November 23, 2012: Thanksgiving, un-American Style

November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving ends up making me feel un-American. I guess I  just don’t fit the Jello-marshmallow mold.

My tiny appetite sets me apart. Thanksgiving seems to be meaningless here, without excess consumption. I do love food..it’s planning, preparation and consumption. It’s just that for me, a taste is enough. More is simply…well…more. So, I don’t go much for volume for volume’s sake.

My most cardinal un-American sin is that I have been a vegetarian since college. For most Americans, the thought of Thanksgiving without turkey is a sacrilege beyond redemption. Every Thanksgiving that I’m not either cooking for friends (or sometimes for a client) I make a vegetarian feast for myself. The trick for me seems to be to cut down on the carbs so that I can eat at least a few bites of all the courses I make. I love stuffing and I have developed a delicious recipe, but as per its name it just fills me up. Ditto with mashed potatoes, so this year I tried substituting rice instead. Tofurky is a bit of a Thanksgiving vegetarian cliché, and I have yet to have a really good version. Quorn Foods makes a meatless brand chicken cutlet that is pretty tasty. Quorn makes a version of this with a layer of cranberry sauce and swiss cheese, which is then breaded, that I have had and liked but I wanted to try to make my own. Thanksgiving has to have some concessions to tradition dishes and mine were Green Bean Casserole, Baked Acorn Squash and Cranberry Sauce. I rounded the whole meal off with Apple/Cranberry Crisp.

Cranberry Sauce
No real skill here. Ocean Spray provides s a pretty good recipe of a bag of fresh cranberries, so I follow that. I d o like a slightly more sour sauce, so I add less sugar than they require. I also add 1 Tblsp. orange zest and a dash of nutmeg with the sugar. I also reserved a 1/4C. of the cranberries for the crisp. These simple changes makes a perfect sauce. So easy and soooo much better than the stuff from a can. Cool in fridge.

Baked Acorn Squash
Lop of the very tip of a large acorn squash and cut in half. Now, both will lay flat. Remove pulp and seeds. Wash seeds, coat with 1/4 Tsp. veggie oil, a sprinkle of sal de mer and a couple of drops of  shoyu. Brush oil on top of squash. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. I baked the squash and toasted the squash seeds, the almonds for the beans and walnuts for the crisp together, on  a cookie sheet lined with baking parchment at 325°F turning seeds and nuts often for about 15 minutes. The seeds may need to be in a little longer. The nuts will need further baking when assembled in their dishes, so a baking a little underdone is best. Once seeds and nuts are done, I continued to bake the squash for an hour until easily pieced by a fork. Let sit for 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove skin with a spoon. Mash squash with a little salt and pepper, 1 Tblsp. butter, a sprinkle of cinnamon, ground clove and 2 Tblsps. dark molasses. When squash is room temperature, cover until serving.

[I find the seeds are perfect to munch on while preparing for the meal. I used to starve myself before Thanksgiving in order to eat at least a little more, but that doesn’t work. If you are starving, a couple of bites will fill you up, so now I eat a normal breakfast and have something light, like the seeds as an appetizer.]

Green Bean Casserole
I made this a week ago and cheated using a canned mushroom soup instead of real mushrooms and my bechamel sauce. Bad move. It was edible, but by making it this way I robbed the part that gives this dish its essence. A more reasonable cheat is to use frozen green beans, but if I was making this for guests I would use fresh beans. Slice 8 oz. of button mushrooms and saute with 2 Tblsps. butter, 1 minced clove of garlic, a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence. I finish with a splash of lemon juice and amontillado. Cool while making beans. In two quarts of boiling, lightly salted H2O add 32oz. of frozen French beans for no more than two minutes. Immediately immerse in cold H2O and drain well. In a buttered 14″X6″ roasting pan, add French beans, mushrooms, and bechamel sauce. Top with 1/4C. toasted slivered almonds and French-fried onions.

[As I have mentioned before, I make my bechamel slightly different each time. This was 3 Tblsps. melted butter and 3  Tblsps. flour whisked over low-medium heat for 1 minute. Add about 2 C. milk, 1 cube of bullion, and sprinkle of nutmeg, whisking until slightly thickened. You want the bechamel to be a little on the thinner side, as the further baking of beans will thicken it. Add more milk to make it thinner. Reserve 2 C. bechamel for rice.]

Breaded Cutlet with Cranberry and Swiss Cheese
The Quorn cutlets come frozen. Allow to thaw and cut each in half with a sharp knife. Coat top with the cranberry sauce and form a slice of Swiss cheese to the shape of the bottom piece of cutlet. Put two pieces together. Dredge cutlet in egg/milk [beat two eggs, add 1/4C. milk] then in flour, back into the egg/milk and then into 2C. panko. Set aside.

Apple/Cranberry Crisp
Wash, core, and slice 6 medium apples. Put slices in 2 Qts. H2O with a splash of lemon juice to keep apples bright. In a dry bowl, add 1C. oats, 1/4C. brown sugar, 1 Tblsp. cinnamon, a sprinkle of nutmeg and 1/4C. toasted walnuts. In a buttered 9″x4″x4″ Pyrex dish add drained apples, fresh cranberries and 1/4 C. craisins, 1/8 C. brown sugar, a sprinkle of salt, cinnamon, allspice, and clove. Mix. Top with oat/nut/spice mixture. Dot the top of oats with 2 Tblsps. butter in small pieces.

[Cutlets, Bean Casserole, and Crisp can now go into the oven at 325°F for about 40 minutes.]

Basamati Rice
Wash 2 C. basamati rice in cold H2O at least 5x. Add 4 C. H2O, salt, 1 Tblsp butter. a veggie bouillon cube, and a bay leaf. Bring to boil, stir, reduce heat to low, cover for about 15 minutes until H2O is absorbed. Remove from heat.

You may want to warm the bechamel before adding to the rice. I had to give the cutlets a zap under the broiler for few seconds to finish toasting. I added a couple of Tblsps. of evaporated milk to the crisp, but you could use cream if you prefer.

I finally made my  Thanksgiving goal by having a meal that I could enjoy and actually finish each course. Everything was quite tasty and while a bit more rich than my usual Spartan-fare, this meal was still rewarding yet relatively guilt-free…for my un-American taste.


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