Creating a yummy Thanksgiving meal wherever you are
All photos by Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES
Happy Thanksgiving Break to my fellow Biolans! This week is about giving thanks for all our blessings, feasting merrily with family and friends and catching up on sleep. I hope everyone’s travels are safe, whether you are going home to your family or a friend’s or trekking to the grocery store to shop for an on-campus Turkey Day. No matter which category you are in, I prepared a small menu along with cooking tips — just in case you find yourself in the kitchen on the big day.
The Bird: If cooking a whole turkey seems too time-consuming — or simply like too much food — for your Thanksgiving meal, I recommend buying smaller pieces instead. However, there isn’t a lot available for turkey pieces, and what does exist usually looks unappealing, but chicken thighs are a great replacement. Next to a pile of stuffing and doused in gravy, you will never know the difference.
Mashed Potatoes: Cold mashed potatoes are better suited as wallpaper paste than a side dish. They should be the last thing you prepare to avoid this Thanksgiving disaster. However, if they are ready earlier take a small pot and fill a quarter of the way with water. Bring to a boil on high heat and turn the heat to low. Place the mashed potatoes in a metal bowl over this steam bath and cover with plastic wrap to keep warm until dinner.
Side Dishes: Make sure you have a balance of heavy and lighter side dishes to prevent a premature food coma. Don’t be afraid to explore different flavors or slightly untraditional dishes to surprise your friends and family with something new and exciting on the table. Food and Wine Magazine, The New York Times, Epicurious and Saveur Magazine’s websites all feature fantastic ideas for beginners and experts alike.
Pie Crust: Whoever told you that making pie dough from scratch is hard was lying. They probably also sported a sinister mustache and sold you their brand of pre-made crusts. Not only is it easy and inexpensive to make your own pie crust, it tastes infinitely better because you will use butter instead of partially hydrogenated lard and food coloring. Seriously, I dare you to look at the ingredient label on those things.
Herb Butter Roasted Chicken
5 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons sage, thinly shredded
3 tablespoons parsley, thinly shredded
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Pick the sage leaves off the stems. Stack the leaves on top of one another and roll. Finely slice the roll of sage, then rotate the thin strips 90 degrees and cut the sage into smaller bits. Repeat with the parsley leaves and add both into a small bowl.
Soften the butter in a microwave on power level seven, for 15-second intervals. It should be soft and pliable, but not melted. Add to the small bowl of herbs and stir with a rubber spatula until the herbs are completely incorporated and the butter has a spreadable texture. Stir in a pinch of salt.
Use your hands to gently lift the chicken skin away from the meat of the thighs, creating a pocket. Spread half a tablespoon of butter evenly underneath the skin of each chicken thigh. Rub the outside of each chicken thigh thoroughly with an additional half tablespoon of butter.
Evenly space the chicken on a cookie sheet and bake for about 30 minutes. Slice into the thickest part of the meat to check for doneness. A completely white interior without pink juices means the chicken is ready. The skin will also be golden, puffy and crisp.
Spinach Salad with Pear and Dried Cranberries
1 8-ounce bag baby spinach
3 Bartlett or Bosc pears, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup goat cheese or gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Goat cheese and gorgonzola both fit this salad perfectly, but in different ways. Choose either one according to your personal preference. Goat cheese is a little creamier and has a light, tangy flavor. Gorgonzola has a sharper flavor with a more pungent tanginess to it; it is a type of bleu cheese.
Toss the spinach, pear slices, dried cranberries and cheese together in a bowl. Drizzle vinaigrette to taste.
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup honey
Pinch of salt
Whisk the oil, vinegar, honey and salt together in a small bowl. Taste and decide if it needs to be adjusted. Everyone’s taste buds are a little different, so there is nothing wrong with changing a recipe to fit your fancy. If it is too sweet, add a little more vinegar; if it is too acidic, add a little honey and a bit of oil to mellow it out.
Makes 24 mini pies
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 cup cold butter, cut into one inch cubes
1/2 cup cold water
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Combine flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and use your hands rub the butter into the flour. When the cubes of butter are about half their original size, add the water and mix by hand just until the flour and water combine. The dough should have a shaggy appearance, with the cubes of butter visible throughout. It should not feel stiff and dry or sticky and wet.
If the dough feels stiff or there is dry flour left in the bowl, add cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until it comes together. If it is sticky, add a tablespoon of flour until it no longer feels wet or tacky.
Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. Keeping the dough cold preserves the chunks of butter that make the finished crust flaky. This is also the perfect time to make the pecan filling.
Dust a clean counter with flour. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour as well and roll out to 1/4 inch thick. If you do not possess a rolling pin, any cylindrical object will work just as well.
Dust off excess flour from the dough. Use a 3 1/2 inch round cookie cutter, or any other object that is round, 3 1/2 inches and can cut into the dough, to cut out circles. Poke holes in each round with a fork, about seven times, evenly spaced. This keeps it from puffing up too much during the next step.
Flip a muffin pan upside down and place the dough circles on the flat part, gently molding the dough into a cup shape around the outside of the tins. Do not stretch the dough too much or press it thinner.
If you are like me and only have one muffin pan, cover the extra dough circles with plastic wrap and return them to the refrigerator until needed.
Put the muffin pan on a cookie sheet and bake for five minutes. Partially baking the dough ensures flaky crust when the pie is cooked with the filling, instead of a chewy, slightly raw layer of dough on the bottom. The rounds should be a little puffy, with barely any color.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 F.
Remove the dough from the bottom of the muffin pan and flip it over. Fit the crusts into the holes of the muffin pan. Spoon two tablespoons of pecan pie filling into each crust. Bake for 45 minutes.
The filling should no longer be liquid, though it will not appear completely set until cooled, and the edges of the crust should be a light golden brown.
Let cool at least ten minutes before enjoying; nothing ruins a holiday based solely on eating delicious food like a molten pie filling tongue burn.
1 1/2 cups and 2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons and 1 1/2 teaspoons dark corn syrup
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
3 ounces butter, melted
2 cups raw pecans, chopped into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Place the chopped pecans on a cookie sheet and spread out into a thin layer. Toast in oven for five minutes.
Whisk the eggs and brown sugar together in a small bowl. Add the dark corn syrup, salt and maple syrup and stir well.
Pour in the melted butter and mix until completely combined. Stir in the pecans.