Thanksgiving Superlatives

Thanksgiving has come and gone. Who else is still wearing (or longing to be wearing) stretchy pants?  Because I am.

Thanksgiving day was good and busy.  The Professor and I drove down to Dallas to my parents’ house who hosted Thanksgiving.  It was a small group – my parents, The Professor and me, one of my best friends Alex and her mom, and my grandparents, Grandmommy and Grandaddy.  My sister Jackie was in Massachusetts visiting her boyfriend.

Here’s all the girls.  On a related note, I’ve decided to grow out my bangs.  They never stay where I want them to.

Thanksgiving used to always be at Grandmommy’s, but a few months ago she declared she was too old to host Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There was weeping and gnashing of teeth from my cousins and me, but we will get through it together.

All in all, it was a great day.  We ate a lot.  Cooked a lot.  Laughed a lot.  Watched a lot of football.  Did some Black Friday shopping.  The day was too busy to take step-by-step pictures of our recipes.  Instead, I present to you the inaugural Accidental Okie’s Thanksgiving Superlatives.

And just so you don’t think I’m infallible, we’ll start with this one:

Most Failed: Unset Pecan Pie

I’m not sure what happened.  Well, that’s not true.  I do.  I know exactly what happened.  I didn’t cook it long enough, and also had the broiler on for a few minutes to toast the Brussels sprouts, making the pie look deceptively done.  So we pulled it out.  It wasn’t set.  Like really not set.  So we scooped it with a spoon and ate it anyways.  We’re courageous like that.

Best New Side: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Thanksgiving

Did you know Brussels sprouts were Julia Child’s favorite Thanksgiving side dish?  My parents bought some on the stalk, so we made them instead of green beans.  They were delightful, and made me realize what I dislike so much about Thanksgiving food: everything is sweet.  Sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, carb-centric stuffing and mashed potatoes, rolls and desserts.  Having the slightly bitter Brussels sprouts brought perfect balance to the meal.

We made a variation on the Barefoot Contessa’s roasted Brussels sprouts, only I broiled them hot and fast for about 15 minutes, flipping them a few times, and I cut every one of them in half, no matter how small the sprouts.  The inside of the sprouts get delightfully crisp and yummy.

Best Extra: Citrus Plate for Water and Tea

This was one of those things I did while things were baking and I had some down time.  If I had been in a hurry, they would have been dumped in a bowl, but doing them ahead allowed me to make them oh so pretty.  There were oranges for the iced tea and lemons and limes for the ice water.  Everyone loved them, and snacked on the oranges.   It was a win-win-win.

Most improved: My Stuffing Recipe

I changed my stuffing recipe up a bit this year, and I loved the results.  I halved the corn bread to just one batch, doubled the celery, used a whole pint of sliced mushrooms and a whole bag of Craisins.

Most Likely to Change Your Life: Pomegranate Hazelnut Fall Salad

I made my pomegranate hazelnut vinaigrette salad dressing.  It was so scrumptious atop a salad of romaine lettuce, pomegranate seeds, pepitas (peeled pumpkin seeds), and ribbons of shaved Parmesan cheese.  I ate more salad than anything during dinner.  On a related note, I had more room for cake.

Worst Timing: Um, Everything

Okay, someone enlighten me.  What is your strategy for getting oven things cooked while the bird hogs the oven for hours and hours?

Best Averted Disaster: Kitty Thanksgiving 

My mom and I were stuffing the bird while my dad worked on one of the other dishes.  The Professor was doing one of six loads of dishes of the day.  I look away from the turkey for a second because a strange movement catches my eye.  And what do I see?  Lyla, my sister’s cat, running from the dining room, through the kitchen and to the garage.  With a flopping bird in her mouth.

Everyone dropped what they were doing and we all descended on Lyla, shooing her outside the house.  She saw this and tried to make a break – very alive bird still in her mouth – to the stairs.  We caught her, got her in the garage, and she lost grip of the bird, who promptly flew away to safety.

We still don’t know the answer to the following questions:  When did Lyla bring the bird into the house?  To what rooms did she take the bird?  How did she sneak it by us in the first place?  And, did she want her own kitty Thanksgiving?  I guess we’ll never know, but we all think the averted disaster was our Thanksgiving miracle.

Most Important Meal of the Day: Breakfast

This year, I made Paula Deen’s French toast casserole recipe, using a loaf of Udi’s Cinnamon Raisin Bread.  It was delicious.  Actually sitting down and eating breakfast ended up being a good idea.  The casserole and a big glass of milk filled me up.  I didn’t snack while cooking, and was actually hungry when we sat down for lunch.  Breakfast is definitely staying next year.

Best Non Traditional Dessert: Carrot Cake

My mother had a brilliant idea.  Brilliant.  We made carrot cake for dessert.  Carrot cake is for Easter in our family, but the cake was a perfect complement to Thanksgiving’s rich and scrumptious flavors.  Plus, let’s be honest, who can say no to fresh cream cheese pecan frosting?  I know I can’t.

We modified my mom’s recipe with Better Batter Gluten Free Flour, and it turned out perfectly.  There were no other modifications – just a one-to-one ratio of flour to Better Batter, oh and halving the salt.  Always half the salt when modifying a gluten-free baked item.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the finished product.  I was too busy eating it.

Best Black Friday deal: Modern Family Season One for $13

I love that show.  The first episode where Cam holds up the baby to Lion King music.  The ever-broken step.  The quotes.  Oh the quotes.

“I collect antique fountain pens. I’m quite adept at Japanese flower arrangements. Ikebana. And I was the starting offensive lineman at the University of Illinois. Surprise!”

“I design high-end electroacoustic transducers.  That’s just a fancy way of saying I get things to make noise.”

Best Friday Night: EVER

I had the greatest post-Thanksgiving Friday ever.  Shopping (mostly window shopping, although I did buy a berry bowl since Marcy told me to), a massage, cream cheese and jalapeno stuffed pork tenderloin, and a Duck Dynasty marathon.

It’s time to get The Professor to grow a long, sexy beard.  (sarcasm)

Best Thanksgiving Travelers: Charlie and Pippa

Charlie and Pippa have always gone to Dallas with us, so they’re great travelers.  Pippa always sits in the driver’s seat.  Charlie got relaxed enough to sleep on his back on my lap.  It was good times.  We love our kitties.

Best Texas moment:

Of course I’m the Accidental Okie, but I’m also an eight-generation Texan.  Every once in a while I see proof of this that blows me away.  Here was one of those moments.  This conversation really happened.

Sarah: Did you hear that Larry Hagman died?
Dad: (Calls his dad to pass on the news and then gets off the phone).
Sarah: Did Grandaddy know?
Dad: Yeah, he and Uncle Don had lunch with Larry’s brother last week, and he said that he wasn’t doing well.

Larry Hagman’s family is from the small town where eight generations of my family are buried.  Larry was in the same class as my great aunt Lou.

I hope your Thanksgiving was great, as well.  Tell me your superlatives!

Gluten-Free Holiday Cooking Tips

Thanksgiving Painting

While originally written for Thanksgiving, this cooking guide works for any holiday or gathering – Christmas, New Year’s parties, Easter – where you are hosting a bunch of people!

I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance in spring of 2006.  Fall 2007 was my first Thanksgiving, and I was scared.  Feeling sorry for me, my dad bought me an early Christmas present – my navy blue KitchenAid mixer.  I still use it today.  I also took a cooking class by Claudia Pillow, co-author of this book, which was incredibly helpful.  The next years have been an exercise in trial and error.  There have been successes and failures.  Lessons have been learned along the way.

Because so many Thanksgiving standards contain gluten, I would bring my versions to our family’s big Thanksgiving celebration.  That’s a lot of food to bring – stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, desserts.  Over the years, I learned what I was willing to do on Thanksgiving – the modified standards that were a must-have – and those I could do without.

My family got the hang of it too.  My grandmother now makes her candied sweet potatoes with gluten-free flour and thickens her gravy with corn starch.

While I don’t have the grocery budget or the time to cook Thanksgiving standards for all of you (sorry), I still wanted to give you tips for having a successful gluten-free Thanksgiving, especially if this is your first gluten-free holiday, or if you’re having a gluten-free guest over to your house this year.

General tips:

  • Are you brand new to the gluten-free world?  Here’s my gluten-free starter guide.
  • Read all the labels.  Here are just a few foods you’d never guess have (or might have) gluten: canned chicken broth, ice cream, soup mixes, salad dressings, marshmallows, chewy candy like Twizzlers.  Information on deciphering labels is on my starter guide.
  • Whether you are the gluten-free guest for a large Thanksgiving gathering or you are cooking for a gluten-free guest on Thanksgiving, do not expect to have every dish gluten-free. The meat, a few sides and at least one dessert will be sufficient.  If you’re hosting and cooking the food, then it’s easy to make everything gluten-free.
  • Be thoughtful to make small changes that will easily make a dish gluten-free.  Use tapioca starch in gravy or gluten-free marshmallows in candied yams, for example.  If you’re cooking a turkey with a browning bag, use gluten-free flour in the bag – any gluten-free flour without xanthan or guar gum will do.  I usually use brown rice flour.
  • Hosts: never ever think “Oh, it’s just a little flour.”  Just 1/8th of a teaspoon is enough for me and many of my fellow celiacs to have a full-scale reaction.
  • Buy gluten-free rolls.  Udi’s and Schar both make great rolls.  Against the Grain makes a great baguette.
  • Let the gluten-free guest serve him or herself first.  Give them their own butter dish that is not contaminated by bread crumbs.  Remind your guests to keep each serving utensil with its appropriate dish.
  • Feeling crunched for time or intimidated about your first gluten-free attempt being on Thanksgiving?  There is no shame in utilizing mixes and other shortcuts!  My favorite gluten-free mixes these days are King Arthur flour, which are now carried at Target.  You can read my reviews of King Arthur gluten-free chocolate chip cookie mix and yellow cake mix here.  Also, dress up gluten free store-bought cookies, like I did here.
  • Speaking of shortcuts – gluten-free pie crusts are available at most health food stores.  I love Whole Food’s gluten-free pie crust.

Gluten-Free Stuffing Recipe

Nothing says Thanksgiving like stuffing.  Unfortunately, nothing says gluten like stuffing.  Have no fear, you can modify your favorite homemade stuffing recipe into your new gluten-free standard.  There are a few simple tips:

  1. Make a flourless cornbread recipe.  You’ll find about a thousand variations online.  They just use corn meal.  Make two batches a day before you prepare the stuffing.  Make sure your corn meal says gluten-free on the box, and don’t use white corn meal.  (White corn has a small amount of natural gluten and some people including yours truly react to it).
  2. One of my favorite memories of Thanksgiving is Grandmommy drying cubed bread for her stuffing.  She dries it overnight so it is dry and crisp and ready to be included in the stuffing.  You do the same with gluten-free bread, but it takes substantially longer to dry out.  Dry it out for a day, turning occasionally, but still be prepared to stick it in a hot oven while the bread crumbs truly dry out.
  3. A key to making great stuffing is starting out with a moist stuffing mixture.  To get the gluten-free mix to the proper moistness, prepare to use two or three or four times more liquid than normal.  This means keeping a very close eye on the level of saltiness.  I usually dilute low-sodium chicken broth.  Be prepared to use a lot more broth!

Here is my stuffing recipe.  It’s really good, but you can also use the tips above to modify your favorite stuffing recipe!

Gluten-Free Stuffing Recipe
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1 batch gluten-free corn bread, two round nine-inch pans, baked, crumbled and dried out
  2. 1 loaf gluten-free bread (12 ounces), cut into cubes. I use Udi's White Bread
  3. 1 pound pork sausage, crumbled and pan fried - you can use sage, normal pork breakfast sausage, spicy Italian...really whatever kind of sausage you want.
  4. 4 tbs butter
  5. 1 large onion, diced
  6. 1 pint sliced mushrooms
  7. 2 c. sliced celery
  8. ½ tsp. salt
  9. ½ tsp rubbed sage
  10. 1 tsp thyme
  11. 1 c. pecans or hazelnuts
  12. 1 c. Craisins
  13. 4 - 6 c. low sodium, gluten-free chicken broth – enough to get it VERY moist
  14. * adjust the extra veggies, dried cranberries and nuts as you wish. I think I always end up putting more of everything. I like my toppings.
Instructions
  1. Cube bread and dry in a 350-400 degree oven until they're dry and toasted, about 30 minutes, flipping occasionally. Crumble cornbread, let dry overnight.
  2. The day of: Cook sausage and crumble. Set aside. Use a tablespoon or so of the sausage drippings and butter to sweat (sautee, but so they're still crunchy) the onions, mushrooms and celery, adding in the spices and salt. Quickly toast the nuts in a dry frying pan.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the crumbled corn bread, bread cubes, sausage, sautéed veggies, nuts and craisins. Moisten the stuffing with chicken broth until it is thoroughly moistened. Think soggy. If you don't add enough broth, the stuffing will be dry and mealy. Be careful with chicken broth. Canned chicken broth many times has gluten. Check the label.
  4. Cover with foil and bake at 400 for 1 hour. This is a wonderful recipe. My favorite part are the Craisins! They add a sweetness and color.
The Accidental Okie http://theaccidentalokie.com/

Autumn Salad

Make a big naturally gluten-free salad!  My fall salad with pomegranate hazelnut vinaigrette, lettuce, pomegranate seeds, green onions, pumpkin seeds and Parmesan cheese will have no one missing the gluten!

Gluten-Free Gravy

Make a roux just like you normally would, but use tapioca starch flour or sweet white rice flour.

Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Casserole, oh how I miss you.  I usually skip this side because it is a lot of work.  I made it the first Thanksgiving after my sister was diagnosed with gluten intolerance because I wanted that Thanksgiving to be full of good memories for her.  (Best big sister award, or what?!)

Here’s the recipe I use.  It’s pretty good.  It takes forever.

This dish is something that over the years I decided wasn’t a priority for me.  I now prefer a simpler green bean dish with steamed beans and bacon.  Because what’s better than bacon?

Candied Yams

Candied yams or candied sweet potatoes are a classic, and easily modified to be gluten free.

Namaste Spice Cake Mix

Quick Pumpkin Bread

Make this quick pumpkin bread!

One pack of gluten-free spice cake mix – I use Namaste
1 egg
1 15-ounce can of pumpkin
Up to 1.5 cups of pecans and golden raisins, your preference.

Bake per the cake’s instructions.

Pecan Pie

Gluten Free Baking Classics by Analise Robers contains the world’s greatest pecan pie recipe ever.  Buy it.  Bake it.  Love it.

Banana Bread

Make my gluten-free banana bread.  It’s a perfect breakfast on Thanksgiving morning.  And it makes a great on-the-go breakfast for Black Friday, too!

Do you have any more questions, suggestions or advice?  Put them in the comments section.