Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner in 30 minutes...or less!


After 82 years of travelling the same route down Broadway, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade changed it's path. This was a well coordinated change on their part, choosing the most optimal route for maximal enjoyment by spectators. We don't all have the benefit of well planned changes, sometimes they are sudden and not so pleasurable. So it was this past week when Rosie fell ill with swine flu, the next day Lillie was diagnosed with strep throat, and the next Hubby and Daisie came down with bad colds. I knew attending my family's annual Thanksgiving extravaganza was completely out of the question.

I felt somewhat bereft at the thought of missing our annual family get together. It was the only day in the entire year my whole family manages to get together, if only for a few hours. My mother fusses over her menu with me on the phone, making sure there are choices for Lillie and Rosie's special dietary needs. "No, " I tell my mother, "you don't have to make gluten free stuffing...I'm sure Lillie won't eat it anyway." No matter how hard I try to convince my mother not to make the Sweet Potato Pineapple Puffs they always seem to end up on the table. The week of Thanksgiving my mother times her cooking schedule down to the minute. The golden crusted franks-in- blankets and mini-knishes are pulled from the oven as the first grandchild crosses the threshold. That is what I missed this year.

As for me, I was rushed off my feet this week, bleary eyed as if I had a newborn infant in the house. My sleep was not restful as a feverish children (or husband) woke me up at midnight or 3 a.m. for more Tylenol. My house ran like a hospital ward for several days, and I was the head nurse. I graphed temperatures and medicine dosages on a legal pad. One hand constantly flying to people's foreheads to see if the cursed fever had broken, the other to the tissue box. Needless to say, a turkey dinner with all the trimmings was not in my scope this year. But as the day neared I felt we should carry on that great American tradition of eating turkey on the last Thursday in November, simply because we are Americans. Even though, when asked most people will sheepishly admit they don't really like turkey. The week prior I stood talking to me neighbor as she unloaded our kids from carpool debating whether or not to get my "free" turkey which the supermarket gave out to customers who had spent a certain amount the prior month. "Yeah, " she said, "I don't really want mine either, we don't really like turkey. But it's free." And there's the rub, it's free! I would be a fool to turn down 20 lbs. of free meat. And that is why I always have a turkey hibernating in my freezer over the winter months, until I decided to finally cook it or throw it out in the midst of Passover cleaning. Several years ago I switched over to getting just a turkey breast after a particularly disastrous episode involving a too small roasting pan and a large Turkey prepared too close to the start of Shabbos.

After getting over my turkey trauma and getting just the breast one year (which is infinitely more manageable to cook) I found it came out delicious in the crock pot. The meat becomes incredibly moist, and most of the traditional accompaniments (carrots, potatoes and turnips) can be prepared in the crock pot as well. This year I decided I would go the crock pot route as my day was hectic. I could pop the bird into the pot in the morning and forget about it until dinner time. This was my kind of Thanksgiving prep. So in the end we did sit down to a Thanksgiving meal. Infinitely simpler than the one eaten by my extended family, but it retained the spirit of the day--even without the sweet potato pineapple puffs!

This recipe can easily be prepared either in the crock pot or in an oven cooking bag. Either way, you don't need to baste or tend to the turkey as it cooks. Toss a few whole sweet potatoes (pierced with a fork) in a 400 degree oven for 1 hour, and you have a meal!

Crock pot Turkey
(or Thanksgiving in a pot)

2 cups baby carrots
6 new potatoes, scrubbed and halved

1 cup chicken broth or stock

1 medium sized frozen turkey breast roast (bone in)
, thawed
2 medium onions, peeled

black pepper to taste

1/4 cup orange juice

3 Tablespoons maple syrup

1 Tablespoon fresh ground ginger root or 1 teaspoon dried ground ginger

Place potatoes and carrots in bottom of crock pot, pour chicken broth over all. Remove turkey breast from wrappers and cut off excess fat. Rinse inside and out with cold water. Place onions in cavity of turkey and place breast side down in crock pot (depending on size of crock pot, you may have to position your turkey breast vertically). Sprinkle with black pepper.

In a small bowl, stir together remaining ingredients and pour over turkey. Cook on Low setting for 6 hours, or until turkey reaches 180 degrees with a meat thermometer.

To prepare in an oven bag: Using a large oven bag, such as Reynold's brand, shake 1 Tablespoon of corn or potato starch inside the bag. Prepare turkey as above, inserting ingredients in bag placed in a large baking pan, instead of crock pot. Tie end and make 6-inch sized slits in bags. Cook in 350 degree oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until meat thermometer reaches 180 degrees. Allow to "rest" 15-20 minutes before slicing.

Easy Turkey Gravy

Pan drippings
1 Tablespoon corn starch

fresh ground black pepper to taste

Ladle pan drippings into a small saucepan*. Set over a low flame and whisk in corn starch. Continue whisking several minutes until gravy has thickened. Stir in pepper and allow to simmer 3-5 minutes.

*Note: If you prepare your turkey in an oven bag, my little secret is to hold bag over the saucepan, snip one corner and allow the liquid to pour into the pan while holding back the solid material.

If you want an easy, gluten free alternative to stuffing, try this buckwheat recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin (p. 88).

Kasha Pilaf

1 Tablespoon Margarine (or Olive Oil)
8 ounces mushrooms, quartered (3 cups)
1 medium-size onion, minced

1 1/4 cups kasha (medium granulation buckwheat groats)

1 egg or equivalent egg substitute (such as Ener-G Egg Replacer)

2 1/4 cups hot vegetable or chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Melt Margarine in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and onion, and cook until the mushrooms are brown and tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Mix the kasha and egg together in a medium-size saucepan, and stir briskly over low heat until all of the kasha is coated with the egg. Turn the heat to medium and "toast" the kasha by stirring constantly until the grains are dry and separate, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the mushrooms and onion and toss. Add the vegetable stock and salt, and cover the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Serves 4

As for the Sweet Potato Pineapple Puffs, the recipe can be found on page 286 of the Spice and Spirit Cookbook.

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