}]; Noreen's Kitchen: 11/01/2014 - 12/01/2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

What The Heck Happened to Thanksgiving?!

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, please put a penny in the old man's hat.  If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do.  If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!"   

So goes the old English Christmas carol.  Christmas is on the way! Hooray! Black Friday is almost here! Hooray! Time to look and see what the stores will offer this year that we certainly cannot live without!  Hooray!  Preparations for the Christmas season are going on in all the stores and shops and in my neck of the woods, Christmas parades will be commencing this coming weekend!  Concerts and Santa and drive through Nativities are getting ready for holiday visitors! Amidst all of these festive preparations, I have one question for you!  WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED TO THANKSGIVING? 

This week I am taking a bit of a break from recipes and kitchen tips.  I hope you will indulge me and I hope you will reflect and answer this question for yourself.  Indeed, what did happen to this fabulous fall holiday of Thanksgiving?  Certainly a North American holiday, however other countries may observe their own version.  Thanksgiving is not really celebrated anywhere else in the world, quite like it is here in the United States.  Canada has their Thanksgiving day at the beginning of October.  In the States, we celebrate this day of reflection and thanks on the fourth Thursday of November, by preparing a bountiful meal and gathering those who are close and special to us.  Have you ever really thought about the true significance of what this holiday represents?  Let's take a closer look, in case you have forgotten or never even knew.  Thanksgiving is really about more than just stuffing a Butterball into the oven and stuffing ourselves with pumpkin and pecan pie.  The fact is, we should be doing a little more than just eating on this day of thanks. 

We all know about the Pilgrims who traveled here  in 1620's to escape religious persecution.   Do we really understand the magnitude of what they did and the conditions that they experienced?  The Pilgrims set out from Europe in two ships.  The Mayflower and the Speedwell.  They had to turn around twice because the latter of the two ships began to leak.  Finally making the decision to abandon the Speedwell and transferring all the passengers and a good portion of it's cargo to the Mayflower, their journey finally got underway on September 6, 1620.  The journey was rife with troubles, the worst of which was structural damage sustained to one of the main beams of the Mayflower during a violent ocean storm.  They were able to temporarily fix the beam with what they called "A great iron screw", which could have been what we may know as a type of floor jack.  This held the beam in place long enough for the Pilgrims to reach Cape Cod on November 11, 1620.  If you were counting this journey took 66 days! 

Over 100 people, men, women and children along with most of their belongings as well as some farm animals all on this ship that was most likely only designed to carry cargo, making this journey in order to make a better life for themselves and their children.  This was all done with special permission from the King of England, who allowed the Pilgrims to colonize in North America.  When they arrived, there was a group who did not want to live in the area of what we now call Plymouth (they called it Plimoth).  This group wished to live closer to what we now know as New York and had to get special permission, yet again in the form of what was called a patent from the King in order to do this.  Thus the "Mayflower Compact" was drawn.   John Quincy Adams was quoted as saying “the only instance in human history of that positive, original, social compact”.  It is believed to be an inspiration for the form and text of the Declaration of Independence.

The Pilgrims were over 100 strong when they came here and during their first year in North America they failed miserably.  They did not have adequate housing, they were not prepared for the weather and they were certainly not prepared for the growing conditions and as a result did not have enough of a harvest to sustain themselves through their first cold winter.  After their first year their numbers had dwindled to 52. 

During their first year, the Pilgrims had established a relationship by treaty with local native Americans in the area.  The treaty had six points. Neither party would harm the other. If anything was stolen, it would be returned and the offending person returned to his own people for punishment. Both sides agreed to leave their weapons behind when meeting, and the two groups would serve as allies in times of war. Squanto, a Wampanoag man who had been taken captive by English sailors and lived for a time in London, came to live with the colonists and instructed them in growing Indian corn.
In the fall of 1621, the colonists marked their first harvest with a three-day celebration. Chief Massasoit and 90 of his men joined the Pilgrims for feasting and entertainment said to have lasted three days!

The Pilgrims probably did not eat turkey and most likely ate what was available to them such as  pheasant, quail, duck, rabbit, squirrel and other small game along with whatever they were able to make from their  harvest.  Certainly not the feast we know and love today.  That came much later.

While the Pilgrims and their journey were the impetus for what we know as Thanksgiving, did you know that George Washington declared November 26,1789 as a ”day of  public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God."  However, Thanksgiving has been observed by annual presidential proclamation since 1863.  In 1941 federal legislation, signed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that the fourth Thursday of November should be set aside for the observance or what we refer to as the holiday of Thanksgiving. 

Indeed, Thanksgiving is more than food.  It is a time for us to reflect on where we have come from.  A time for us to give thanks inwardly and outwardly for what the year has brought.  It is a time to celebrate the end of a hopefully, bountiful harvest and even, perhaps, a meager one, but a harvest, nonetheless.  A time to rest and reflect after months of hard work and dedication to the tasks of everyday life.  It is a time to remember that our journey is rich with lessons and with rewards.  Thanksgiving is an important part of who we are as a people and as a nation. Certainly not a time to forget the importance of this day and pass it off as something of a chore.  In my opinion, we have allowed Thanksgiving to become nothing more than a gateway to the commercialism of Christmas.  We need to take a moment and really celebrate Thanksgiving for what it really is.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of that classic Norman Rockwell painting "Freedom from Want".  In fact Norman Rockwell is my favorite American artist and his "Four Freedom's" paintings are my favorites.  Prints of them hang on my living room wall.  They are a constant reminder of what I am thankful for and what was done by others so that I could live and raise my family in a free society.  Freedom from Want is the iconic picture of a family seated together for the Thanksgiving meal with the matriarch presenting the perfectly roasted turkey and all the trimmings to awaiting loved ones.  This is what I always think of when Thanksgiving rolls around.  There is no substitute for the love of family.  The anticipation of seeing friends and loved ones who have been gone the whole year.  The warm memories of those who are no longer present at the table fill our hearts with many emotions.  Couple this with the fabulous aromas coming from the kitchen on this day.  They started early in the morning and will continue to linger in the air long after the last bite of pie and sip of hot coffee has been consumed.  Norman got it right, in my opinion and in my mind's eye, Thanksgiving will always be the picture of Freedom from Want. 

So this year, while you are preparing in the run up to the big day, take a few minutes and remember what and who you are thankful for.  There is no wrong answer!  Just be thankful and remember that there is more to this day than wolfing down your meal so you can go stand in line outside of some big box store and wait to rush inside to get the deal of the century on what has been deemed the most popular whirligig of the season.   It is about being thankful for what you have and who you have in your life for as long as you may have them in your life.  It could all be gone tomorrow so give thanks today and really give thanks on Thanksgiving! 

Until Next time, I'll See Ya!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Key to An Organized and Thrifty Thanksgiving

In this post, I would like to touch on a few points that will help you prepare even further for your Thanksgiving feast.  Some you may already know and some may be new to you.  Either way I hope these tips help you in your quest to the best Thanksgiving meal ever but don't forget what the day is really about.  That is family, togetherness and thankfulness.

If you have never made the Thanksgiving meal yourself or if you have only ever had a small part in the preparations or maybe you have this thing down pat.  We can all use a little help and maybe even a few ideas that we had not thought of before.  This week I wanted to concentrate mainly on the hardest part, aside from the cooking and that is the shopping!  Shopping for the Thanksgiving or any celebratory meal should never be done at the last minute.  I wanted to help you prepare to make this year's holiday happy, not horrible!

Since this week, I am getting this newsletter out a day late, and I sincerely apologize for that, it is going out on a Wednesday.  That means that in my area as in many parts of the country, the new grocery ads were delivered in this morning's newspaper or if you are like me to your e-mail box or grocery store app on your smart phone.  These things can all be very helpful when preparing your shopping list for, not just your holiday meal, but for the upcoming holiday season in general!

Now that you have your menu planned the next logical step is taking a kitchen and pantry inventory and figuring out what you are going to need and what you already have.  Nothing is worse than getting knee deep in preparations for a big dinner only to find out that you forgot the corn starch, flour or some other necessary item that you didn't realize you needed.  Don't leave anything to chance!  Go through your recipes, item by item and make sure you either have them, or put them on the shopping list.  This may seem like a simple thing, but life gets busy and time gets short, so taking the time to really dig deep is important because being prepared is the best tool you can have when it comes to making your dinner easy as pie.

While you are taking time to make your list and inventory, be sure to check your spices!  If you are going to need spices that you don't use often you are going to want to replace them if they are older than six months old.  If you only use these spices during the holidays, chances are that you have spices that are a  year old and these are not going to make your dishes taste wonderful.  Pitch them and add them to your list.  They will most likely be on sale.  Another great suggestion is to purchase spice blends if you tend to not use them very often.  Poultry seasoning, salt free seasoning and apple and pumpkin pie spice can go a long way this time of year.  No need to take out a second mortgage purchasing a ton of individual spices if you are not going to use them up in about six months time.

We are currently two weeks away from Thanksgiving Day.  So this is the perfect time to undertake this task because you have breathing room.  The closer you get, the more time you lose and the more stressed you may become.  So get your menu, your grocery list and your grocery ads out and take a good hard look at what is currently on sale.  This time of year you are going to find all the basics for your Thanksgiving meal on sale.  Potatoes, sweet potatoes,  fresh and frozen veggies, artisan breads, all the fixings for your meal and of course the turkey!  Be warned though!  In recent years grocery stores have chosen to offer rock bottom prices for turkeys only if you purchase a certain amount of other items.  A good example is what is happening in my area.  Turkeys are currently on sale for .47 cents a pounds but only with an additional $40.00 purchase.  I asked the cashier this morning how that worked and was told that they will ring up your entire order before the turkey and then total it out.  At that point if you are at the minimum amount of $40 then they will ring up the turkey and the computer will give it to you for the .47 cents a pound price.  So it is worth it to pay close attention to those little tid bits because they like to put them in seriously small print just below the giant price.  It is your responsibility as a smart shopper to pay attention to these details.

Now that you are ready to shop, your list, menu and ads in hand here are a couple other suggestions. When you are going through the sale ads, have a look at the bigger picture.  Are you planning a Christmas dinner?  How about holiday baking?  Are there things on sale right now that you can take advantage of and squirrel away in your pantry, closets or cabinets that you will be needed later?  Will having them on hand save you money in the long run and logically, will any of these non perishables go to waste?  If these things make sense to you then buy the ham at a great price and toss it in your deep freeze. Stock up on a couple extra bags of $2 flour and sugar.  Buy the butter at a great price and freeze it as well.  Anything you can do now that will hedge your bets against rising prices later will be good for you in the long run. 

So I hope this helps give you some ideas about how to get busy now, to save time and stress later.  I personally hate grocery shopping this time of year.  Stores full of grumpy people who just want to get in and out.  Then there are the people who are visibly stressed because of financial strain and are adding up the items in their cart.  They want to make a great Thanksgiving but have little resources.  So while you are out shopping, please consider putting a few things in your cart to help out your local food bank if you are able.  I know how hard it is right now for many people, but even the least of us can  help in some way.  A can of beans or corn or a box of stuffing or even a small donation can make all the difference.  Be thankful for what you have, no matter how much or how little and make this holiday the best it can be for yourself and others.

Until Next time, I'll See Ya!

Thanksgiving Menu Planning Guide

Thanksgiving is on the way!  In a recent post I shared some tips and tricks on how to make your Thanksgiving stress free and do a bit of pre-planning and make things a lot easier on yourself in the end.  Today I wanted to talk about planning a menu for your Thanksgiving celebration.  Whether you are having, the all popular "Friends-giving" or planning your own family feast, planning is the key to a successful and happy celebration.  The menu is not something that you should stress over.  However you should have some cohesive idea about what direction you want your fall feast to take.  These are my suggestions.  Some are traditional and some are a bit offbeat.  No matter what you do, make sure it is done with the style you love and for the people you love!

My first suggestion is to decide what your main protein will be for the meal.  Turkey is the most popular choice however, there are people who (gasp!!!) don't like turkey!  Some people have turkey and ham, some only ham, some a standing rib roast and even some have one type of seafood on the table, oysters, clams, or salmon for instance.  Everything that you will serve will stem from this choice.  Today we are going to go with the Turkey and Ham combo.  That is what we love to have in our house.  Now we can work on building the rest of the meal.

While your turkey or ham may be the star of the meal, the side dishes are certainly playing star supporting roles!  Here is a list of some of our favorite side dishes that we will often enjoy for Thanksgiving.  We would not have all of these, but maybe perhaps three or four.  The truth is, it can be hard to whittle the choices down to just a few but then there are the lovely leftovers now aren't there?!   Favorite Side Dishes Include:

Mashed Potatoes
Duchess Potatoes
AuGratin Potatoes
Scalloped Potatoes
Roasted Squash
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows
Streusel Sweet Potato Casserole
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Green Beans Almondine
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Shredded Brussels sprout Salad
Beet Salad
Corn Pudding
Scalloped Corn
Broccoli Souffle
Cranberry sauce or jelly

That is a lot of sides to choose from and we really haven't even scratched the surface!  If you host a number of guests and you ask them to bring a favorite dish, then you may end up with a lot of one thing or a selection of dishes that will make your head swim!  Inevitably, you will have some sort of Jell-o mold and something you have to ask "Oh, my!  What is this?"  Then you will have to smile and say thank you and take another sip of wine or two!

As if all of that deliciousness wasn't enough, now it's time to consider dessert!  Since my mom and I share a birthday on the 26th of the month and my daughter Molly celebrates hers on the 28th and since this year, Thanksgiving will actually fall on her birthday, there will most definitely be birthday cake on our table.  Then there will be pumpkin pie, pecan pie and I will most likely make chess pie for later in the weekend.  Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving to me without chess pie!  Dessert is always a personal choice for this celebration meal.  Here are some favorites that we have had on our table in the past:

Birthday cake
Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin Chiffon Pie
Pecan Pie
Chocolate Pecan Pie
Chess Pie
Lemon Meringue Pie
Chocolate Mousse Pie
Cheesecake Pie
Apple Cake
Chocolate Ganache Cake
Mom's Crustless Cheesecake
New York Cheesecake
Mom's Strawberry Pretzel Jell-O (amazing!)

Again, just a few things that can be chosen from.  What is your favorite?  Always make what people love because you love them.

In the end Thanksgiving is, indeed a time to give thanks for what we have, which is each other.  Not a time to give thanks for the "stuff" that we have that can sometimes pollute our lives and make us forget what is truly important.  Being together and eating this meal is all that is needed to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Bowing our head in thanks is the order of the day.  No matter if you present chicken chow mein, lasagna, pizza or a stack of hot pockets, be sure to take a look around at those you surround yourself with and give thanks for them being in your life. 

You can get wrapped up in the importance of making a meal for Thanksgiving and in the end there will still be a mess to clean up and dishes to load into the dishwasher.  No matter what you cook, people are going to love it.  You are going to make mistakes and that is no reason to not even try.  If this is your first year preparing the big meal, don't worry!  It will all be alright!  Even if it isn't, you learn from your mistakes and you move on.  I promise you won't ever make those mistakes again!   Enjoy yourself, enjoy the process of making the meal and serving and eating the meal.  Enjoy the people you surround yourself with on that day.  You won't get these moments back.  You get them once so make them last and make them memorable!

In closing I will give you a look at my holiday menu for this year.  One of my favorites and it proves to be tried and true!

Maple & Cider Glazed Turkey with Sage
Cranberry, Apple Stuffing made with homemade stuffing bread
Cider Gravy
Broccoli Souffle
Steamed Green Beans
Buttered Corn
Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Maple Cranberry Relish
Yeast Dinner Rolls
Birthday Cake
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie

I hope this is helpful to you in planning your Thanksgiving meal.  I hope you learned something and I hope you never lose sight of what is really important on Thanksgiving.  surrounding yourself with the people you care most about in the world!

Until Next time, I'll See Ya!

You can find several of these helpful recipes on my website: www.noreenskitchen.com

Making Your Thanksgiving As Easy As Possible!

Some of you may have spent many years preparing your Thanksgiving meal.  However there are those who are new, up and coming cooks, homemakers, wives and mothers who have yet to take on this task.  This can be a rather daunting thing to face.  If you have never so much as purchased a turkey, you may be wondering how on earth you are going to cook an entire meal!  I am here to help you.  I have some tips and tricks that will be helpful for you to consider when getting ready to make your Thanksgiving debut.
I am going to share an excerpt from my cookbook, Noreen's Kitchen Holiday Helper.  These are some important time and stress saving tips and tricks that I always employ, year after year to make my holiday preparations much easier.  I have often said that it matters not, if you are eating Pizza, Chinese food or a full blown, meal with turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings.  What matters is that you are sharing the meal with people that you love.  It does not matter how meager or grand your meal may be, you should give thanks for what you have and for those who you are sharing it with.  You should always find room at your table for one more and revel in the day and those who are around you.
Here are my tips and tricks for a happy and stress free holiday meal:
The key to a successful holiday dinner is time management!  If you follow these steps you will be able to get your dinner on the table with little stress, strain or hair pulling.
Make a menu plan.  If you don’t do anything, do this!  Stick to the plan and you can’t go wrong.
Get out all of your recipes and take an inventory of what ingredients you have on hand and what ingredients you will need.
Make a shopping list and do the shopping for your meal at least 5 days in advance if possible.  
Make a schedule based on the recipes you choose to prepare.  This will help you know what takes the longest and what takes the least amount of time.  The hardest part of any meal is making everything ready at the same time.
Prep your ingredients you will need such as celery, onions and herbs one or two days before.  Place them in zip top bags or plastic containers in your refrigerator so when you get ready to make a recipe that calls for those ingredients, you can just reach for them.
Cranberry sauce can be made up to 5 days before you need it,  cook it, store it in an airtight container and when the day of your celebration arrives, take it out about 1 hour before serving.
Make all of your desserts a day before.  This will free up oven space as well as save you time.  Desserts take a bit more time and concentration.  They require more precise measurements than roasting a turkey or mashing potatoes.  Doing these a day before will help you manage your time on the day of your celebration.
If you will be using the “good” china for your holiday meal, take it out a week before, make sure you have all the service pieces you need, wash everything, use the dishwasher if you can.  Anything you can do ahead of time will save you stress later.
Set your table the night before if you are able to.  It saves a lot of trouble on a day when you will be doing a lot already.
On the day of your big meal.  Start the day with a good breakfast.  It will help you get off on the right foot.
Assign others to make sure everything gets done.  For instance, give one of the kids the job of taking out the trash, wiping up the counters or making sure the pets stay out from underfoot.
Promise yourself to clean as you go and you will not be under a pile of dirty dishes.  Fill one side of your sink with soapy water so you can quickly rinse out measuring cups and spoons that you may need to use again.
Use disposables like paper plates, bowls and aluminum pans for prep work, cooking and easy clean up.  In the end, you will spend less time stressing and more time enjoying when you don’t have to go back to a stack of pots and pans to scrub after a giant meal.
Try to make sure the components of your meal are ready 1 hour before you are going to serve.  Place the sliced turkey, the veggies, the sweet potatoes etc. in foil pans covered in a warm oven.  If you choose to do this with mashed potatoes, just make sure you add a bit more milk because they will thicken up as they sit.
When you are ready to serve, plate up and lay out your spread.  You won’t believe what a difference a little time management and thinking ahead can do for you!
So there you have it!  An  excerpt from my first cookbook, Noreen's Kitchen Holiday Helper.  I hope this is some good information you can use and apply to preparing for your upcoming holiday events.  Whether you are new to cooking the holiday meal or you are an old pro, hopefully there are some things here that can help your holiday be much more beautiful!
If you would like to get your own copy of my Holiday Helper cookbook or my Cocoa's Cookies and More, Galore cookbook, you can find them here: at Lulu.com 
So sit down and start planning your Thanksgiving meal!  The earlier you start, the easier it will be and the more you will be able to enjoy your family on that special day!

Till Next time, I'll see ya!

You can find my cookbooks here: