turkey thanks_feedmedearly 080

Today is a day for giving thanks. And thanks we give – for health, for family, for friendships, and happiness.

We sit down to a table laden with food. Our treasured recipes, the soup, the salads, the sides, and that most-loved Thanksgiving food of all: the turkey.

It’s easy to get swept up in the romance of Thanksgiving – the traditions, and the excitement of seeing friends or family members who we don’t often see. The meal, in all of its splendor, often becomes a reflection of what the cook did with the ingredients, not the ingredients themselves.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that it’s not just about what I’ve put on the table, but what came before that. The farmers who dedicate their lives to growing our crops, and the animals whose lives were sacrificed.

As a Canadian, I can’t vote in the US where I now make my home, so I vote with my everyday purchases. At the top of this list, comes the food that I buy. I’m not perfect when it comes to buying food. I have a weakness for junky salt & vinegar chips, and the occasional processed grilled cheese sandwich. But when it comes to buying meat, there is no question: it needs to have been humanely raised by farmers who care about the animals, and treat them well from birth to slaughter.

This year, I bought our turkey at the Knickerbocker Market in New York City. The store owner and butcher Mike is a food scientist, and knows his meat better than just about anyone I know. Having built a relationship with Mike over the years, I know that whatever I buy from him has met his own high quality standards.

A respect for food is something that I hope to pass on to my kids. Even though my kids are young, it’s important to teach them to be thankful for what we eat. I want them to understand that choosing our foods is always just that – a choice. We can pick the good stuff – the foods that have been farmed or grown with care, or we can choose the junk.

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Me_Rod_FeedMeDearly

Warning, you’re about to see many pictures of me in a faux fur hat. If you’re not interested in seeing this since you hate a) selfies or b) fur hats, feel free to ignore this post and move right along to more intellectually stimulating conversation about Thanksgiving and its history. It’s not boring, I promise you. I limited the history part to one short paragraph, and I can guarantee that you didn’t already know what I uncovered in my research.

Back to the hat. I hate taking selfies, but if it weren’t for selfies, nobody on this planet would know what I look like. My husband doesn’t walk around with his iPhone yelling “Hold on, the light is fantastic! I just need to take a quick picture of you.” My kids don’t say “Wait – Mom- can you make that silly face again?” No, it’s just me, art directing like a maniac, “Sam, stand against this wall, that Mohawk is awesome!” [click] “Emma, show me your bucket of beer, is that yours?” [click] [click].

So yes, sometimes a selfie is necessary. Take for instance the hat that I wore to a skating event in Bryant Park. If you’re in NYC anytime soon, it’s worth checking out the Winter Village, they have a ton of quirky food vendors, and the mother of all skating rinks:

ice   It’s the type of setting where this  happens: bryant

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olives 076

I’ve been waiting all year for this. My stomach is rumbling, I can’t stop thinking about it. Turkey, dark meat, crunchy wing bones, crispy skin. This is one polarizing meal, separating the meat eaters from the vegetarians, the turkey lovers from the turkey haters, pecan pie fans from the pumpkin pie fanatics. The battles are vicious, I try to stay out of it, so I’ll say yes to just about anything on the Thanksgiving table besides cranberry sauce from a can.

This year I was lucky enough to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving in October. Yes we eat the same foods. No it’s not about the pilgrims. I agree that it’s a little odd to have the exact same holiday with the same food and same name for completely different reasons. However,  according to my research, the first North American Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada in 1578, 43 years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth. Just a little pearl of wisdom for your cocktail hour conversations next week.

But regardless of its provenance, most of us will agree that Thanksgiving dinner is one of the tastiest of the year.

For years I used to schedule vacation days on the Tuesday and Wednesday preceding Thanksgiving to give myself a little prep window. I so looked forward to those two days when I could plan, shop, and cook to my heart’s content. Not to mention drink a few too many afternoon glasses of red wine. And in the spirit of full disclosure, a wee bit of sherry, Pedro Ximinez, the kind you can basically eat with a spoon.

But isn’t that what the holidays are about? Inappropriate, guilt-free indulgence?

Since I threw myself into cooking years ago, I’ve become the defacto destination amongst my friends for any Thanksgiving-related questions. What kind of turkey should I buy? Heritage or organic? What size? What stuffing should I make? What can I make ahead?

So I thought I’d break it down and create a mini guide for those of you who want to throw a first class dinner without losing your mind. In fact, if you follow the menu and timeline exactly, it should be a cinch. Just imagine, sleeping in until 10:30AM, making yourself a cappuccino, reading the paper, and finally by 1PM settling in for the real prep work. Nobody is getting up at 5AM on my program, that’s for sure.

Before you click away from this page, thinking that I’m making some kind of psychotic overpromise, let me coax you back. Yes, I agree that cooking Thanksgiving dinner can be a big undertaking, but if you plan ahead, and prepare the whole thing in baby steps, it’s actually easy to pull off.

Back when Gourmet magazine existed (hold on, wiping a tear) they used to illustrate this point with their party menus. Whether it was a Mothers’ day brunch, a Cinco de Mayo party, or even Thanksgiving dinner, they’d suggest a full menu – from the appetizer to the main course, side(s), a dessert, and even a signature cocktail – and  lay out the specific daily steps to get you there. It was so helpful, and so clear that if you spent an hour or two prepping each day, you could make magic happen.

I take this same approach with Thanksgiving and do as much as I can in advance. I don’t like to be slaving over a hot stove when guests arrive. So the majority of the cooking is done before anyone walks through our front door. I want to be able to join my friends and family for cocktail hour, not watch them from the sidelines.

The great thing about Thanksgiving dinner is that most of the ingredients and dishes can be pulled together ahead of time. In some cases, waaaay ahead of time. Like homemade turkey stock. If you need a great recipe, try this one from Bon Appetit magazine. It makes a huge difference in the outcome of your dishes – just stash it in the freezer and thaw it early Thanksgiving week. It’ll be ready for you to use in all of your side dishes; the star of your homemade gravy.

The menu I’ve pulled together is my go-to meal on Thanksgiving, made from the recipes that I trust and have made time and again. This meal has been 10+ years in the making, and let me tell you, I’ve done my research. I used to hole up every weekend in October with a stack of cooking magazines at my feet and just start ripping, stuffing the recipes into a giant green binder. This was the party planning equivalent of dial-up modems now that we have Pinterest (I’ll cop to now having a Thanksgiving board, feel free to follow it for more great recipes). But I used to love the process nonetheless.

It wasn’t easy to narrow my set of dishes down to the final list, but the easiest and tastiest won out: the chestnut and sausage stuffing that’s appeared on our table every year since 2001; the cranberry sauce with zinfandel (how many kids really go for cranberry sauce anyway?); the creamed spinach and parsnips that bring guests to their knees. I’ve had people ask “what is this?” as though parsnips are some kind of wonderfood from Mars. Most important, I’ve included a DRY-BRINED bird. Because 1. every bird should be brined, and 2. nobody wants to take up valuable fridge space with 20-lb floating raw turkey. And I’ve included the newest addition to the menu, the truly auto-pilot sweet potato, coconut & smoked paprika soup, so easy, it basically cooks itself.

ThePerfectThanksgiving_FeedMeDearly

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peanuts 071

8 months ago I started this blog with the intention of covering a food-related topic that hits close to home. Today, I’m finally getting the chance to share it.

As many of you know, in this country, and around the world, we’re facing an epidemic; a serious, and growing public health concern. Food allergies are on the rise, touching millions of families worldwide.

A few facts to consider:

  • Up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, which affects every 1/13 children
  • There are 200,000 emergency room visits each year due to exposure to food allergens
  • A CDC study conducted in 2008, discovered an 18% increase in food allergies over the previous 10-year period.

The situation is grim, and it’s getting worse.

Theories abound, including the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that we’ve become too clean and our immune systems are sitting around idle, waiting to attack, something, anything, even if it’s harmless.

Eight foods account for 90 percent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.

Lauren, who started First Grade this year, has an anaphylactic reaction to two of them (peanuts and tree nuts) as well as third: sesame.

When Lauren was first diagnosed with her food allergies, I was worried.  I thought about the years to come: how could I send her to school? On play dates? To summer camp?  I loaded up on Epipens and stashed them around the house, in diaper bags, and in the bottom of the stroller.  I threw out any offending substances – the Tahini paste in the fridge, the nuts in my freezer, and the jars of sesame seeds and Asian sauces in my cupboard.

But even with all of that vigilance, you can never fully protect your kids.

A few months after Lauren turned 2 we had our first allergic episode. A guest had brought peanut butter Easter eggs to a dinner party we hosted for my husband’s birthday. Somehow, over the course of the evening, they’d gotten mixed into the bowl of solid milk chocolate eggs that I was planning to hide the next morning.

When Lauren woke up, she was thrilled to find that the Easter bunny had visited. She quickly uncovered the eggs from their hiding spots, unwrapped the first, and bit into it.

I didn’t realize the mistake until Lauren was halfway through her egg and I noticed that the center looked different from the shell.

I tried the remaining half and was horrified when I tasted peanut butter. Panic set in and I watched her with a close eye.

She seemed to be a little uncomfortable, but nothing happened in the first half hour. I was starting to think that her skin test was a false positive when she started to cough and wheeze. Slowly at first, but progressively it got worse. She quickly got to a point where she was gasping for air and I realized that we were dealing with an anaphylactic reaction. Because of the slow onset, I’d been taken off guard – this wasn’t how I’d expected anaphylaxis to unfold.

I dug through the diaper bag with shaky hands and found the Epipen. After tearing off the blue top, I grabbed a fistful of skin and injected it into her thigh. She responded immediately. The coughing and wheezing stopped. She was back to her normal 2-year old self, laughing and chatting about the Easter bunny. Stunned, we packed a bag, strapped her into the stroller, and took her straight to the hospital.

As terrifying as our experience was, I learned a valuable lesson. That the Epipen is not to be feared, that it’s there for emergency situations, and that it works. I gained confidence in my ability to handle a similar situation, God forbid it were to ever happen again.

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Moosewood cookbook

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about whether to review, or not review. And I made the decision to help support authors, brands, products, and potentially even services that I use, and love.

It seems only fitting to start with a review of The Moosewood Collective’s latest cookbook: Moosewood Restaurant Favorites.

The Moosewood books hold a special place in my heart. When I first started to cook years ago, I collected as many Moosewood books as I could find. To me, the Moosewood Collective always seemed to embody the principles that I was just starting to embrace: healthy, conscious eating from local, organic farms and purveyors.

moosewood

Although I’ve never been a pure vegetarian, I try to mix plant-based foods into my diet as much as possible. And lately, I’ve been loving the clean eating mindset even more than usual.

The Moosewood books have always been such a great resource – you’re just as likely to find a homegrown American dish as you are to find something inspired by the Middle East, Asia, or Africa. It’s multi-cultural cuisine at its best, healthy, a little off the beaten track, and always delicious.

When the Moosewood publishers reached out about reviewing their new book, I jumped at the chance. How could I not? This book brings me squarely back to my roots, I fondly remember flipping through soup-stained copies of New Classics, and Cooking for a Crowd, searching for inspiration for a dinner party or quiet meal at home.

And like the books that preceded it, this book doesn’t disappoint.

Let’s talk about optics first: the padded book cover trend. I don’t know who first thought of this – it might have been that other vegetarian genius Yotam Ottolenghi, whose book Plenty swept through home kitchens from coast to coast. But there’s nothing more comforting than crawling under the covers with a giant cookbook with a padded cover. It’s the little things, Moosewood, thanks for taking note.

There’s something for everyone in Restaurant Favorites, their attempt to catalog from thousands of recipes the tried-and-true techniques and must-include dishes from their 30-year history as one of America’s most beloved vegetarian restaurants.

Indonesian rice salad

The result from this process is a book that’s suitable for just about everyone. Novice cooks will appreciate easy recipes like the simple smooth guacamole, classic hummus, and pasta with a raw tomato sauce. Yet more advanced cooks with an appetite for adventure will welcome dishes like Rumbledthumps (it’s Scottish, and on my list of things to cook next) the Indonesian Rice salad (which I topped with spicy Thai Baked Tofu).

Yes, it’s vegetarian. And vegan. And my 6’6” husband ate three bowls in quick succession, requesting that I make a triple batch of it next time.

Even recipes that seem like basics have a slightly new spin. Like these Chocolate-Chocolate chip cookies – chewy on the inside with the addition of cream cheese (who would have thought), but crispy on the outside. They were outstanding. My new go-to recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

And as a cream of mushroom soup lover – and clearly not the red can variety – I just had to try the Creamy Hungarian Mushroom Soup. More cream cheese (twist my arm why don’t you) and some seemingly incongruent ingredients like soy sauce, dill, and paprika. Yes, Nelly, it worked. Trust me on this one. Rich and hearty, it was so satisfying on a cold Fall evening.

Chocolate-chocolatechipcookies
Hungarian mushroom soup

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