Highlights from Thanksgiving 2012

Another Iaciofano Thanksgiving has come and gone. As you may recall from reading posts of Thanksgivings past, our family Turkey Day is a small affair. And as Aunt Olga has left us, to hopefully dine at pearlier Thanksgiving day tables, it has become even smaller.

Nevertheless! The Iaciofano's put on quite a show, gastronomically speaking, that is. But as with any show, we must begin with the warm up, the intro, the....well the schlepping.

Yes, the holiday schlepping. I have before intimated that I might require my own personal sherpa (please post applications in the comments section). This past Wednesday before Thanksgiving was no different. I and about 298,461,928,317,318,291,283 other turkey revellers descended on Penn Station at 4pm to catch a train to the New Jersey suburbs. However, I am about 99.99% convinced that I was the only passenger carrying the following items:

1. 4 different camera lenses and a camera

2. A tripod (that got repeated dirty looks from other travellers)

3. 2 pairs of sneakers

4. 2 different types of squashes

5. Cranberry sauce of my own making

6. Various plates (sandwiched in between clothes for cushioning)

7. A computer

8. Heavens only knows what else

I carried these items to accomplish cooking, photographing and a little racing. Enthusiastic, I know.

And so, we (by which I mean myself and all my gizmos, accoutrements and sneakers) arrived in Morristown, NJ ready to go. 

And go I did! I began the day with a little warm-up: The Morristown Turkey Trot at Ginty Field. It's nice to get out and trot with turkeys before you devour them. And it's even nicer when you place 1st in your age group of turkeys! Toby pictured above was overjoyed by my win (as you can see), as was The Box, who complained repeatedly of the cold weather, stole all the granola bars from the post-race buffet, and insisted we stay for the award "ceremony".

Anyway, I brought the extra sneakers for the race. They're racing sneakers, see....and I have this wackadoodle idea that they make me go faster. And they're pink.

And now, on with the show...Thanksgiving Day Dinner! There were a few stand-outs to the meal, one of which was ALLLL MINE MWAH HAHAHAHA!!

No seriously, I made it myself. Concocted it in my head, in fact, based on previous stuffing knowledge, some crazy theories and a sprinkling fairy dust. This miracle of carbohydrate and vegetable was the:

Stuffing with Winter Squash, Fig and BACON!

Also known as: The Best Stuffing in the UNIVERSE

What You Need:

This recipe serves 10-12

2 loaves good-quality white bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 20 cups)

Roasted chestnuts, chopped

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

4 leeks, (just the white parts), trimmed rinsed well and diced

6 pieces cooked bacon

6-8 dried figs, diced

1/2 delicata squash with seeds removed

1/2 butternut squash, peeled with seeds removed

1/2 acorn squash, peeled with seeds removed

1/2 Kabocha squash, peeled with seeds removed

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage, plus a few more leaves for fried sage garnish

5 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock

1 tablespoon coarse salt

Freshly ground pepper

*A note on the squash - you could use more or less of any of the varieties listed, depending on availability. You could also use pumpkin!

What To Do:

The night before, you can slice up the squashes and roast them. Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

Slice the delicata squash into thin slices - there's no need to remove the skin from this little guy, as it's edible and very delicate....get it? Delicata??? ... ok, moving on.

Peel the butternut and slice into small cubes.

Th Acorn and Kabocha squashes are a challenge to peel because of their odd shape. Half these and remove the seeds. Then, place them, cut side down and brushed with a little olive oil, on the baking sheet. They may require a little more roasting time, but they will get nice and soft, and you can remove the insides after roasting.

Place all your sliced and cubes squash on the baking sheet as well. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper and 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh sage (use more if you like, but be warned that sage is a powerful herb!).

Roast in the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes. As I said the halved squashes may require more time. If so, remove the sliced varieties and let the other bake an additional 10 minutes.

Now onto the stuffing part! For the bread cubes, you can either buy a bread, cube it, and spread the cubes in single layers on baking sheets, letting them dry at room temperature, uncovered, overnight.

But, you could also use pre-dried bread cubes. Look for those in the Thanksgiving section of your supermarket. I won't judge you...I used the pre-dried version this year on account of juggling 14 different squashes, 4 camera lenses, a tripod, rolling suitcase and two pairs of running shoes (we'll get to that later) through Penn Station at 4pm the night before Thanksgiving.

Rinse and chop up your leeks. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks to the skillet, stirring, until they are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh sage; cook 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup stock; cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon. I use the microwave for this task. Mostly because I love how once you use your microwave for cooking bacon, any time you heat it up after that for at least a month, it smells like bacon is cooking. Ever noticed this? Try it now. I place 2 paper towels on a plate, and place the 6 slices of bacon on top of that, evenly spaced, all lying next to each other. Then I put one more paper towel on top. Bacon likes to be tucked in, you see?

I cook the bacon in 30 second intervals to my desired degree of crispness. Don't crisp the bujeezuz out of it, as it's going to bake in the oven afterward.

Now grab a LARGE bowl. How large? In charge, people, that's how large.

Transfer the leek mixture to the large bowl. Add remaining 4 1/2 cups stock, the chestnuts, bread, salt, cooked bacon, figs and all the squashes; season with pepper. Toss to combine. If not stuffing turkey, transfer to a buttered 17-by-12-inch baking dish. Cover; bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover; bake until hot and golden brown, 30 minutes more.

You will love this. John even loved it. Aaaaand, I must toot my own horn here, AUNT EMILY EVEN LOVED IT. No joke, people. She said it was "unique" and she actually meant that in a good way. Huh.

The next was Marmo's creation, from a recipe from the Silver Palatte Cookbook:

Ginger Pumpkin Mousse

What You Need:

4 eggs

7 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (or canned pumpkin)

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 cup heavy cream

minced crystallized ginger for garnish (don't eat it all before you garnish!)

What To Do:

Beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is light colored and thick. Add the gelatin and beat to blend well. Mix in pumpkin puree and spices and chill mixture until it begins to set.

Whip the heavy cream with a hand-held or standing mixer until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture.

Pour into 4-6 dessert dishes (like small ice cream bowls or ramekins). 

Chill for 4 hours. Before serving, decorate with crystallized ginger.

And then we commenced lying about. In the living room. With the Jets game on.

Let's not talk about the Jets game. But I will give you a sampling of Iaciofano Thanksgiving dialog, unrelated to football:

John: (Glancing at the fireplace) We should light a fire.


Me: (from the opposite couch, and apparently newly awake): LIGHT IT UP!!


Marmo: Who's going to CLEAN IT UP?!

John: I'll start it! (walks away to get some wood)


Marmo: Oh jeez.

The Box: Lighter's in the kitchen!!!

Toby: BARK BARK BARK!!! (translation: Light it up!)

And so we did. We lit it up. And then we watched more football (egads), and I fell asleep hours before normal people do. In fact, I was getting so much sleep, I decided to hang out in the burbs for the weekend.

On Saturday, I declared it my Family Birthday Dinner. We had not celebrated my birthday as a family yet. Hurricanes and power outages and train disturbances had postponed it. What did I want for my Family Birthday Dinner? Chinese food. Yes, I did! Chinese food from Bill and Harry's in East Hanover, NJ and Gruner Veltliner. 

And so, we lit it up (by which I mean started the car), and off we drove to sample the Szechuan Dumplings in Spicy Peanut Sauce that the Box and I had an argument about.

Me: I want the Szechuan Dumplings.

The Box: They don't have those at Bill and Harry's. You're thinking of the other place.

Me: No, they have them at Bill and Harry's. They have that spicy peanutty-saucy thing. 

The Box: No.

Me: YES.

The Box: No, you're imagining it.

Well, I'm here to tell you that I imagined them all the way into my mouth because lo and BEHOLD - there they were on the menu. LIGHT IT UP!!

We polished off a bottle of this stuff (and then another one)...

which The Box actually liked even though he claims to never have heard of Mr. Veltliner.

And then we all learned a lesson from our cookies:

The Box: Courageously shouldered the mistake in his recollection of Bill and Harry's appetizer menu.

Marmo: Did what was right and let herself be seen in public with all of us.

Me: I'm really not sure what this fortune is talking about. Imperfections??

John: Discovered his new talent: lighting it up!!

Happy Holiday Season everyone - and so it begins!