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Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving: Part 1

I'm in a state of confusion how the holidays arrived already but I'm so excited for Thanksgiving! Although I don't actually have a big role cooking the meal, I like to play sous chef for my parents and jump in to help baste, play Tetris with reheating sides, and carving...aka pick at the crispy skin! Normally my parents host to a large group including my sisters, their husbands and kids, and relatives near and far but this year, it's just my parents, Nana, Sean and I. It'll be weird and quiet but truthfully, I don't mind! It might be nice without the chaos of our usual large crew!

I applaud everyone who hosts Thanksgiving! There's so many hours of prep that go into this meal and undoubtably everyone migrates in the kitchen making it especially difficult to get everything ready.  (Unless that's just our family.)

I think the key to a stress-free day is parcooking every side dish. If a cold uncooked casserole goes in the oven, it'll take a lot longer to cook than just reheating a cooked one! Go through all of your serving platters and utensils and put a label on each tray/dish letting you know what's going on what to be sure you have everything you need. Otherwise, if you realize you broke a bowl and never replaced it it'll be a rude awakening as your trying to get dinner on the table! Get everything possible done ahead of time including plating room temperature or cold dishes so they're ready when you are. 

I'm bringing you three recipes that are easy and delicious whether it be for Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving, a fall dinner party or just a regular family dinner!

First things first, what are you drinking? Wine? Cool, me too! Which varietal goes best with the big meal you ask? Great question! I have some great recommendations! You want to find a wine that complements the meal as a whole so I like to pick out the common flavor such as hearty herbs that are in almost every thanksgiving dish! Thyme, rosemary, and sage. I absolutely love these flavors individually and putting them together is delightful, hello herbs de Provence! 

Garrigue is the name given to the wonderful collection of wild herbs and plants that grow in Southern France, including thyme, sage, rosemary, and lavender. Lavender is such an under utilized flavor in my opinion! A wino friend of mine recommended I serve these Languedoc AOP wines on my Thanksgiving table and she is not kidding! 
These are delicious on their own, but if you really want a unique experience take a bite of your herby stuffing and then take a sip of wine...it's a full flavor experience! The flavors are complex and linger longer than say, a California blend. In the Languedoc wine region the grapes are grown within sprawling wild herbs such as sage, lavender, rosemary, and thyme giving those grapes unique earthy notes that pair extremely well with your Thanksgiving meal. Go to your local Binnys and try this flavor experiment on your own! (you won't be sorry!) Of course I also love white wine but during winter months I tend to stick to red...crisp whites aren't so refreshing when it's 20 degrees and snowing outside!



The Pic Saint Loup was fruiter with a lighter body. It was nice on it's own but transformed when paired with these butternut squash crostini with sage. It's crazy how food and wine pairings work!
The Corbieres was a fuller body with complex flavors but still finished smooth. This would be a great glass of wine anytime but went especially well with the herb roasted potatoes I'll share tomorrow. The blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre was familiar but with a subtle twist. It was earthier than most red blends I've had which I found surprisingly pleasant.

I love having friends that know their wine...it gives me excuses to try more varietals and educate my palate! :)
If you aren't hosting it's always nice to bring an appetizer or dessert in addition to a bottle of wine (see above for a great option!) and one of my favorite's is this butternut squash crostini. The butternut squash is roasted and slightly crispy which brings out it's natural sweetness and great texture!

Butternut Squash Crostini with Fried Sage
You'll need:
1 Butternut squash, peeled and diced or 2 pounds pre-diced butternut squash
2 tbl olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper 
dash of nutmeg
1 Baguette
Sage leaves (I like putting 2 smaller leaves or 1 large leaf on each crostini)

Here's how I make them:
Toss the butternut squash with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a single layer at 425 degrees for 25-35 minutes or until golden brown. *Toss the squash halfway through to roast evenly.

Remove the squash and let cool. Don't be afraid to let it get roasted and slightly browned!

Meanwhile, mix the ricotta, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a small bowl until well combined. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. The nutmeg should just add a hint of something but not overpower the flavor! It shouldn't be too salty though you want a nice pepper flavor with a subtle citrus note. *orange zest would be delicious too!
Take your baguette and cut it using a serrated knife into 1/4 inch slices. 

Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake for about 5 minutes on each side or until golden and crisp.

Remove from the oven and cool.

Melt a stick of butter and bring it up to a light bubble, browning the butter until it's nice and nutty. Throw in a handful of sage leaves and stir for about a minute until the sage is fragrant and crisp. Remove the sage leaves to drain on a paper towel.
To assemble, spread about a tbl of ricotta on each crostini and top with a few cubes of butternut squash. Finish with a fried sage leaf and a drizzle of that sage-infused brown butter!
Yum. If that doesn't scream fall both in color and flavor, I don't know what does! 

*The crostini, butternut squash, and ricotta can all be made ahead of time! Just store in airtight containers and assemble before serving.
{The Languedoc AOP wines samples were provided by the CIVL. All opinions on this post are my own.}

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