ginger & Add Spices

  1. Cut a 2 inch knob off a large piece of ginger. The ginger should be firm and cream colored on the inside (not greenish).
  2. Slice the skin off with either the peeler or knife.
  3. Add ginger, cinnamon stick, star anise and kosher salt to the pot with apples.

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Add Water & Sugar

  1. Using a liquid measuring cup, fill with 1 1/2 cups of water. The most accurate way to measure liquids is to set the measuring cup on the counter and then crouch down to view it at eye level.
  2. Pour water into the pot
  3. Scoop three tablespoons of sugar into the pot with the apples, spices and water.
  4. Stir to combine.

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Bring to a Simmer & Cook

  1. Turn the burner onto medium and bring the mixture to a simmer. The liquid won’t cover the apples and that is ok.
  2. Once the liquid is bubbling, stir occasionally so that the apples at the top move to the bottom for even cooking.
  3. As the apples cook, they will turn opaque and soften. Keep going until it mushes easily with a fork; 15-20 minutes.IMG_1507

Strain & Mash

  1. Transfer apples using a slotted spoon, to a small mixing bowl. The one pictured is an XXL cereal bowl. Make sure that the ginger, cinnamon stick and star anise are removed and discarded. Keep liquid leftover from straining.
  2. Let cool for 5 minutes. Use a potato masher to mash into chunky applesauce.
  3. Taste! Add back in leftover apple liquid for a stronger spiced flavor or thinner consistency. I added a 1/4 cup liquid back into my applesauce, but there is no wrong answer here. IMG_1509

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Serve

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  1. Lots of options here! Spoon into ramekins and serve warm or cover and transfer to the refrigerator and serve cold. Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 10 days.

 

Caprese Skewers

How’s everyone doing? For me, August 2019 is going down in my memories as some of the best weeks of my life. At the beginning of the month our family of four packed our bags and headed off to London and Paris. I’m trying to process all that I saw and experienced. As I transition home, I want to keep the sense of adventure with me, after I get some sleep first!

Besides taking a vacation, I also took a fresh look at Baking with Rachel. I want this to be a resource for becoming more comfortable in the kitchen. I want you to be able to follow along with a child or learn yourself. When I teach cooking classes, I give much more detail on how to perform each and every step. It’s common practice to write recipes with a certain expectation that the reader knows how to prepare the ingredients. Yet, when I first learned to cook, I spent a lot of time researching because I didn’t know how to do any of it. Maybe you are the same? I’ll format my posts similar to how I teach my classes by giving more details for each step. Let’s give it a try and tell me what you think!

Ready to get started? One of the simplest salads is the caprese: tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. Drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. It’s a classic that I wanted to introduce to my family. My boys joined in the fun and we had a great time putting these together. I hope you enjoy making (and eating!) this as well.

Caprese Skewers

This recipe makes a big plateful and is plenty to serve 4. It makes a great afternoon snack, addition to a lunch box, or served with pasta for dinner.

Supplies:

Colander, 3 small bowls (I used cereal bowls), paper towels, slotted spoon, knife, cutting board, toothpicks, plate

Ingredients:

  • Pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella (I used 1/3 oz “cherry sized” balls)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Steps:

Start with washing hands. Safe food handling is really important.

Prepare Tomatoes:

  1. Put tomatoes in colander and check for any that are mushy or rotten and discard.
  2. Put the colander in a sink and run cold water over the tomatoes to rinse off dirt.
  3. Transfer tomatoes into small bowl.

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Prepare Basil:

  1. Lay a couple paper towels on the counter.
  2. Look at leaves and pick the leaves that are bright green and set aside. Discard stems and leaves that are limp or discolored.
  3. Cup the basil leaves in your hand and rinse under cold water.
  4. Roll basil in paper towels and squeeze out liquid.
  5. Transfer drained basil to a small bowl.

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Prepare mozzarella:

  1. Scoop mozzarella balls into in a small bowl with a slotted spoon.
  2. If using a mozzarella log, cut into 1/2 slices and then quarter the slices.

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Set a plate on a clean work space. Bring bowls of ingredients, bottle of olive oil, salt and pepper and toothpicks to the table.

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Assemble skewers:

  1. Grasp the toothpick by one end and slide on mozzarella, basil leaf and tomato. My basil was VERY large so I rolled it up before add it to the toothpick.
  2. Place finished skewer on plate.
  3. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
  4. Once finished, drizzle the skewers with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Enjoy immediately and refrigerate any leftovers for a day or two.

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