Monday, November 28, 2011

What I Did on My Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend; or, Can You Keep a Secret?

I've been kind of lazy of late, not posting, wanting to sleep, all that jazz.  But I realized that if I procrastinate any longer on finally doing a Thanksgiving post, it'll be Christmas.
Crap - the Christmas decorations.  Those'll have to wait.
Thanksgiving in our house means pot luck at my mother-in-law's.  My husband has a great deal of family who still live here in Arizona, and her house is a good central(ish) meeting spot.  So all I really do to start preparing to think about Thanksgiving each year is to wait for her to send out an email asking what we all are bringing or would like to bring or want her to tell us to bring.
This year I volunteered for:
  • cornbread dressing (it's only stuffing if you cook it in the bird; there can't be anything more terrifying than attempting to cook a bread product inside the ass of a raw piece of poultry)
  • green bean casserole
  • an apple pie
Somehow we also ended up smoking one of two turkeys that were in attendance at the gathering (they didn't get the email invitation, though), so Scott actually took Bogey (the smoker) down to his mom's house the day before Thanksgiving to get it all set up and to give her dogs time to plan out what items they would chew up and destroy.
I have been using the same dressing recipe for years.  Thank you, Food Network, for giving me Overstuffed Pumpkin with Cornbread, Apples, and Turkey Sausage with Sauvignon Blanc.  It's delicious.  And the recipe I printed out doesn't tell me how many calories each serving is, so that's a bonus.
But this year I decided to do it a little differently.  In keeping with my attempt to eat less meat, I decided to make this a meatless dressing.  In fact, since I only signed up to do the green bean casserole for the sole purpose of making the vegan version found in the Peas and Thank You cookbook, I opted to do both the casserole and the dressing vegan.
This was easy for the casserole - I just followed the recipe (which you can find in the book, which you should buy or at least steal from one of your friends).  The only, uh modification that I made was that I ran out of time to make the bread crumbs, so to make up for that I dumped two full containers one full container and one slightly less full container of the French fried onions on top.  I'm pretty sure everyone was cool with that.

Fresh green beans make a serious difference in flavor.

So do fresh mushrooms.

The nice thing about meatless sausage:
no need to make sure every inch of surface is cooked.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.
Cauldron burn and... OK, sorry, English major faux pas.
The dressing wasn't too difficult, either.  It just required some creative thinking for some items:
  • I used the Peas and Thank You cornbread recipe instead of buying a box of cornbread stuffing mix and just let it dry out (more on that in a moment).
  • I used meatless sausage, which, you may be curious to know, did not break up when cooking as easily as a traditional sausage.  Duly noted.
  • Instead of the heavy cream, I used unsweetened soy milk I bought the sweetened kind when I picked up all my supplies because apparently I can't read, so I had to make an emergency stop the next morning).
  • Instead of eggs, I used 1/2 cup of tofu, plus a little of the liquid, and a touch of flour.
  • I didn't use fennel seed.  This isn't a meatless sub.  I just don't like fennel in any shape or form.
  • And of course, it was an easy switch from chicken broth to veggie broth.
I had to open this bottle
to make the dressing.
Oh, and I didn't cook the dressing in a pumpkin.  We have one left over from Halloween, but HRH mourns the loss of her beloved gourd friends something fierce, and I didn't want to have that blood pulp on my hands.
The end result was OK.  In hindsight, I should have made the cornbread even earlier so that it could have more time to dry out.  It was good; don't get me wrong (or take away my cornbread).  It was just lacking in the texture department.
I think the tofu was also a questionable choice for the egg sub; because the egg functions in the recipe as a binder, I wanted the tofu to do the same (any vegan buds who want to comment and tell me if this is where I went wrong, please do!).  I'm not certain whether making the dressing, for the most part, the night before and then adding the last few ingredients right before dinner was also an issue.
However, it's a recipe I know that I love, and I'll look forward to tinkering with this some more.
Here's the thing - I didn't actually tell people that what I was bringing was vegan.  I didn't want to freak people out.  Considering we had more turkey than people there, it's a safe bet that my husband's family likes its animal proteins.  And being a family that also has its culinary traditions for the holidays (I'm talking to you, green Jell-o® side dish that I think is also called a casserole), I was a little leery.  I did tell my mother-in-law that I was experimenting with the green bean casserole and that she might want to also make the more traditional version, as my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were visiting from North Carolina, and my BIL had specifically requested green bean casserole.  But that was it.
I mean, Scott may have seen the meatless sausages in the fridge, as I didn't hide them, but I'm not sure he thought about it.
While the dressing was, as noted, texturally disappointing, the casserole was a hit, and most of it was demolished that evening.  I ate the rest over the course of the next 24 hours.
And the people I told about the dishes being vegan were cool with it.  The ones who didn't are probably only finding out because they may read this blog.  So, to you guys, um, hey - the dressing and green bean casserole that I brought were totally vegan, OK?

This leads us to the most important meal of the day: dessert.
OK, here's the thing: I hate pumpkin pie.
There, I said it.  Whew - that's a load off.
I know; I know.  You may be one of those people who gets super DUPER excited about the pumpkin blitz that happens in the fall.  My sister-in-law who lives in Portland is one of those people.  But I just don't care for pumpkin anything (except doughnuts or cake, but those are a beast all to themselves).  I don't care for the flavor or the texture (hmmm... texture again....), so the thought of having pumpkin pie with (shudder) whipped topping on Thanksgiving just turns my stomach.
Thank goodness for the good ol' apple pie.
And once again, thank goodness for Food Network.
Have you seen the show The Best Thing I Ever Ate?  I love it.  And I hate it.  I love it because... well, it's a show about the best food ever.  You can't really go wrong there.  I hate it because it's always on when I am trying to lull myself to sleep by turning on a blaring TV.  Then I get hungry.  Of course, I'm usually hungry.
Anyway, I can't even remember what episode it was or who thought it was the best thing ever, but I do remember hearing the words "salted caramel apple pie."  Then everything went black for a little bit.
Those are four of my favorite words, and they are all put together in a single item.
The recipe is from Four and Twenty Blackbirds in New York.  I must go there, on some salted caramel pilgrimage, someday.
OK, seriously, this pie is a winner.  I used Kirsten's no excuses crust (using some whole wheat pastry flour along with the AP again), and thanks to my mother-in-law's new rolling pin cover and rolling cloth (she also got me one - merry early Christmas to ME), I didn't rip either the top OR bottom crust.  BOOYAH!
I don't think I have ever been happier about the way a pie looked when coming out of the oven.  Tears of joy may have been shed.

Hello, friend.
The top of the pie (which was decidedly NOT vegan) was drizzled with some of the caramel that didn't get into the pie, brushed with a beaten egg, and sprinkled with some raw sugar and a touch of sea salt.
Dear heavens, I think I just swooned again.

Sorry - not the best pic, but I only took one.
I wanted to eat that sucker!

I am so making this pie again.
But on a day when I don't have to share it with anyone.

I think it's also important to note that I worked to ensure I did not fall victim to the excess plateful piling that often occurs on this holiday.  Since I didn't eat any turkey (something for which I think my husband may never forgive me), it was easier to portion out my single plate serving, and then other people wanted the pie, so I only got that piece that I snapped that terrible picture of.  I know that to many people the food is an integral part of Thanksgiving, but I wasn't about to err on the side of glutton for two reasons.  First of all, I ran five miles that morning and was not about to take away that progress by mindlessly noshing and eating to the point that I had to unbutton my pants.  Second, and this is the more important to me, I have the ability to eat like a glutton each and every day, but there are children in my state who don't always know where their next meal is coming.  Thanksgiving has started to come more and more with a twinge of guilt that I'm reveling in food when others are hoping for a small slice of turkey at the local shelter's Thanksgiving dinner.
My daughter's preschool had a food drive for shelf-stable items, and I brought in three bags for her room.  I would gladly have done more, and I hope that I never forget what I see as my obligation to help keep food pantries, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens stocked to help those whose blessings are stacked a bit differently than mine.


  1. I started making cornbread stuffing a couple of years ago and I will NEVER look back. It makes such a dense, subtle-y sweet dish that is the perfect foil to whatever you toss into it.

  2. OMGoodness! I am SO making that pie!

  3. I'm with you. I wouldn't tell my family in advance if I made anything vegan, either. Even if they enjoyed it, there's a good chance at least 75% of them would disown me. Using tofu would bump that number to a solid 90%. One relative actually uttered these words to my sister: "Thank you for not using fresh green beans in the green bean casserole like you did last year. That totally sucked." Kid you not.

  4. Seriously, what is wrong with peeps? I love the fresh green beans - they are lovely and don't get all mushy.
    I'm pretty sure that ignorance is bliss for lots of people. Too bad!

  5. I really really wanted to do a cornbread stuffing this year, but it was vetoed by the masses.
    You have convinced me that I need to make it anyway!
    Christmas will get this cornbread makeover.

  6. I often make this same dressing for Christmas. I could eat (and have eaten it) it as a meal by itself, although if I am going to do it veg (instead of the original, which is amazing - use spicy sausage for an extra flavor kick), I must find a better egg sub. Everything else was pretty awesome.