It's Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, and I can't remember having finer weather than we have right now. Bright sun, warm 24C days, and crisp starry nights that start far too early, but it's that time of year. The forecast calls for at least 4 or 5 more days of the same, which is a welcome change to the dreary cold and wet days we've experienced in the past week.
Through some strange twist of fate, I've been laid up with the cold to end all colds - and somehow Eric has managed to strand himself in Italy - so I'm on my own this holiday weekend, which is kind of fitting considering all I really want to do is pull the duvet over my head anyhow. Earlier, when I called Eric's hotel in Rome, the girl at the front desk said, "Yes, sir, I'll connect you". My voice - I don't know what to say (literally and figuratively) - it's non-existant, and the few words that I manage to croak out have obviously skewed my gender significantly. (And somehow...I just knew... when I bought a dozen boxes of Kleenex last week, that it was a dark omen and a harbinger of mucus to come. Some sales are irresistible, and Kleenex on sale is my weakness). I've obviously brought this on to myself.
But rather than have a pity party, let's reminisce about Thanksgivings gone by:
My Thanksgiving menu is virtually always the same, and has been for the past 10 years. We start off with a golden carrot soup that features orange juice and zest, pureed with red peppers and onions courtesy of Martha Stewart. We then move on to turkey breast, mashed potato casserole, braised brussels sprouts with maple syrup, pecans and bacon, red cabbage, bread stuffing, and the requisite cranberries and gravy. The potatoes, brussels sprouts and stuffing are made ahead and heated in the oven while the turkey cooks. Red cabbage nukes admirably in its serving dish.
I hate having tons of steaming pots and pans on the stove while entertaining, so anything make-ahead wins votes from me. There's nothing worse than mashing potatoes at the last minute, while watching the gravy boil over and the stuffing spontaneously combust because you've stuck it under the broiler...because you forgot. And then you're dealing with fire alarms and steamy glasses and a sink full of dishes, while your guests shuffle on the other side of the kitchen island, sipping their wine nervously, wondering what they did wrong to be invited to this culinary gong show.
Not that that's ever happened to me...
I've got things down to a fine art and rarely deviate from the fixed menu anymore. As far as I'm concerned, it's perfect in every way.
A few years ago, I gave up basting the bird for hours in favour of cooking turkey breast. It cooks up faster, there's less mess, and you're practically guaranteed a perfect, moist meat. I'll never go back to making a whole bird again, I think. I've been converted. (And what? You've never defrosted a turkey with a heat-gun? You've never dropped a Rubbermaid tub full of turkey brine on your kitchen floor?) When I say I speak from experience, I speak from experience, double the bold and italics, please. Learn from my mistakes. It's turkey breast all the way, from here on in.
One thing I'll never deviate from - pumpkin cheesecake for dessert. This is tried, tested and true:
1 cup crushed gingersnap cookies
3 Tbs melted butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbs brown sugar
2 - 250g (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
1-1/4 cup pure pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp mace
1/4 tsp cloves
2 Tbs rum
Preheat oven to 325F.
Grease a 9" spring-form pan.
Mix crushed gingersnaps, melted butter, cinnamon and brown sugar and press into bottom of spring-form pan. Chill.
Beat cream cheese until fluffy. Slowly beat in sugar. Add eggs, one at a time. Gradually beat in flour, spices, pumpkin and rum.
Pour onto crust. Bake for 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours.
Refrigerate overnight before serving.
Feel free to modify the spices. The quantities are so small, they're subtle. If you don't have mace substitute allspice. Or leave it out all together. It'll be our little secret. My original recipe called for 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice - something I've never been able to find on this side of the border. If you can find pumpkin pie spice, by all means, use it instead.
Please don't use low-fat cream cheese. This is not the time nor the place to skimp on calories. Your diet can start tomorrow. Carpe diem - or carpe cheesecake.
I've never managed to bake a cheesecake that hasn't cracked - apparently you've not supposed to over-mix, which I don't think I do, but you never know. I've tried leaving a pan of water in the oven, and cooling the cheesecake in the oven, all to no avail. Perfection evades me, okay? But I'm okay with that, because your eyes will be closed anyhow, after your first bite. They might even roll into the back of your head after tasting this cheesecake, so consider yourself forewarned.
Either way, this cheesecake is the epitome of perfection, crack or no crack.