“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a special place in my heart for Thanksgiving. Each year I would get up ridiculously early to watch the Macy’s Day Parade, check to see if it was snowing and then run around the kitchen, poking my nose into each and every dish that my grandma was preparing, seeing what I could do to help (the answer was often “nothing”) and claiming that I needed to sample the majority of them…you know, just to be sure that everything was going to turn out all right. I loved not only how the day would usher in the holiday season, but also how it was essentially so simple–good food that was thoughtfully prepared and good company.

This year didn’t disappoint either. Though I’m a little sad that I have yet to do the whole ensemble myself, from appetizers to turkey to stuffing and dessert, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I think the true communal quality of Thanksgiving is one of the best things about it. I love trying things people make, exchanging recipes (I got a recipe for Flan from a new friend I made at the dinner and I’m really looking forward to trying it…once I again have the desire to eat dessert) :), meeting new people and spending quality time with the old. In short, the dinner at the “I-House” (the nickname for the Greek’s residence) was lovely and quite fun. Beyond that simple description, the only other thing I can say to do justice to the meal is that it was a complete and utter feast. There was a turkey. There was lamb. And, my oh my, there was a 50 lb. roasted pig! It’s almost enough to make a girl say, “What recession?”, but I’d hate to sound anything like a Republican. 🙂

And what were my contributions to this feast of feasts?

Well, if you look above at the lovely display of desserts, I suppose you could technically say that I was responsible for one and a half of them. Though I wish I could lay claim to the beautiful Cranberry Pie (made by a certain cellist) and the Caramel Apple Pie (made by the girlfriend of one of the Greek’s roommates), the Pumpkin Bourbon Cheesecake was all me and, please excuse the blatant display of pride, was, in addition to everything else on the table, pretty darn tasty. 🙂 As a rule, I like things with texture and the crust, consisting of graham crackers and pecans, delivers. Plus, I’ve long made it clear on this blog that I love all things pumpkin and the center of this cheesecake is smooth, flavorful and slightly spicy. Let me just say that the bourbon (or Jameson Whiskey, which is what I used) doesn’t hurt either. I’m a big fan of cooking with alcohol. The greatest thing about this cheesecake, however, is that, as you can see from the picture, it was dented. Since I’ve been a disgusting perfectionist since about the age of 6, this really should have upset and horrified me, but, you know what, it was Thanksgiving. Wine bottles will occasionally be dropped on desserts by dear friends. Meat will sometimes end up burning or drying out in the oven. Pie crust will look ugly or be tough. That’s life. And it doesn’t affect the taste one bit. [NB: Since starting this blog, I’ve stopped slavishly following recipes and now I’m ok with dents. I’d say I have about another 5,000 neuroses to conquer, but the list is slowly dwindling. =p] I also had the chance to make this again for the Slavic Thanksgiving and I’ve captured it in its original, undented glory, with a full display of its layers; it would be wrong not to share.

The other half dessert I’m responsible for is the Galaktoboureko, which is basically a phyllo dough base with semolina custard in the center, topped by more phyllo. The mastermind and chief preparer of this was, naturally, the Greek. But I did help stir the custard and deal with the phyllo dough. Plus, without my mad butter-melting skills, that phyllo dough was going to remain unwieldy. As a cool fun fact, the recipe that we followed appparently hails from the kitchen of Greece’s version of Paula Deen, Vefa Alexiadou (apparently, she has a cookbook and would it be wrong of me to say that I want it?). All this really means is that we used a lot of butter, more than enough sugar and, ultimately, we were rewarded for it. Custard is one of my favorites, so, clearly, once crispy dough is added to the mix and is drizzled in a lemony syrup, it becomes one of my super-favorites.

To balance out all of this gooey sweetness, I would now like to share something with you that will clearly be a part of many Thanksgivings to come: Savory Bread Pudding with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese. I was just browsing Epicurious.com, hoping to find something savory that would catch my eye. As I’ve been fantasizing about baking bread recently (and will quite soon; stay tuned!), especially due to my Tartine adventures, bread pudding seemed like the obvious choice. And it was quite successful–so successful that when I went looking for some the next day, I discovered that there was nothing left! Fortunately, it’s easy to make…and worth the effort of all the chopping. It also yielded the base of the next blog post I have planned for you (tis the season of soup!), which I will write later this week after finishing grading these so-called revisions, a hair cut (to be bold or boring?), a tutoring session in the city and hopefully some prospectus editing. Only time will tell if all of this is within reach, but I’m currently feeling optimistic.

After all, Thanksgiving and the holiday weekend left a good taste in my mouth, both literally and figuratively. 🙂

Savory Bread Pudding with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit (Nov. 2006)
Yields 10-12 servings

1 (1-pound) loaf Italian country-style white bread
1/4 cup olive oil
3-4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
2 large garlic cloves, minced

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms (such as crimini, button, portobello, and stemmed shiitake), thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (I did a combination of whipping cream and half and half)
8 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup Emmental

For the bread:
-Preheat oven to 375°F.
-Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish, or two 9″ cake pans (basically you need something deep and spacious).
-Cut bottom crust and short ends off bread and discard.
-Cut remaining bread with crust into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups loosely packed).
– Place cubes in very large bowl. Add oil, sage, and garlic; toss to coat.
-Spread cubes out on large rimmed baking sheet.
-Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
-Bake until golden and slightly crunchy, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.
-Return toasted bread cubes to same very large bowl.

For the mushrooms and vegetables:
-Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat.
-Add mushrooms, onion and celery.
-Sauté until soft and juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes.
-Add sautéed vegetables and parsley to bread cubes.

For the custard:
-Whisk heavy cream, eggs, salt, and ground pepper in large bowl.
-Mix custard into bread and vegetables.
-Transfer stuffing to prepared dish.
-Sprinkle cheeses over.

-Preheat oven to 350°F.
-Bake stuffing uncovered until set and top is golden, about 1 hour.
-Let stand 15 minutes.

(DO AHEAD Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

3 thoughts on “This Little Piggy….

  1. I love everything about this post, but most especially the image of you running around the kitchen as a little girl! 😉 Also, I must try that bread pudding!

  2. though thankful for forgiveness as well as for bread pudding. And delighted to have at least provided a mishap of therapeutic value 🙂

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