Tuesday, November 30, 2010

È il giorno di tacchino! (It's turkey day!)

"Mr. Turkey, Mr. Turkey
Big and fat
I'm going to eat you
I'm going to eat you
Just like that!"
~taken from song Joshua sang in his pre-school Thanksgiving program

Another Thanksgiving arrived and I was determined not to deal with usual hustle and bustle of trying to get a week's worth of cooking (and eating) all in a day. For some reason, we Americans feel the need to stuff ourselves, along with a generally bland-tasting large bird, all in the name of being thankful every fourth Thursday of November.

Okay, so I am not against the holiday of Thanksgiving~ I do enjoy the cooking and eating and hanging out with family for a day, not to mention our crazy dessert & bunco time in the evening! I just think we need to realize how much we have to be thankful for everyday and how much the Lord takes care of our every need. It was with this thought that I purposely strove to make 2010's Thanksgiving different. Mary and I spent the Monday before helping out at church de-boning turkeys & making stuffing for their annual dinner on Thursday. Snow fell Monday night which gave David the day off Tuesday, so he joined us again at church de-boning more turkeys along with setting up tables and chairs for the 500 people they were expecting. After taking a walk in a snow-dusted Capitol Park and attending noon Mass, we headed to Straight from NY Pizza in downtown Salem for a needed and welcomed repast.

Wednesday found us preparing everything we were going to take to my folks while still being sure to take time to enjoy being together. After picking up Cari from her apartment, we headed to St. Joseph's for the Thanksgiving Vigil Mass. We returned home (along with Cari who would be spending the night- something her parents love having her do) and finished up a few last items- especially my traditional Thanksgiving cinnamon rolls. Cari worked on her gluten-free cornbread dressing so as to not have to make it at Grammie and Poppa's the next day.

After a good night's sleep, we headed over to the Pitalo's house with a carload of goodies. My facebook status read something like "headed over with cinnamon rolls, sweet potato souffle, cornbread dressing, two kinds of dinner rolls, 5 bottles of wine, hazelnut-pumpkin cheesecake...). It was fun to be able to try some new recipes for this year's feast- both because I wanted to as well as needing to for Cari's gluten-intolerance.

Upon our arrival, the coffee was brewing and bacon ready to go with the cinnamon rolls and the Macy's Parade. Normally, we watch the parade looking for the opportunity to comment on costumes or the lip-syncing of musical artists. This year we were all focused on one part of the parade- the Grants Pass, Oregon High School marching band. That's right, three of my nieces were in the parade! Needless to say, all other things stopped as we watched the girls (and the
rest of the band) strut their stuff along NYC's streets. Knowing the girls had already been having a wonderful week there~ my niece Jana had texted the kids and I a photo of St. Patrick's Cathedral on Wednesday which we all loved~ we were thrilled to see all their hard work pay off!

After the parade, the work commenced to finish up dinner. My dad was in the process of smoking two turkeys while there was a third in the roaster. Mary took over the making of the mashed
potatoes while David made the salad. I heated up the sweet potato souffle- made gluten free this year- and Cari's cornbread dressing along with my mom's delicious dressing and the sweet potatoes to be roasted.
I then got to work on my newest recipe "brussels sprouts with pistachios and lemon". Now, before you stop reading and do something else, hear me out. I grew up thinking this vegetable was from the nether-world and should be barred from being grown. This was due to the fact that my mom (like many mom's out there~ you know who you are) didn't quite know how to make these little orbs taste good. I can remember sitting down at the dinner table refusing to eat the two on my plate while she patiently sat waiting for me to do just that. It was because of this I chose never to serve them to my family. I decided this was the year to "never say never" and try making them in a way that would please people's palates. The dish turned out really delicious~ those that normally would have turned up their noses at brussels sprouts actually tried them, and there may have been one or two converts.
After a blessing prayed by both my dad Tom and grandpa Ed, we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Having most of my kids there (college boy Josh was enjoying a Pennsylvania farm Thanksgiving week with a fellow student for the week) along with numerous family members made for a bountiful feast of thanksgiving!

The evening was not quite over as friends came over after dinner for our annual Thanksgiving dessert and bunco night. With lots of delectable desserts- including Ron's Oreo Cheesecake, Angela's pumpkin-pecan pie, Shelly's no-bake cookies and peanut butter balls and my hazelnut pumpkin cheesecake with florentines- there was something for everyone to try! When dessert was finished, it was time for a rousing game of bunco~ the sound of rolling dice and laughter wafted throughout the house while the fireplace burned brightly and joy was present.

It came time to head out to our own homes which we did with well-sated stomachs and spirits. This year's Thanksgiving was one I think our forefathers and mothers would have been pleased with as we celebrated not only the bounty of our table but the copiousness of family and friends!

Here are a few recipes from our Thanksgiving dinner~ don't wait 'til next November to give them a try!

Brussels Sprouts with Pistachios & Lemon
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

3tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 minced sweet onion
11/2pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed with leaves pulled from cores-discard cores
3/4cup pistachio nuts
2tbsp lemon juice

Heat oil in large non stick skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and stir for 2 minutes. Add brussels sprouts leaves and pistachios and sautee until leaves begin to soften but are still bright green, about 3 minutes.Drizzle with lemon juice and add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to bowl and serve.

Cari's Cornbread Dressing
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

1 double batch gluten-free cornbread, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 tablespoons butter, divided
12 ounces fully cooked Chicken & Garlic sausages (about 4), halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide pieces
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt plus additional for sprinkling
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus additional for sprinkling
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 large egg

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Spread cornbread in single layer on large baking sheet. Bake until dry and lightly browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool.

DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage pieces; sauté until brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer sausage to large bowl.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add fennel, onion, and bell pepper; sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Sauté until onion is golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Add to bowl with sausage.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Add cornbread, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper to vegetable-sausage mixture; mix gently. Whisk 2 cups broth and egg in medium bowl. Add broth mixture to cornbread mixture and toss. Transfer mixture to 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.

Bake stuffing uncovered until crisp on top, about 45 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How Saucy Can You Get?

Ever since we've been married, my husband has always commented on how "saucy" I am. Now, before you get the wrong idea, I need to explain just what he means when he says this (and no, you don't need to usher your young children away from the computer). No matter if it's breakfast, lunch or dinner, I enjoy adding some type of sauce~ from gravy to sweet chili sauce to Tabasco to honey mustard~ I usually add a little bit of something to whatever I may be eating (especially leftovers). This would be where I get the "saucy" title from my loving husband which is well deserved and well used to by now.

I am pretty sure the sauciness is hereditary as I can remember my late Grandpa Pitalo asking for Tabasco every time we'd go out for a meal as well as my Dad's penchant for sauces. This has also been passed on to another generation as my daughter, Mary, loves sauces too (she is a lot like her Poppa Tom as she loves sauces- the spicier the better)!

As busy as our schedules have been lately, I've still resisted the urge to buy jarred sauces (except for the numerous Tabasco bottles in our cupboard thanks to my husband's passion for all things Tabasco- but that's another blog entry). Even though the taste is okay for jarred spaghetti sauce, making homemade is really simple~ not to mention it makes the house smell wonderful! Here's the recipe for Grandma Pitalo's Spaghetti Sauce. It's easy, fairly inexpensive and will change your mind about all those jarred sauces staring at you from the grocery store shelves. Try it with pasta, as a pizza sauce, on top of chicken or eggplant parmesan~ the possibilities are endless!

Grandma Pitalo's Spaghetti Sauce
1- 2 1/2 pound can Italian style-tomatoes
3- 12 oz. cans tomato paste, 3 cans water per 1 can paste (9 cans water total)
2 medium onions, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. fresh parsley, chopped
1 T. Kosher salt
1 t. each dried basil, dried oregano, dried thyme
1/2 t. dried rosemary
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
2 cups sliced mushrooms (your choice- I like Crimini)
1 pound Italian sausage

Brown onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add tomatoes and tomato paste; simmer on low 15 minutes. Watch carefully, so it doesn't stick. Add water and mix well; add seasonings and cook on a real low fire for 1 hour. Add mushrooms and sausage; cook another 2-3 hours. Serve with pasta and freshly grated Romano cheese (for other applications, see above).
Buono Appetito!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A "Grandma's Luncheon" Celebration

I am pretty sure that someone somewhere has said, "The road to blog writing is paved with good intentions." Of course, you probably haven't read it on any blog anywhere since the originator of the saying hasn't had time to write it down. This is basically how I've been feeling over the last couple of weeks. We've had all kinds of excitement in our family including our 25th wedding anniversary and Mary's 16th birthday. This doesn't even account for the "normal" stuff of our family like church, fencing tournaments, school and work. I finally figured out that I just need to take time to write in my blog instead of keeping those "good intentions" to myself!

One of the many things I am enjoying lately is the many celebrations we are now having as our family continues our Catholic journey. Not only did we celebrate our anniversary and birthdays (including Mary, my Dad & niece Jillian's this week alone), but we had All Saints Day on Monday and All Souls Day on Tuesday. Besides going to Mass, we also wanted to do a bit more celebrating these important days in the liturgical calendar! We ended up inviting my parents over for a "Grandma's Luncheon" for Dad and Mary's birthday as well as a way to honor my late Grandma Pitalo and Grandma Aziz.

We set the table using the yellow rose china that Grandma Aziz had passed down to me along with a lace tablecloth reminiscent of the numerous dinners Grandma Pitalo always had for us. The menu consisted of Chicken Scarpellio (Grandma Pitalo), salad, risotto, and bread sticks. Brian and I had picked up a bottle of Charles Shaw Pinot Grigio at Trader Joe's last week while on our anniversary trip, and it was remarkably drinkable~ my dad and Brian both enjoyed a glass with lunch! For dessert, we indulged in Grandma Aziz' Apple Cake with some caramel vanilla ice cream~ except for Cari who didn't get left out as I made her a flourless chocolate cake.

It was a really nice afternoon, and everyone enjoyed the food as much as being together! I am looking forward to keeping up with the blog as well as continuing to learn about celebrating the many days we Catholics get to commemorate!!

Grandma's Apple Cake
3 c. flour
2 c. sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 lg. apples, peeled and sliced
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. Wesson oil
4 eggs
1/2 c. orange juice
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Grease and flour bundt pan. In medium bowl, mix together apples and cinnamon together; set aside. Beat eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla and orange juice together until smooth. Sprinkle 1/2 of apple mixture in pan. Pour half of batter in pan. Lay remaining apples on top; pour remaining batter over apples and spread evenly with spatula.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until done. Let cool on rack for 10 minutes then invert onto serving plate.
*Grandma always dusted the top with powdered sugar, but I like to make a glaze by mixing 1 cup powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons apple juice. I pour the glaze over the cake just as it's been put on the plate.