November 14, 2012

The Maine Ingredient: Giving thanks that it's easy to please whole gang

By Anne Mahle

Maybe the reason Thanksgiving dinner is so low pressure compared to other holiday meals is that the menu is fairly set.

There's the turkey, of course, and decisions about whether to brine or not to brine, to grill or to roast, to stuff or not. But these are the small creative licenses afforded those cooks who must have a little wiggle room to play.

As we move through the menu, Mom has to have the stuffing. Daughter doesn't think the meal is complete without cranberry sauce. Uncle Keith can't live without mashed potatoes with gravy or he'll be grumpy. Aunt Laura needs her greens because the meal is "SO fatty." Dad won't be happy without pecan pie and it isn't Thanksgiving dinner for the kids without what we call Mama Rolls (or Aunt Annie Rolls, depending on who's talking).

For most, Thanksgiving dinner isn't about the innovative, but about the comfort.

As it typically happens when I travel to my parents' house, everyone asks what I'll be making. I've discovered that the true question is not, "What amazing feat of culinary skill will you be displaying this year?" but more, "You're making turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, greens, pecan pie and Aunt Annie Rolls, RIGHT?"

One year, the only thing on the menu that changed was the addition of those rolls. I don't remember what happened before, maybe we bought rolls because the kids were still so small that I felt triumph in just getting all the food on the table before meltdown central happened.

The first year of Aunt Annie Rolls, the kids were old enough to help shape the dough. I made extra so they could make their own loaves, but instead they played with it, making dough snowmen, square-rigged ships, Uncle Keith faces, snowflakes and pilgrims. And a menu item was born.

The only portion of the menu that isn't sacrosanct in my family is the vegetables. To have broccoli as opposed to squash wouldn't step on any toes. So that's where I play, and the recipes that follow are ones that I've made in the past.

 

AUNT ANNIE ROLLS

2 1/4 cups warm water

1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus a little extra for the bowl

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons yeast

3 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon salt

8 cups flour

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water for 5 minutes or until small bubbles begin to form. Add oil, sugar, eggs and salt.

Add 1 cup of flour at a time and keep stirring until the dough forms a ball that you can knead. Knead for 5 to 10 minutes.

Return the dough to a clean, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled, anywhere from 45 minutes to 11/2 hours.

When the dough has doubled, pull it out of the bowl onto the counter and shape into rolls (or snowmen or square-rigged ships).

Place on a flat baking pan, cover with plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and the center is cooked through.

Makes 24 dinner rolls, 5 snowmen and 3 square-rigged ships.

ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND RED ONION WITH GRAINY MUSTARD

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts

2 cups sliced red onion; about 1 large onion

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare the Brussels sprouts by slicing a sliver of the core off and then making an "x" or cross mark into the core about 1/2 inch. This cut looks as if you started to quarter the sprout and then stopped. The purpose is to allow heat into the center of the vegetable so you don't end up with a mushy outside and a crunchy inside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the sprouts and blanch for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the water with a strainer or slotted spoon.

Heat a medium-sized pan over medium-high heat and melt the butter. Add the red onion and saute for 5 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Add the mustard and then the half-cooked sprouts. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.

Transfer pan to the oven and roast for 20 minutes or until the centers are tender but not mushy. Serves 4 to 6.

PUMPKIN AND BRUSSELS SPROUT SLAW

Pulsing the Brussels sprouts in the food processor is the easiest way to grate them. Just go easy, so you don't pulverize them.

1 pound pumpkin flesh, peeled and grated, about 6 cups

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts; core end removed and then grated, about 6 cups

3/4 teaspoon salt (sprinkle half over pumpkin and half over Brussels sprouts)

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On the stove-top, heat a large, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil.

Add the pumpkin, sprinkle with half of the salt and saute until heated through. It will stick to the pan, but don't worry, it will loosen up at the end.

Add the Brussels sprouts on top of the pumpkin, but don't stir. Sprinkle with the other half of the salt and all of the black pepper. Break the butter into smaller pieces and dot the top of the Brussels sprouts.

Transfer to the oven and cook for 35 to 45 minutes or until the sprouts are cooked through, but still a little firm. If you can, slide the whole mess out of the pan at once. Slightly mix the pumpkin into the sprouts and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

 

Anne Mahle of Rockland can be reached at: chefannie@mainewindjammer.com

 

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