Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Nibbles

Pre-Thanksgiving dinner nibbles should be the antithesis to the day’s turkey and stuffing.  Some wait time often occurs during the day as the turkey bastes, footballs are tossed and facebook chats are replaced by real life chats.  A little brunch or lunch can ward off hunger but needs to be light, soak up any alcohol that’s flowing and balance the day’s diet.  Also, to keep out of the cook’s hair, the nibbles should be prepped ahead and either served from the refrigerator or easily reheated in a microwave or stovetop so they do not compete with the oven’s activities.

This menu is appropriate any time over the Thanksgiving weekend.  It can be prepared ahead of time and pulled out for serving at short notice.  It serves about 8 people.

Soup—The idea of pumpkin-pear or butternut squash-apple soup always looks good in food magazines but feels a bit heavy as a first course to the main meal.  On the other hand, soup is perfect for the wait.  My version of butternut squash-apple is easy and freezes well. 

Salad-- Not everyone makes room on their Thanksgiving plate for salad so it’s a nice offering ahead of time.  Try a plain mixed green salad or something more unusual like dressed salad ingredients served in an endive or romaine leaf.  Serving salad in a leaf turns it into a finger food that frees up utensils. This salad can also be served in the traditional manner. 

Appetizers—Give dips and crudites an update via grilled or roasted vegetables served on thin baguette slices or skewers. Likewise, a tomato-roasted red pepper bruschetta topping drizzled with olive oil can be prepared in advance.  Skewered fruit is refreshing and easy to handle. My recipe adds a holiday note with a cranberry glaze.  The glaze is amazing plain but the adventurous may want to try the cinnamon or curry variations. 

This vegetarian soup is easy to make because it has only a few ingredients.  This is the easiest from scratch soup you will ever make.     
Roasted Butternut Squash Apple Soup
1 butternut squash
olive oil
salt and pepper
3 –4 cups vegetable broth (part water is fine)
2 apple, peeled and shredded (or 1 cup plain applesauce, no added suagr)
1-2 tablespoons white wine (optional)
Yogurt or cream for garnish.

Preheat oven to 450˚.  Cut butternut squash in half lengthwise.  Remove seeds with a spoon.  Rub well with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place cut-side down on a rimmed baking pan and roast 30-40 minutes until very tender.  Allow squash to cool a bit before handling.

Scoop out roasted squash into a medium saucepan.  Mash together with shredded apple or applesauce.  Slowly stir in 1 cup vegetable broth and wine if using.  Soup can be pureed at this stage.  If using a blender, be sure soup is cool enough to allow pureeing.   Now add remaining vegetable broth to bring soup to desired consistency. Heat, stirring frequently and taste for seasoning.

Other vegetables that can be added to this soup: cooked parsnips, sweet potato, carrots, ripe peeled pear

Holiday Endive Salad Bites
1 endive, leaves pulled from base (about 15 leaves) or inner leaves from a head of romaine lettuce plus:
1/2 head each of red leaf lettuce, radicchio and romaine
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries
1/2 cup almonds or roasted pumpkin seeds
1 recipe Creamy Orange Salad Dressing

Shred romaine and radicchio or cut into 1/2 centimeter  slices to  create long thin strands. You are going for a home-made cole slaw consistency (not diced). Toss with dressing.  Add in dried fruit and nuts.  Allow salad to rest a few minutes or up to an hour, chilled.

Scoop a generous tablespoon into each endive leaf.  Arrange on a platter for guests to eat with their hands.

This is a variation on buttermilk dressing that uses a bit of orange juice and honey to compliment the dried fruits in the salad.  For those who like orange creamsicles, this is your dressing.
Creamy Orange Salad Dressing
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon honey
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together and toss with salad greens. 

If you have never made your own cranberry sauce, this glaze is a nice foray into the simplicity of cooked cranberries.
Fruit Kabobs with Cranberry-Orange Glaze
1 cup cranberries
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1/2 cup cranberry juice (or water)
Skewered fruit: apples, firm ripe pears, melon, pineapple, seedless grapes (about 3-4 cups)

Over medium heat in a small saucepan, heat cranberries until they soften and release their pectin (mixture will begin to thicken).  Add marmalade and cranberry juice and cook until well integrated and heated through.  Allow mixture to cool then puree with an immersion blender, small food processor or blender.  You can also pass the glaze through a sieve in a pinch. 
Use the glaze plain or try one of these seasonings:
1) Cinnamon, ginger, white pepper, pinch salt
2) Curry powder
Toss fruit in glaze then skewer and serve.  Note: this can be served as a fruit salad in bowls with the glaze added over individual servings.

Happy Thanksgiving.