Friday, November 27, 2009

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving, Day 7: Happy Thanksgiving

I know this is late, so late that it's no longer actually Thanksgiving. But I wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving, albeit retroactively. I hope those who celebrate the holiday had a wonderful and festive day. To those who don't, I hope you had a happy Thursday. From my tight-knit and loving family to the fact that I'm not going to bed hungry tonight, I have much to be thankful for. Paramount amongst my many blessings is my wife and our child, due in late March. I couldn't be happier.

Once again, the happiest of holidays to you and yours!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving, Day 6: Sweet As Pie

Illinois was the top pumpkin-producing state in 2008, yielding 496 million pounds of the total national output of 1.1 billion pounds. Additionally, California, Pennsylvania and New York each produced at least 100 million pounds of pumpkins.

Modern pumpkin pie was not produced until the 18th century.

Most commercially-available canned pumpkin, notably that marketed by the Libby’s corporation, is in actuality a variety of squash known as the Dickinson field pumpkin.

Punkin chunkin' (also known as pumpkin chuckin') is a competitive activity wherein teams assemble mechanical devices, amongst them catapults and air cannons, designed to hurl pumpkins.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest pumpkin pie ever made weighed 2020 pounds, and measured more than twelve feet wide by four inches deep. Read all about it here.

I would write more, and post a recipe, but pumpkin pie is one traditional holiday favorite that I don't care for. Feel free to have my share this year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving, Day 5: A Berry Good Side Dish

Native Americans used the cranberry not only as food, but for medicinal purposes and for dyeing fabric.

Early cultivators of the cranberry originally called it the "craneberry", finding resemblance between the plant and the neck of a crane.

Wisconsin is responsible for more than half of the United States' cranberry production, followed by Massachusetts. Additionally, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington grow significant amounts of cranberries.

Cranberry crops are pollinated by domestic honeybees.

Unripe cranberries are white; their trademark crimson color is a result of ripening.

European cranberry sauce is usually sour-tasting, while that found in the United States is considerably sweeter.

Among the health benefits of cranberries are polyphenol antioxidants, which are believed to fight neurdegenerative and cardiovascular disease.

Ocean Spray was formed in 1930 as a cooperative by three cranberry growers looking to expand their business. Their Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin processing plant is, at 440,000 square feet, the world's largest cranberry processing facility.

Irish rock band The Cranberries, known for their early-1990s hits "Linger", "Dreams" and "Zombie" recently reunited after having disbanded in 2003 due to its members pursuing solo careers.

A lyric sung by John Lennon at the end of The Beatles' 1967 hit "Strawberry Fields Forever", long rumored to be "I buried Paul" is actually "cranberry sauce."

Cranberry Sauce: Better Than Canned

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
12 oz cranberries
2 sections orange peel

Combine sugar, water and orange peel in medium saucepan; bring to boil
Add cranberries and return to boil
Cover, reduce heat and boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally
Pour into bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cool completely
Refrigerate until ready to serve

Yields about 2 cups

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving, Day 4: Stuff It!

Though "dressing" and "stuffing" can be used interchangeably, there are certain factors that seem to influence which term is used. Notably, some believe that when it's cooked inside the turkey, it's "stuffing," but when it's cooked separate from the bird, it's "dressing." Additionally there are regional factors: Those in the Southern United States tend to call it "dressing" regardless of whether it's cooked inside or out.

Although animals have likely been stuffed as long as early humans have been cooking, the earliest reference to stuffing an animal prior to cooking is found in a collection of recipes dating back to Ancient Rome. The recipe included vegetables, nuts, herbs, and variety meats.

Stove Top Stuffing, introduced in 1972, reports sales of approximately 60 million boxes each Thanksgiving.

In the Southern United States it is common to see stuffing prepared with rice instead of breadcrumbs or cornbread.

The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service maintains a set of guidelines that must be followed when preparing stuffing inside of a turkey. If I may quote directly:

For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook stuffing separately. However, if stuffing a turkey, it's essential to use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.

Cooking a home-stuffed turkey is riskier than cooking one not stuffed. Even if the turkey itself has reached the safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured in the innermost part of the thigh, the wing and the thickest part of the breast, the stuffing may not have reached a temperature high enough to destroy bacteria that may be present.

Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165 °F, possibly resulting in foodborne illness.

Frozen Turkeys Stuffed at the Plant under USDA Inspection
The USDA does not recommend buying retail-stuffed, uncooked turkeys from a store or restaurant.

However, some turkeys purchased frozen have been stuffed at a plant under USDA inspection. These turkeys should be safe when cooked from the frozen state. Follow the manufacturer's package directions.

1. Prepare Stuffing Safely
If you plan to prepare stuffing using raw meat, poultry, or shellfish, you should cook the ingredients before stuffing the turkey to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from bacteria that may be found in raw ingredients. The wet ingredients for stuffing can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated. However, do not mix wet and dry ingredients until just before spooning the stuffing mixture into the turkey cavity.

If stuffing is prepared ahead of time, it must be cooked immediately and refrigerated in shallow containers. Do not stuff whole poultry with cooked stuffing.

2. Stuff Loosely
Do not cool the stuffing. Spoon it directly into the turkey cavity right after preparation. Stuff the turkey loosely — about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, because heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment.

Do not stuff turkeys to be grilled, smoked, fried, or microwaved.

3. Cook Immediately
Immediately place the stuffed, raw turkey in an oven set no lower than 325 °F.

4. Use a Food Thermometer
For safety and doneness, check the internal temperature of the turkey and stuffing with a food thermometer.

If the temperature of the turkey and the center of the stuffing have not reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F, further cooking will be required. Do not remove the stuffing from the turkey before it reaches 165 °F because the undercooked stuffing could contaminate the cooked meat.

Continue to cook the turkey until the stuffing is safely cooked.

5. Let It Rest
Let the cooked turkey stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.

6. Refrigerate Promptly
Refrigerate the cooked turkey and stuffing within 2 hours after cooking. Place leftovers in shallow containers and use within 3 to 4 days. Reheat leftovers to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
My Mom's Stuffing (for lack of a better name):

6 Tbsp chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup melted butter
4 cups dry bread cubes or cornbread
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup bulk sausage

Sauté onion, celery and sausage
In mixing bowl, mix bread cubes/cornbread, melted butter, sauteed onion, celery and sausage
Add salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, sage and chicken broth

Yields 3 cups stuffing, or enough for a 5 lb. turkey.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving, Day 3: Going Green

Green beans have been grown in Mexico for 7,000 years.

Broccoli originated on the island of Cyprus almost three thousand years ago.

Thanks to anthocyanin pigmentation, the first carrots cultivated in Afghanistan in the 7th century were grown in a variety of colors.

George Washington was known to eat a cooked onion in order to stave off a cold.
The average ear of corn has 800 kernels, arranged in sixteen rows. A bushel of corn contains approximately 27,000 kernels.

The Scoville scale is a means of measuring the heat (i.e. spiciness) of various chile peppers. A mild bell pepper scores a zero on the scale, while a jalapeño may score anywhere between 2,500 and 10,000 Scoville units. The much hotter habanero pepper scores between 100,000 and 350,000 Scoville units.

French writer Marcel Proust claimed that asparagus "transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume".

Arugula is known in many English-speaking nations as "rocket".

Broccoli Cauliflower Casserole: Another Favorite Holiday Recipe

I first tasted this recipe when my Aunt Mary made it for Christmas 1992. It made quite an impression, and before long my mom had begun preparing it as well. As with yesterday's sweet potato recipe, apologies for not having a photo to upload; the last time I had both dishes was well before I entered my "take photos of everything I eat" phase.

1 large bunch broccoli or 16 oz bag frozen
1 whole cauliflower or 16 oz bag frozen
8 oz light cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cube butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Spray 6" x 9" x 1.5" dish with nonstick spray
Boil and drain vegetables
Mash vegetables with fork or potato masher; set aside
In saucepan on low heat, melt butter and stir in 6 tablespoons of milk
Dilute cornstarch with remaining 2 tablespoons of milk and add to saucepan
Add cream cheese to saucepan and stir until creamy; remove from heat
Add cream cheese mixture to vegetables
Pour everything into the greased dish and top with slivered almonds
Bake for 30-45 minutes

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving, Day 2: Put in Your Potatoes

Potatoes are approximately 80% water and 20% solid.

Potatoes are one of the two most popular fresh vegetables in the United States. (Lettuce is the other.)

The potato is the fourth most important crop in the world, following wheat, rice and corn.

The average American eats almost 140 pounds of potatoes annually. Of this, approximately one hundred pounds are made up of fresh or frozen potatoes in such dishes as mashed potatoes, baked potatoes and french fries.

McDonalds uses about 7% of all the potatoes grown in the United States for its french fries. They sell more than 1/3 of all french fries sold in restaurants in the U.S. each year.

1.8 billion pounds of sweet potatoes were produced in the United States in 2008. North Carolina led production at 874 million pounds, followed by California at 437 million pounds, and Mississippi at 335 million pounds.

Marie Antoinette was known to wear potato blossoms in her hair.

The ‘french’ in french fries refers solely to the method of cutting the potatoes, defined in Merriam-Webster’s Colelgiate Dictionary as, “to cut in thin lengthwise strips before cooking.” Despite the rebranding of this popular side as "Freedom Fries" in 2003, the term does not in any way refer to the country of France.

In 1990, Pringles produced the world’s largest potato chip, measuring 23 inches by 14.5 inches.

While mashed potato can be enjoyed as a side dish, it is also an instrumental part of shepherd’s pie, potato croquettes, gnocchi and other dishes.

The depression made in mashed potatoes for the purpose of pouring gravy is sometimes known as a “tater crater”.

Instant mashed potatoes are thought to have existed as far back as the Inca Empire.

One of the earliest references to ‘chips’ (known as French fries in the United states) can be found in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (1859): “husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.”

In 1952, Mr. Potato Head became the first toy advertised on television.

Sweet Potatoes: A Family Recipe

This dish, made by my mom at Thanksgiving, served as my introduction to sweet potatoes.

2 large cans sweet potatoes
1 cube butter
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans

Spray round casserole dish (5" long by 8 1/2" wide) with nonstick spray
Layer ingredients from bottom to top as follows:

sweet potatoes
chopped pecans
brown sugar

Repeat until ingredients are exhausted, as you would a lasagna, ending up with pats of butter on top
Bake at 375 degrees until butter is melted and pecans are golden brown, approximately 20-30 minutes

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving, Day 1: Talking Turkey

Approximately 90% of American households eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

The average American consumes more than seventeen pounds of turkey per year.

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 250 million turkeys were raised in the United States in 2009, with 45.5 million alone raised in the state of Minnesota. After Minnesota, the top turkey-producing states are North Carolina at 37.5 million, Arkansas at 28 million, Missouri at 21 million, Virginia at 16.4 million, and California at 15 million.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 45 million turkeys are eaten in the United States every Thanksgiving. This number accounts for one sixth of all turkeys sold in the U.S. annually.

Over 675 million pounds of turkey are consumed on Thanksgiving Day

According to the National Turkey Federation, approximately 24% of Americans buy their Thanksgiving turkeys fresh, as opposed to 69% who buy them frozen.

The most popular method of serving leftover turkey is in a sandwich.

While making history as the first men to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ate the astronaut equivalent of a roast turkey dinner.

For those who eschew meat (as opposed to those who chew meat), tofurkey is a non-meat substitute, usually made from wheat or soybean protein, which can be roasted or baked. Tofurky (note the absence of the “e”) is a specific brand of tofurkey.

During the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation, held at the White House each year, the National Turkey Federation presents the President of the United States with a live turkey. The first President to take part in this tradition was Harry S. Truman. The first President to grant the turkey a presidential pardon - now an annual tradition in its own right - was George H.W. Bush.

Although domesticated turkeys cannot fly, wild turkeys are able to not only fly for short distances, but also trot at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.

A wild turkey’s field of vision is approximately 270 degrees. By comparison, a human being’s field of vision is less than 180.

A fully-grown turkey has approximately 3,500 feathers.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving

Since November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, I've been occupied with a writing project the last few weeks. Therefore, updates have been scarce. But fear not; I'm not letting the month go by without reference (and deference) to Thanksgiving, quite possibly the greatest food-related holiday I celebrate. Yes, yes, we all remember the photos of the feast I enjoyed on the Fourth of July. But for me, Thanksgiving is a special holiday for many reasons: Gathering with friends and family, the official (to me, anyway) start of the Christmas season, and of course, more food than a small army could consume.

For those who may not be familiar with the origins of Thanksgiving, it is widely believed to have begun in the 17th century when settlers from England ("pilgrims") arrived in North America ("the New World", today known as Plymouth, Massachusetts). Members of the Wampanoag tribe taught the pilgrims to grow crops and catch fish, and after a particularly harsh winter, the pilgrims held a three-day celebration to thank God - and their native friends - for their survival in the New World. Of course, the Wampanoag would eventually have their land stolen and be all but wiped out by their new friends - if, in fact, such a friendship was ever actually forged - but since this is a blog about food, I’ll try to stay on topic. Contrary to popular belief, the first Thanksgiving dinner probably consisted of venison, a porridge made of corn, and boiled pumpkin. Given the time of year, It’s unlikely that the feast included much in the way of produce or seafood, as the harsh winter probably destroyed much of their crops, and it would have been too cold to fish.

For those outside the United States (and Canada, which also celebrates the holiday), a contemporary Thanksgiving dinner frequently includes turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables and cranberry sauce. Though these dishes will likely forever be associated with a traditional Thanksgiving feast, the actual menu varies from region to region, and between different cultures in any given region; note that an Italian-American household may serve pasta as a side dish, or even as the main entree, while a family from the southeastern United States may substitute the traditional pumpkin pie with pecan or sweet potato pie.

This menu is subject to extreme changes in certain situations. Children of the 1970s and 1980s will undoubtedly remember CBS’ prime-time animated special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which featured the title character serving his guests a Thanksgiving meal comprised of buttered toast, pretzel sticks, popcorn and jelly beans, much to the outrage of Peppermint Patty.

Additionally, features a recipe entitled “One-Hour Thanksgiving Dinner”:


1 5–6 lb fully pre-cooked smoked turkey breast. Certain brands are readily available in almost every U.S. supermarket, however they must be fully-cooked frozen turkey breast, as they only require 1 hour of heating. Avoid processed turkey breast loaf. Average price: $10–$12

2 cans of desired vegetables. Average Price: $1.50

1–2 box package(s) of instant potatoes or stuffing. Average price: $1.50-$3.00

1 package of 12 instant frozen biscuits. The frozen home-baked butter variety works best. It is important that the biscuits in a can are not used. Average price: $2

1 package of turkey gravy mix. Average price: $1

1 small disposable aluminum turkey pan with built-in rack. Average price: $2.

1 can of spray oil (can be substituted with regular vegetable oil). Average price: $1


1 pre-made pumpkin pie. Average price : $6.

1–2 cans cranberry sauce. Average price: $1.


Make sure you have thawed the turkey breast. A frozen 5–6 pound breast thaws within one day in the refrigerator. It is also very important that you have purchased a frozen fully pre-cooked breast. The words "heat and serve" may be on the package.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Remove turkey from bag and place in aluminum roasting pan.

Spray the turkey with cooking oil. If using regular vegetable oil, rub the breast with it.

Place turkey breast in the oven on the middle rack.

Cook for 15 minutes.

Begin the gravy mix according to package directions.

Place the vegetables on the range set to low heat.

Prepare the instant potatoes or stuffing according to the package directions.

On a small pan lay out your frozen biscuits allowing them to touch one another. At this point the turkey breast should have been cooking for 30 minutes.

Place your biscuits on the lower rack. The biscuits will cook just fine with the turkey in the oven and will be ready in 25–30 minutes. Check them at 20 minutes to be sure they do not burn.

Finish preparing your instant potatoes or stuffing, instant gravy, and vegetables. Place them in serving dishes if desired. Place the cranberry sauce in a serving dish. If you are serving pie along with the dinner you will also need to place the pie on a serving dish. If a frozen pie has been purchased, follow the microwave directions.

At the end of the hour, remove the turkey. It is recommended that you use a food thermometer to make sure it has achieved a temperature of 160°F — the minimum temperature necessary to kill any bacteria which have survived the freezing process. Remove the turkey and serve.

For those who would like a chance to enjoy a sumptuous (albeit liquid-based) Thanksgiving feast, the Jones Soda Company has, since 2003, produced Thanksgiving-related soda flavors including “Turkey & Gravy”, “Sweet Potato”, “Dinner Roll” and “Antacid.” Inexplicably, these flavors proved a huge hit with consumers.

Here’s a video of Sacramento-area radio hosts Rob Arnie and Dawn performing an on-air taste test in November 2006.

Over the next week I’ll be taking a look at a different element of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, from the bird itself to dessert.

So how do you celebrate Thanksgiving? What do you typically eat? Are there any foods other than the obvious that you associate with Thanksgiving dinner? And for that matter, what would be on your ideal Thanksgiving menu?

Tomorrow: Talking Turkey