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TODAY

Wednesday, November 22

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Ah, Thanksgiving. It is one of my favorite holidays of the year. I delight in getting together with family and helping my mother make mashed potatoes and shred cheese and do all the things that she's decided I'm capable of doing. And then we eat and nap and wash dishes and snap towels at each other and eat and sleep and eat and talk and sleep and eat and groan about how we can't possibly eat anymore until we realize that the pumpkin pie really won't taste great the next day so we finish it.

It is gluttonous, this holiday. It begins a season that people trying to eat healthier, or lose weight, dread. I can't say that I blame them. There is much angst around all the traditional dishes that are butter-soaked, gravy enriched, sugar-laced and carb-oriffic.

For the first time in 10 years, I won't be spending the holidays with either branch of my family. I'll be spending it in Chicago with all of my other friends who are "orphans" for the holiday. And while thoughts of my mother's oyster dressing, green bean casserole and fan-freaking-tastic turkey gravy have me feeling nostalgic and drooling. I've decided to turn my frown upside down and make the best of my holiday here.

Thankfully, I'm not the only one I know in town for the holiday so I won't really be spending the holiday alone. And thankfully Gapers Block staffers have put together a wonderful list of holiday weekend events and places to go to so I won't be lonely or bored. But I'm admittedly freaked out because for the first time in my life I thought I'd be helping to make a turkey. A whole turkey. This makes me a bit nervous, especially since many of my friends assume I know "everything" about cooking. Believe me I don't. And cooking a turkey is not something you can do a trial run for and then tweak for the big day, because who really wants to cook two turkeys back-to-back? Not even I want all those leftovers.

So I think I'm going to be taking the easy way out. Instead of making an entire turkey, I'm going to cook a few turkey breasts. They weigh anywhere from 3 to 5 pounds (depending on the size of the bird) and since it is all meat you can figure out that each person will want about 3/4 pound of meat (before cooking). You don't have to worry about buying a large pan or a basting tool, burning yourself while you brush melted butter over the skin, or any of the other pitfalls of cooking a whole turkey. You're not likely to end up with tons of leftovers that no one wants. And most importantly, you're not going to waste 14 pounds of meat, several hours, and your pride when you serve a dinner that is overcooked in some areas and undercooked in others.

Since I know that I can't make my mother's oyster dressing as well as she can (she makes it long before I wake up on Thanksgiving morning so I never get to see how she does it), and since I like the idea of eating green-bean casserole more than I like the casserole itself, and since my turkey gravy would pale in comparison to my mother's, I'm excited to try some new dishes this year. I want some traditional ingredients that are done un-traditionally.

So whether you plan on making a dish to take to someone else's house or you plan on hosting a small gathering of your orphaned friends, hopefully these recipes will get you through the holidays without stress and still give you time to place bets on which float in the Macy's parade is going to fall, or watch the game, or just take a nap before dinner.

My holiday dinner will consist of roasted turkey breast, kale cooked with tomatoes and bacon, and spicy cornbread dressing. For dessert, I'll show you how to whip up a very easy, low-fat pumpkin dessert that will give you no guilt but a hint of traditional holiday flavor.

Roast Turkey Breast with Four Spice and Herb Variations

Variation 1: Bicentennial Rub paste
For each pound of turkey, mix together:
1/2 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of Bicentennial Seasoning from The Spice House

Variation 2: Bay butter with sage rub
4 tablespoons of butter
2 dried bay leaves

Place the butter and bay leaves in a small microwave-safe bowl. Heat in 10-15 second increments until the butter is melted. Let this sit on the counter for up to three hours. This will be used to baste the turkey.

1 small onion that has been peeled and cut into quarters
12-14 fresh sage leaves
Either 1/2 cup chopped parsley or 1/2 cup finely chopped arugula
1 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of lemon or orange zest (orange will go better if you're using arugula)

Place everything into a food processor and pulse until you have a paste. If you don't have a food processor, chop the onion, herbs and zest as finely as you can manage and then combine in a small bowl with the salt and olive oil.

Variation 3: Spicy Cumin and Chili Rub
1 tablespoon of olive or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of pepper and 1 tablespoon of oil from a can of ancho peppers (chop the peppers very finely and reserve all the liquid)

Pour the oil into a small skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle the cumin over the surface and stir until you get a thick paste that smells nutty. Sprinkle the salt over the paste and remove the skillet from the heat. Add the chopped pepper and oil and stir until everything is well combined.

Variation 4: Garlic, Soy Sauce and Sesame Oil Rub
3 cloves of garlic that have been minced
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
1 teaspoon of fresh ground ginger

Combine all the ingredients into a small bowl.

4-5 pound turkey breast (preferably with the skin and breastbone still on)
1-2 teaspoons of vegetable oil or melted butter
Salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400° F. Oil a shallow baking dish that is not clear glass and place it in the middle of your oven. If your breast still has the skin on,dressing gently pry the skin off one side of the turkey and wiggle your fingers between the skin and the meat to create a pocket. Take your rub of choice, scoop it up with one hand and slide it under the skin. Once the rub is in place, pour the oil over the top of the breast and rub it evenly on all sides. Sprinkle the breast liberally with salt and pepper. If you don't have skin on your breast, simply coat the breast evenly with the rub. Place it in the center of the baking dish, skin side up, and reduce the heat to 350° F. Let it cook for about 15 minutes per pound. If you wish, you can baste every 15-20 minutes with melted butter or olive oil. To tell if it is done, pierce it deeply with a fork and if the juices are clear, remove it from the oven. Or use a quick-read meat thermometer and once the center of the thickest part of the breast reaches 160° F, remove it from the oven. Cover it with aluminum foil and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. The internal temperature will rise to 170° F, and the juices will remain in the breast. Slice it thickly and serve with and side dishes of your choice.
Serves 6-9

Kale with Bacon and Tomatoes
2 pounds of kale
4 slices of bacon
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 small onion chopped
2 cloves of chopped garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
2 chopped Roma tomatoes, or 1 medium size chopped tomato
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

Strip all the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Wash them thoroughly and shake them or drain them till they're fairly dry. Coarsely chop the leaves and set them aside. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the slices of bacon until they're crispy. Remove them to a paper towel and pour off almost all of the bacon drippings. Once the bacon is cool, crumble it. Add the oil, onion and garlic and cook until the onion is golden brown. Add a large bunch of kale to the skillet and sprinkle with some salt. Let this kale cook down and then add another large bunch of kale and another sprinkle of salt. Repeat until all of the kale has been added to the skillet. Cover and reduce the meat to medium. Let it cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until the kale is tender. Sprinkle on the chopped tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Once everything is combined and the tomatoes have warmed through in the skillet. Remove it to a bowl and sprinkle with the crumbled bacon.
Serves 6-9

Spicy Cornbread Dressing
You can either make a batch of cornbread a few days before you're ready to cook your meal, or you can ask at a bakery, grocery store deli counter, or restaraunt if they have older cornbread that might be good to use for dressing.

4 teaspoons of ground pepper
1 teaspoon of cayenne powder
2 teaspoons of onion powder
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
4 teaspoon of ground oregano
2 teaspoons of ground thyme
2 tablespoons of ground basil
4 bay leaves
1 stick of butter or margarine (1/8 cup)
4 bay leaves
1 medium minced onion
2 ribs of chopped celery
2 cups of chopped bell pepper
1 stick of butter or margarine (1/8 cup)
2 cups of chicken broth
2 cups of half-and-half
1 tablespoon of hot sauce (optional)
3 cups of veggie or turkey stock
2 large eggs
Batch of cornbread (about 12 cups)

Combine all the herbs and spices in a bowl. Put two tablespoons of butter into a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once the foaming subsides, add the herbs and spices. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes. Once the spice and herb mixture is very fragrant, add half of the onion and half of the celery. Stir occasionally as that cooks for about 5-7 minutes, or until the onion has turned soft and translucent. Remove most of the onions and celery to a bowl. Put 3 tablespoons of butter into the skillet and once the foaming subsides add the rest. Cook this for about 5-7 minutes, or until the onions have softened. Remove that from the skillet and put it in a bowl with the rest of the onion and celery. Put the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter into the skillet and add the bell pepper. Cook that for 5-7 minutes or until it has softened and add it to the bowl as well. While the onions, celery, and peppers are cooking, cut the cornbread into 1-inch squares and put them along with any crumbs into a large mixing bowl. In a medium bowl combine the stock, half-and-half and eggs. Whisk everything until blended very well. Pour this over the cornbread and stir gently while trying not to break up the cornbread too much. Let this sit while the rest of the vegetables cook. Once the veggies are cooked, add them into the bowl with the cornbread. Use your hands to combine gently. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least one hour or preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Butter a large baking dish or two smaller baking dishes. Transfer the dressing to the baking dish and pour any remaining liquid over the dressing. If necessary, use the back of a spatula to press the dressing into the pan. Place the oven rack to the middle position and place your dishes in the center of it. Let the dressing bake for 35-40 minutes, or until it is golden brown. This can be cooked first, covered and set aside for two hours. Place it in the oven, uncovered after you remove the turkey breasts to warm up.
Serves 8-10

Traditions are so different from family to family or friend to friend. These dishes aren't traditional for me, but they are reminiscent of tradition for me. What are your traditional dishes? If you wish to share some, feel free to do so in the comments.

And whether you make all of these dishes, one of these dishes, or none of these dishes I hope you have an enjoyable holiday. We all have something to be grateful for. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to share my love of food with all of you.

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About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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