Monday, November 12, 2012

Let Us Give Thanks...

     Uhhh... Sorry about that folks... I'm not sure what happened... Anyway, some of you may have gotten an advanced, advanced, advanced version of my Thanksgiving post... Bwoops!  I guess that's just a little insight into how I write my posts... derp.

    This is hardly how I wanted to start this post, but sometimes things happen that you don't expect.  Weather hits, election results come in, someone calls with a happy surprise, someone calls with bad news, a butterfly lands on your nose, you forget the Brussels sprouts in the oven... you know, stuff happens.  On the days when the downers outnumber the warm fuzzies, it's especially important to be Thankful for what you have.

     I love the song by the Shaker, Elder Joseph Brackett, called "Simple Gifts."  I think it nicely sums up the Shaker ideal of simplicity as worship and I think conveys an air of thankfulness.  Especially in this day and age when we rarely seem grateful for what we have and never seem to stop wanting more.  I think the opening lines are my favorite.

"Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free."

     Simplicity is a gift.  I'm giving it to myself this Thanksgiving.  Nothing crazy.  Nothing spectacular.  Something simple that will not leave me harried on Thanksgiving but will nourish myself and my family, whom I am terribly, tremendously, unabashedly, humbly, Thankful for.

     Freedom is a gift.  Those pilgrims who ventured to the new world so many years ago searched for freedom.  They found it here and I am thankful this country is still a place people come to find it.

     Last year I posted an elaborate Thanksgiving meal with fancy pumpkin cornbread stuffing and fancy chicken and other fancy stuff of fanciness.  This year, simplicity.

Simple Roast Chicken
Basic Cornbread Stuffing
 Roast Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar
Steamed Sweet Potatoes
 Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry Sauce
Quick Roast Fennel
Roast Pears with Fresh Ricotta and Chestnuts
Pumpkin Mousse

I am going to list the recipes here in the order they should be started.  Beginning with the cornbread stuffing which actually takes two or three days.  I swear it's simple.  It's mostly waiting for things to dry out!  Lol!

Basic Stuffing
First, make the cornbread.  Let cool and crumble.  Leave on the counter overnight to dry out.  The next day, chop 1 medium onion, 4 stalks of celery, 1 C walnuts, 1 Tbs fresh sage, 1 Tbs fresh thyme, and 2 cloves garlic.  Heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a skillet and saute celery and onion until the vegetables have softened.  Add garlic, walnuts, and herbs and cook just a moment or two more until the herbs and garlic become fragrant.  Remove from heat.  Add to crumbled cornbread and add 1 C stock (I like mushroom stock, but chicken or vegetable is fine, too) and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Put the stuffing mixture into a glass casserole dish.  Place in preheated oven uncovered and bake for 20 minutes at 350° until the top is toasted and the nuts are crunchy.  Serve warm.  It's even better the second day.  I usually make it a day ahead and store it in a covered casserole in the fridge (this is where that pesky third day comes in).  Reheat at 350° uncovered for about half an hour.  Cover if top becomes too brown. 

     The Cranberries I made last year can easily be made a day ahead.  They take 5 minutes.  Seriously.

      What can be easier on your Thanksgiving time budget than a dessert you make the day before?  I found this Pumpkin Mousse recipe last year at Country Living for our Halloween party.  It's orange, white, and black and perfect for the Halloween color scheme, but it's full-on pumpkin-pie-without-the-pie flavor is made for Thanksgiving.

I followed this recipe exactly except I substituted agar flakes for the gelatin.  I made this recipe last year and the agar didn't dissolve properly in the rum.  It happened again this year.  I think the gelatin is supposed to give the mousse a more pie-like texture, which I'm not crazy about anyway.  The agar left little chewy lumps in it.  I kinda like it.  But next time, I think I'll leave it out all together and see what happens.  This tastes just like pumpkin pie with out the weird consistency.  Woohoo for pie haters!

     This homemade ricotta recipe from Zestuous is for the pears (see recipe below).  You can make it the day before (or several if you need to) but it takes about a total of 35 minutes.  5 for boiling the milk, 30 for letting it drain.  Seriously hands-off stuff, folks.

     Since this Thanksgiving is all about ease, this chicken is the very easiest thing I've ever done.  I make it all the time when my family is hungry and all I have the brain cells for is slamming a chicken in the oven.  It's modified from this recipe on Epicurious.
Roast Chicken
One 2- to 3-pound chicken
Salt (I use sea salt, but kosher is what the original recipe calls for)
Kitchen twine

Preheat the oven to 425°. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out. Salt the cavity, then truss the bird.  Salt the exterior liberally.  Place the chicken in a roasting pan and roast it for about an hour.  Don't baste it, don't fiddle with it, just let the skin get crispy.  When the internal temp reaches 165°, remove it from the oven and tent the chicken by covering it with aluminum foil.  Let it rest for about 15 minutes.

The only problem with this chicken is that roasting it at such high temps tends to make the fat explode everywhere.  Talk about smoke!  I put a layer of aluminum foil over the top rack and the bottom rack to catch drips and splatters.  The skin doesn't get as beautifully dark as when you leave them off, but the house doesn't get all smoky, either.  I take the top aluminum off for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking to let it brown.  If I forget to put the aluminum foil on, not only does my oven smoke while I'm cooking the chicken, it smokes every time I use it for the next 3 or 4 uses!  Unless I clean it, but who does that?

     Say, did you notice what temperature that bird was roasted at?  425°, right?  Guess what?  Everything else bakes at 425°!  How awesome is that?!

Roast Brussels Sprouts
Preheat oven to 425°.  Slice Brussels sprouts in half.  Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet. Place sprouts in the heated oil cut side down.  Saute with a little salt and pepper until the sprouts have turned bright green and the cut side has begun to brown slightly.  Toss in a little balsamic vinegar (about 1/4 C) and stir to coat the Brussels sprouts.  Place frying pan into preheated oven and bake until sprouts are tender about 15 minutes.

Roast fennel
Remove the fronds and core of the fennel.  Slice thinly with a mandoline (watch your fingers!).  Toss with a drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Lay the fennel on a baking sheet in a thin layer.  Roast at 425° for about 5-10 minutes until the fennel is soft and the licorice flavor is mostly gone.  (Say, didn't those Brussels sprouts take about 15 minutes?)  This large fennel bulb was enough for my husband and I to have a small side with no leftovers, the boys wouldn't eat any.  If your family likes fennel, you will probably want to plan at least 3/4 large bulb per adult.

Roast Pears with Homemade Ricotta and Chestnuts
1/2 Pear per diner
1 Tbs lemon juice (or more as needed)
2 Tbs Sucanat or other sugar with a high molasses content (plus more as needed)
1/2 C Fresh ricotta
4-5 chestnuts

Slice pears in half.  Remove seeds with a melon baller.  Brush with lemon juice.  Place cut side down onto a cookie sheet.  Cut X's into chestnuts and place on the same tray as the pears X side up. Bake for 10 minutes at 425°.  Remove chestnuts from pan and place on the counter to cool.  Flip pears cut side up and sprinkle with Sucanat.  Bake an additional 5 minutes.  Peel chestnuts and chop finely.  When pears are done, place a melon ball size scoop of homemade ricotta into the hole and sprinkle with chestnuts.

For a stronger cheese flavor try goat cheese or feta or maybe even blue, if you're brave.  I'm not.

     You may be saying to yourself, "Hey! Those pears also take about 15 minutes!" to which I say, "Yep!"  I shoved all these things in the oven at the same time and 15 minutes later, they all came out ready to go.

All of these recipes are quick and simple.  Added together, they do take some time, but I hope you can find at least one to substitute into your day to make it a tiny bit less hectic.  It can be hard to focus on Thankfulness when you're focusing on not burning off your eyebrows with the kitchen torch.  Here's to simplicity, everybody.  Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Happy Thanksgiving Brooke!
    What a spread! Everything looks so so beautiful...
    Love the photos a LOT

    1. Thanks, Chinmayie! I'm so glad to see your comments again!

  2. Your simple menu is simply marvelous, Brooke! This all sounds rather decadent and so delicious. I haven't worked with agar before - do you usually use it as a sub for gelatin? Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

    1. Thanks, Hannah! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours as well! Yes, agar (also called agar agar) is a vegetarian gelatin sub. It's a thickener that's been used in Asian cooking for years and it's also the growth medium they use in Petri dishes. Nice, I know. It's, frankly, easier to use to make jello in my opinion, you just boil it in whatever juice you want your jello flavor to be and let it sit for a few minutes. It sets up way faster than gelatin and will even set at room temp! I've got an agar jello recipe here:


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