Fall Reflections: Gratitude Revisited

October 6, 2010 at 10:51 pm 1 comment

   Walking in the park last weekend, I captured a sensory snapshot of a glorious fall scene: A burst of cranberry red and pear-gold tree tops creates a feathery mesh filter for marshmallow cream clouds, shrugging in slow motion across a backdrop of purest cerulean blue. And if that weren’t effusion enough, I look past the clouds to see a pale, ghostly white moon still haunting the late morning sky. Incredible. Makes one grateful to be a part of creation. 

I had been thinking about the topic of gratitude anyway, and how I wanted to address the subject this week. Although of all those who boast absolutely no justification for piety, chief among them would be me, I did recognize, even as a child, that I had much to be grateful for – from the abundance of super market offerings to laying down to sleep in a comfortable bed under a sound roof, with a father and mother just steps away for whom my welfare was a major concern. 

As an adult I have tried, with the faltering success of one who has never known hunger or hardship first-hand, to truly appreciate the privileged lifestyle to which we in this country have access. Just last week I had caught myself mentally grousing about some trifle, and consciously redirected my attention to the nicely warmed stream spurting out of the shower head at me. “Thank you, Lord, for clean, pure water,” I corrected myself. 

Then on Friday, as our Bosnian dinner guests share recollections of the loss and deprivation they have known, Mirsada coincidentally tells of offering up her gratitude for a recent shower because it reminded her of the days when violence and terror displaced her from her bomb-ravaged family home to a huge holding facility for war refugees, and baths and food were in meager supply. The substance of my own gratitude for a plenty I have always known deflates by comparison. 

But on this evening, we can share a bountiful meal and our combined thanks, so I pull out the Fiesta Ware and try to come up with a menu that this couples’ two thoroughly Western children will enjoy. Jenny, the oldest, is blessed to be immersed in her parents’ heritage, and her American-born younger brother will likely hear enough of their struggles to grow to understand the perspective that gives his parents a unique brand of gratefulness.

On this night, we are all grateful to to partake of the plenty which, by God’s grace, still exists in our society. A huge batch of homemade macaroni and cheese (cookscountrytv.com) satisfies the youngsters. For everybody, Simplified Oven-Fried Chicken seems to appeal. And for a slightly more sophisticated take on things for the grown-ups, Whole-Wheat Linguine with Spinach and Fresh Tomatoes; Brussels Sprouts with Sausage, Craisins, and Pine Nuts, Baked Squash Gratin, Brandied Roasted Apple Slices, and a nice loaf of buttered, oven-warmed multi-grain bread. 

To cover all age-ranges, dessert is Chocolate Cupcakes Sandwiched with Butter Pecan Ice Cream and Smothered in Hot Fudge Sauce. Truly, gratitude comes naturally when the gifts of good food are wrapped in the company of good people. Do I hear an “Amen”?For the light but ultra-crispy chicken

3-4 C buttermilk                                                   8 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs

2-1/2 oz @ whole-grain saltine-style and rye crisp crackers

¼ tsp garlic powder                                            ¼ tsp paprika

½ tsp salt                                                                 ¼ tsp pepper

Buttermilk can be made by adding 1 TB lemon juice per each cup of milk; I used evaporated milk. Pour milk into a large, shallow container with a tight-fitting lid and add chicken pieces in a single layer if possible. Cover and refrigerate for up to three hours, turning occasionally to expose all surfaces to marinade. Meanwhile, line a large cookie sheet with foil and set one large or two smaller wire rack(s) on top of the foil. 

Whir the crackers in a blender with the seasonings, and pour crumbs onto a large dinner plate. Shake excess moisture from marinated chicken pieces and roll each piece in crumb mixture to coat well. Lay chicken on wire racks and bake in a 400° oven for 40 minutes. 

And for the lovely linguine assemble:

1# whole wheat linguine pasta                        1 TB olive oil

1 TB lemon juice                                                    2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp grated orange rind                                     2 Roma tomatoes, diced

1 C finely chopped fresh spinach 

About 20 minutes before serving time, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt water well and drop pasta into it. Return water to a boil and cook according to package directions – approximately ten minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and orange rind. When pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving a few tablespoons of cooking water, and return it to the pot, then pour the olive oil mixture over it and toss in the tomatoes and spinach along with cooking liquid. Reheat, stirring, over a medium low heat just until ingredients are well distributed. 

Our little pup Muneca was the real center of attention at our dinner party, but my version of Brussels sprouts with sausage were a hit, too. I enthusiastically invite you to give them a try: 

1-4 oz turkey andouille sausage                       3 TB pine nuts

1/8 tsp allspice                                                        3 TB dried cranberries

1-1/2 # Brussels sprouts, trimmed                 ½ C chicken broth

Remove casing from sausage, slice. Place in a large non-stick skillet which has been lightly sprayed with canola oil and brown over medium low heat, crumbling sausage as it cooks. About halfway through the browning process, add pine nuts and allspice. Cut sprouts into quarters and add to pan along with cranberries and broth. Bring broth to a simmer, cover pan, and cook for 15 minutes, or until sprouts test tender with a fork. Remove lid and let sauce reduce for three-four minutes longer.

Our immigrant friends seemed unfamiliar with squash, but I love this recipe I found on the Food Network site and then lightened up to suite my own healthfuel guidelines: 

3# butternut squash                                           salt and pepper

½ C freshly grated Parmesan                         2 TB basil pesto

Peel, seed, and cut squash into 1” cubes and steam over medium heat at least 20 minutes. Transfer to food processor and process until creamy. (Or simply thaw out two packages of frozen, already cooked and pureed.) Salt and pepper to taste. 

Spoon half of squash into a medium casserole which has been lightly sprayed with canola oil. Add half of squash, dot with 1 TB of the pesto, and then sprinkle with ¼ C of the grated cheese. Finish off with remaining squash, pesto, and cheese, then use a mini spatula or a table knife to swirl the pesto and cheese throughout the squash. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes. 

For the apple accompaniment, line up: 

8 large gala apples                                                     1 TB butter

1 TB brandy                                                               1 TB honey

1 TB sugar free caramel syrup 

Wash, core, and slice apples into ½” pieces. Place remaining ingredients in a small,microwave-safe bowl, heat for one minute on high, then blend well with a fork. Place apples slices in a foil-lined 9”x13”x2” baking pan, pour sauce over slices, then toss slices well to distribute sauce evenly. Bake at 350° for 40-50 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

And finally, the kid-pleasing finale, chocolate cupcake ice cream sandwichesfor the masses: 

12 TB butter                                                               ½ C cocoa powder

¼ C water                                                                   1-1/3 C brown sugar

1-1/3 C white whole wheat flour                             ½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda                                                    ½ tsp salt

1/3 C buttermilk                                                         1 large egg

1tsp almond extract                                                   confectioners sugar

butter pecan ice cream                                              homemade hot fudge sauce 

Cut butter into pieces and combine with cocoa powder and water in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with a paper towel or paper plate, and zap for 2 minutes on high. Beat with a mixing fork and then beat in brown sugar.  

Whisk flour, powder, soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the warm cocoa mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk (see note in chicken recipe),egg, and almond extract and stir liquid into batter just until combined.  

Divide batter among twelve muffin tin cups which have been sprayed well with cooking oil spray. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. They should spring back after a light touch. Cool in pan on a wire rack then dust with sifted confectioners sugar and remove carefully to a plate for assembly. 

Slice cupcakes in half crosswise, place a small scoop of ice cream on bottom half, then replace cupcake top, pressing down gently to secure it.   

Drizzle assembled dessert sandwiches with hot fudge or chocolate sauce, and kneel humbly to accept your Wizard of Ahhhhs crown.

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Mary  |  October 7, 2010 at 12:47 am

    I am always excited when there is a new email from you alerting me to a new posting! The subject of gratitude is certainly one that can be put in perspective quite quickly. I was lamenting to a friend today that the holidays are approaching and it seems like a lot of work rather than a labor of love. I mentally slapped myself thinking how lucky I am to be ABLE to host some holiday events, as there are so many people who struggle with health and would LOVE to able to shop and cook and decorate for the seasons!
    Thanks for sharing your reflections on gratitude and the great recipes. I will indeed try some of them!! mary


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