glazed pecans

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One of the hardest parts of making a full Thanksgiving dinner for two is dealing with the ridiculous amounts of food. Probably I could have made a course or two less than what people make for a huge group, right? But that would be too easy. I have to go the other direction and make every single course I would make for a crowd.

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If family and friends were coming over, I would want casual snacks set out to munch on while people sip their wine and wait for the appetizers to cool. With only the two of us, these little pecans were supposed to hold us over between breakfast and the big eating part of the day, but instead they became irresistible little nibbles whenever the pecan bowl was in sight.

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I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed these, because pecans aren’t one of my favorite nuts. I think of them as bitter, but once they were coated in a sweet herby glaze, the nut itself seemed almost meaty. Now I know that sharing them with a crowd is actually a bad idea – because I want them all for myself.

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Two years ago: Cranberry Orange Scones
Three years ago: Chickpea and Butternut Squash Salad

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Rosemary and Thyme Candied Pecans (adapted from Seven Spoons)

Makes 8 servings

I bought demerara sugar just for this recipe and have found other uses for it, but if you don’t want to buy it, I’m sure brown sugar would work just fine.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
¾ teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme
½ teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Scant ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 pound pecan halves

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the maple syrup and the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the herbs, spices, and salt. Add the pecans to the butter mixture; stir to coat. Spread the nuts in a single layer on the prepared pan.

3. Bake, turning occasionally, until the nuts are glazed, shiny, and deep golden, around 15 minutes.
Cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

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steel cut oatmeal with maple sauteed apples

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On a holiday, who wants cold cereal and milk for breakfast? No, something special is in order for the morning of Thanksgiving, but with a day of feasting ahead, it’s nice to get a somewhat healthy start. And with a day of cooking ahead, breakfast can’t be too complicated.

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Steel-cut oatmeal fits the bill perfectly. Because steel-cut oats take the better part of an hour to cook, you’re probably saving it for weekends already. The oatmeal itself is healthy, but the caramelized apples make it a treat without overdoing the decadence first thing in the morning.

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Steel-cut oatmeal isn’t mushy like oatmeal made from rolled oats is. The larger chunks of groats never completely soften, so it’s almost like eating tapioca pudding for breakfast – if tapioca pudding was packed full of fiber. It tastes nutty and slightly sweet on its own, especially after being toasted, but slices of browned apples make this oatmeal just right for a holiday – without being so decadent that it can’t be enjoyed any weekend.

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One year ago: Shredded Beef Tacos
Two years ago: Pumpkin Mushroom Soup
Three years ago: Decorated Sugar Cookies

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Steel-Cut Oatmeal (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

3 cups water
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
¼ teaspoon table salt

1. Bring the water and milk to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until just beginning to foam; add the oats and toast, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until golden and fragrant with a butterscotch-like aroma, 1½ to 2 minutes.

2. Stir the toasted oats into the simmering liquid, reduce the heat to medium-low; simmer gently, until the mixture thickens and resembles gravy, about 20 minutes. Add the salt and stir lightly with the spoon handle. Continue simmering, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon handle, until the oats absorb almost all of the liquid and the oatmeal is thick and creamy, with a pudding-like consistency, about 7 to 10 minutes. Off the heat, let the oatmeal stand uncovered for 5 minutes. Serve immediately with maple sautéed apples.

Maple Sautéed Apples (slightly adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

2 tablespoons (¼ stick) unsalted butter
3 large firm apples (about 1½ pounds), peeled, cored, cut into ½-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon plus ½ cup pure maple syrup
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples and 1 tablespoon maple syrup; sauté until the apples are tender, about 5 minutes. Mix in the remaining ½ cup maple syrup and cinnamon; simmer until slightly reduced, about 1 minute.

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notes on planning a thanksgiving feast

salt roast turkey 1

I am a list maker. When I got it in my head to make a big turkey dinner just for me and Dave last year, I had just as much fun planning it as I did cooking it. Eating it was nice too, but that’s just the bonus.

menu

The first step, and possibly my favorite, was to look for recipes. Because I knew I’d get a traditional turkey dinner on the real holiday, I had fun choosing new recipes. I edited each one for precisely how I was going to make it, not just adapting them for my tastes, but writing the directions for the number of servings I’d be making. I knew I’d have a lot to do when it came time to cook, so I wanted to do all of my thinking in advance.

prep schedule

Once my recipes were set, I could write a schedule for myself. I noted everything that I could do in advance and figured out when I would do it. I was fortunate that I had the day off from work the day before my big dinner, so I spent that whole day doing all of my prep. I made myself a detailed schedule for that day – which I was perpetually behind on, but that was okay because there were no deadline for that day; it was just prep.

cooking schedule

Then I made a detailed schedule for the day of my dinner. I started with my dinner time and counted back from there. Basing my cooking schedule on the oven requirements helped me plan. Again, the idea here is to do all of the thinking beforehand, so that when you’re trying to greet guests, serve them drinks, and do inevitable troubleshooting, you know exactly what needs to be done. In your schedule, don’t forget to account for the time it takes transfer the food from the cooking part of the kitchen to the eating part of the kitchen. With as many courses as Thanksgiving feasts include, this is no small task.

grocery list

I find it convenient to make my grocery list for a big meal by recipe, and then put it all together (and arrange by the route I take through the store; I’m hardcore). Finally, I note which pans and serving dishes I’ll need for each recipe; again, the idea is to make all decisions before Go Time so I’m not scrambling to wash my favorite saucepan at the last minute.

dishes big

Of course, even the most careful planning can’t take into account your husband accidentally turning the oven off right as the turkey goes in. A positive attitude is an advantage too.

The attached Excel file has all of my plans in it. Feel free to use it as a template if you think it will help you plan. Over the next two weeks, I’ll blog each of the recipes I made.

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Here’s the complete menu:
Breakfast: Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Maple Sautéed Apples
Snack: Glazed Pecans
Appetizer: Phyllo Cigars with Squash, Pancetta and Rosemary
Turkey: Salted Roast Turkey with Herbs
Gravy: White Wine Gravy
Stuffing: Cornbread Dressing with Roasted Root Vegetables
Potato: Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin
Vegetable: Cauliflower with Mustard Lemon Butter
Cranberries: Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs
Bread: Cheddar Puffs with Green Onions
Dessert: Maple Pumpkin Pots de Crème

Two years ago: Pork Chops Loco Moco
Three years ago: Pumpkin Pancakes

fall collage

apple brandy hand pies

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Adding ‘brandy’ to the title of this recipe is probably an exaggeration, because I suspect most of the brandy gets left behind in the sugary liquid given off by the apples. Plus, with two teaspoons of brandy in over a dozen hand pies, that’s approximately one drop per pie. On the other hand, how much more fun do apple brandy hand pies sound than apple hand pies? A lot more fun, that’s how much.

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And these are fun. To eat, that is; to make, they’re a lot of nitpicky chilling steps. You measure the ingredients and chill them; make the dough and chill it; roll it out and chill it; cut circles and chill them; fill the hand pies and chill them.

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It isn’t too bad though; you don’t have to actually do anything during those chilling steps, so it’s really just an issue of starting early. The reward at the end is crust so flaky it’s almost like puff pastry dough, not to mention a sweet and spicy apple filling – whether it’s actually spiked with brandy or not.

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One year ago: Coconut Cream Tart/Pie
Two years ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Three years ago: Peter Reinhart’s Pizza

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Apple Brandy Hand Pies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen and from Cooks Illustrated’s apple pie recipe in The New Best Recipe)

Makes about 14 pies

Dough:
1¼ cups (6 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup ice water

Filling:
2 large apples, peeled, cored, diced into ¼-inch cubes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon apple (or regular) brandy
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cups (1.75 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice

1. To make the pastry, in a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Place the butter in another bowl. Place both bowls in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the butter to the well and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. If preparing ahead of time, the dough can be stored at this point for up to one month in the freezer.

2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to ⅛-inch thickness. Using a 4-inch-round biscuit cutter, cut seven circles out of the rolled dough. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes.

3. Toss the apples with the lemon juice and zest. In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, flour, salt and spices. Toss the dry ingredients with the apples.

4. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature until just pliable, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of filling onto one half of each circle of dough. Quickly brush cold water around the circumference of the dough, and fold it in half so the other side comes down over the filling, creating a semicircle. Seal the hand pie, and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat the process with remaining dough and filling. Place the hand pies back on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.

5. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut 3 small slits in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash. Sprinkle sanding sugar generously over the pies. Bake until the hand pies are golden brown and just slightly cracked, about 20 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven; let cool slightly before serving.

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butternut squash risotto

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The first time I made this risotto, all the smoke from the chicken I was roasting set off the fire alarm in my apartment building. Everyone had to go stand outside in the cold (this is back when I lived somewhere where it actually got cold), but I didn’t want to leave the stove because I needed to stir my risotto! So Dave was the one who had to go confess to everyone that the alarm was my fault. He loved that.

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And I loved this risotto. It isn’t nearly as rich as the pumpkin risotto I made a couple years ago; that one has twice the cooking fat and a generous dollop of mascarpone. All that cheese mutes the flavor of the squash, and squash is what I want to highlight in a squash risotto.

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This recipe has a trick (it’s a Cooks Illustrated recipe; of course it has a trick) to eeking out all of the possible flavor from squash, and that’s to sauté to fibers and seeds, then use them as a base for the liquid used to cook the rice. It’s almost like making a squash broth, which is the perfect way to incorporate squash flavor into the entire risotto, not just in the chunks of squash distributed throughout the rice.

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The risotto was much better than that alarm-raising chicken. It involves some annoying steps with straining the broth and of course the tedious peeling and chopping of squash, but it isn’t anything as bad as explaining to your neighbors why they have to stand out in the cold on a Sunday night.

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One year ago: Pomegranate-Glazed Salmon
Two years ago: Brown Rice with Black Beans
Three years ago: Sushi Bowls

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Butternut Squash Risotto (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 as a main course and 6 as a first course

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch dice (about 3½ cups), seeds and fibers reserved
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small onions, chopped very fine (about 1½ cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1½ cups dry white wine
¾ cup (1½ ounces) finely grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves

1. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add about 3½ cups of the squash in an even layer and cook without stirring until the squash is golden brown, 4-5 minutes; stir in ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender and browned, about five minutes longer. Transfer the squash to a small bowl and set aside.

2. Return the skillet to medium heat; add the reserved squash fibers and seeds and any leftover diced squash. Cook, stirring frequently to break up the fibers, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a large saucepan and add the chicken broth and water; cover the saucepan and bring the mixture to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a bare simmer.

3. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in the now-empty skillet over medium heat; when the foaming subsides, add the onions, garlic, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and remaining ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the rice to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are translucent around the edges, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until fully absorbed, 4 to 5 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, strain the hot broth through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Return the strained broth to the saucepan and discard the solids in the strainer; cover the saucepan and set over low heat to keep the broth hot.

5. When the wine is fully absorbed, add 3 cups of the hot broth and half of the reserved squash to the rice. Simmer, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is almost dry, about 12 minutes.

6. Stir in about ½ cup of hot broth and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes; repeat with additional broth 2 or 3 more times, until the rice is al dente. Off the heat, stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter, the Parmesan, sage, and nutmeg. Gently fold in the remaining cooked squash. If desired, add an additional ¼ cup of broth to loosen the texture of the risotto. Serve immediately.

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apple nut muffin cake

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I wasn’t expecting great things from Pisa, although that wasn’t Pisa’s fault. I had a cold, because I learned the hard way that you have to eat the occasional fruit or vegetable, even on vacation. We had to get up early and rush to the train station, spend 2 hours on a train to get to Pisa, where we had 3 hours before we had to board another train to get to Rome, where I had a suspicion we’d get lost looking for the hotel. I knew it would be worth it to see the iconic Leaning Tower, but I wasn’t looking forward to the trains, the constant concern over my Kleenex supply, or the crowds I assumed surrounded the famous tower.

pisa

But I was wrong. Not about getting lost in Rome, which we did, and not about the need for Kleenex, which lasted for the next few days, but about Pisa having nothing to offer other than a poorly constructed tower and hordes of tourists. Instead, we took a relaxed walk down a lovely street full of bicyclists, shops, and cafes; peeked into a dark, quiet church that was perhaps my favorite of the trip; and detoured to a wonderful street market where, having learned our lesson, we bought some fruit to snack on while I ogled the squash blossoms, giant porcini mushrooms, crates of fresh figs, bins of artichokes, and baskets of uncured olives. Best of all, we found a farmacia that sold six-packs of Kleenex packets – a lifesaver for the 4-hour train ride ahead.

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But that was Pisa and now I’m back in southeast New Mexico, where fresh figs are nowhere to be found, to say nothing of squash blossoms and fresh porcini mushrooms. (They do have Kleenex here, gladly.) So I skipped the fig cake chosen for Tuesdays with Dorie – but here’s the apple cake I missed while traveling.

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I tried to pretty it up by adding streusel, but it melted into the cake and didn’t contribute much more than a delicious sugary crust. Not that the cake needed any help in the taste department, as it was already moist and sweet and pleasantly appley. Next time I’m in Pisa, I’ll pick up some fresh figs to make Dorie’s fig cake with; until then, apple muffin cake will have to do.

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Katrina chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie a few weeks ago, and she has the recipe posted. If you want to add streusel to the top, try this one; the one I used didn’t work very well.  I doubled the salt, as usual, since I like my desserts saltier than Dorie.

One year ago: Apple Pie
Two years ago: Sweet Potato Biscuits
Three years ago: Chocolate Cupcakes

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apple cider doughnuts

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It’s going to be 95 degrees here today, but I’m trying to force it to feel like fall anyway. It isn’t just the temperature; there are no trees here to change colors, the air is always dry and crisp, and the only place to buy pumpkins and apples is the grocery store. I often prefer living in the desert, even with months of over 100-degree days in the summer, but every fall, I miss upstate New York.

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I especially miss the cider mill I lived near when I was there, which was almost a fall festival of its own, every day. I loved stopping there and choosing one each of six different apple types, which made the best apple pies I’d ever eaten. In the weeks before Halloween, they’d cover most of the lot with pumpkins, not to mention the barrels of squash of every variety. Inside, you could watch them pulp the apples into cider on one side of the building, and on the other, they were frying doughnuts. Brushing fallen sugar off of our shirts after biting into fresh donuts became a yearly tradition.

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You can’t buy jugs of fresh cider here or the donuts made with it, but I can make my own doughnuts using pulpy storebought apple juice. By reducing the apple cider/juice until it’s syrupy, you can increase the apple flavor of the doughnuts without increasing the stickiness of the dough. Concentrating apple juice and frying apply donuts smells like fall, and, in a pinch, that will have to epitomize the season in the desert.

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One year ago: Burritos
Two years ago: Green Chile Rellenos
Three years ago: Stuffed Mushrooms with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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Apple Cider Doughnuts (slightly adapted from The Hearth Restaurant via Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 18 doughnuts and 18 doughnut holes

Despite generally being anti-shortening, I tried it for frying this time. However, I wasn’t happy with it; it started smoking well before it reached proper frying temperature. The doughnuts also seemed to absorb more fat than usual.

1 cup apple cider
3½ cups (16.8 ounces) flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk
Vegetable oil or shortening for frying
Topping (optional): ½ cup granulated sugar + 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the apple cider to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until reduced to ¼ cup, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.

2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed (with the paddle attachment, if using a standing mixer), beat the butter and granulated sugar until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time; continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add half of the reduced apple cider and buttermilk, then all of the dry ingredients, then the remaining liquid ingredients, mixing just until combined.

3. Flour two sheets of parchment or wax paper; turn the dough out onto one floured sheet and cover with the second sheet. Roll the dough out to a thickness of ½-inch. Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes.

4. Using a floured 3-inch or 3½-inch doughnut cutter (or a round cutter plus a 1-inch round cutter or backside of a piping tip), cut out rings of dough. Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto one sheet of floured wax paper. Re-roll the scraps of dough, incorporating as little flour as possible. Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Add oil or shortening to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 3 inches. Heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350°F. Place a wire rack over a baking sheet.

6. Carefully add three doughnuts and three holes to the oil; fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Flip the doughnuts and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on the rack for one minute. Dip the top of the warm doughnuts into the cinnamon sugar mixture (if using) and serve immediately.

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oatmeal nutmeg scones

For most of my life, I didn’t think much of nutmeg. It was just one member of the pumpkin pie consortium, of which only cinnamon could stand on its own, as far as I knew. The rest were generically fall-flavored. It wasn’t until I met Dave, professed nutmeg lover, that I started considering nutmeg as its own entity.

Now I think of nutmeg as warm, cozy, complex. (Or maybe the association I have between nutmeg and Dave has caused me to describe my husband instead of the seasoning?) Its spice adds richness to any dish, sweet or savory, and has become one of my favorite flavors.

Oatmeal reminds me of Dave too, as it was his staple breakfast – no sugar, no salt – when he lived alone. (It was bland, mushy, gross, but these aren’t words I associate with my husband.) I may not need complex, cozy scents to make me warm out here the desert, but I certainly won’t turn down a nutmeg oatmeal scone. You can bet Dave wouldn’t either.

Patricia chose these for Tuesdays for Dorie, and she will have the recipe posted. I didn’t make any changes.

One year ago: Strawberry Chocolate Ice Cream Pie
Two years ago: Chipster-Topped Brownies
Three years ago: Pecan Honey Sticky Buns

maple cornmeal biscuits

These are not Italian in any way. Dave and I booked a trip to Italy last week and thought we’d have an Italy day on Saturday, where we’d have espresso, eat Italian food, drink Italian wine, and plan out our adventure. Little of that happened. We ate maple cornmeal biscuits because I needed to make them for Tuesdays with Dorie.  At least we had them alongside frittata with swiss chard. We never got to the espresso, and it wasn’t until Sunday that we sat down to map out our vacation plans. The grilled lamb and asparagus we had for dinner could have been any cuisine, although the Barbera that accompanied dinner was wonderful.

I’m always jumping ahead to the wine. Let’s talk more about breakfast. Even though maple cornmeal biscuits are not Italian and we had them on (what was supposed to be) Italy day, they were very delicious – sweet and gritty. I suspect we’ll have many more Italy planning days between now and when we leave in September, and I just might start them all out with maple cornmeal biscuits, Italian or not.

Lindsay has the full recipe posted. I made no changes.

One year ago: Cherry-Cherry Bread Pudding
Two years ago: Fresh Mango Bread
Three years ago: Traditional Madeleines

tourtely apple tart

Sometimes I think I can multitask, but I am wrong. While Dave and I were having an interesting conversation about our almost-teenaged nephew gaining independence and confidence, I was jotting down the ingredients for the tart crust. (I don’t bring cookbooks into the kitchen; I don’t want them getting dirty.) I was also congratulating myself on how I was paying attention to the conversation and making insightful responses – although Dave might disagree – while getting a cooking task done.

Nope. I messed it up. I wrote down the version without nuts, even though I had specifically bought walnuts because I thought they’d complement the apples nicely.

So perhaps I didn’t make quite the dessert I was meant to.  In the end, I liked the filling just fine, but the crust wasn’t the right match for it.  It was too simple, too sugary, too cookie-like.  I suspect some bitter earthy walnuts was just the flavor I was craving.  And I suspect this is a lesson I’m going to have to learn over and over again before it sticks.

Jeannette chose this apple tart pie thing for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted.  I tweaked a bunch of little things with the filling, but nothing crucial.

One year ago: Sweet Cream Biscuits
Two years ago: Chocolate Bread Pudding
Three years ago: Carrot Cake