In autumn, nature’s vitality is spectacular. The full moon is larger and brighter than at any other time of year. Maple and aspen leaves turn vibrant red and yellow, and the first snowflakes flutter down from the starry night sky. Human beings and animals too find new energy after the quiet lethargy of summer.
This is the time for red apples and deep-hued pears, for hearty stews filled with earthy cabbage, onions, deep brown mushrooms, and root vegetables that grew through the long warm months in the dark earth to nurture us through the cool nights. Now is the time to turn on the oven and fill the whole house with warm spices and fresh herbs.
Fortunately, Thanksgiving takes place in November, and throughout the country, people will be celebrating with family members and friends. As you plan your Thanksgiving meal, I welcome you to review my family’s traditional Thanksgiving menu in my November 2016 Blog, “Giving Thanks” on this website. Included with this menu are recipes for Cranberry Ginger Sauce, Wild Rice Dressing and my favorite Pumpkin Praline Pie. Also on myteaplanner.com, you can find Kathleen’s creative menu for a Post-Thanksgiving Tea, making use of all those lovely leftovers.
Many families prepare exactly the same meal every Thanksgiving, invariably including Roasted Turkey, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Stuffing, Sweet Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole and Pumpkin Pie. As delicious as the traditional Thanksgiving meal is, I think it’s fun to include a few extra items that might not be expected but will contribute a note of autumn festivity without deleting any of our traditional favorites.
In many families, the guests start arriving long before the turkey is carved, the gravy is made, and the potatoes are mashed. This can create stress for the cook, as these are last-minute tasks that need to be completed just before everyone sits down to eat. Considering the volume of food that is about to be consumed, it seems silly to serve appetizers. However, it might be nice to offer a few little nibbles to stave off starvation, especially since those finishing touches just before the meal begins often take longer than expected. In addition, there is inevitably that one family or individual who just can’t get to the party on time, and it doesn’t seem charitable to start without them on Thanksgiving. How about offering the gang sitting in front of the television watching the Dallas Cowboys some tasty little Crostini that will keep them from getting grouchy over any delay while not ruining their hearty appetites?
Crostini, of Italian origin, are little slices of toasted baguette, flavored with garlic and olive oil. Like Bruschetta, a similar Italian snack, Crostini can be topped with cheese or other flavorings. At the end of this blog, you will find a recipe for Mushroom Crostini, lightly flavored with fresh sage to provide a preview of the flavors ahead at the big meal. The components of this simple yet elegant snack can be prepared entirely in advance and quickly assembled without stealing any oven space or interfering with the cook’s activities.
Another charming Thanksgiving surprise is Cranberry Curd, similar to the traditional Lemon Curd, so popular at Afternoon Tea parties, but made with fresh cranberries. I found this intriguing recipe in a wonderful book entitled Teatime Celebrations by Patricia Gentry, published in 1988. Like the Mushroom Crostini topping, Cranberry Curd can be made in advance and refrigerated. All you need to do on Thanksgiving Day is put this colorful creation in a crystal bowl and place it next to the traditional Cranberry Sauce on the dinner table, giving the guests a choice of condiments. Your friends will also discover that this special autumn treat will be delicious with butter on the fresh dinner rolls, which will certainly be on the table. And when time for dessert rolls around, just place what is left of the Cranberry Curd among the Apple Pies, Fruitcakes and Gingerbread, and let your resourceful family members figure out what to do. In fact, a dollop of Cranberry Curd would be lovely atop of piece of Lemon Chess Pie, my final unexpected offering for the Thanksgiving dessert table.
We all expect Pumpkin and Apple Pie on Thanksgiving, and even on Christmas, but why not include as well a simple and venerable old pie whose origins stretch back to the pilgrims and tastes as good today as it did in the 1600s? We feature Lemon Chess Pie in the August calendar section of the Tea Book on this website in the North American Family Reunion Tea menu. I have made this pie numerous times, and although it is plain looking, my friends are always astounded at how delicious it is, with its powerful lemon flavor. You can add toasted coconut, or just serve it as it is—a simple baked lemon custard pie that can be made ahead and does not even require refrigeration, thus not taking up any precious room in the fridge on the day before Thanksgiving.
Before November slips away, let me remind you that Christmas is just around the corner, and those of us who love to bake like to get started early. If Fruitcakes are part of your Christmas festivities, you need to start making them now. On this website our December Christmas Tea menu includes a wonderful Aged Raisin Ginger Fruitcake recipe which I have made many times. This fabulous Fruitcake includes candied ginger, raisins, currants and nuts, as well as the surprising secret ingredient—coffee. At the end of our Christmas Tea menu we offer an entire section of additional Fruitcake and Candied Fruit recipes. Kathleen’s fabulous Fruitcake Without Candied Fruit features nutritious dried fruits, including golden California apricots. For the ambitious baker who appreciates historic desserts, we include Country Christmas Cake with Marzipan and Royal Icing. While this traditional recipe does include candied fruits, it contains no nuts. Finally, our Southern American Tea menu, in the World of Tea Parties section, offers Old English Fruitcake, which contains both candied fruits and nuts. This is the classic traditional Fruitcake which I make every year.
If you decide to bake Fruitcake this year, all of the above recipes will need to be made as soon as possible and aged until Christmas. To enjoy the Christmas season without stress and madness, several other very festive holiday desserts, such as Yule Logs and Christmas Cookies can be prepared in advance and frozen. For ideas, I invite you to visit my December 2017 blog, which introduces you to a variety of Christmas Cookies and includes a recipe for Christmas Sugar cookies, and my December 2018 blog, “Christmas Symbols,” which features my recipe for Caramel Toffee Yule Log, a Christmas classic.
Happy Thanksgiving, and welcome to Festive Fall.
Crostini are tiny yet addictive toast snacks that feature the forever-loved Italian combination of olive oil and garlic. To create Crostini, the cook starts by toasting thin rounds of sliced baguette which have been dipped in an elixir of heated butter, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Step two is to create a topping, in this case, sautéed onions, more garlic, chopped mushrooms, fresh sage, and depending on your family’s preferences, just a little more salt and pepper, or a hefty sprinkle of dried red chili flakes. This second step is easy to accomplish using your everyday skillet, but it can take a little time to get all the vegetables to the right, almost caramelized consistency. The finishing touch entails spreading a thin layer of whipped cream cheese on each crispy toast round to prevent sogginess and topping each with a small amount of the mushroom mixture. Do not be tempted to pile the topping on; just lightly cover the center of the toast with one half teaspoon to one teaspoon of topping to avoid spills.
Some families love spicy snacks, and others find them disturbing. My husband Wayne can’t get enough hot spicy food, and he even suggested that I add a squirt of Sriracha on top of the cream cheese before putting on the topping, which I did for the Crostini I made for him. He was ecstatic and ate so many Crostini that I only had a few left over for the photograph. You can decide how much heat your friends or family members would enjoy. If you’re not sure, why not just pass the shaker of dried red chili flakes around, and pretend you’re in a pizza parlor?
You will probably have some topping left after you have made the 50 Crostini that this recipe creates. You can use it at breakfast to make luscious savory Mushroom-Sage Omelets, or just stir it into scrambled eggs.
- 1 baguette of French bread, 8 ounces
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped and divided
- ½ cup butter (1 stick)
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoons dried red chili flakes (optional)
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 1 pound of white mushrooms, rinsed and chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage, stems removed (about 4 sprigs)
- 1 (8-ounce) container cream cheese spread (I used Philadelphia Original)
Makes: 50 Crostini
Special equipment: 2 parchment-covered baking sheets, cutting board, chopping knife, medium sized saucepan, disposable kitchen gloves, 2 wire cooling racks, wooden spoon, rubber spatula, large skillet, table knife, teaspoon, quart-sized zip lock storage bags, medium sized food storage container with lid, large serving tray
- Preheat the oven to 400° F. Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Heat butter, olive oil, 2 chopped cloves of garlic and ¼ teaspoon each of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper in a medium saucepan until the butter melts and the mixture starts to bubble. Remove from heat and set aside. Slice a large baguette into about fifty thin slices.
- Wearing disposable gloves, dip each baguette slice lightly into the olive oil mixture on one side only, and place the slices, oil side up, on the prepared cookie sheets. The slices can be placed close together, but not touching. When the first sheet is covered with slices, place it in the preheated oven and bake for 8 minutes. Remove to cool on a wire rack. Follow the same procedure for the remaining baguette slices. This process will not use up all of the oil mixture. (If making ahead, cool the baguette slices completely and store them carefully in zip lock bags for 1-2 days.)
- Using a rubber spatula, transfer the remaining oil and garlic mixture from the saucepan to a large skillet and turn heat to medium. Add the chopped onion and the 2 remaining cloves of chopped garlic, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the onion turns translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add the rinsed and chopped mushrooms and the chopped sage to the skillet and continue to cook and stir for about 25 minutes, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, and the onions and mushrooms are very soft. Turn off the skillet and add the remaining ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and the dried red chili flakes, if using. Stir and adjust seasonings to taste. (If making ahead, cool to room temperature and refrigerate in a medium sized container with a lid for 1-2 days or freeze until needed.)
- To assemble and serve the Crostini: Using a table knife, spread a thin layer of cream cheese to cover the oil-topped side of each toast round. Place ½ to 1 teaspoon of mushroom-sage topping in the center of each, pressing very gently to help the topping adhere. Allow some of the cream cheese to show around the edges for a pleasing visual effect. Serve the Crostini in a single layer on a large attractive platter or tray
- 3 ½ cups (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons kirsch or cranberry liqueur (optional)
Makes: about 2 cups (24 small tarts)
- In a medium sized saucepan, cook the cranberries with ½ cup sugar until they start to pop and turn soft, about 12-15 minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon to keep the mixture from burning. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- Puree the cooked cranberries in a blender or food processor until smooth. Press the cranberry puree through a fine sieve to remove any solids. (If you don’t mind a little texture in your Cranberry Curd, skip the sieve.)
- Place water in the bottom section of a double boiler and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cranberry puree, egg yolks, remaining ½ cup sugar, lemon juice and melted butter to the top section of the double boiler. Cook over the simmering water until thick, stirring with a rubber spatula, about 10 minutes.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and cool. Stir in the kirsch if using. Pour the Cranberry Curd into a glass jar with a lid and refrigerate up to two weeks. To serve, pour the Cranberry Curd into a crystal bowl to highlight the sparkling red color, or use to fill cakes or pastries.
Colonial Period and is still popular in the South. The origin of the name “Chess Pie” is unknown, even to Wikipedia, and this mystery has sparked an untold amount of culinary speculation. Since Chess Pie is similar to a Cheesecake (although it contains no milk or cheese,) some believe that the colonials changed the English word “cheese” to “chess.” Other food detectives guess that this pie may have originated in Chester in England. Still others think that because this pastry did not need to be kept in an ice box but could be stored at room temperature in a pie chest, the term Chest Pie eventually was shortened to Chess Pie. My favorite explanation is that because of its homely simplicity, (as you can see from the photograph of the Lemon Chess Pie I recently baked,) it is “Jest Pie.”
Chess Pies are essentially a combination of sugar, butter and eggs, with various possible flavorings added. The most common Chess Pies contain Lemon, Chocolate or Nuts. The popular Southern Pecan Pie is a variation of Chess Pie. I have suggested adding toasted coconut to our Lemon Chess Pie, as I think that lemon and coconut are very compatible flavors, but you can omit the coconut if you want the purity of freshly squeezed lemon juice and just-grated rind. There is certainly something to be said for simplicity.
- 1 round of refrigerated pie crust (I used Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts)
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- Finely grated peel of 1 large lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
- Juice of 3 large lemons, seeds removed (about 7 tablespoons)
- 1 cup toasted angel flake coconut
Special equipment: 9-inch pie plate, paper towels, large mixing bowl, hand-held electric mixer, rubber spatula, citrus grater, citrus juicer, large foil-lined baking sheet, wooden spoon, wire rack, oven mitts
Makes: one 9-inch pie, 6-8 servings
- Sprinkle the coconut evenly on the foil-lined baking sheet and toast it in the preheated oven for about 5-6 minutes, stirring twice with a wooden spoon until it turns only a light golden. The coconut on the outside edges will brown first and will start to burn if you don’t stir to distribute the browned pieces evenly. Remove from the oven to cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on at 350° F.
- Grate the peel of one of the lemons onto a paper towel and set aside. Squeeze the juice from the 3 lemons, making sure to remove the seeds, and set the juice aside.
- Following the package directions, unroll one circle of pie dough and press it into the pie plate, crimping the edges decoratively. Dampen a paper towel and squeeze out any excess water. Gently lay the paper towel over the pie crust, including the decorative edges, to prevent the crust from drying out while you make the filling.
- With a hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and cornstarch in a large mixing bowl on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Add the 4 eggs, one at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each addition.
- Blend the lemon peel, lemon juice and coconut into the egg mixture and stir gently to distribute evenly. Remove the towel from the pie crust and pour in the filling. Place the filled pie on the foil-lined baking sheet which previously held the coconut. Carefully place the baking sheet with the pie in the center of the oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the center is almost set when the pie is gently shaken. (I baked the pie in the photograph for 50 minutes.) The top and crust will be golden brown.
- Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the pie on a wire rack to cool for at least 4 hours before serving. The center is very soft and needs time to set before you cut the pie. Do not refrigerate. This pie can be baked a day ahead, covered with a cake dome and left at room temperature overnight.