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!

Last Harvest of the Fall

Yesterday I spent a number of hours out in the back yard bringing in the last of the harvest from my garden. My mother popped by and was nice enough to help out for the low, low payment of some cherry tomatoes. Canadian Thanksgiving happens this coming weekend, which is usually a good marker for when the harvest should be in. Also, we’ve had one light frost already, and I didn’t want to leave the tomatoes out in that. The root vegetables would have been fine, but frost can totally ruin a tomato crop.

I filled one half of my double kitchen sink with tomatoes — mostly green or otherwise unripe ones, true. (The black tomatoes ripen from green, to green and black, and finally to red and black or all black, so they’re often hard and unripe event though they may be mostly darkly-coloured.) It took me ages to wash all of them, but it was worth it! The ripe ones will become the last batch of salsa, while I have a few recipes for the green tomatoes, which include green tomato chutney.

I also harvested a whole bunch of potatoes, enough that when they were washed and stacked they barely fit into my potato bin. I planted two different kinds of potatoes this year — a purple-skinned variety, and a white-skinned variety — but heaven forbid that I wrote down their exact names. Record-keeping was one of the things that this blog was supposed to help me accomplish, but I guess it doesn’t always work out.

I also harvested four good-sized eggplants (not bad considering I only had a few plants), as well as two plants-worth of Jerusalem artichoke tubers. I’ve never eaten these tubers before, so I’ll just have to see if they are any good — and if they agree with my stomach!

Taking advantage of the day’s harvest, last night I made everyone bacon, cheese (cheddar for the others, lactose-free Edam for me), and tomato sandwiches. It would have been much nicer if I’d actually thought of this for dinner earlier in the day, in which case I would have had time to make some fresh bread. But given that bread takes a minimum of three hours to make, I had to send my husband out to the grocery store instead. I asked him to pick up “a loaf of nice bread”, which he interpreted as “a loaf of whole-wheat Dempsters”. I’d say his idea and mine of “nice bread” differ quite strongly…

Too Many Tomatoes

It’s that time of year again when everything seems to be ripe at once and it’s physically impossible to eat it all before it goes bad. Case in point: my tomatoes. I grow predominantly cherry tomatoes, although a friend did give me one black tomato plant that has done very well this year. I just find cherry tomatoes to be more flavourful than most of the larger varieties. And I plant tonnes, since I know that I’ll want to include them in a number of preserves come fall.

Case in point: this is what I brought in from the garden the other day. I think that these tomatoes, and probably the onions as well, will soon become spaghetti sauce. I might even go for the healthy veggie tomato sauce I made last year, and include the eggplant that should be ripe in a few days. (I had a lovely huge one ready to go, and then an animal go to it. Figures.)

At the same time, I had a few small radishes, the last of the cucumbers (the vines were starting to die back), and a few potatoes that were beginning to poke through the surface of the dirt. Something needs to be done with all of this produce before it rots!

The first step for me is to make at least one dinner with the fresh ingredients. I barbecued some chicken thighs with my usual spice mix (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, and sea salt), and cooked up some of the potatoes on the grill at the same time. I know that they look very similar post-grill, but the difference was immediately apparent once they were cut open. I added some cherry tomatoes and sliced radishes as a veggie once everything else was cooked. It was a very simple meal, but it was both tasty and easy to prepare — which I needed after spending a couple of hours in the garden!

Apple Picking

One of the things that we do as a family is go to a local orchard in the late summer or fall to go apple picking. We used to go every year, but since we moved into our current abode we’ve only gone every second year because our own apple tree in the back yard fruits in alternate years. That trend may not continue because our poor tree is quite sick, much to my chagrin, and may have to be cut down next year. It has been losing leaves progressively through the tree all summer, leaving it almost half barren at the moment. If it comes back even a little next spring, we’ll see what we can do to save it. At any rate, it wouldn’t have been an at-home apple harvest this year anyway, so we went to the orchard.

The orchard that we visit specializes in McIntosh apples, which is the most traditional Canadian apple, and Lobos, which are a McIntosh offspring. These apples are good both for eating raw and for cooking. This means that the kids will be packing the smaller ones in their lunches for weeks, while I’ll be turning the larger ones into butter, pies, crumble, and possibly even caramel apple egg rolls.

The day dawned clear and cool, which is perfect for apple picking. The kids did their best work under the low-hanging branches, some of which were so laden that they permanently touch the ground in spots, or are propped up on stakes.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 had special help from Dad to reach some of the taller branches, although most of the trees were too tall to reach the very top.

Between the four of us we ended up with almost forty pounds of apples in about fifteen minutes! You can’t beat apple picking for speed, in comparison to, say, berry picking, which seems to take forever even with plants that are chock-full of fruit. The rest of the kids’ time was spent climbing over defunct tractors, running through the barn, and playing in the park.

This is my favourite picture of the day: Thing 2 running back to us after an employee told her she could pick an apple to eat straight off the tree, no charge. If only we could all still have so much joy in a single apple!

First Harvest of the Year

I’m happy to report that there are finally fruits and veggies in my garden that are ready to harvest! It’s been a very dry summer for the most part, and although I’ve been watering my garden religiously, I think it’s having an effect on the garden. However, over the last week or so we have had a storm almost every day, alternating with sunshine, and my plants have loved it.

My tiny cucumbers and zucchini have swelled up remarkably in the last week and a half! The largest of the cucumbers is about 7″ long (18cm) and is so thick that I can’t wrap my fingers entirely around it. The three cherry tomatoes (and now I’m sure that the self-seeded tomatoes were the little ones since they’re ripening at such a small size) were sweet and delicious straight off of the plant. I know the zucchini would have grown larger, but they’re more tender at a smaller size. Some of the absolutely enormous zucchini gifted by friends last year had a really tough skin that had to be peeled before it could be eaten. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still ate every last squash, but the bigger they are, the harder the skin. (Also, the really big ones you have to scoop out in the middle like you would a pumpkin, because the seeds are quite tough too.) Also, I’ll admit that I wanted to get to the zucchini before the animals or bugs did. I know that it’s supposed to be one of the easiest things in the world to grow, but between insects and squirrels/chipmunks and just plain bad luck, I’ve only ever managed to grow a single zucchini before, and it was a tiny one barely worth harvesting.

I would be writing about the size of this first zucchini right now except for the fact that we ate it almost as soon as it was off of the vine. My husband fired up the barbecue yesterday and we had chicken thighs with the skin on, topped with a sprinkle of herbs (my usual sage, thyme, garlic powder, summer savoury, and sea salt; there would have been rosemary too, but I had run out). As a side dish, I sliced the yellow zucchini and threw it in our non-stick grilling bowl with a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. As it couldn’t possibly have been fresher, it was oh-so-tender and light-tasting. I didn’t even have to fight with the kids to get them to eat their vegetables, which is quite the feat at dinner time around here these days.

Canning Pears

A while back, a friend of mine brought me a box of cooking pears from his neighbour’s tree, which was producing an overabundance. Not too long after that, he brought me a second box full. I’m told that these boxes of fruit kept appearing in front of his house under not-so-mysterious circumstances; apparently that neighbour was getting really tired of being beaned in the head by falling fruit. This week I finally had the chance to tackle this mass of pears. I’ve been cooking with them for over a month, but my rate of attrition was much too slow, and some of the fruit was starting to turn.

First I made a double batch of Cinnamon-Scented Parsnip Pear Jam, from page 407 of Preserving: The Canning and Freezing Guide for All Seasons by Pat Crocker (2011). As interesting as this combination appeared at first glance, I found the final result much too sweet; it uses twice as much sugar as fruit by volume, which is a very high ratio even by jam standards. It would still be nice on Dad’s Biscuits, fresh bread, or toast, but I guess I was hoping for more of a flavour punch given my success with this book’s carrot jam. However, I do agree with the book’s assessment that this jam, when mixed with a bit of orange juice, would probably make a lovely glaze in which roasted root veggies could be tossed.

I well and truly overestimated how much fruit & veg to prepare to make this recipe, even doubled; I honestly thought I’d be able to get at least a quadruple batch in, but with all of that sugar, my pots just weren’t big enough. So I had a whole bunch of peeled, cut up pears (left) and parsnips (right) after this attempt.

The parsnips became part of our dinner last night, roasted in the oven with a sprinkle of salt, pepper, rosemary, and olive oil. I served them with baked pork chops coated in dried onion soup mix, which is a dish from my childhood that I’ve been making a lot lately once I was reminded of it. It’s just so easy! I probably have enough parsnips left for another three dinners like this one, but I think that would get old fast. I’ll need to research another recipe.

For my next recipe, I took a chance and tried peeling my ginger with a spoon, which is a kitchen hack I’ve seen floating around the Web for a while. I was quite satisfied with how this worked, actually. Not all cooking hacks are worth your time, but I found that this was honestly easier than a veggie peeler or a knife, and it wasted much less of the root.

The next step was to break out the candy/deep fry thermometer and bring the next jam up to the jelling point. (As an aside, am I the only one who feels like they need a shield as their jam/jelly gets thicker and it starts spitting huge globs of boiling-hot sugar and juice out of the pot?) This time I made Spiced Pear Jam with Pineapple found on page 935 of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), or on the app.

I was much happier with this jam than the previous one. I could definitely taste the fruit, and it wasn’t too sweet (it has a much lower sugar-to-fruit ratio). I have to admit that I couldn’t really taste the pineapple; the citrus note is definitely the strongest part of this jam, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it does end up tasting more like a marmalade.

I probably still have enough chopped pears to make one more batch of jam. What kind should I make? I still haven’t decided. I have a lovely old recipe for pears poached in red wine and then canned, but that’s really intended for whole pears. These cooking pears needed to be chopped up to remove imperfections, so they’re sadly not really suitable to such a dish.