It was about three years and 65 blog posts ago that I began Ganbaru Cook around Thanksgiving 2007. How time flies! For the food obsessed, Thanksgiving is the big kahuna, and this year we happily found ourselves at Brian's cousin's house in North Carolina for the second year in a row. Yay! We love spending time with her and her hubby outside Charlotte as they're a laid back couple just like we are. What started out as dinner for just the four of us turned into dinner for six when friends from their golf club were invited at the last minute. The more the merrier, which also gave you-know-who another excuse to add to a menu that was already more than ample, I assure you.
So here was the menu for the day. Items with an asterisk (*) were either brought or prepared by your itinerant blogger.
Monocacy ash goat cheese* with cranberry quince chutney*
Spicy pickled green beans*
Roast breast of turkey (we had numerous discussions about the required cooking time for turkey but Epicurious had the best guide based on stuffed/unstuffed and preferred oven temp. The turkey packaging would have guaranteed a dry bird, recommending three hours for an 8 pound bone-in breast!)*
Smashed red potatoes
Stuffing with celery sausage, cranberries, and toasted pumpkin seeds*
Slow cooked green beans
Acorn squash stuffed with leeks, beans, corn and mushrooms (pictured)*
Jellied cranberry sauce
Apple pie (homemade)
Carrot Cake (not)
Vanilla ice cream
I hadn't done Thanksgiving at home since 2008 when we last hosted my family, but since we'd taken an extended family trip to Florida in September it only seemed fair to spend this holiday with Brian's family. I'd bought the cauliflower and acorn squash at the farmers market this past Saturday wanting to make both for Thanksgiving this year because last year I missed having something orange at Thanksgiving (either squash or sweet potatoes) and more veggies are always a good idea since the meal can be so carb centric with the stuffing, potatoes, and biscuits. When we finally listed all the dishes in mind for Thursday, Brian's cousin "Stacy" balked at having so many items on the menu, so the roasted cauliflower with apples, onions, cranberries, and dill was prepared on Wednesday night along with meatloaf and black rice, which worked out fine as the oven was going to be crowded enough already on Thursday.
I didn't bring any recipes or cookbooks with me this go-round deciding to let my memory and the ingredients themselves determine preparations. Along with my santoku, carving set, fat separator, kitchen scale, French press, and oven thermometer (you're reading a blog post of the food obsessed don't forget), I also brought along my own all-purpose fennel spice rub, a quart of homemade chicken stock, and caramelized onions, the last of which were a god send for when I got lazy and didn't feel like chopping and sauteing another onion. In fact anything you read about preparing a big feast like Thanksgiving will advise doing ahead as much as possible and the onions caramelized in a slow cooker over 12 hours are a no brainer. I used them in the roasted cauliflower in lieu of fresh sliced onion and minced them into my gravy and stuffing as well and still had plenty to freeze for a French onion soup I'm envisioning this winter.
The other dish I wanted to contribute was a squash dish on the three sisters theme: corn, beans, and squash. As these are foods that Native Americans grew together, they are natural complements when cooked together too. Last fall I was somewhat obsessed with the concept and realized at the the time that with winter squash instead of summer, a three sisters dish belongs on the Thanksgiving table. I'm most proud of this dish because I winged it. It's also substantial enough to be a vegetable main for any vegetarians at your table and omitting the cream cheese would make it vegan. The three main steps below (roasting the squash, preparing the stuffing, and finishing in the oven) can all be accomplished in stages and need not be completed at the same time.
Acorn Squash Stuffed with Mushrooms, Corn and Beans
4 small to medium acorn or delicata squash, halved, seeds removed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
8 to 10 shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed, and then quartered
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved, washed, and sliced crosswise into quarter inch pieces
1 fennel bulb, cored and diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped sage
1 cup of stock, white wine, or water [I used a combination of wine and chicken stock]
1 cup of beans, canned, frozen, or fresh [I used a combo of fresh garbanzos and frozen shelled edamame]
1 cup of corn
2 ounces (about 1/4 cup) of cream cheese, softened to room temperature, or sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
16 sage leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
Pre-cook the Squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil onto each squash half and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the squash flesh side down in a single layer in a large baking dish. [I squeezed mine into a 13 x 9 pan.] Pour about half an inch of water into the pan and place on a rack in the middle of the oven. Roast for 30 minutes and remove from the oven. Let cool in the pan until able to handle. [I prepared mine the night before and left at room temperature covered with waxed paper as there was no room in the fridge!]
Prepare the filling while the squash is roasting: Heat the olive oil and melt the butter in a wide skillet on medium high heat. Add the mushrooms in a single layer and let cook undisturbed for 5 minutes until lightly browned on one side. Stir and let cook undisturbed for five minutes more. Add the leeks, fennel, and chopped sage and stir to combine. Add more oil if necessary so the vegetables are lightly coated. Season with salt and pepper and let cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. De-glaze the pan with the wine or stock, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. Add the beans of your choice and the corn kernels. Reduce the heat and let simmer 10 minutes until the liquid has reduced by half and the beans and corn are cooked or heated through. Turn off the heat, let cool slightly, and stir in the cream cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. [Can be prepared a day ahead. Let cool to room temperature and then cover and refrigerate.]
Finishing the dish: When cool enough to handle spoon the vegetable stuffing into each squash half, distributing evenly and mounding as high as possible. Cover with aluminum foil and return to the 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. Optionally, garnish with whole or crushed fried sage leaves (optional next step) or other chopped fresh herbs such as parsley or chives and serve immediately.
Optional fried sage leaf garnish: This is a two-for-one deal as you are creating sage oil, which can and should be reserved for other uses (I used mine in a spice rub for the turkey breast), in addition to the crispy fried sage leaves. In fact the quarter cup of olive oil is only the minimum amount to use. If you'd like additional sage oil for dipping bread, garnishing a soup , or making a salad dressing, by all means use more oil and more sage leaves and even the stems to infuse the oil. To simply make the sage leaf garnish, heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a skillet or wide saucepan. Add the sage leaves in a single layer and let cook until they no longer sizzle, about 3 minutes. Carefully remove to a plate lined with a paper towel and let cool to room temperature. These can be prepared a day ahead and stored in an airtight container. To make sage oil, to the same pot or skillet, bruise a few sprigs of sage in your hands by rolling them into a loose ball. Add to the heated oil and let sizzle for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sage and oil infuse by cooling to room temperature, about 1 hour. Discard the sage sprigs and store the reserved oil in the refrigerator in a jar. To kick it up a notch, you could also fry a clove or two of unpeeled garlic or strips of lemon or orange peel along with the sage or any other fresh herb such as basil, thyme, or rosemary. Let your palate and your menu be your guide!