As usual, you are right. It will be a challenge. How can I please myself and please everyone else, too? I don’t hide my gourmet ambitions. Hence, this aspirational blog (a neologism I’ve seen everywhere lately). So you’ve probably guessed how I view Thanksgiving. As an excuse to plan an elaborate feast that demands at least three days of cooking. When else do we get a day off from work just to prepare and eat a meal?
Before we had children, DH and I treated this holiday as a day of indulgence. It was “Name your favorite food, and I’ll cook it” Day (with some requisite thankfulness thrown in). So we ate lobster, home-made egg rolls, and chocolate mousse with our grad school pals, while other households waited for their Butterballs to brown. But those wild days are gone. Now Thanksgiving is a time when grandparents visit their grandchildren. And these familial relations, big and small, sit down with expectations. Indeed, for many of the consumers invited to our table, tradition matters more than flavor.
But I welcome the challenge. In those decadent days of mousse and lobster, I was playing without a net. Now I must work within the tight constraints of custom, nostalgia and undeveloped palates. As I flip through the new Bon Appetit, I have visions of fennel and rosemary in the mashed potatoes, pumpkin spice cake instead of pie, and shallots in everything (except the cake).
But I’m well aware that most folks have an unnatural attachment to a specific Thanksgiving dish. More often than not, these ‘must-haves' involve either Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup or marshmallow topping. After checking with DH, DS, and DD, my own net begins to form: apparently, this menu will require gravy, creamed potatoes for the gravy, and yam casserole the way Nana makes it (i.e., with lots of brown sugar). So the obvious questions popping up (like a turkey thermometers in my brain) are . . . Will revolution ensue if I don’t make pumpkin pie this year? Will people fast if I experiment with an Asian-flavored Turkey? And . . . where can I add a chutney, relish, or compote?
Don’t assume my desire to avoid French’s fried onions is food snobbery. I like “cheese in a jar” fer gosh sake. And I’m not innocent of kitschy Thanksgiving longings either. I’ve had, for many years, an inexplicable loyalty to canned cranberry sauce. Yes, I’m talking about the gelatinous, quivery kind that holds its form—ridges and all—when it slips from the tin. I would never kick those perfectly sliced magenta disks off my plate. (And not only because I’m a lady who keeps her feet off the table).
But I know I’ll take more pleasure in planning and cooking a cranberry sauce than I could ever get from opening a can. Maybe this year I’ll add orange peel and dates? Or pears and honey? Mmm, that recipe with port and dried figs looks good . . .
In anticipation of the holidays, I made these incredible Cranberry Streusel Shortbread Bars. Enjoy:
Cranberry Streusel Shortbread Bars
From the Best of Fine Cooking: Cookies:
1 Cup plus 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled until just warm
1 Cup Sugar
¾ teaspoon Salt
2 large egg yolks
3 Cups plus 3 Tablespoons of Flour
12 oz bag of fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over, rinsed, and drained
1 Cup Sugar
Line a straight-sided 13 x 9 inch metal pan with foil, letting the edges hang over for easy removal. In medium bowl, stir butter, ¾ cup sugar, and salt. Whisk in egg yolks. Stir in the flour to make a stiff dough. Transfer 2 cups of the dough to the prepared pan and press the mixture evenly over the bottom. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Then bake in center of oven at 325 degrees for 20 minutes.
With your fingers combine the remaining ¼ cup sugar with the reserved dough until crumbly.
The Cranberry Topping:
In a medium saucepan, bring the cranberries, sugar, and ¼ cup water to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and boil for about 8 minutes until liquid is reduced to thick syrup. Let mixture cool for 10 minutes. Spread cranberry mixture over crust. Scatter streusel topping over cranberries. Bake near top of oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Let pan cool completely before removing bars from pan. Lift the foil sides, transfer to cutting board, and separate foil from bars by sliding a spatula between them. Cut into squares.