(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
As Thanksgiving nears, the only place many busy people may find "plenty" is in a horn of plenty, the cornucopia - which emanates from Greek mythology and serves as a fruit-filled holiday centerpiece by many modern cooks. "Plenty," on the other hand, would not often be used during holiday season when describing time: Rushed moments caught on the fly are more like it.
However, when it comes to impressive Thanksgiving centerpieces, those who quickly put together a horn of plenty, overflowing with the vibrant ingredients of the season, are barking up the right tree regarding saving time and money. They are letting ingredients do double-duty by serving them in their splashy meal and including them in their dining table centerpiece. This continues to be my favorite and most clever holiday tradition and is worth repeating year after year. It saves thought, time and money in shopping and preparation. It also creates a planned, coordinated, impressive flow throughout the meal, giving it even more of a gourmet feel - although in reality it's a timesaving maneuver.
Classic cornucopias, though, are just the beginning of many easy ideas. The first offshoot can be a nontraditional horn of plenty. The horns stemmed from Zeus accidentally breaking off the horn of goat Amalthea, and then atoning by promising the horn would always be full of her favorite fruits. Instead, consider filling your horn - often available at crafts stores and party supply stores - with other colorful, tasty ingredients you will be using in your distinct recipes. Taste of Home Magazine, the country's largest-circulation cooking magazine, featured a wonderful butterscotch dessert coffee that would be perfect for Thanksgiving. You could have your horn bursting with the tan butterscotch chips and lots of wrapped golden hard butterscotch candies, which would take the place of after-dinner mints as guests grab them up.
Woman's Day Magazine, in a "Last-Minute Decorating" section, once showed off a striking centerpiece of varying-sized canisters filled with wrapped butterscotches, white-jelled beaded candies and candy corn; scoops were included for guests to partake. Tall, medium and short black candles placed in front of them completed the impressive look.
Chef George Duran, Food Network TV host and cookbook author (Take This Dish and Twist It), once displayed a candy corn dessert shake parfait that would also be perfect with such a Thanksgiving party theme. To imitate the look of a piece of candy corn, pour some vanilla shakes in the bottom of glasses that are narrow on the bottom and flare out (beer pints are good). Puree more of the vanilla shakes with some mango puree to create a yellow color. Then take some of the yellow mixture and add raspberry puree so that part becomes orange. Pour some of the orange shake atop of the vanilla shake base in the glasses topped off by spoonfuls of the yellow. Have guests accompany it with spoonfuls of the candy corn from the centerpiece canisters.
Pumpkins are always delightful as part of Thanksgiving meals and decorations, but there are much more distinct presentations than sticking with traditional orange pumpkins. Once a fall issue of Sunset Magazine showed, miniature and large white pumpkins grouped with walnuts in the shell and dark-brown dried leaves and flowers make a dashing display.Grapefruits or lemons with green leaves still attached and striped yellow pumpkins created a peppy, "lighthearted twist." And "miniature striped green-and-yellow pumpkins join a trio of copper vases and a casual arrangement of red, orange and yellow flowers. It's all about fall color - without a maple leaf or corncob in sight." Create a show-stopping pumpkin-based recipe, conveniently prepared from extra of the pumpkins you used in your centerpiece, to start off your Thanksgiving meal.
The late Chicago-based Charlie Trotter, who had often been named the top chef in the country, included the following ginger-braised leek and chicken-filled gem of a pumpkin soup in his cookbook, Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter.
Fun fare like the above also proves food preparation can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast. The creative combinations are delicious proof that everyone has time for creating homemade specialties and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness that goes along with it!
Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since these are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations. They can't help but draw "wows" from family members and guests.
PUMPKIN SOUP WITH CHICKEN AND GINGER-BRAISED LEEKS
Preserved ginger (see Note 1):
6 tablespoons peeled and julienned fresh ginger
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
1 & 1/2 cups water
1 small pumpkin, halved and seeded
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
8 sprigs thyme
2 leeks (white part only), cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (see Note 2)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups homemade or store-bought chicken stock
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons fresh tiny sage leaves
Yields 4 servings.
To prepare preserved ginger: Place ginger, 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water in small saucepan. Simmer 10 minutes, strain liquid and repeat process two more times, reserving final cooking liquid for this recipe. Yields 1/4 cup. (If you are making extra, per Note 1 below, some of final cooking liquid is used to store the ginger.)
To prepare pumpkin: Preheat oven to 350 F. Season flesh of pumpkin with salt and pepper and rub with olive oil. Place pumpkin halves, cut side down, on baking sheet and put 4 thyme sprigs under each half. Add 1/4 inch water to pan; roast for 45 to 60 minutes, or until tender. Scrape pulp into bowl; discard skin.
Meanwhile prepare leeks: Cook leeks with 2 tablespoons of butter in saucepan over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until translucent. Add 1 cup of stock and 1 tablespoon Preserved Ginger; cook over medium-low heat for 25 minutes, or until leeks are soft and most of liquid has been absorbed. Keep warm.
To prepare chicken: Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat canola oil in saute pan over medium heat, add chicken breasts; cook for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, or until thoroughly and completely cooked, but not overcooked. Thinly slice chicken; reserve.
To prepare soup: Puree rest of batch of 1/4 cup Preserved Ginger and any residual ginger juice, remaining 2 cups stock and pumpkin soup until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Cook soup in saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until warm. Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons butter and season with salt and pepper.
Spoon some leeks into center of each bowl and ladle the soup around leeks. Arrange some of sliced chicken in center of each bowl and sprinkle with tiny sage leaves. Drizzle with olive oil; serve immediately.
- Note: If you prefer slightly stronger ginger flavor, like Trotter does, prepare a double batch of Preserved Ginger. To emulate Trotter, use 1 tablespoon when preparing leeks, 1/4 cup in soup and save rest of Preserved Ginger, tightly covered, in refrigerator for other uses for up to 1 week.
- Note: Trotter notes that this "is a perfect dish for entertaining, as the soup and leeks can be prepared several hours ahead."
-Home Cooking with Charlie TrotterBUTTERSCOTCH DESSERT COFFEE
1 cup butterscotch chips
8 cups hot brewed coffee
1/2 cup half-and-half cream
5 to 8 tablespoons sugar
Whipped cream in a can, for garnish
Yields 8 servings.
In small microwave-safe bowl, heat 1/2 cup of butterscotch chips at 70 percent power until melted, stirring occasionally.
Cut small hole in corner of pastry bag or plastic bag, insert a No. 4 round tip. Carefully fill with melted chips. Pipe eight garnishes onto waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until set, about 10 minutes.
In large pitcher, stir coffee and remaining butterscotch chips until chips are melted. Stir in cream and sugar.
Pour into mugs, topping each serving with whipped cream and a reserved butterscotch garnish.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK:
To salt eggplant or not? Maria Speck, author of Simply Ancient Grains
, writes: "I'm a fierce proponent of salting because it alters the texture of the fruit to make the flesh more supple and mouthwatering." She also notes that often, "Eggplant can be roasted one day ahead. Allow to cool and chill covered" until you use it in your recipe.Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.