Winter is around the corner. Everyone is scrambling to their closets, tugging out mittens, hats, cozy sweaters and long underwear. We still check the weather report hoping for that odd warm day, but it’s about that time of year when the cold is here to stay. So, to come to terms with the coming of winter, our appetites also begin to change. Our cravings for the cold and crisp begin to wane. That commitment we made to a raw food diet goes soft, and we put on ten stone. Suddenly, all we crave is warm, rich, decadent comfort foods to help cope with the coming chill.
Luckily, the American people have the delightful convenience of kicking off winter with the ultimate feast — Thanksgiving. While every family’s Thanksgiving table can vary, many menus celebrate much of the food in season. At least, that is my understanding, having been blessed to share a Thanksgiving table with many different people over the years. That’s the advantage of being a holiday orphan — someone whose family is too far away to celebrate with, and therefore is taken in by friends in the area. It may sound very Dickensian, but it actually is quite a boon. I have been privileged to share this day with all types of families and enjoyed so much diverse feasting.
That said, my own cultivation of comfort food preparation is pretty restricted. First, my mother is an immigrant. While our Thanksgiving meals do have the standard characteristics like turkey and stuffing, they are often not the best pieces on the table. The culinary style wasn’t my mother’s forte, and therefore a plate full of delicious Japanese-style pork dumplings — gyoza — would also slip into the array. The impact this has had on me is that as an adult, I’m actually woefully bad at Thanksgiving. In fact, I often dread it.
Every year, I strain to compile a dish I’m comfortable preparing without it standing out too much on the buffet. “Grilled rice balls? That’s very interesting, Colette. I would have never thought of that.” While meant in the kindest complimentary way, I sometimes find myself blushing. During these holidays, one doesn’t always want to stand out. Sometimes you want to be part of that warm, comforting fold of the familiar and expected. To me, that felt like family.
This year, I am planning ahead to fall into the fold. I reached out to two local food experts for some sure-shot familiar hits for a Thanksgiving table, and I am sharing their recommendations. This is for you, my fellow holiday orphans! May your dish be the life of the party this year.
Sweet Potato Cornbread
(By Brian Morgan of Eiderdown)
“Cornbread is something that was a staple of my Thanksgiving when I was a child,” says Brian Morgan, executive chef of Eiderdown. “It was also one of the few items I actually ate. Being that I was a very picky child, I would fill my plate with mostly proteins and starches, skipping the eras of vegetables that were always presented.” Here’s his recipe:
3¼ cups all-purpose flour
2½ cups cornmeal
¾ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup baking soda
2 1/5 cups milk
½ lbs. butter
½ lb. bacon bits
1 cup sweet potato (3 to 4 potatoes)
For bacon bits: Cook bacon in pan or oven until crispy. After completely cooked, drain and let cool. Once cool, pulse in a food processor.
For the sweet potato: Bake in an oven at 350 until soft to the touch. Once soft, peel skin and discard. Blend in a food processor with two tablespoons of butter.
For the cornbread: Combine all dry ingredients in one mixing bowl and the wet ingredients in a second bowl. Whisk the dry into the wet slowly.
Preheat oven and cast-iron skillet to 400 degrees. Pour cornbread mix directly into cast iron and let back for 15 to 20 minutes. Use a toothpick to check for doneness. Once the toothpick pulls out clean, the cornbread is done.
(By Patty Knight of Harvest)
Pumpkin pie is second only to the turkey in terms of familiar Thanksgiving staples. However, like the turkey, its preparation is also under much scrutiny. A solid pie recipe is worth its weight in gold and will earn you good holiday company for years to come. Here’s the favorite recipe of Patty Knight, Harvest’s pastry chef:
6 oz. pumpkin
3 oz. half and half
5 tbl. sugar
1/8 tsp. white pepper
¼ tsp. allspice
¼ tsp. cloves
½ tsp. cinnamon
9-inch pie shell
Place parchment on crust and top with pie weights. Par bake crust at 300 degrees until just set. Set crust aside to cool while you make the filling.
Filling: In one bowl, mix together the egg, pumpkin and half and half. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar and spices. Whisk the wet mixture into the dry. Pour into pie shell and bake at 300 degrees until set (no jiggle). Let cool completely and refrigerate. Serve straight from fridge with whipped cream and pecans.