Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Post-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving

This year for Thanksgiving, I went to have hot pot with my cousin. The rest of our family is in Los Angeles, and without them, it wouldn't have felt like a real Thanksgiving anyway. We considered doing the turkey and fixings and the whole bit, but with just two of us, it just didn't seem worth the bother. Plus having turkey or poultry of any kind just hadn't particularly appeal to me for some time.

Then came post-Thanksgiving, with everyone posting pictures from their Thanksgiving feasts. Everyone's food looked so good. On top of that, I finished a writing project I'd been working on, the reward for which was being able to crack open The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, which had arrived a couple weeks before. I was just flipping through it when I came across a recipe for buttermilk mashed potatoes. I thought about the 15-lb bag of russet potatoes I had sitting in my kitchen. I thought about how good a piece of roasted chicken would taste with mashed potatoes. Uh oh. I was hooked.

The next day, I went to the store and bought a cooked rotisserie chicken (that's right -- I wanted instant gratification), canned pumpkin, and some salad fixings. Then I went home and made myself a truly satisfying post-Thanksgiving meal, including chicken, buttermilk mashed potatoes, garlic Brussels sprouts, salad, and even pumpkin pie.

The chicken was a little cold by the time everything else was ready, but that was okay. It wasn't the star. It provided some lovely contrast and texture (nothing replaces meat when it comes to making my mouth and stomach satisfied), but it was all the components working together that made the meal great. I of course did not have room for pumpkin pie after everything else, but it was still cooling anyway.

Speaking of the pie, I was pretty happy with the way it came out. On Thanksgiving day my cousin had given me a generous slice of pumpkin pie that her "dessert slave" had made, and it was probably the best pumpkin pie I've ever had. It had a candied ginger and walnut topping on it, and was made with fresh roasted pumpkin. Maybe one day I'll have the energy/will to roast my own pumpkin then make a pie out of it, but that day was not yesterday. Until my cousin can track down the recipe for that one, I found a similar one online that I adapted to my own preferences (less sugar, and hazelnuts instead of walnuts -- I'm just not a big fan of walnuts).

The mashed potatoes were excellent, even though I used russet potatoes rather than the yellow potatoes Judy Rodgers suggests (as much as I love yellow and red potatoes, well, I had 15-lbs of russets!). She also claims that the buttermilk in them helps them keep really well, so since I love mashed potatoes, I went ahead and doubled her recipe.

The Brussels sprouts were a revelation. I'm fairly new to Brussels sprouts, and I've given several recipes a try, but this very simple method using olive oil, garlic, and salt was by far my favorite. They were so good I could have eaten them as a meal all on their own. Well, on any day but post-Thanksgiving day. Granted I'm not very experienced with buying Brussels sprouts, but I had never actually seen them on the stalk before. When I saw a beautiful stalk of them for only $2.50 each, I nabbed one. The sprouts were much fresher/cleaner than the ones I've purchased before off the stalk.

As for the salad, I used red-leaf lettuce and after making the potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and pie, I was too beat (and eager to start eating) to add anything else, though normally I would have included diced tomato (or halved cherry tomatoes), thinly sliced radishes, etc. I did, however, make the delicious yet simple balsamic vinaigrette that my cousin introduced me to awhile ago.

Perhaps best of all was getting to eat the leftovers of everything. I even busted out some of my stored bacon grease to make a cream gravy for the potatoes. Dipping bites of rotisserie chicken in mashed potatoes and gravy = heaven.

And now, onto the recipes! There are quite a few of them, but hopefully it won't be hard to find the one you're interested in.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes paraphrased from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook


  • 1 1/2 lbs potatoes (preferably yellow, but russets will work fine), peeled and chopped into 1 1/2" chunks
  • 2-3 tbsp milk, heavy cream, or half and half, heated
  • 2-3 tbsp buttermilk, room temperature
  • 3 tbsp butter, just melted so it's still warm
  • parsley or chives, to garnish (optional)
  • salt
  • water


  1. Place potato chunks in a pot, then cover with cold water by about an inch. Add salt -- about 1 tsp per quart -- and mix, until you can just taste it in the water.
  2. Heat until boiling, then simmer for 8-15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
  3. Drain water. Put the potato chunks in a large bowl and mash. Add the heated milk/cream, mash. Add the buttermilk, mash. Finish with the melted butter. Whip/mash well.
  4. Salt the mashed potatoes to taste.
  5. Garnish with parsley or chives, if desired.

Judy Rodgers says it's good to have the cream and butter heated so that their addition doesn't cool down the potatoes too much. Buttermilk can't really be heated or it will separate. (I put it in the microwave for about 10 seconds, to at least take the chill off.) It seems so obvious now, but I can't tell you how many years I've been making mashed potatoes and just adding cold milk and cold butter, then wondering why it was impossible to keep mashed potatoes hot.

Cream Gravy from Homesick Texan


  • 2 tbsp pan drippings, bacon grease or vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • salt to taste


  1. Combine fat with flour in a hot skillet, continuously stirring, cook on medium for a couple of minutes until a dark roux is formed.
  2. Add milk slowly to skillet, and mix with roux using either a whisk or wooden spoon (be sure and press out any lumps).
  3. Turn heat to low and continue stirring until mixture is thickened, a couple more minutes.
  4. Add pepper and salt to taste.
  5. If gravy is too thick for your taste, you can thin it by adding either more milk or water a tablespoon at a time.

Garlic Brussels Sprouts


  • 8-10oz Brussels sprouts, washed, stemmed, trimmed, and halved
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste


  1. Heat oil on medium-low heat in a saucepan large enough to hold the Brussels sprouts in one layer. (I used my wok.)
  2. When oil is hot, carefully add the Brussels sprouts -- the water droplets clinging to them from their wash will probably make the oil sizzle and crackle, possibly violently.
  3. Stir fry a bit, then turn each sprout onto its flat side.
  4. Cover the pan, turn the heat down a little lower, then cook until the sprouts are tender and their flat sides are nicely browned (about 10-12 minutes).
  5. Add the garlic and stir fry for about 30 seconds.
  6. Add salt to taste, stir fry a few seconds more, then serve.

My notes: You don't want to use heat that's too high because they'll brown too quickly without having enough time to get cooked by the steam. Also, I find that salt greatly enhances Brussels sprouts. It won't save them if they're cooked beyond hope, but salting them a bit more generously than you might salt other foods is highly recommended by me!

Pumpkin Pie with Hazelnut and Ginger Streusel


  • 1 pie shell, frozen or homemade

For the Pie Filling

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

For the Streusel

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp cold butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped candied or crystallized ginger


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, cream, sugar, salt, and all the spices.
  3. Pour the mixture into a prepared pie shell.
  4. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes.
  5. To make the streusel, in a small bowl combine the flour and brown sugar. Using a pastry blender or fork, cut in the butter until crumbly. Mix in the hazelnuts and ginger.
  6. Remove the pie from the oven, and gently sprinkle the streusel over the filling.
  7. Bake for an additional 20-30 minutes longer or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Here's the pie, pre-streusel topping.

A messy, but delicious slice of pie.

My notes: This pie is plenty sweet, even though I cut the sugar in the filling from 3/4 cup to 1/3 cup, and the streusel topping from 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup (from the original recipe). I can't imagine how cloyingly sweet it would have been if I hadn't made those adjustments. When I make this again, whether for this recipe or the one my cousin finds, I'll probably toast the hazelnuts ahead of time and skin them as well. I already cut down on the liquid some since I cut down the sugar, but if I made this again I would probably cut it down even further.

Balsamic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing


  • 1 small shallot, sliced or diced (about 1 tbsp)
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


  1. Soak shallot in a small bowl with the vinegars for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Add the olive oil and mix well, then toss with salad.

My notes: I usually use 2 tbsp of olive oil, but that's because I like my dressing a little more acidic. My cousin prefers using 3 tbsp of oil for a milder taste.

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