Gobble gobble gobble

The beauty of having a smaller smoker available to you than the gigantic, honking smoker that you generally use to smoke 40 pounds of ribs at a time for large gatherings is that…well, it’s smaller. Since the smaller smoker has electronic controls, there is also no constant temperature monitoring or feeding of the fire. All of this makes it much easier to justify experimentation, and easier to pawn off whatever comes out as “dinner” for unsuspecting family members.

And those factors really make a difference when you’ve decided that smoked turkey breast should be on the menu along with everything else. It also gives you an excuse to test a half breast of about two and a half pounds (and down the road, may even give you an excuse to smoke turkey breasts on the regular basis and pick up a home slicer to slice it about sandwich-thin, then lay a couple of slices between two pieces of homemade bread, with a nice juicy tomato, a ring or two of red onion, a nice slice of cheese, and a little mayo mixture for good measure, then turn that into a panini – but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Since the breast was a half, and didn’t weigh that much, it was brined only for about two hours so as not to have the end product become too salty. After rinsing and patting the breast dry, I rubbed it with a very simple mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic. Then, into the smoker, with some apple and oak to burn.

A few hours later, it was time to test. It looked quite nice.

Quite nice indeed.

The taste? Outstanding. Another winner, and approved for addition to the menu.

Menu testing

Part of the fun in cooking comes from the experimentation, really. When you have people readily available to act as guinea pigs taste testers, it makes it much easier to perfect things in time for the big holiday. And when you yourself have taste-related issues like the main character in a movie you watched (again) in the wee hours of the morning because you couldn’t sleep, it’s quite beneficial to have those people around.

Today: crabcakes and baked corn. Both very simple dishes, really. The crabcakes should be more crab than cake, and the corn should be bubbly and creamy when it comes out of the oven. It would be a spectacular bonus to be able to do the latter dish with silver queen corn, but you can’t get that fresh in what technically is fall down here, and it’s hard to find it frozen.

My goal when making the menu was to make sure that everything was as healthy as it could be, without sacrificing the taste. Who wants a Thanksgiving full of nasty, dry, tasteless (or bad tasting) food? Making everything from scratch also allows us to avoid the preservative-laden stuff that comes out of a can or box. And it just tastes better.

The prep for the corn:

The prep for the crabcakes:

The corn dish is simple, and turned out well – but did not turn out the way I wanted. This particular recipe is a scratch, and I’m working on adjusting it. Still, what isn’t made better by the addition of bacon? Mmmm….bacon.

The crabcakes, on the other hand, turned out very well indeed. My mom declared them a bit too “crabby” for her, which means that most everyone else will be fine with them.

The pre-crab ingredients:

After mixing those ingredients and then gently folding in the crab meat, the cakes were laid out on a parchment-lined sheet pan. These were a bit larger than the size I’ll make for Thanksgiving.

A sprinkle of paprika on top, and they’re ready for their baking.

Baking, of course, is followed by eating – preferably with a side aioli prepared with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some Old Bay.

Quite good, and I don’t think any changes are necessary for this one.

Food for fifty..or sixty…or seventy…or whatever

“What do you think about Thanksgiving?” my mom asked me the other day.

What do I think about it? I love Thanksgiving. It’s absolutely my favorite holiday: fall, food, family, friends, and football. Everything is wrapped up into one tidy package for our enjoyment and amusement.

“The reason is that Angie [my aunt] has decided that she’s not going to have Thanksgiving at her place this year, ” she continued.

“Well then, ” I said, “we can have it here, can’t we?”

Of course we can. And since I am continuing to slowly but surely return to health, how about a menu devised and prepared by yours truly with an assist from my sous chefs here? And how about making just about everything from scratch and telling people to bring no food, only ice and whatever they might want to drink beyond the normal things we generally have?

A fine idea.

So, for those of you joining us for Thanksgiving this year, here is your menu. If you have any special requests or dietary restrictions that aren’t covered (the latter is unlikely, looking over things), let us know so we can make arrangements for those needs.


Mushroom turnovers
Four cheese phyllo puffs
Shrimp cocktail, traditional
Onion confit and brie crostini
Roasted butternut squash dip
Miscellaneous chips and dip
Cheese plate
Roasted vegetable dip
Pita triangles


Roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup


Roasted turkey, traditional
Apple-oak smoked turkey breasts
Glazed ham, traditional
Crabcakes (with 2-3 aiolis)
Shrimp, three ways (traditional cocktail, tequila-lime, asian saute)


Roasted garlic and buttermilk mashed potatoes
Apricot-glazed carrots
Stuffing, traditional, two ways (with and without pork)
Creamy baked corn
Sweet potato casserole
Green peas with pearl onions
Broccoli gratin
Brussels sprouts
Chestnut-fig stuffing
Brown sugar glazed sweet potato wedges
Cranberry-apple compote


Whole grain dinner rolls
Garlic-herb focaccia
Fresh Italian bread
Cinnamon (and cinnamon-raisin) loaves


Carrot cake
Banana pudding
Pies: cherry, apple, pecan, pumpkin
Fresh, homemade whipped cream
Homemade ice creams (vanilla, praline, chocolate)
Cranberry-chocolate chip biscotti

We’ll be letting people know what time to appear with their appetites.

And so it goes

Every so often, I look at this blog and wonder if it’s worth the bother. I think my life must be terribly uninteresting and the failures here at the homestead have far outnumbered the successes in the gardening realm. Still, on the rare occasions that someone does come by, as my aunt and uncle did this weekend, and looks at the place with their eyes instead of mine, it reminds me that being too close to something can give you tunnel vision sometimes.

So here’s what’s been going on around here of late, beyond the workaday crap that made August a hellish month, stress-wise – a month in which I managed to lose eight pounds, dropping me to 100 even. I’m working on keeping the needle there and climbing, and thus far, the “keeping the needle there” part is working out better than the “climbing” part.

I had worked my ass off to prep a bed of corn, which started out well.

Very well.

And then, there was zero rain. None. Zilch. Nada. So I was trying to water. Then I had some kind of animal run through this back side of the plot – probably the damn dog next door, who is forever running all over our property. And then these critters showed up, along with the corn earworms.

I don’t think I could have done enough to turn that plot into arable soil that would sustain growth to maturity. Between all of those factors, the corn withered, and eventually had to be cut down. A total loss of the time and effort spent.

I’d put in a line of limas, which I hate, for other people to eat. Out of eight seedlings, two survived. Neither has put out any beans as of yet, although they both have flowers.

I had also set up several cucumber plants, of two varieties: picklers and lemon cukes. One of each survived, and this lone pickler, along with one lone lemon cuke, are the output so far.

Continue reading And so it goes