It’s a confusing 73 degrees outside in December, but I know it’s holiday time, because I just demolished the last of my Aunt Fran’s Chex Mix for breakfast. Every year, her kitchen transforms into a Chex Mix construction site for hours on end, until she’s filled about a billion canisters, bags, and pretty boxes full of the crunchy, buttery stuff to give away to friends and family. I have never had any kind of self-restraint when it comes to my share of this holiday snack. And true to form, the bag that my mom hand-delivered to me on Thanksgiving Eve was devoured in just three sittings.
A whole lot of devouring has been going down around here lately. In the five days my mom was here, I think I said, “I’m so full and happy!” at least ten times. Of course, that’s an appropriate theme for Thanksgiving/ Hanukkah week! While we had fewer folks around our Turkey Day table this year, we did not have fewer dishes to sample. My plate was full to the brim,
as was my gratitude-ometer.
For more than a decade, I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with my Faircloth family in Atlanta. The crowd is always a mixture of friends and extended family, and the atmosphere is one of openness, acceptance, and humor. The tables are decorated lovingly,
and the first festive pop of champagne gets the celebration started around 2:30. Deviled eggs and bacon roll-ups are staples of the pre-dinner munchfest.
One time, Adam and I had the audacity to NOT bring the bacon roll-ups,
and I thought we might be lynched. I’m glad we lived to see another Thanksgiving. We have never made that mistake since…
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been serving soup as a first course for Thanksgiving for several years now, and I so appreciate that sweet, calm moment of communal soup-slurping before the the starch piling begins. This time, I chose to make a gluten-free, roux-free, easy-peasy and deeeelicious soup that boasted the season’s best offerings.
Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
1 butternut squash
3 T butter
2 – 3 sprigs fresh sage leaves
1 sweet onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced (orange or yellow would work too!)
1 large apple, peeled and diced
8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 t cinnamon (plus a sprinkling to season the squash)
1/8 t smoked paprika
good sprinkling of fresh nutmeg, ground on a microplane or on a box grater (Plus a sprinkling to season the squash)
3 Cups milk
2 Cups apple cider
2 Cups chicken broth, homemade or low sodium
1 Cup or so roasted pecans, crumbled for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400°.
Cut your butternut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and place both halves, skin side down, on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. You can use a brush to spread it out evenly, or leave it just like that.
Roast the squash for 45 minutes to an hour, until the flesh is tender and able to be scooped easily with a spoon.
Allow the squash to cool a bit so you can handle it. Then, use a big spoon to scoop out the insides and discard the shell of the squash.
While the squash cooks, you can build your soup.
Melt butter in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add a sprig of sage to infuse the flavor into the butter. As the butter melts, add your diced onion to the pot along with a pinch of salt. Allow the onions to soften for about 3 – 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, before adding the red pepper.
Add the pepper to the pot and cook another 3 – 5 minutes. And then remove your sage leaves. You’ll want to kind of wring them out over the pot to leave behind as much flavor as possible.
Add your apple and garlic and stir to combine well. Allow the garlic to become fragrant in the pot, which takes about a minute.
Next, add the beans, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to coat all of the ingredients with the spices.
Turn the heat up to medium high and stir in your milk. Let it bubble and thicken for about a minute before adding your remaining liquids, plus an extra pinch of salt and pepper. Bring the pot up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow soup to simmer over medium-low heat for 20 or 30 minutes at least, or until your squash is ready.
Add squash to your soup and let it hang out in there for 10 – 15 more minutes. Then, puree the mixture and taste!
Adjust seasoning to your liking. Serve soup in bowls topped with crumbled pecans and a little bit of freshly chopped sage leaves.
This soup was a huge hit with the crowd! It was chock-full of fall flavors and well-balanced with the sweetness of the squash and the tartness from the cider. The beans help to create a smooth, creaminess that just melts in your mouth and the pecans add crunch and richness that heighten the experience beautifully.
On to the main event! Of course, we had plenty of glutinous starches to accompany Mary’s perfect-every-year turkey.
There was macaroni and cheese,
and the always-amazing grits casserole,
in addition to sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and rolls. And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce!
On the green front, we had simply blanched garlicky green beans and mom’s sesame brussel sprouts.
It’s the second year in a row for this dish, which always goes quickly, even though we double the original recipe.
Sesame Stove Top Brussel Sprouts
3 lbs brussel sprouts
8 T butter. Yes. This dish is not for the faint of heart.
6 T sesame oil
6 T canola or vegetable oil
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
6 T sesame seeds
Trim off the ends of the brussel sprouts and cut them in half lengthwise. Then remove any loose or yucky outer leaves. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the sesame oil and canola oil. Add the brussel sprouts, red pepper flakes, and a good couple pinches of salt and pepper. Stir to coat the brussel sprouts in the goodness.
Cook, stirring often, for about 20 – 25 minutes, allowing the sprouts to become nice and tender. Then, taste a sprout. Add the sesame seeds and more salt and pepper if necessary.
Cook another 10 – 15 minutes to crisp up the seeds and brown those sprouts, and then you’re ready to serve!
This dish is always a winner! The brussel sprouts become completely luscious and nutty, soft and decadent. Yum.
And then, there was the forgotten salad. Yup. I loaded up my Thanksgiving plate and went to sit down after taking a bunch of photos.
And I thought- Wait a minute! Something is missing!!! Whoops. I had forgotten the bright, crisp, light component of our meal in the fridge. Ahhhhhhh! Luckily, most of the guests were just about ready for a break from the heavy. I literally took the bowl of salad around to each person and scooped it onto their plates. Classy!
I’m so glad that I remembered the salad while dinner was still happening. I think I might have cried if I didn’t realize my omission until clean-up time. Although, in hindsight, it would not have been a bad thing to return home with all of that delicious salad to hoard it myself. Except- that this holiday is about sharing the bounty!
Celery, Apple, and Radish Salad
8ish stalks of celery, with leaves, plus all of smaller stalks with leaves from the heart of the bunch, rinsed and dried well, sliced across the stalk, leaves chopped roughly
2 bunches radishes, about 12 – 16, sliced into half moons
3 apples, I used 3 different kinds- one tart and 2 sweet, diced and tossed in the juice of half a lemon
half a lemon
1 – 1 1/2 Cups unsalted pistachios, roasted
about 10 stems of fresh thyme, leaves stripped from the stems
Whole grain mustard vinaigrette- recipe to follow.
Roast your pistachios in a 300 degree oven for about 10 minutes and then allow them to cool.
In a large bowl,
combine celery, radishes, apples, pistachios, and thyme leaves.
For the dressing:
1 heaping T whole grain mustard
2 T champagne vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 t or a drizzle of real maple syrup
1/4 Cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
water to thin
Place mustard, vinegar, garlic, maple syrup, and a good pinch of salt and pepper in the cup of an immersion blender or in the blender/ food processor of your choice. Pulse to combine ingredients well. Then, drizzle in olive oil while you continue to blend. Stop and taste. Add a touch more maple syrup if it needs a bit more sweetness or a touch more salt. It should be tangy and bright, but well-balanced. Add water one teaspoon at a time to thin the dressing while you blend. You want it to be easy to pour, but not super thin.
Lastly, drizzle about half of your dressing over the salad to start and toss to coat all of the crunchy goodies in the dressing.
Add a bit more dressing if it needs more movement. I didn’t use all of my dressing- but probably about 3/4 of it. Taste the salad and add additional salt and pepper to the bowl if necessary. Serve right away or chill first.
This salad has stolen my heart. It has the most lovely combination of flavors and textures! A little bitterness and earthiness from the celery and radishes pairs spectacularly with the tart and sweet apples. Add the nutty, rich, buttery touch from the pistachios and the lemony herbaceous pops from the thyme, plus the tangy, bold dressing, tempered by that maple syrup. Oooh, and the whole thing is so crunchy and light and refreshing. And it kept well too! What little leftovers we salvaged were still crisp and delightful the next day. Good lawd, I’m gonna have to make another batch this very weekend, since I am now drooling over my keyboard.
And with that, my friends, I bid you adieu.
I hope this post has given you inspiration and ideas that you can use in your own kitchen incorporating the season’s finest fruits and vegetables. Each of these recipes can easily be served as a part of a weeknight dinner or as a stand-out dish for your next holiday menu. The red and green colors of the radish salad will look especially festive on any Christmas table.
Wishing you all the best that this holiday season has to offer.
Happy cooking and eating to you,