Well, the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been gobbled right up, and folks seem to have moved with a swiftness onto donning their homes and yards with red bows, tinsel, and giant blow-up Santa sleighs. I’d better hurry up and share my reflections about my absolute favorite holiday now, so I can get my Christmas spirit on too!
The preparations for our feast began with a visit to the last Grant Park Farmers Market of the year. I say that with a little tear in my eye- as this market truly changed my life- the way I think about food, the way I know food, and the way I enjoy food. The market also impacted the lives of so many people over the past few months that it earned the title of Best New Farmers Market in Atlanta by Atlanta Magazine. The community that sprouted up around the Grant Park Market was one of warmth, kindness, passion, and wonder. I could not be more thankful to have become a part of this magical place,
and I will try to barrel through the winter waiting eagerly for April, when the next season of the GPFM begins.
Adam and I prepared a list of goodies to purchase, of course, and we were on a mission to gather the freshest local ingredients to create the best Thanksgiving meal ever. Our plan was to head straight for Turtle Bend’s table so we could collect a ton of their lacinato kale, but we got sidetracked by Little Red Hen Bakeshop’s beautiful Thanksgiving spread.
They had pumpkin pie with a toasted marshmallow meringue topping. Wow.
And that pecan pie that looks almost too perfect to eat.
They had adorable square brownies, cookies, cinnamon rolls,
and donuts galore.
blueberry scones, which happened to become part one of our breakfast. How were we supposed to resist those huge oozy blueberries? It was truly divine- a delightful mixture of sweet and tart.
And then, I noticed that my husband also had a chocolate ganache donut in his hand.
I assure you, this is no run-of-the-mill donut. That chocolate is like creamy fudge, and the donut is cakey perfection- somehow not too cloyingly sweet. Just wonderful. With bellies temporarily satisfied and eyes already starry, we moved ahead with our plan. I let out a big sigh of relief when I spotted my kale.
This year, we wanted to embrace the traditional Thanksgiving fare, but cook dishes that highlighted the season’s gifts. In the past, we’ve turned out some amazing creamed spinach, so we decided to make creamed kale instead. If you boil it and chop it, it will act just like spinach except it will be more hearty and flavorful, right? That’s what I was counting on. Cooking for a party of twenty folks, we took six bunches of kale and scoped out the rest of Turtle Bend’s offerings.
You could tuck a small child in with those leaves! Too bad we had no cabbage on our menu.
They also had red Russian kale,
loads of broccoli,
vibrant watermelon radishes, and the last of the red tomatoes.
Turtle Bend’s Mecca and Adam were so good to us this season, and I am truly grateful that I reached out to them one day in 2010, just curious to see if they’d be interested in sharing some of my recipes with their CSA family. Such a fantastic turn of events occurred- a partnership was formed, I began to learn about the glorious nature of locally grown crops, and I will never be the same. Lucky for me!
Crack in the Sidewalk Farmlet had some lovely collard greens,
along with their flower-laden wild salad mix.
Whenever I see those pretty little flowers, I want to make a crown of them. But I suppose having them spruce up your dinner table and eating them is the next best thing.
They also had zebra tomatoes,
which I fell in love with earlier this season, and parsley.
Parsley is one of those ingredients that I might just start carrying in my pocket- along with garlic, so that I have them at all times. Just in case.
I also snagged some of this sage,
being that it was Thanksgiving week and all. Turkey and sage have a great affinity for one another, so I thought incorporating it into our pumpkin soup- our opening dish- would be brilliant.
What a lovely array of winter greens on Patchwork City Farm’s table! Though I had no plan for it, I was taken by the beauty of the rainbow chard.
It spoke to me and I listened. I’ve become a real sucker for chard this year. It’s quick cooking and super versatile. I like to put it in soups, grits, pastas, omelets, and serve it just wilted as a side dish.
Once again, I looked up and Adam was gone. I knew where to find him, though. Spotted Trotter for sure.
This week, Kevin cooked up his very own pastrami. And, well, we had to try it. Subtle and tender as all get-out. I appreciate that he is always concocting something new, and his passion for food is so abundantly evident in his products. I dig their slogan too:
I always do, but thanks for the reminder!
Moving on down the line, The Little Tart Bakeshop had the sweetest little baby pecan pies
cakes, and cookies.
The owners of the Little Tart, Sarah and Deon, have opened their new shop, The Jane, on Memorial Drive over by Tin Lizzies and Six Feet Under, and they offer way more than just pastries and sweet treats. Their lunches have been sounding unbelievably amazing- today’s menu:
Super local BLTs, local mizuna pesto sandwiches with young pecorino, organic potato leek soup, local lettuce salad with watermelon radishes– not to mention quiche, gougeres, and tarts galore.
I need to go to their shop STAT. Maybe next Friday…I can dream about it until then.
One last look at the Wood Fired Pizza selections:
I am definitely going to make that butternut squash pizza with kale and garlic. But I think I’ll add goat cheese too. Mmmmm.
Moving on down to H & F’s table, I had part three of my breakfast. Man, I sound like a hog! I can’t help myself- I love to eat!!!
I figured the only proper way to finish the market was by eating one last bacon cheddar croissant, since that’s exactly how I started the market in May. It was love at first bite with those pastries.
H & F’s table was busting at the seams with breads this week.
Loaf upon loaf of freshly baked deliciousness.
They also had those insanely tempting cinnamon sticks again,
in addition to their excellent pretzels
and cornbread for Thanksgiving!
I can only imagine the delectable nature of that Southern staple.
Mercier Farm was selling their beautiful apples,
which I am certain would make a top-notch apple pie.
There were a couple of bluegrass cats picking for the crowd,
and these little guys were mesmerized.
Love that kid in the mohawk hat, so intently focused.
Next in line, at the Ivabell Acres table, we saw Katherine chatting it up with Judith Winfrey from Love is Love Farm. Katherine had great-looking kale and chard,
and she had just what we needed for our veggie-loaded Confetti Mac and Cheese!
Beauties!!! She also had these awesome carrots,
which we totally should have bought. I’m going to look for her at the Decatur market this weekend and see if she has more of those. I want to make carrot ginger soup for an event I’m attending next week to raise money for Susan G. Komen. Those would be so perfect!
We knew we needed to load up on peppers from Mountain Earth Farm for our mac and cheese, and they had plenty on their table.
We took some jalapenos too…just for good measure.
Next up, my honey girlfriend!
She finally let me take her picture, since it was the last day. And after a few laughs, we decided to stock up – as I started having heart palpitations thinking about being without local honey.
We chose the cotton honey this time. Something different- still sweet and delicious though! Hopefully, we have enough honey to get us through the winter. It sounds like I’m going to hibernate or something….sort of feels like that too.
Last, but definitely not least, we made our way to the Hoopin’ Farmers.
Ned and Whit. They have made me smile a lot over the last few months. And their produce is so perty and flavorful!
I like their “mixed bag” of root veggies, and I am definitely a fan of the sunchokes too.
Their farm must be really large, because they’ve had diverse offerings this season.
And I so enjoy taking photos of their veggies.
Hoping to see what Ned has in store for his greenhouse growing over the winter months. I’ll keep you posted on that.
It was time to leave the last market of the season, and thankfully, I bumped into Katie- the market manager or coordinator. Not sure of her title exactly, but she’s definitely in charge of making awesome things happen. I had the opportunity to thank her heartily for all of her hard work and for creating such an inspiring environment. And then, I said farewell to the market…for a few cold weeks. And we headed to the house. We had a Thanksgiving feast to prepare after all!
I’d say that’s a fabulous supply of local goodness to star in our holiday dishes.
At 7:30 in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, I heard Adam gently banging around in the kitchen and I knew it was time to put on my apron and get busy. We began with our pumpkins.
These little babies cost less than a dollar a piece, and they yield about a cup of cooked pumpkin flesh each. Not sure why I ever used canned pumpkin to make pumpkin soup, but those days are over. We preheated the oven to 400 degrees, sliced the pumkins in half,
and scooped out the seeds.
We brushed them with a little bit of melted butter, and seasoned them with a sprinkling of cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Then, we placed them in the oven to roast and waited until it smelled like Thanksgiving. They only take about 30 – 45 minutes to roast.
Next, we scooped the flesh from the pumpkins- or just peeled the skin off- and used a spoon to mash the orange pulp lightly.
Meanwhile, I sauteed one diced yellow onion in four tablespoons of butter and then added five good-sized cloves of garlic to the pot.
I turned up my heat to medium high, and added four tablespoons of flour. My right arm got a serious workout on this particular morning. I stirred vigorously for one full minute and then added three cups of hot milk.
Stirring, stirring, stirring, I waited for the milk to begin to bubble and thicken. I turned down the heat a bit and added four cups of homemade chicken broth, a little bit at a time, stirring all the while. I seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutmeg and allowed the broth to come together over a simmer for about 15 minutes. Then, it was time to add the mashed pumpkin.
My job here was pretty much done. I let the soup simmer a while again…as you must do to coax out a truly delicious soup. And I added a little bouquet of fresh sage, after tying the stems together with kitchen twine.
I sunk the herb bundle down into the soup and let it be for another 30 minutes or so. I tasted it and adjusted my seasoning levels ever so slightly. Then, we transferred the soup to my slow cooker, where it hung out over low heat for hours before being pureed, so that I could have my pot free again. We had so many more dishes to cook!
By this time, my mom had joined us in the kitchen. So wonderful to have her there- and to have an extra set of hands. She was like a human zamboni- clearing the counter continuously to give us more room to work. Plus, mom hugs were available all day! Yay!
Next up, macaroni and cheese! We actually made two full pans- one just cheese,
and the other- Confetti Mac.
Confetti Mac was born one day when Adam and I were smoking a whole chicken over the charcoal grill. We had a bunch of veggies in our fridge and decided to incorporate them into our macaroni and cheese and cook it in a cast iron skillet over the coals. It’s the kind of recipe that is completely flexible- add whichever kind of vegetables you have on hand. Make it fun and colorful- that’s really the only requirement.
There are several steps involved in building this crowd pleaser. First, we had to boil our pasta. We like to use cavatappi, because it has ridges to capture the cheese sauce, and it’s twirly! We used two pounds of pasta for a super big aluminum pan. You can certainly apply the same methodology on a smaller scale.
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 small green bell peppers, diced small
2 jalapenos, minced
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 carrots, diced small
2 medium zucchini, diced small
Heat a large skillet with a good drizzle of EVOO to medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and saute about 5 minutes. Add your carrots and cook another 2 minutes. Add your peppers and go another 2 – 3 minutes. Add your zucchini and cook one more minute. Add your tomatoes and season the pan with salt and pepper. Toss it all together and turn off your heat. Remove the veggies to a large bowl.
To create enough cheese sauce for that many noodles to be able to swim freely, we started with 6 tablespoons of butter. I like to melt my butter over medium low heat. Once melted, I added 6 cloves of pressed garlic, stirring for about a minute.
Next, I turned the heat up to medium high and sprinkled on 6 tablespoons of flour and stirred for one full minute. Then, Adam slowly poured in 5 Cups of hot milk while I whisked. Once the milk began to bubble and thicken, I turned the heat down to medium, added 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, a good pinch of cayenne, salt and pepper. Continuing to stir, the milk became thick and saucy, so I knew it was time to add our cheese. Again- this is a time for you to be creative or to take advantage of whatever cheese is fresh and looks good to you. We typically use at least one type of cheddar, a fontina- which melts really beautifully, jack cheese, and parmesan- or something with some tang. This time we used a butter cheese too. All in all, we added about 4 Cups of grated cheese, a little bit at a time, over low heat while constantly stirring. Did I mention that you have to keep on stirring?!?!?!
Then, we tasted and adjusted our salt level, and it was time to add the veggies to the cheese sauce, and stir it all together.
We prepared our pan by spraying it with nonstick cooking spray. Then, we placed our cooked pasta into the pan and poured the cheese and veggies over the pasta. We carefully stirred it all together, coating the noodles with the cheesey goodness. And I think you know what happened next. We topped it with more cheese, of course. And this time around, we also sprinkled French fried onions over the top- in the spirit of that traditional green bean casserole.
We baked it in a 350 degree oven until the cheese was slightly brown and bubbly. We didn’t take it all the way to the finish line, since we knew it would need to reheat it when the turkey was ready.
One more dish to share. The creamed kale.
I started by stripping the leaves of kale from the ribs- by holding the bottom of the stem with one hand, and running my other hand up the stalk. Then I tore the leaves into smallish chunks.
I brought a huge pot of water to a boil, salted the water when boiling, and then added my kale. You can’t just walk a way at this point. Set your timer to 5 minutes, and grab your tongs. The kale loves to float to the top, so keep pressing the kale back into the pot and kind of rotating it in the water, so it all gets evenly cooked. Then, I removed the kale to a colander. I grabbed a clean kitchen towel and carefully pressed the excess (and very hot) water out of the leaves. I placed the boiled kale onto a cutting board
and chopped it coarsely.
Not to be repetitive, but the base of this dish is also 3 tablespoons of butter, 1 yellow onion and 5 cloves of pressed garlic. (Thanksgiving hearts butter and flour.) Once the onions were soft, I added my garlic. After about a minute, I added 1/4 Cup of flour and stirred for a minute. The, I added 1 Cup of half and half and 1 Cup of milk. I let that mixture thicken while stirring. When the sauce was nice and thick, I added 4 ounces of cream cheese, a good sprinkling of salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and nutmeg. Then, I stirred in my chopped kale.
You want the mixture to be creamy and delicious. So taste and make sure you’re in the right place before turning it out into your serving dish.
Ooh, almost forgot, we also made my Aunt Pam’s famous bacon roll ups.
Because one year, we didn’t bring them, and I thought we were going to be tarred and feathered.
Finally, after seven intense hours of cooking, it was time to head over to our friends’ home for our Thanksgiving festivities.
The table was set so beautifully at Mary and Terry’s house.
Tablescaping is not my strong suit, so I am always thankful that Mary takes care of that task. We all came together over a bowl of pumpkin soup, garnished with fresh chives off of Mary’s porch. Wish I had a picture of that…but no dice. There were lots of “mmmmm” sounds and spoons scraping during the soup course. Earthy and aromatic, it was a lovely way to kick off our meal. And the host asked for seconds. : )
Then it was time to carve the turkey- Terry’s job.
And Adam and I brought it all home by making quick work of garlic mashed potatoes.
No mixer, no blender. Just boiled Yukon Gold potatoes, a handy potato masher, Adam’s elbow grease, lots of pressed garlic, hot milk, butter, salt and pepper.
Last, but not least, we used the turkey drippings, flour, and my homemade chicken broth to make the most delicious gravy.
And then, my friends, it was time to load up our plates with a lot of Thanksgiving goodness.
The turkey was so incredibly moist and tender.
Mary says it’s all about putting water in the bottom of the roasting pan.
The Lebanese style stuffing (with sausage in it ) was so yummy, as usual. And the cranberries and sweet potatoes added just the right amount of sweet and tart to round out the meal.
I was very proud and pleased with our work. Every bite was full of flavor- decadent but not obscenely so. Festive, but more fresh and exciting than your run-of-the-mill holiday fare. I would love to show you my plate- or even dessert- but, alas. I was coming down with the worst kind of cold. My throat was killing me and all I could do once I took my plate to the sink was ask Mary for a cup of tea. I literally hid under a snuggly blanket sipping my tea until Adam and my mom were ready to go. On the way home, we grabbed lots of cold medication, and I spent the next 24 hours glued to the couch. I missed the end of my favorite holiday. I missed Black Friday all together. It was a real bummer.
But, sickness aside, I am immensely thankful. For Adam and my mom.
For my Atlanta family composed of friends. For my extended family and my diverse, progressive community. For my business and my ability to be inspired by and have access to locally grown fruits and vegetables. For the gift of being an evolving cook, channeling my intuition from my Bubbie. For happiness. For love. For life.
I hope that you enjoyed a very happy Thanksgiving with your family this year. I hope you poured your heart into your meal and soaked up every second of time with your loved ones.
Here’s to the rest of the holiday season. May it be filled with joy and deliciousness.
Happy cooking and eating to you.