Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving: How to save the day

I like to make everything from scratch. Everything. That means that on Thanksgiving day, at my home, you might get stuffing crafted from bread I made, cranberry sauce from wild cranberries I harvest from the wilds of Alaska, and pumpkin pie that was made from a pumpkin I cut, seeded and baked to make the puree.

Realistically, that doesn't always happen. Or some years I forget important things for doing my homemade (different-every-year) dish.

This year there were a lot of them!!

So here are some hints, drawn from years of mess ups -er- improvisation, of how to make things work when it seems like the important bits are missing and everything is just falling apart:

Cranberry sauce - You forgot the oranges or orange juice for your homemade sauce. Substitute  lemon juice and some orange essential oil, or dig out that jar of marmalade and add it to your simmering cranberries. Don't have cranberries? Raspberries or currants make an excellent sauce, but not a dressing. Go for apples if you need to mix it into dressing.

Pumpkin pie - Didn't have time to bake that pumpkin? Canned is just fine!! Don't have that? How about butternut squash or sweet potatoes? Either will do in a pinch. No pie spice? Who needs it?! Cinnamon, nutmeg, clove...any or all of these will give your pie that warm, spicy taste. No evap milk? Cream or milk is okay too, just decrease the quantity if you use milk.

Now for the pie crust. Just about everyone has had a pie crust failure at some point. Here is the one thing that no one tells you - you can make a pie crust with soft butter! Yes, we have all been told that cold butter finely chopped into fine flour makes the best crust. And it does. But a perfectly suitable crust that is delicious and will hold up to your fillings can be made from softened butter. The trick? Lose the machine. Mix the flour and butter with your fingers, flaking it finely before adding your cold water. Try not to skip the refrigeration time, it makes the soft dough more manageable.

Stuffing - no bread? Try a rice. You won't be able to stuff the bird with it, but it can be dressed up with similar seasonings for a tasty side dish.

Turkey - Who said you HAVE to have turkey for dinner?! Try chicken, pot roast, meatloaf, salmon, what ever you have on hand will be gorgeous with a little extra preparation in presentation. A bed of fresh kale, lettuce or parsley or a ring of nuts and cranberries around the tray go a long way toward dressing up any dish.

Gravy - My mother used cornstarch to make her gravies. If you never learned to make a roux, cornstarch is an absolutely acceptable choice. Reserve some of your cold broth for mixing the cornstarch in at a ratio of 1 Tbsp to 1 cup of total broth and add that slurry to the rest of your hot broth, simmering and stirring until it thickens. Arrowroot and xanthan gum both work as thickening agents also, with an increase in the agent to liquid ratio (less thickener per cup of liquid). For xantham gum, start with a 1/4 teaspoon for your whole pot of broth, sprinkling it into the simmering broth slowly and mixing continuously. Using arrowroot powder is closer to 1tsp/cup of broth. The absolute last ditch effort for a gravy is to find a canned soup or boillabaise and mix up your own broth. Not going to happen? No worries, not every dish needs gravy.

Rolls - Are you still mixing up dough the old fashioned way? Mix, knead, proof, knead, rise.. ugh. So much work. Try this! Healthy bread in 5 minutes. You can have dough ready to go in the oven in under 2 hours, so many variations, you can literally customize it for any occasion..

No sugar? Try molasses, honey, maple syrup, or stevia

A relish tray- Also known as a pre meal snack. Almost anything will do to keep your guests out if the kitchen and patiently waiting for dinner to be done (just 30 more minutes!) Nuts, pickles, canned baby veggies, popcorn, old Halloween candy... seriously, most people don't need snacks. It will ruin their dinner.

The most important thing that I can give you is permission to do things differently. I know, we have been raised with these traditions of what a Thanksgiving meal is, but seriously, what good is all of that if you can't afford it or don't have the time? Make this your own, embrace it and make the best of what you have. No one is counting, and if they are, maybe they should be hosting dinner instead, eh?

Happy Thanksgiving from the Ireland family!