Thanksgiving Dinner

We celebrated our family’s Thanksgiving last night, and this year I hosted. Usually my mother makes Thanksgiving dinner (and all of the big family get-together meals, really), but my parents were supposed to be out of town. Well, plans changed last-minute, so I ended up scaling up my little family’s dinner to accommodate my parents as well. To be honest, when you’re making a meal this big it’s just a matter of throwing a couple of extra potatoes in the pot and doubling the batch of Yorkshire pudding, but still. I’m pretty sure that this was my first time doing the full Thanksgiving dinner all by myself. Mom even remarked how weird it was to come over to my house and watch me cook for everyone!

To get everything ready in time, cooking had to begin on Sunday night. The first thing I had to do was make some room in my fridge, which meant making up a big batch of Green Tomato Salsa (page 106, Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McClellan (2014), as well as a smaller batch of Blender Salsa (page 92, also Preserving by the Pint). Six and a half liters of salsa out of the way and I finally had a bit of room in my fridge — although I still have two large containers of green tomatoes to cook up.

Preserves out of the way, I got to the baking. I made my usual combination of the Purity Pastry crust (page 73, The All New Purity Cook Book by Elizabeth Driver, 2001) and the Pumpkin or Squash Pie filling (page 686, Joy of Cooking 75th Anniversary Edition, Rombauer & Becker, 2006). This time I was very careful not to forget the sugar.

Last thing that night, I ripped up two loaves of cheap grocery store bread and left it on the counter to dry out. One of the things my mother has taught me is that if you want good stuffing, you can’t start with fresh bread or it’ll become soggy once it’s baked in the bird. It’s actually better to start with stale bread, which will soak up the cooking juices and become quite flavourful without getting squishy.

When I seasoned my bread for stuffing, I used my mother’s traditional parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme… And summer savoury. I had Scarborough Fair in my head for about two days.

The next day I stuffed the turkey as densely as possible, shoved pats of butter under the skin, and put it in the oven. I was so afraid that it wouldn’t turn out well; the only other time I cooked a whole turkey, it was extremely dry.

However, I think it turned out really well! I had to take a picture before I scooped out the stuffing for serving.

Another trick I learned from my mother is that because everyone like stuffing (or at least everyone to whom we’ve served dinner), it’s a good idea to make extra stuffing in a casserole dish, and then mix it all together. This also helps alleviate the potential moisture problem; the stuff cooked outside the bird will be dryer, but mixed together it helps absorb the excess moisture from the other kind.

On top of the bird, there were all kinds of side dishes! Circling clockwise, that’s stuffing, Yorkshire pudding, turkey, gravy, potatoes, carrots, asparagus (which ended up being quite bitter, sadly), fresh bread (Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread, but with no herbs), and of course more gravy.

In the end, except for the asparagus, I’m really happy with how dinner turned out! I hope that you and yours had a lovely Thanksgiving as well — or that you will have one in November, if that’s when you celebrate.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend, which includes the Monday as a holiday. Unlike American Thanksgiving, which is near the end of November and as I undserstand it commemorates the interaction between Pilgrims and Natives, Canadian Thanksgiving is more about celebrating the harvest, the season, and family.

So I hope you all have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving long weekend, and that you stuff yourselves to the gills on tasty turkey!

Pumpkin Spice Muffins & Cheerios

It’s no secret that I love pumpkin spice. A lot of people joke that it’s a flavouring made specifically for white women, and there may be some substance to that. After all, it does smell distinctly like the pumpkin pie that was a treat in my family around Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I’m guessing that other people of a similar background have similar nostalgia. They say that smell has a great deal of power when it comes to memory, at any rate.

When I was growing up, though, pumpkin spice wasn’t in everything come fall. Pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, if you were lucky, and that was about it. The popularity of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte is what really got the ball rolling, at least around here. I’m not a coffee drinker, so I was later than many about hopping on the bandwagon. I really rather liked the Oreos and the Kahlua. That being said, I firmly believe that some things really don’t need to be pumpkin spice flavoured, or have been poorly done, so I like to try out a few new dishes every autumn as a kind of experiment.

The first dish that I tried this week was pumpkin spice muffins baked from Krusteaz Pumpkin Spice Quick Bread Mix, which I bought from Costco on a recent trip. The box says that you can make loaves, pancakes, cookies, and muffins, but I was feeling lazy so I just made the muffins. They rose nicely and looked great in the pan, but they fell and became rather overly moist once they left the oven, despite being cooked through. Even so, they were fairly tasty; the kids especially liked them.

For my part, I think I will stick to the Joy of Cooking‘s Pumpkin Bread recipe for this kind of muffin. I’ve had better luck with this recipe in the past. However, I do wonder, in the case of the mix, if it’s trying to do too many things — or if a different preparation might suit the mix better? At any rate, I have three more packages of mix to cook, so I should be able to try them all out.

I also tried some Pumpkin Spice Cheerios. These are definitely a sweet cereal, which to me isn’t suited to breakfast at all. Actually, I found them quite cloying in (unsweetened almond) milk. However, they’re not half bad dry, and make quite a nice snack. However, if I’m going for a sweet Cheerio, I much prefer Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. They came out in 1988, so they have a place in my heart as being a special treat from my childhood (we weren’t allowed sugary cereal except on special occasions). Also, I just find that they taste less sweet and cloying, which is funny because according to the nutrition info, pumpkin spice has 8g of sugar per serving, and apple cinnamon has 9g. Maybe it’s how it’s cooked, or just the spice mixture? It’s even stranger when you realize that one of the major components in pumpkin spice is actually cinnamon. At any rate, I still like Apple Cinnamon Cheerios better.

Ladysmith Oktoberfest

This past weekend I headed out with Thing 2 to the cottage that my parents were renting to help them clean it out for the season. Not coincidentally, this happened to be the same weekend as the Ladysmith Oktoberfest celebration, so we had to stop on by. I’m mostly of British, Irish, and Scottish descent myself, although heaven knows that our family tree hasn’t been tracked back very far, so it’s possible that there are many other nationalities mixed in there further back. My husband, though, has strong ties to German and Poland (close to the German border) through his maternal grandparents, so my children share this heritage as well. I thought it might be nice for Thing 2 to get a glimpse of this part of her family history.

Oktoberfest in Ladysmith is a pretty big deal locally. As of the 2016 census, there are only 448 people who live in the Thorne township; I would estimate that less than half of that population lives in Ladysmith proper. Nonetheless, when Oktoberfest rolls around, the hotel and nearby cottages are booked solid, and the fields and yards nearby are filled with campers and trucks and tents. People come to visit with friends, take in the entertainment, shop, dance, drink, and celebrate their cultural heritage. After all, a large percentage of the population thereabouts is of mixed British Isles and German descent — which is why, despite being in Quebec, the area remains predominantly anglophone.

For Thing 2, the highlight of Oktoberfest was the live music. Music has always been able to soothe this savage little beast. She sat, enraptured, as the Kyle Felvhaver Band did two sets. When the Ottawa Valley Step Dancers came in, she was enthralled by the rhythm that their shoes tapped out. And when the band played slow dances and waltzes, her eyes followed the dancers on the floor as they circled around the room. She enthusiastically proclaimed to me that when she is old enough to take music at school, she wants to be a drummer! With Thing 1 starting to learn clarinet this year (just like her dad did), I have a feeling that between the two girls, any peace and quiet we ever did experience at home is now a thing of the past. And yet I can’t begrudge them an instant of it.

Thing 2 also insisted that I take a picture of the decorations on the ceiling with all of the “fairy lights”.

Of course, Thing 2’s second-favourite part of the day was the Bratwurst sausages, which might just be her favourite food ever. She managed to eat a whole one herself, which was pretty incredible considering their size.

Sadly, the weather for Oktoberfest was not the greatest; it alternated between rain and shine all day. But this meant that before we left the cottage for the last time this season, we were treated to an especially brilliant rainbow over the lake. Not a bad goodbye, if you ask me.

Crab Apple Jelly

A while back a friend of mine offered to let me pick crab apples from trees just outside of her back yard, on land that is owned by her community association. She has been picking apples from those trees for years in order to make crab apple jelly, as have a number of other neighbours who are inclined to make preserves. These totally wild, untended trees produce an overabundance of fruit every year, and the canners in the neighbourhood only make a tiny dent in that. I’d never made jelly before, but I figured sure, why not? I love cooking with ingredients that I can harvest locally, especially when that harvest is free!

The first thing that I realized is that making jelly is a lot more difficult than making jam. After washing all the tiny little apples and making sure to remove all leaves and stems, you have to cut them all in half. Sometimes the fruit can be wormy or rotten inside even though the outside is pristine, and cutting it in half means that you can check every single one. Then you have to cook the fruit, strain it through a jelly bag (being careful not to squeeze the bag so that the jelly will remain clear), boil the resulting juice along with sugar and any additional ingredients until set, and then finally can it.

After all that work, I was really happy that I liked the end result. Crab apple jelly is packed with tart flavour, even with all of the added sugar. I’m definitely going to make more next year. I’ll be sure to pick twice or even three times as much fruit. It’s not like the neighbourhood wildlife will miss the relatively small quantities that I will use.

One of the things that I was surprised about regarding crab apple jelly is how many of my preserving cookbooks don’t have a recipe for it. Not only that, but some of them don’t even consider crab apples to be a fruit worth canning. I find that odd because a) they’re very tasty, b) they are winter hardy in northern climes, and can even grow wild, and c) they’re often planted in orchards among the larger apple trees because it helps with pollination. They’re also a very popular ornamental tree, so it’s not like crab apples are hard to come by, either. The books that I have that included a crab apple jelly recipe are, in no particular order:

Joy of Cooking page 932, or on the app (Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker & Ethan Becker, 2006 edition)
Pickles & Preserves page 58 (Love Food, 2012)
The Complete Preserving Book page 92 (Canadian Living, 2012)
The Good Cook: Preserving page 94 (Time-Life Books, 1981)
Preserving page 166 (Oded Schwartz, 1996)

Although there are many variations when it comes to additional ingredients such as lemon juice, lime juice, or in one case hot peppers, all of the recipes seem to agree on a ratio of 1:1 of volume of strained juice to white sugar.

As an aside, if you’re interested in harvesting unused fruit from local sources and aren’t up to approaching homeowners/tenants on your own (although if you’re shy, a politely-worded letter is often well-received), you could volunteer for an organization here in Ottawa called Hidden Harvest. The group harvests fruits and nuts that would otherwise go to waste on public and private property. When the bounty is harvested, one quarter goes to the homeowner, one quarter goes to the volunteer harvesters, one quarter goes to the nearest food agency, and one quarter goes to Hidden Harvest. The portion kept by Hidden Harvest goes to their sponsors, who in turn help pay to run the organization. Last year alone the group harvested almost 4,500lbs of fruit and nuts, and donated almost 2,000lbs of that to charity.

In my case, I’m a homeowner whose apple tree drops hundreds of pounds of fruit every year, and I’d love to be able to have Hidden Harvest come and take most of the fruit away. I don’t need nearly so much. However, I’ll have to deal with that poor tree’s apple scab first. And my poor little pear tree‘s harvest of four pears this year isn’t worth volunteering. Perhaps when it grows a little bigger. Next year I’m seriously considering becoming a volunteer harvester, though. As for this year, I understand that apples with apple scab can actually make a better hard cider, so if any cider-makers want to clean the rest of the apples off of my tree, they’re welcome to them.

Maybe one of these days I should just buy/make a cider press.

Warm, Hearty Suppers for Chilly Days

With my backlog of canning to do and a whole lot of events, parties, and decorating happening before Hallowe’en, I haven’t been making too many complicated meals lately. Now that the temperature has finally dropped (last night it dipped below freezing), that means that I’ve been trying to make hearty suppers that don’t take too much advanced preparation.


Sloppy Joes with a side of acorn squash with butter and brown sugar.

Believe it or not, I’d never made Sloppy Joes before. It’s just not something we ever ate as a family. The closest we’d get would be open- or closed-faced sandwiches of chopped up bits of leftover beef, pork, or chicken, smothered in leftover gravy. But I’d taken the Amish Community Cookbook (2017) out of the library, and I wanted to try at least one recipe from it before I had to return it. I didn’t think that Sloppy Joes were a particularly Amish dish, but there was an uncomplicated recipe on page 63, so I gave it a shot. It was really good! I had my parents over for dinner and they liked it too. My mom pointed out that the sauce is actually a lot like the one she uses for slow-cooker pulled pork, and I have to agree (keeping in mind that I love pulled pork too).


Curry butternut soup with Dad’s biscuits.

The other night I needed something I could put together quickly, so I dug through my freezer and thawed out a couple of containers of curry butternut squash soup. I’m pretty sure that my mom made this dish and shared it with me, because I certainly don’t remember making it. The label was dated December 2016, though, so it might just be time making me forget. My husband pointed out that the labels were in his writing and the containers were our own, which indicates that I’d made the soup, but I think it’s just as plausible that I had to return my mom’s original container. Either way, I don’t know what the recipe was for this one (another one of those pre-blog things), but it was perfect for a cold fall evening. The biscuits I served alongside were Dad’s Biscuits, which I whipped up in about the same amount of time it took to thaw the soup on the stove.

Since we already had some steaming fresh biscuits, I cracked open the jar of mirabelle plum jam that my friend made from the fruit of her neighbour’s plum tree. I spread the jam generously on biscuits as dessert. My mouth is watering just thinking about that it. My friend was a little worried about the set, thinking that it would be a little bit too runny, but I thought it was perfect.


Leftover chicken ramen.

Despite the flowers (a hostess gift from my honorary aunt), this dish was anything but fancy. I made up some ramen using turkey broth (made from the bones of the Thanksgiving turkey) flavoured with a dash of Memmi Noodle Soup Base. I topped the noodles with leftover rotisserie chicken, soft-boiled eggs, and steamed carrots. My family added masago (capelin roe) and dried shrimp to their tastes. It was hearty, filling, and good for what ails you — especially if what ails you is the cold that seems to be going around right now. I’ve always found that steamy bowls of soup help clear out the sinuses.

Squash & Pear Casserole Recipe

For Thanksgiving dinner, my mom made a lovely squash casserole as part of the main meal. (You can see it on the bottom right hand side of the table in the last picture in the post linked above.) It was so good that I asked her to share the recipe with me.


My stab at this delicious casserole.

Mom sent me the link to The Spruce’s Butternut Squash and Apple Casserole With Crumb Topping recipe, but then she sent me a list of the changes she’d made that turned it into a significantly different dish.

Last night I tried Mom’s version, which has pears instead of apples (’cause that was what she had on hand), and includes walnuts for crunch (the best part of the dish in my opinion). The topping stays pretty much the same, but it really wasn’t very crumby. The photo in the Spruce recipe was obviously taken before the dish was baked. Rather, as the butter melts it carries the spices and sugar to ingredients at the bottom of the casserole. This doesn’t make it any less tasty (I’d venture to say that it actually enhances the flavour), but I’d hesitate to call it a “crumb”.


Squash & Pear Casserole served with pork chops with an onion soup mix glaze.

Squash & Pear Casserole
Serves 4-6

Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
Peel, remove guts and seeds, and cut into bite-sized pieces:
2 1/2 lbs butternut squash (approx. 1 medium)*
Core and cut into bite-sized pieces:
3 green pears
Place squash and pear pieces in a casserole dish that fits these ingredients with a bit of room to spare. Stir to mix.
Sprinkle over the mixture:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts**
In a separate bowl, mix together:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
To the sugar and spice mixture add:
1/4 cup chilled butter***
Using two knives or a pastry knife, cut the butter into the sugar and spice mixture until the pieces of butter are a roughly even size, about the size of a pea.
Sprinkle butter and spice mixture over the contents of the casserole dish.
Bake, covered, for 50 to 60 minutes****, or until the squash is easily pierced with a fork.
Serve using a slotted spoon so that the cooking juices are left behind in the casserole dish.

*This casserole would work equally well with squash of a similar texture such as acorn squash or pumpkin.
**Chopped pecans may be substituted for chopped walnuts.
***Margarine may be substituted to make this dish vegan/vegetarian. However, the margarine has to be the kind that is hard when cold, or it will not cut into the sugar & spice mixture properly.
****This dish may be prepped ahead of time, refrigerated overnight, and then baked just prior to serving. If the dish is still cold from the refrigerator, allow for an additional 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time.