Ahhhh, Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday of the year. Now, my favorite holiday meal of the year is still hands-down the Christmas Eve Seven Fish dinner...more on that in a few weeks. But when you're talking holidays, Bird Day is the tops for me. I love everything about it. The smells, the colors, the crisp fall air, the leaves on the ground. Everything about it screams tradition, comfort and nostalgia. Just the smell of turkey brings me back to when I was a kid, when my brother and I would help my mom make the apple pies. We would start the morning by watching the parade on tv, followed by hours of the WOR Holiday King Kong movie festival (monsters were always more important to me than football when I was little). Then came the food. The glorious food! Now that I have a family of my own, we have our own traditions that we look forward to. And they still involve lots of eating!
Obviously, the main event of the day is the turkey. These days there are countless ways to prepare the main course. My friend John does both a traditional bird in the oven, and another one on the grill. My friend Tony, on the other hand, has turned deep-frying into an art form. So I won't even begin to suggest turkey tips. Now, if you grew up in an Italian household, chances are that your Thanksgiving main course consisted of a double bill - a pasta course, followed up to a few hours later by the turkey.
So, what I've decided to do was offer you some side dishes that go over well with our family dinner. The first, Cranberry Compote, was an Emeril recipe that I came across a few years back. The second, Baked Butternut Squash with Apples, was one that I just recently found. Enjoy, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!
FRESH CRANBERRY COMPOTE
6 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
In a non reactive, non-stick saucepan, over medium, combine the cranberries, zest, 1/2 cup sugar, water, salt, and cinnamon. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in the orange juice. Add the mixture to the cranberries and stir to blend. Simmer another 15 minutes until the mixture is thick. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.
BAKED BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH APPLES
2 tblspn butter
1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
1/4 tspn ground nutmeg
1-1/2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 to 3 large Granny Smith apples, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tblspn balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped pecans,toasted
Heat oven to 375ºF. Place butter in 13x9-inch glass baking dish; heat in oven 5 to 7 minutes or until melted.
Stir cinnamon and nutmeg into melted butter. Add squash; toss to coat. Cover with foil; bake 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix apples, syrup and vinegar.
Pour apple mixture over squash. Cover; bake 10 minutes. Stir; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until squash is tender. Stir before serving and sprinkle with pecans.