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.

IMG_3368

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!

IMG_5041

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!

fullsizeoutput_46d

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.

 

 

 

Caramel Coated Popcorn

Growing up in Iowa, corn was everywhere. Though sweet corn is beloved by all, it is only available in the summertime. For my family, to get a year round corn fix, we ate popcorn.

fullsizeoutput_874
Beautiful creamy colors from multi-colored popcorn kernels

Laying in my bed, I’d hear the shuffle of feet overhead with the whirl of the air popper spitting out hot popped corn. The microwave beeped and the mixing bowl clanked against the counter as the butter knife folded the butter into the hot popcorn. It was my parents’ reward for a job well done. How I loved the smell of the nightly popcorn!  As the years went by, mom and dad’s evening ritual became a family affair. The kernels squeaked when pressed against my teeth as I watched Barbara Walters on 20/20.

fullsizeoutput_870

For my wedding, I received my very own air popper. Seventeen years later and it’s still good as new. The popcorn maker and the bag of yellow kernels are brought out after the children have been tucked into bed. We attentively pop the corn, melt the butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt before settling the bowl in between our laps on the couch. It’s earthy aroma grounds me and I feel at home.The perfect reward for a job well done.

fullsizeoutput_868

Though I’ve eaten popcorn most of my life, I didn’t know much about it until recently. Did you know that popcorn is a special corn plant that is grown for just this purpose? Mostly grown in the Midwest, it is harvested and dried until the kernels reach the perfect level of hydration. Different varieties abound and each offers a slightly different texture and appearance. The multi colored variety, bought in the grocery store’s bulk bin, produced smaller, creamy colored and slightly sweeter popped corn.

fullsizeoutput_86a

As the summer turns to fall, I find myself craving a popcorn treat to harold in the new season. As opposed to caramel corn or popcorn balls, This caramel coated popcorn is incredibly quick and easy. Unlike most caramel corn recipes, this one doesn’t require an hour of stirring in the oven. Unlike, popcorn balls, these have a richer flavor and no burnt fingers! The caramel coats the popcorn and creates a crisp shell.

Caramel Coated Popcorn

Though corn syrup seems the perfect accompaniment to caramel corn, I found that Lyle’s Golden Syrup imparted a fuller flavor to this recipe, plus I love the tin it came in. When using a candy thermometer, be sure to read the temperature when the tip is not touching the bottom of the pan. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

Grease a baking sheet and set aside. Pop corn with whatever method you like best. Pick out and discard all unpopped kernels and pour into large bowl. In a small saucepan, add butter, syrup, water and sugar. Stir and bring to a boil on medium high. Turn down to medium low and clip a candy thermometer to the side. The mixture should stay at a boil. Turn the oven up slightly if not. Cook without stirring until the temperature reaches 300℉, about 15 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in baking soda and salt. The mixture will foam and bubble. Quickly pour over popcorn and stir with a wooden spoon. The caramel hardens quickly so no daudiling. Pour into greased sheet pan. Let cool slightly and then separate into smaller chunks as desired. Let cool. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for 2 days.

Rocky Road Candy

For kids and parents alike, summer break is like Christmas in July. As parents we spend months planning vacations and scheduling camps to somehow make this summer just as good (or better!) than last years. The kids are giddy with excitement with each passing day, until finally school is out and summer break is here.

IMG_4580
A Christmas Puzzle in July anyone?

Right as summer break started this year, one child and then the other came down with pneumonia, added on top of oral surgery for the youngest sandwiched in between. Spending the first precious weeks of summer running to the doctor, taking medicine and staying inside day after precious day, and you can imagine that I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and my kids, too. I needed to salvage this summer somehow.

fullsizeoutput_697

With little thought or planning, I decided to break out the crafts and celebrate Christmas in July. I dug out the Christmas puzzle that we hadn’t quite had enough time to put together. Then, I bought soft wool and began needle felting delicate balls for a new garland for the mantel. Now all I needed was some special treats to munch on to top off our celebration.

In our family, making candy is as much a holiday tradition as baking cookies. Though summer is typically a time for fruit pies and homemade ice cream, making homemade candy is the perfect treat for a sweltering kitchen.

fullsizeoutput_68f
Marshmallows snipped into perfect sized chunks

Candy is simpler than you may think. No oven required and done more quickly than the first complaints of summer boredom. Candy is the perfect summer concoction.

With dreams of marshmallows, instead of chestnuts, roasting over the open fire and cold lemonade, instead of hot cocoa, in my cup; I decide to make the dream a reality and make a batch of  rocky road candy. Gooey marshmallows combined with chocolate, nuts and a heavy sprinkling of smoked salt brings us right to the crackling campfire that summer nights are made of.

fullsizeoutput_69b
Smoked salt for the win

Most rocky road recipes include sweetened condensed milk so when I found this recipe from Alice Medrich that contains only chocolate, marshmallows and nuts, I knew I had to try it. The simpleness of this recipe allows for the ingredients to really shine. Buy chocolate tasty enough to eat and you won’t be disappointed.

Happy summer and may all your summer dreams come true.

Rocky Road Candy

You will want a candy thermometer to make this recipe (and most candies for that matter).  I have a simple one that does the job but am putting an instant-read digital on my wish list. Successful candy making requires accurate temperatures and reading a foggy thermometer is stress I don’t need.

Use any chocolate that you want, but I used semi-sweet Callebrut, found sold in bulk for a good price, that I would highly recommend. Chocolate chips worked fine though and is definitely the most economical choice.

Also, buying regular sized marshmallows and snipping them into quarters, instead of mini marshmallows, is totally worth the extra effort. The quartered marshmallows are slightly bigger and are softer in texture than the minis.

Smoked salt is a finishing salt that I found in the bulk section. Maldon salt would be a great choice and it’s sold on Amazon for a few dollars.

Makes 1.5 pounds

Adapted from Alice Medrich

Ingredients:

  • 16 regular sized marshmallows, quartered (4 ounces)
  • 1 cup pecan halves, chopped and roasted and cooled
  • 1 pound chocolate, chopped (see headnote)
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon smoked salt

Directions:

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Then, melt chocolate slowly in a saucepan and stir regularly to keep it from scorching. Once melted, take off heat and scrape into a medium bowl. Clip on a candy thermometer and cool to 90°F. This is important and will help the candy set correctly.

Once cooled to 90°F, dump in the pecans and marshmallows. Stir to coat marshmallows and nuts evenly. Scrape into a log shape, roughly 3×10 and sprinkle with smoked salt. Place pan in refrigerator until the candy is dry and firm to the touch. This will take about 20 minutes.

Remove from refrigerator and cut into thick strips with a serrated knife. I found that pieces 1×3 were a nice size. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.