Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina with this famous line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Similarly, of Thanksgiving dinners, I might say, "Average Thanksgiving dinners are all alike; every interesting Thanksgiving dinner is unique in its own way."
Thanksgiving meals I grew up with were always the most basic Midwestern fare (probably because grandma didn't really enjoy cooking). The menu: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans and pie.
In college, I went vegetarian and dined on Tofurkey with stuffing, veggies and the rest of the fixings. (In retrospect, I might've done better to have simply baked a nice casserole.)
I was recently impressed to learn that many southern folks consider a ham to be an essential aspect of the Thanksgiving feast. (Honestly, I really don't know where they find the room in their ovens.)
And in my Polish neighborhood, a Thanksgiving dinner might include turkey alongside "Meat Stuffing, Fruit Stuffing, Vegetable Salad, Pierogies, Apple Cake and Apple Cherry Cake," as advertised in the window of the local cookshop where I snapped this image:
While I'm usually a traditionalist for the Thanksgiving feast, this year I have a broken wrist and a busy week, so we're keeping it as simple and as local as possible with products from our CSA, the NYC farmers markets and the local foods at FreshDirect.
Putting aside tradition, we'll be going with Duck and Flan instead of Turkey and Pie. I've decided on duck breasts because they're fast, they're easy, they're 100% dark meat (no fighting over the legs) and they'll still be lovely with cranberry sauce.
Our Simple, Local Thanksgiving Menu:
- Roasted Chestnut Soup
- Seared Long Island Duck Breasts with Cranberry-Quince Sauce
- Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Ronnybrook Butter
- Roasted Satur Farms Brussels Sprouts
- Pumpkin Flan (see recipe below)
- Brooklyn Brewery Local 2 dark ale
You'll note that almost everything on the menu can be found within 200 miles of the city, so I want to offer my heartfelt THANKS to all the people who work hard to grow raise, process and transport our food.
Ending the meal with a slice of pumpkin flan offers a nice change of pace from the standard pumpkin pie. Additionally, if there happens to be anyone on a gluten-free diet at your dinner table, they'll appreciate the lack of crust.
Flans are pretty easy to make, except for two tricky parts at the beginning and end of the process: caramelizing the sugar and flipping the cooked flan onto a serving plate. Just pay close attention at these junctures and you'll have no problems.
And remember, if you should happen to burn the caramel, it's not a big deal. Just open the window to air out the kitchen, soak the burnt sugar off the bottom of the pan with hot water and try it again with lower heat and a watchful eye.
If you have pumpkin pie spice in the cupboard, you can just use a teaspoon of that in place of the ginger, mace/nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice/cloves.
Spiced Pumpkin Flan (Serves 5-6)
2/3 cups sugar (divided into two parts)
3 large eggs
2 cups canned pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon mace or nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
1 cup heavy cream
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a small saucepan, cook 1/3 cup of the sugar over medium heat until it begins to melt. Don't stir or touch it; just lower the flame and heat it, swirling the pan until the melted sugar caramelizes to a golden brown.
3. Quickly pour the liquid caramel into the bottom of a 9" quiche/flan dish or cake pan. Turn the dish to evenly coat the bottom. Allow to cool.
4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl, blending in the pumpkin, cream, salt and spices.
5. Place the quiche/flan dish inside a roasting pan (with high sides) and pour hot water into the roasting pan until it measures about half-way up the side of the flan dish.
6. Carefully move the roasting pan to center rack of the oven before pouring the pumpkin batter into the flan dish. (This process prevents flan flubs on the way to the oven.) Bake until the flan is firm in the center, but still has a little jiggle — about 50 to 60 minutes.
7. Carefully move the hot flan dish from the roasting pan to a wire rack to cool. Then chill in the refrigerator at least 2 to 3 hours. (Overnight is better.)
8. To serve, warm the flan for a few minutes before running a knife around the edge of the dish. Place a large plate on top of the flan dish. Gently flip both together so that the flan gently flops onto the plate. Lift away the flan dish and cut the flan into wedges.
Having an interesting Thanksgiving dinner this year? Drop a note in the comments!