It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Thanksgiving

Scrumptious sweet potato torte; it doesn't get any better than this

Scrumptious sweet potato torte; it doesn’t get any better than this

It’s been a busy – and productive – week since my Thanksgiving post last week. Since then, my nice, neat dining room with some stacked dishes and serving pieces has turned into Thanksgiving Supply Central. We’ve added wine, a large coffee maker, paper goods, and food from the first trip to the grocery store.

On the cooking side, I’ve finished making the squash soup (and froze 2 large batches) and I made one sweet potato torte (see recipe below) and froze it yesterday as a test. I’ve never frozen the torte before, but thought if I could make it early, it would free up precious oven time on Thursday. I’m going to thaw it tomorrow and if holds its consistency after it’s warmed up, my experiment will have worked, which means I’ll make the other one this weekend and freeze that one, too.

I took care of the most important job this morning: ordering the turkeys! I went to the Lancaster County Farmer’s Market in Strafford/Wayne, about a half hour from my house. It’s the only place I go to order my turkeys. My vendor of choice, Rittenhouse Farms, always comes through with birds that are incredibly fresh.

Order placed! Two turkeys headed for brining on Wednesday

Order placed! Two turkeys headed for brining on Wednesday

The Menu
As promised, here’s the menu as it stands now. With almost double the guests this year, I’ve added some sides and veggies, and swapped out the Yukon Gold mashed potatoes with crispy shallots for traditional potato latkes, in honor of the very early arrival of Chanukah.

Of course, I’m sticking with the dry-brined bird again; it’s so worth the 18-24 hours that it sits in the fridge. The brine is salt-based and includes oregano, thyme, lemon peel or lots of lemon zest, and chopped garlic. After the brine is done, I rinse the turkey, then fill the cavity with lemon quarters, a couple of onion halves, a stalk of chopped celery, then finish up with fresh thyme and oregano and a bit of salt and cracked pepper. Roasts like a charm, and the amber-hued skin makes it a beauty every time. Not sure why I resisted brining for so long, but I’m a convert, to be sure. Other dishes on our “must list” are the always-popular string bean casserole, a cranberry chutney, and roast beast (thank you, Mr. Grinch) for my non-turkey-eating son. And, lest we forget, the sweet potato torte, the most popular dish on the table.

Appetizers
Eggplant and white bean dip
Garlic-herb dip with crudités
Onion dip (a delicious recipe from White on Rice Couple, http://whiteonricecouple.com/recipes/sweet-onion-dip-recipe/)

First Course
Butternut squash-apple soup
Matzo ball soup (mom’s recipe, with homemade matzo balls)

Main Course
Roast turkey (2) and a turkey breast (we’ve got some big eaters at our table), with citrus gravy
Eye round roast
Sweet potato torte
Cornbread stuffing with caramelized onions and apples
Potato latkes with sour cream and applesauce (hello, Chanukah!)
String bean casserole (the original classic with updated, healthier onion rings)
Spinach gratin
Cranberries with oranges and port
Bulgur wheat with roasted tomatoes
Brussels sprouts with lemon and parsley (a first on my Thanksgiving table, for my daughter, also from White on Rice Couple, http://whiteonricecouple.com/recipes/roasted-brussels-sprouts-lemon-mustard-parsley-dressing/)

Desserts
Flourless chocolate cake
Gluten-free pumpkin bread (for my daughter)
Pumpkin pie
Apple crumb pie (from my sister-in-law, a great baker)
Walnut pastry roll (also from my sister-in-law and my niece)
A sugar-free pie to be named later

Sweet Potato Torte Recipe
(adapted slightly)

I stumbled upon this gem of a dish about 6 years ago in my quest for a different twist on sides. It was in the November 2004 issue of Bon Appétit; the recipe comes from Chicago restaurant Bin 36, and what a find it was! Although you might mistake it for a dessert, this cheesecake look-alike boasts a rich filling that’s a perfect co–mingling of savory and sweet. One forkful and you’ll know it belongs next to the stuffing, mashed potatoes, and Brussels sprouts rather than the pumpkin pie. It became an instant classic the first time I served it, and I only make it once a year (we don’t want to get spoiled, right?). Just a small slice of this every-calorie-is-worth-it side is enough, unless you’re feeding 20-somethings with ginormous appetites (as is the case in my house). I hope you enjoy this as much as my family does.

For the crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup solid vegetable shortening in ½-inch cubes (cold)
2 tablespoons very cold water
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 large egg yolk
1½ teaspoons white vinegar

For the filling
2 pounds sweet potatoes or yams (about 4 medium)
1¾ cups sweetened condensed milk (I use about a half-cup less and split the milk from a fat-free can and a regular can)
½ cup sugar
6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter (not margarine)
¼ cup honey or agave nectar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons maple syrup (I’ve omitted this and didn’t miss it)
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste)

1. Crust: Place flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and mix for 10 seconds. Add shortening cubes and pulse to incorporate into flour mixture (should have a coarse texture). Whisk the water, oil, egg yolk and vinegar in a small bowl; add to flour mixture and pulse to blend. Dough should come together in moist pieces. (Note: add small amounts of water if dough is dry.) Remove the dough from the bowl and shape into a ball, then flatten into a disk. Wrap well in plastic and put in the fridge for at least an hour but no more than 24 hours.

2. Filling: Poke sweet potatoes with a fork and microwave until soft, about 10 minutes or so. Halve the potatoes, scoop out the flesh and mash in a bowl until smooth. Transfer 3 cups of potatoes to a larger bowl. Add the condensed milk, sugar, butter, honey, eggs, maple syrup, nutmeg, salt, and vanilla to the potatoes; beat well until all ingredients are incorporated and smooth. (Note: At this point, you can cover filling and keep in the fridge overnight if you want to bake it the next day.)

3. Preheat the oven to 375˚F.

4. Remove the dough from the fridge; roll out to a 13-in. round on a floured surface. Roll the dough back onto the rolling pin and place over a 9-in. springform pan. Press dough across the bottom of the pan and up the sides, leaving about an inch at the top. Fill in any thin spots or holes in the dough.

5. Pour filling into the pan; bake until the filling starts to brown around the edges. Check several places in the filling with a cake tester to see if it’s set. I like to check for doneness early, at around 1 hour. Depending on your oven, the torte should bake for about 1¼ to 1½ hours. (Note: You can use a convection bake cycle, but reduce the temperature about 25 degrees and check for doneness at about 45 minutes.)

6. When the filling is done, set the pan on a cooling rack for 45 minutes. Use an offset spatula to gently release the torte from the pan sides; take off springform.

Note: You can bake the torte the day before, chill it overnight in the fridge, and bring it to room temperature a few hours before you want to serve it the next day. Warm in the oven if you like. If you want to make the torte more than a day ahead, bake it all the way, let it cool completely, wrap it in plastic and freeze. Move torte from the freezer to the fridge the night before you want to serve it, then bring it to room temperature a few hours before serving and warm it in the oven if desired.

What special-request dishes are you making this year?

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