[This post is part of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef's awesome gluten-free Thanksgiving baking challenge and roundup post. They're also giving away some excellent stuff; you should head over there and check it out, whether or not gluten is a concern for you personally.]
Thanksgiving is about abundance and gratitude. I’m lucky that gratitude comes easily for me, because it’s been a hell of a week, and it would’ve been easy to slip into an extended funk.
One thing that kept me from feeling too depleted and useless was the challenge Shauna Ahern sent out late last month. She said she was doing a sooper-sekrit gluten-free baking challenge, and even though I’m not gluten-free, can I resist a challenge? No, I cannot.
Do you know about Shauna? If you don’t, you should, even if you eat gluten, as we do. The moment I heard her speak at BlogHer Food, I knew she was My People. She cares about joy and synchronicity, and diving into life with abandon. Not only that, but she’s a kick-ass writer (she blogs at Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef), a community-builder, and the co-author (with her husband, Danny, a.k.a. The Chef) of the new cookbook Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef.
When I told James that I was thinking of making a gluten-free item for Shauna’s challenge, you’ll never believe the generous and selfless idea he had: Why didn’t we (do I have to tell you who “we” means?) make the whole Mom Food Thanksgiving spread, and just make it all gluten-free? See what a big heart my sweetheart has? But how
were we was I going to make a big turkey dinner and post about it on the 15th of November, ten days before Thanksgiving, and still do Thanksgiving on the 25th?
I wasn’t. I like a challenge, but I’m not crazy.
This past Saturday, I cooked my little heart out. Luckily for me, most of my mom’s standard Thanksgiving fare is naturally gluten-free: turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, corn, gravy, etc. The only three sticking points were: 1) the rolls, 2) the stuffing, and 3) the pie crust.
1) The rolls I immediately crossed off the list, and I’ll tell you why. Almost every year, mom either forgets about the rolls or burns them, so to be honest, we never eat rolls with our Thanksgiving dinner. So there. Done. I totally have to try Stephanie Stiavetti’s gluten-free dinner rolls if it ever comes up again, though. They look marvelous.
2) Stuffing was a bit of a worry. I’ve never made gluten-free bread, and my mom makes her stuffing from packaged mix. Plus, the aforementioned hellish week meant I was a little low on do-it-yourself energy. In the end, I compromised and bought gluten-free bread at the store, but made my own stuffing cubes. I’ll give you the recipe at the bottom of this post. I was really impressed with this stuffing, and it was just as good as leftovers the next day, especially with gravy on it.
3) Pie. Oh, pie, how I love you so. If I had to cut out gluten, I could do it, but pie crust would probably be one of the first things I’d have to teach myself to make. Shauna has an excellent post about making pie crust, and I read it, got the idea of ratios in my mind, and then promptly went and goofed with it, deciding I had to incorporate pecans into the crust. Luckily, dessert isn’t a big deal in my mother’s house, and she never cared if we had store-bought pie, pie that I made (it was my job in the family for a while), or no dessert at all. Just not a deal. So I felt pretty confident that winging it on the pie would be fine. And it was. I ended up making a tart shell from gluten-free flour mix, ground pecans, butter, and an egg, then trying two different methods for baking it with pumpkin filling. Each method resulted in a different texture, but both were good. Not in any way pumpkin pie, but certainly a yummy pumpkin dessert that paired well with the fresh, lightly sweetened whipped cream we topped it with. The recipe for the tart will also be below.
The rest of the dinner was just my standard Mom Food Thanksgiving. If you grew up in the US and celebrated Thanksgiving at all, you probably recognize our menu. After all, if Mom Food is rigid in its measures of “rightness” (the foods have to be “just so” to hit that Mom Food spot), then holiday Mom Food is doubly so. Just as a f’rinstance, most Americans I know couldn’t imagine serving beef as the centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner. It has to be turkey, or it’s just not a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
If you look at my mom’s standard menu, you’re probably looking at the standard Thanksgiving menu of the majority of the people who grew up here. The starters may not be the same, and some folks eat other things, like that green-bean casserole stuff, which wasn’t one of our traditions. But the basics are the same. Many years, I add Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish, or make my own cranberry sauce, but I’m the only one who eats those, so this year, they were deleted in favor of my mom’s tradition: a can each of jelled and whole-berry Ocean Spray cranberry sauce.
The white meat was so moist! It was, according to James and Carin, respectively, “exceptional” and “a revelation”. Imagine me beaming with pride. I accredit this to two things: Roasting breast-down for most of the time, and using my thermometer to make sure I didn’t overcook the bird. Sadly, I was so busy with last-minute cooking that I forgot to take a shot of the whole bird, but here’s one of our little Thanksgiving-day table:
(Recipes for starred items are provided below.)
green, pimento-stuffed olives
celery stuffed with Kraft pimento cheese (my mom also used other flavors; I prefer the pimento)
Nuts in their shells
The Main Event
*Simple roasted turkey
*Simple mashed potatoes
Corn with butter
Iceberg salad with tomatoes, English cucumbers, avocados, olive oil, and salt
Carin’s Waldorf Salad (she’ll post the recipe tomorrow)
*Gluten-free pumpkin custard tart
1 dozen hard-boiled eggs
1 tablespoon mayo, more or less
1 teaspoon yellow prepared mustard, more or less
1 teaspoon sweet pickle relish, more or less
1 teaspoon ketchup, optional (the kid likes hers with ketchup; the thought just doesn’t appeal to me; she did some with and some without)
Halve the eggs lengthwise and carefully remove the yolks. Mash yolks with remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust to your liking. If you are James, you skip all the other ingredients and just use Kraft Sandwich Spread instead. Spoon or pipe the yolks back into the eggs. Sprinkle with paprika or my mother will lecture you. Makes 24 halves, or 6-12 servings, depending.
Simple Roasted Turkey
First, get yourself a turkey and a meat thermometer. The thermometer is vital.
On the day of the big roast, take a few tablespoons of butter out of the fridge to soften. This isn’t vital, but it’s helpful.
Now you need to put your thawed turkey into your roasting pan and pull the giblet package out of the bird’s cavity. The giblets go into a stockpot. I also toss in any veggie scraps (onion, celery, carrot) and/or poultry bones that I happen to have, either in the freezer or from Thanksgiving prep. Cover that with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for the rest of the day and use that liquid for moistening the stuffing (see below) and/or thinning the gravy, if it gets too thick. Later, you will remove the giblets for the gravy, add the turkey carcass and more water, and create a wonderful turkey stock.
The next step is to slather your turkey with softened butter. If you haven’t softened it, your hands will do the job. It will be messy, and uneven, and it doesn’t matter. Just get butter all over the place, then salt the turkey, as well. Sprinkle with paprika or my mother will lecture you.
Now, if you’re stuffing the bird, pack stuffing loosely into its cavities.
Roast your turkey for about 2/3 of the total recommended time breast-down, and the remaining time flipped with the breast up. Note: Your turkey is done when the THERMOMETER says it’s done, not the clock. It’s fine to stop around 155F if you do the next step, which I think is essential.
Remove the stuffing, keep it warm in the oven, and let your turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving. This lets the juices settle, and brings the meat up to a safe temperature before carving. It also gives you time to make the gravy.
Not everyone likes the giblets. You have my permission to leave them out. Also, I hear some people put chopped hard-boiled eggs in their giblet gravy. Hey, if you want to, go for it.
Take the boiled giblets and chop them into small pieces. Set aside. Make a slurry of several tablespoons of corn starch and enough water to make a thin, pourable liquid.
Once you’ve moved your turkey out of the roasting pan, set the pan on a burner on the stove. If your roaster can’t be used on the stovetop, transfer the drippings into an appropriate pot. Turn the heat on medium-high and stir the juices until they bubble. My mom NEVER de-fats the drippings for gravy, but it’s easy to do: just put the drippings into a freezer-safe container, chill in the freezer for 15 minutes or so, and remove all the fat that’s on top. Anyway, stir this stuff until it bubbles, then add the cornstarch slurry about 1/4 cup at a time. After each addition, stir the gravy constantly until it returns to a boil. Secret tip about cornstarch-thickened sauces: the thickness they are when they return to the boil is the thickness they’ll be. Add more slurry if necessary, as many times as you need to, until the gravy’s as thick as you want it. If you go overboard, thin it with some of the turkey stock you’ve been cooking.
Last, add the giblets and stir for a minute until everything’s warmed through. There. You’re done. Giblet gravy.
To make the seasoned bread cubes:
1 loaf (16 oz.) tapioca bread or other gluten-free bread (I used Ener-G gluten-free tapioca loaf)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or other oil
1 tsp. coarse salt (I used fleur de sel; hey, it’s Thanksgiving!)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
10 fresh sage leaves, minced
1 sprig fresh thyme, minced
1/2 cup finely minced onion (I used half a red onion)
4 cloves minced garlic
Cut bread into small cubes, then toss with remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Brush the paper with olive oil, then spread the bread mixture on the baking sheet. You may not be able to make one flat layer, but make it as even as you can. Put the sheet in a 400F oven (no need to preheat if you don’t already have the oven on). Every 5 or 10 minutes, check on the mix and stir it around a little. Don’t worry too much about it until it starts to turn pale golden. Then keep a good eye on it, and take it out of the oven when it’s beginning to brown, but before any of the onion pieces burn. Set aside until it’s time to make the stuffing, which you should do just before you bake it.
To make the stuffing:
3 ribs celery
4 tablespoons butter
turkey stock or chicken stock, optional
Chop onion and celery as finely or coarsely as you prefer. Saute in butter with salt and pepper to taste, until vegetables are quite soft. Mix with bread cubes and add enough stock to just moisten (or make it wetter if that’s what you prefer). If you’re cooking the stuffing in the bird, you want it to start out drier than if you’re doing it as separate dressing. If the latter, add more stock until the bread is quite moist.
Bake in the bird, or place in a heavy baking dish and refrigerate until 30 minutes before dinner, then bake at whatever temp you’re using for whatever’s in the oven at the time for 20-30 minutes, or until heated through.
Simple Mashed Potatoes
For each serving:
1 large or 2 small russet potatoes
1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature (or use it cold if you forgot; it’ll just take longer to mash)
2 tablespoons half-and-half or milk (may also use stock or cream)
Peel and quarter potatoes. Boil in salted (and, if you’re my mom, liberally peppered) water until soft, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Using a potato masher, mash with remaining ingredients. May be kept warm in the oven while you take care of other last-minute food items.
Gluten-free Pumpkin Custard Tart
If you already make or have access to a good pie crust, go ahead and just make a pie using any recipe you have. If, like me, you aren’t in that situation, here’s a custard tart for you. I made two versions, because I was in tester mode: For one version, I pre-baked the shell, and for the other, I baked it from frozen. The pre-baked one came out more like a traditional tart, with a shell and some filling. The one baked from frozen came out more custardy, and the teenager said to tell you it tasted like “yummy pumpkin bread pudding”. Either way, they were good with lightly sweetened whipped cream, and while they weren’t pumpkin pie (James is still waiting for that), they were definitely Thanksgiving desserts.
The Tart Shell
Keep everything cold for this recipe. I even froze the food-processor blade.
6 ounces pecans
6 ounces gluten-free all-purpose flour mix (I used Bob’s Red Mill), stored in the freezer for at least a few hours
2 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces butter, cut into small cubes and frozen
4 ounces ice water
In food processor, process pecans until ground into a fine flour. Add flour and sugar, and pulse a few times to combine.
Add butter and pulse several times until the mixture resembles small pebbles in sand.
Add egg and ice water and pulse until mixture comes together.
Press mixture into 2 pie plates or tart pans. Freeze at least 1 hour, until frozen solid.
If pre-baking, place in 400F oven for 20 minutes, then set aside until the crust cools and deflates a little before filling.
I’m going to be weird here for a minute; bear with me. The recipe I use for pumpkin pie is one I scribbled down years ago, before I joined the Nestle boycott, and I don’t want to link to it or even mention the brand name of the pumpkin stuff. But I think you know what I mean. Anyway, grab any pumpkin pie recipe out there (I really should start using one that’s not from them) and pour half a recipe’s worth into each tart shell. Bake as directed, until a knife in the center comes out clean. Cool before serving; serve at room temperature or cold.
I had such a great time doing this meal that I haven’t come down from the high yet, even though my kitchen still looks like a bomb hit it. This is just what I needed after my terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week: a reminder about the value and fun of food, family, and tradition. After dinner, we played games, talked about how great the food was, and ignored the dishes. I’m still ignoring them, and I’m still so grateful for my strange and wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. Thank you, Shauna!