Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Our Turkey Day Traditions

I think Thanksgiving is special.
 As Thanksgiving approaches, it's the time to revisit all those family traditions that have been handed down from one generation to the next.   And, if you're like me, you've added a few of your own to the book of your families' traditions.

I think Thanksgiving is special.  It's special enough that I have some favorite recipes that are reserved just for this occasion.  In fact, I have a special notebook with all my special holiday recipes.  (I can't take credit for this idea, I copied my good Spokane friend Lynda on this one.) It turns out to be a spectacular idea.  The recipes and notes are all in one place, When I pull it off the shelf I'm instantly in business for the holidays.  It takes all the pressure out of hunting frantically for that one elusive recipe so you can get the ingredients rounded up ahead of time, so it's a big time-saver.  (Mr. C, who is in charge of the escalloped oysters just told me today, "Maybe I should print out the recipe and put it in your book --  'cause every year I'm hunting for the right one online at the last minute.......")  Plus, as the kids get older and break off and eventually start their own families and holiday celebrations, it becomes a family heritage kind of thing.  

So today I'm opening my secret, sacred holiday book, which is entitled "Let Us Give Thanks"  to share some of these time-treasured traditions with you!

Firstly, pumpkin rolls fall into this sacred category at our house.  I'm not a huge sweets fan, and I like to serve this light little pumpkin cake rolled up with cream cheese frosting inside as an alternative to some of the heavier pies and desserts.

It's a simple recipe, and a simple procedure.  What's Ina Garten's favorite saying?  Foolproof.  I don't bake very much (I cook allot, but I don't bake very much), and yet this pumpkin roll has never failed to turn out perfectly.  Been makin' it for something like 35 years now........Man, I hate admitting that........

Let's start with the dry ingredients.  You'll need the following:  
3/4 C all-purpose flour
 1 C white sugar
1 t baking soda
2 t pumpkin pie spice

Next add the wet ingredients:  
1 C pumpkin puree
3 eggs 
1 t lemon juice

 PS:  My "Let Us Give Thanks" book is peeking out at you, 
see it right there with the colorful yellow stripes on the left?


Mix it all up.   Then pour into a greased and floured 9x13" jelly roll pan.  You can use parchment paper in the bottom if you'd like.   Important note!  A larger (half sheet cake pan) is too big!   The dimensions are important, cause otherwise the cake is too thin to roll up nicely.  Luckily, my jelly roll pans are 35 years old, and thus have not succumbed to the "bigger must be better" syndrome.  Do you know, I could not even find this size at Bed & Bath when I went to replace my antique version of these pans?  

Anyhow, then you just pop it into a 375 degree F oven (or 190 degree C) for just 15 minutes.

Now we're at the secret part.  You need to lay damp (thin) linen towel on the counter.  Flip the cake out of the pan onto the towel.  Then you'll need a couple T of confectioner's sugar to sprinkle on top like this:

Then you just roll it up like this.  
And now you have a "pumpkin roll".

What this really does is let the cake cool in the form you want to serve it in ~ a roll.  So set it aside on a cooling rack 
for at least 20 minutes.

And while that cools, we'll  make the frosting, 
which will replace the not-so-tasty damp kitchen towel.

For the cream cheese frosting you'll need:
8 oz. cream cheese @ room temp

1/4 C butter, also @ room temp
1 t vanilla extract
1 C confectioners sugar

NOTE:   I will confess right here, that I always double this, and use half to frost the outside of the cake as well as the inside of the cake.  I think it's prettier, tastier, and you don't have to be so concerned about whether your cake is perfect on the outside.  It covers any boo-boo's really nicely.  And the final reason, of course, and the heart of the matter is ~ you can never have too much cream cheese frosting.......not ever.

Now you're gonna' unroll the pumpkin roll and frost it. 

And then you're gonna' roll it up again, with a sweet beautiful swirl of cream cheese frosting inside.  

You can sprinkle a little more powdered sugar on top of the roll, or like me, use the other half of the double-batch of frosting you made.

Note:  This freezes well, which makes it a good make-ahead for the big T-day.   If I have time to do this ahead, then I wait to frost the outside, and I wrap it in saran wrap (twice), and then foil.   I have a couple of these in my freezer right now, waiting to be the star of the show @ Thursday's TG dinner.  I will defrost and frost the outside the day before, and ~ I'm in business!


I've also made some alterations to our standard menu over the years.  The latest addition (it's really a substitution) is a healthier version of the much beloved green bean casserole, something which I remember loving from my childhood but never really tasted that great in adulthood.  I kept on making it every year, for the sake of tradition.  You know the one ~ the standard can of green beans with a can of mushroom soup topped with french fried onions.  

But we eat much fresher & healthier now than we used to, as a matter of necessity.  So I found this version a couple of years ago, using fresh green beans and making a fresh mushroom gravy, oh wow!   I can't tell you how much I love it!  This is one of those things I only make at the holidays, that helps keep it special!

So try this & tell me what you think:

Green Bean Casserole with Homemade Mushroom Gravy
Prep time:  10 min
Cook time: 35 min
Serves:  6-8 (so you really should double the recipe!)

1 1/2 lb green beans, trimmed (I don't use the Hericots Verts for this, they are too thin!)
Kosher and and freshly ground pepper
2 T unsalted butter
1 T vegetable oil
1 lb mixed gourmet mushrooms, such as shitakes, creminis and oyster, cleaned and quartered
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves (they really must be fresh herbs)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t cayenne powder
1/4 t ground nutmeg
2 T all-purpose flour
1 C low-sodium chicken broth
1 C sour cream
1/2 C cream
1/4 C grated Parmesan

*4 medium shallots, sliced and separated into thin rounds for topping
1 C all-purpose flour 
Vegetable oil, for shallow frying

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F
Bring a large pot of salted water to a oil.  Add the green beans and cook until they just turn bright green, 2-3 minutes.  (You do not want to cook them through as they will cook in the oven also).  Strain and plunge into immediately into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.  When cool, drain and set out to dry on paper towels.

Set a 12" cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the butter and vegetable oil.   Once the butter is melted and the pan is hot, add the mushrooms.  Cook undisturbed so the mushrooms sear nicely, about 1 minute.  Add the thyme and garlic and continue cooking the mushrooms to achieve some nice color.  Season with the salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg.  Cook 2-3 minutes longer, dusting the mushrooms with some of the flour as they release moisture.  Stir with a whisk to incorporate the flour (just like making a roux) and gradually add in the chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and add the sour cream and cream.  Stir gently and cook over low heat until gravy thickens, 5-6 minutes.  Add the blanched green beans to the pan and fold together so everything is mixed well.  Spread out evenly in the pan.  Sprinkle the green beans with grated Parmesan and transfer to a roasting tray.  Bake until casserole is bubbly and the top is melted and golden, 15 minutes.

(I skip this next step, but if you want to do this, knock yourself out.  There's no way I'm flash frying fresh shallots at the last minute while trying to get umpteen dishes onto my Thanksgiving table while they're still hot!   So my only change in the recipe is to use ~ wait for it ~ store bought French Fried onions!   )

Pour the vegetable oil into a deep skillet and heat to 350 degrees F.  Pour the flour into a large mixing bowl ad sprinkle generously with salt & pepper.  Toss the shallot rounds in the seasoned flour, then place in a strainer and shake off any excess flour.  Fry the shallots in the hot oil in small batches until golden brown, 3-5 minutes.  Drain on paper towels and season with salt while still hot.

Top the green bean casserole with the fried shallots and serve.

***Instead I top with pre-made French Fried onions for the last couple of minutes in the oven, and call it a day.   It's a big hit.  Always gets allot of kudos's.   More importantly, I absolutely love this Thanksgiving dish.

Tip:   I usually make the mushroom gravy the day ahead if I have time. 


Then there's my Holiday Citrus Almond Tea.  I picked up this recipe in Tulsa, OK  while at my sister-in-law's (thank you Lila!).  and have been making it and passing it along ever since.   It's good for a crowd (it makes a big pot);  it's good for your house (makes it smell amazing); and it's both unique and alcohol free.   Again, this is part of our "holiday reserve" collection......

It's available upon request.   And my amazing Spiced Brown Sugar Carrots!  And Make-ahead Potatoes!  And Frosted Cranberries (surprisingly popular).  And Cranberry Fruit Conserve.  

And then there's post-Thanksgiving recipes, like my famous Southwestern Turkey Soup; or my Black Friday Turkey Salad; or my Turkey Tetrazzini.

This bog is already too lengthy, so...... 

What are your favorites??   Your famous, unstoppable, talk-ed about, revered favorites???  Are you willing to share?  

I would love to hear from you............


  1. you just outdo yourself. love reading ALL your comments. have a great THANKSGIVING.

  2. Really enjoy your blog and great menu/recipes too. This article has some ways to tweak the menu to freshen up the tradition! Thanks!

  3. Wonderful blog with such good photos too! That pumpkin roll dessert sounds so scrumptious and must be quite pretty presented even after sliced for individual servings! The mushroom gravy for the fresh green beans sounds perfect as an upgrade to tradition! Thanks for sharing and those at your table today are lucky to eat your creations!

    1. If you love green beans and mushrooms, you will love this recipe, KS! It's takes a little more effort than just opening a can of mushroom soup, but making it from scratch elevates it to a whole new level. The whole thing can be made ahead, just top it with the French fried onions at the last minute and heat it up in the oven. I made a double batch this year, even though I knew one pan would suffice ~~ because otherwise there would have been no left-overs for the next day!


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