Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving traditions & experiments, Part I

Being a traditionalist who likes to try new recipes and culinary ideas can sometimes be at odds with the holiday feast. This year we had a two part gorge-fest with a pre-Thanksgiving gathering in Minnesota and a more low-key dinner at home on the actual day.

For the pre-fest, we brought a few side dishes that are old favorites for me and one truffled up version of an old stand-by.

There's nothing easier than cream cheese-stuffed celery and it is always one of the things that gets nibbled on early and often. Combine one package of cream cheese, one grated small onion, a few handfuls of chopped pecans, and salt and white pepper to taste. You can add a little cream or milk to soften, but it should not be runny. Smear on deveined celery stalks about four inches long and finish liberally with paprika.

Another favorite for me, not necessarily gourmet but still damn good, is Waldorf Crown Salad. Congealed salads are not necessarily in vogue, but the sweet coldness mixes well with the warm, savory aspects of the meal. Make two six oz. boxes of cherry or strawberry Jell-o according to directions. After about an hour chilling, add one large diced apple; four sliced, deveined celery stalks (no leaves), and a handfull of chopped pecans to the Jell-o and scrape into a crown mold. Serve with "dressing" of one cup sour cream, a half cup of miracle whip and a cup and a half of mini marshmallows.

Finally, I did slow-cooked southern-style green beans but with a Italian/gourmet twist. Sautee onions until soft, add 1/4 lb. of pancetta (or bacon or ham), add green beans and cover with water, simmer for two to three hours. I finished with two tablespoons on truffle butter which really added a nice fragrant kick.

Other dishes included an organic, free range turkey from Thief River Falls, MN; oyster and non-oyster stuffing and dressing; giblet gravy; mashed potatoes; sweet potato casserole; hot rolls; and pumpkin pie.

We had so many great wines including a Le Mistral from Joseph Phelps. The Mistral surprised us when we tasted it on our trip to Napa last January. It was very complex and drinkable right out of the bottle. I highly recommend it. The dark fruit was present on the nose and carried through the finish, which lingered nicely without being overly cloying or too acidic. Natalie's sister's in-laws used to own a wine shop and have great taste in wines (and great palettes). They brought a number of very nice wines to share, none of which I had the foresight to note their names.

More to come on the "real" Thanksgiving.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I like the idea of pancetta in the green beans and I had actually already thought I'd try that to "gourmet up" the beans this year. How did the in-laws like the cooked to death green beans? I often wonder how non-Southerners feel about the way we over cook them. The truffle butter seems too exotic but I'm willing to try it.

I am so happy with my dressing this year. It's really rather plain but no one wants me to experiment, although I think some pecans would be good.

Natalie said...

Pecans do sound good for the stuffing. great idea! Alex (my brother-in-law) also included some rye and I think pumpernickel in his dressing, which I also liked. As long as therer's sage in there, I'm happy.