I’m suddenly very eager to move into the Christmas season. I put my little tree up in my apartment yesterday. But before I get ahead of myself (after all, Advent hasn’t even QUITE begun), let me finish with Thanksgiving. I hosted a Paleo Thanksgiving this year, with the help of my wonderful friend Vinnie, who quarterbacked the most important part of the meal—the BIRD! He also helped a lot with preparation on Thanksgiving day and the day before. The man knows his way around the kitchen, which was very lucky for me! While a Paleo Thanksgiving didn’t sound appealing to most of our friends, we do have two friends who follow a similar way of eating—with a few further restrictions: no dairy, no eggs, no honey, no pork or red meat! So the challenge this year was to have a Thanksgiving meal that was grain-free, dairy-free, egg-free, vegetable oil-free, refined sugar-free, and entirely grass-fed/pastured. And with a minor exception or two (the carrot souffle contains cage-free eggs and some of the appetizers contained goat cheese for the dairy-eating half of us) it was a feat we achieved! I must say, I loved the challenge and am proud of the accomplishment!
Goat cheese-stuffed, turkey bacon-wrapped dates and apricots
Almond-stuffed and turkey bacon-wrapped dates and apricots
Crab-stuffed, and spinach-stuffed mushrooms
Crudites and dehydrated zucchini chips with guacamole and macadamia nut hummus
Pastured turkey (brined and roasted)
Gravy (no dairy or grains, believe it or not!)
Sausage vegetable stuffing
Green bean casserole topped with hand-fried onions
Cranberry sauce (with orange and ginger)
Mashed cauliflower with chives and roasted garlic
Sweet potato casserole topped with maple-cinnamon candied pecans
Agave-cinnamon whipped cream
The appetizers are pretty straight-forward. I pitted and stuffed the dates and apricots 2 days beforehand, using a cupcake injector for the goat cheese. Vinnie graciously did the gruntwork of wrapping them in (TJ’s nitrate- and nitrite-free) bacon. We baked these at 350 for about 20-25 minutes and served them with a balsamic reduction.
Too bad I didn’t get an “after” shot of these, but you can take my word that they were incredibly delicious!
For the mushrooms, I chose large button mushrooms and removed the stems (which I kept for other dishes—there are a lot of mushrooms in this meal!). Half I stuffed with the following crab mixture:
2 c. canned crab meat
2 T. minced chives
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 t. fresh thyme, minced
¼ t. dried oregano
3 T. dijon mustard
salt, black pepper, and old bay seasoning to taste
And the other half got this spinach mixture:
1 c. finely chopped mushroom stems
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch of spinach, the leaves finely chopped
1 T. almond meal
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil for sauteeing
Heat the oil in a small skillet. Add garlic and mushrooms, stirring until soft. Add spinach, stirring until wilted. Add almond meal and season to taste.
Stuff mushrooms, half with crab mixture and half with spinach mixture. Bake at 350 for approximately 20 minutes.
(I forgot a picture of these until they were almost gone, too—we were so busy cooking and eating!)
I won’t blog my guacamole or macadamia hummus here. They’re both things I make fairly often, though, and that I’m often tweaking, so look for their appearances in future posts. I will, however, post a picture of my zucchini chips:
AND NOW ON TO DINNER!
Vinnie picked up our 8 lb. turkey (and the turkey sausage for the stuffing) at Amish Healthy Foods. We brined it overnight for optimal moistness. (It totally worked.)
3-4 quarts of cold water
1 cup of salt, dissolved in 1 quart of warm water
4 bay leaves
1 T. whole coriander seeds
½ T. whole mustard seeds
1 T. dried juniper berries
1 T. black peppercorns
½ T. fennel seeds
½ bottle dry Riesling
1 onion, thinly sliced
3-4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bunch fresh thyme
I didn’t have a pot big enough for the turkey to fit in, but Vinnie came up with a clever plan. We emptied out my vegetable drawer in the fridge, and put the brine and turkey into an oven bag, and the bag into the drawer. Perfection! We let the baby sleep like this overnight.
On the day of, we were lucky enough to be able to bake everything—yes, EVERYTHING—at the same 350 degrees. When you don’t have dual ovens, this makes major food events like Thanksgiving a LOT easier. (Here’s one shot of the stove with all four burners going, the oven at 350, and the bread rising in the bowl in the background!)
The turkey roasted uncovered for about 2.5 hours, and covered for the final 30 or so minutes. Never having cooked a turkey, I was nervous about it drying out, but I tried (with varying success) to let Vinnie be in charge and to trust that he knew what he was doing. As it turns out, he did. (I should never have doubted.) This is our beautifully roasted bird. And it WAS wonderfully moist. Turkey has always been my least favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal, but that might be turning around after this year.
Okay, on to the rest of our massive meal.
I’ve also never made gravy. I knew it couldn’t be overly complicated, but would have had to look it up had I not stumbled into the luck of having an expert in attendance. While I looked on, Justin added coconut flour and almond milk to our turkey drippings until we had a really lovely—and quite delicious—gravy. (Look for it in the picture of the green bean casserole below.)
For the stuffing, I found a couple of stuffing recipes on paleo sites which sounded amazing. I drew on both of them and added a few items of my own imagining.
1 lb turkey sausage (pastured and free of nitrates and nitrites, obviously!)
1 large onion, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
4 carrots, diced
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
4 c. mushrooms, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
¾ c. dried cherries
¾ c. almonds, roughly chopped (other nuts could be used)
1 c. chicken broth
1 t. fresh thyme leaves
1 T. fresh sage, minced
1 T. fresh rosemary, minced
2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic, stirring until translucent. Add sausage, crumbling as it browns. After sausage is brown, add celery, carrots and squash, stirring for a few minutes.
Add mushrooms, cherries, almonds, broth, herbs, salt, and pepper. Let simmer, uncovered, and stirring occasionally, until broth is absorbed. Transfer to baking dish, cover tightly with foil, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.
Green Bean Casserole
Because we didn’t deviate from the recipe at all on this one, I’ll just post a couple of pictures and direct you to the recipe.
Cranberry sauce is a classic. It’s also very basic. It basically always tastes the same, right? WRONG. Below is my modification of a couple recipes I found online. And I’ll tell you, it was damn good. The ginger and cinnamon add a subtle complexity that I didn’t even know was lacking.
3 c. fresh cranberries
1.5 c. unfiltered, fresh-pressed Gravenstein apple juice
the juice of 2 oranges
1 t. fresh grated ginger
½ T. ground cinnamon
4 T. raw agave nectar
1 t. stevia
In a medium saucepan, over high heat, add cranberries, apple juice, and orange juice, and bring to a boil. Add ginger, cinnamon, agave, and stevia and simmer, stirring often, until cranberries are broken down and sauce thickens. (I’ve always preferred my cranberry sauce cold, so for that reason, and because there was SO much to do, I made this two days in advance and refrigerated it. Look for it in the picture of the rolls, below.)
The day before, I roasted 2 heads of garlic to add to the mashed cauliflower. Though I didn’t get any pictures, the method is easy: Peel away most of the outer skins, leaving only the skins around the individual cloves. Slice the top half inch from the head of garlic, exposing the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil, cover with foil in a small dish, and bake at 350 for approximately 50 minutes. While still warm, squeeze roasted garlic out of skins. Voila! The cauliflower itself is also easy. I (or rather, sous chef Sasha) simply cut one head of cauliflower into large pieces and steamed it. When soft, and while still warm, I mashed it with the roasted garlic and some minced chives. Serve with grass-fed butter, if preferred.
Sweet Potato Casserole
I grew up alternating Thanksgivings between 2 grandmothers, both of whom were excellent cooks, and each of whom did the traditional sweet potato casserole differently. My mother’s mother was of the marshmallow topping school. My father’s mother was of the pecan and brown sugar topping persuasion. As a kid I always preferred the marshmallow-topped version—I think that, more than anything, it was a matter of preferring uniform texture. As I got older, though, I grew to prefer the brown sugar pecan type. These days, of course, avoiding refined sugar, neither will fit the Paleo bill. My own take on sweet potato casserole, though, bears more resemblance to the latter.
For the topping:
Mix 1 c. pecans, ¼ c. maple syrup, and 2 t. cinnamon together and spread on a small cookie sheet. (While I lined mine with aluminum foil, parchment paper is likely preferable because the nuts stick to the foil if you don’t remove them while they’re hot.) Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. This can be done the day before.
On to the casserole part.
5 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2 inch pieces
¼ c. almond milk
¼ c. raw agave nectar
1 t. salt
¼ t. nutmeg
½ t. vanilla extract (I bought a large enough bottle to be carded at the store for this. Funny.)
½ t. ground cinnamon
1 t. fresh grated ginger
Boil sweet potatoes until fork tender.
Mash. I really love my immersion blender for tasks like this. Maximum creaminess with minimum fuss or mess.
Add remaining ingredients and mix. (I switched to a conventional mixer for this part.) Spread in a baking dish and top with candied pecans. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for approximately 25-30 minutes.
This is the only dish I really cheated on. I had carrot souffle for the first time last Thanksgiving, when my friends Mike and Melanie hosted one hell of a meal, and having it again this year was a non-negotiable for me. I had major doubts that any successful substitutions for egg could be made in a souffle, so I decided a sacrifice had to be made. And a very delicious sacrifice it was!
2 lbs. of carrots, peeled and halved
3 (cage-free, omega 3) eggs
1 t. vanilla
½ c. coconut oil
2 t. fresh lemon juice
1 t. salt
¼ t. cinnamon
1/3 c. maple syrup
Boil carrots until soft. Drain and puree (yay, immersion blender!). Add remaining ingredients and mix in large bowl until smooth. Transfer to baking dish and bake, uncovered, for 45-50 minutes, or until center is firm. Enjoy. A lot. Make it again and again. Try not to become addicted.
These were really a huge experiment. We can can call them “rolls”—in quotes. But really, if you aren’t expecting light, fluffy dinner rolls, if you are prepared for something more akin to a flaxseed muffin, then these are quite good. (Remember, now, that this is a grain-free, dairy-free, egg-free Thanksgiving, and bear with me. Considering that this is a vegan, grainless bread, it really wasn’t bad!)
1 ½ c. almond flour
2 T. coconut flour
1 ¼ c. flaxseed meal
2 t. xanthan gum
½ t. baking soda
1 packet dry yeast
1 T. agave
1 ¼ c. warm water
¼ c. coconut oil
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 t. sea salt
Combine dry ingredients (minus salt) in one bowl and wet ingredients (plus salt) in another. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix. Set aside in a warm place to rise for an hour. It probably won’t rise much—you could add a tablespoon of sugar to the dry ingredients to give the yeast something to feast on and aid the rising, if you wish. Grease ½ of your muffin pan with coconut oil (as this makes about 6 muffins), and divide the dough into 6 portions, placing a ball of each in each muffin compartment. Bake for about 20 minutes. (And look: how pretty they are!)
Now on to dessert!
Pumpkin Pie (also egg- and dairy-free!)
I roasted my own pumpkin for this, rather than using canned pumpkin. And because I read recipes for fun, I had picked up a tip on the interwebs and started 3 days in advance. In order for fresh pumpkin to be thick like canned pumpkin puree, it must sit for a couple of days in a cloth bag or other absorbent something-or-other to draw some of the moisture out. (Cool tip, right?) So to make my own pumpkin puree, I cut in half and seeded a baking pumpkin, which I then roasted in a 400 degree oven, for 40 minutes, in a water bath (sliced side down). When it was soft, I scooped the pumpkin flesh into a bowl, pureed it, and put it into a small tupperware, lined with an absorbent washcloth. I did this on Monday night, and changed the washcloth again on Tuesday morning, when it had soaked through. I made the pie on Tuesday night.
¾ c. hazelnuts
¾ c. pecans
4 T. coconut oil
a pinch of sea salt
Grind nuts until fine in a food processor. (You can make this coarse or fine, depending on your preference, but don’t over grind, or you’ll end up with nut butter!) Mix ground nuts with coconut oil (or grass-fed butter, if you prefer), and salt, and press into a pie tin. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.
2 c. pumpkin puree, homemade (see above), or canned
¾ c. almond milk
½ c. maple syrup
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. ground cinnamon
½ t. salt
½ t. ground ginger
¼ t. nutmeg
¼ t. ground cloves
Combine all ingredients and pour into baked crust. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. When cool, cover and refrigerate overnight to help firm. Serve with whipped cream: 1 c. heavy whipping cream, whipped until stiff with 1 T. agave nectar and 1 t. cinnamon.
I decided at almost-the-last-minute that any Thanksgiving meal—even a Paleo Thanksgiving—needed more than one dessert option. This was super easy and super delicious. For the crust, I used the same crust as in the pumpkin pie recipe above. The filling follows.
1 quart of blackberries
5 plums, sliced and pitted
(about 5 cups of fruit, altogether)
¼ c. raw agave nectar
1 t. ground cinnamon
Cook fruit, with agave and cinnamon, in a pot over medium heat until broken down and slightly thickened (about 20 minutes). Pour into pie crust and bake at 350 for another 20 minutes, until set. Serve with whipped cream (above). And DANGIT, I forgot to get a picture of this one. Here’s a picture of our table, instead.
And one of the menfolk carving (and eating?) the turkey.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope it was everything you hoped for. And that everyone has recovered from the obligatory food coma. I know we all entered a veritable food-induced stupor, which we alleviated with some Apples to Apples and Scrabble. Great times!