I panicked. I had twenty guests coming for Thanksgiving dinner (we celebrate as close to the real date as possible – this year, it was last Saturday) and my appetizer mind was blank. I emailed a cooking friend in the U.S. I emailed my older sister. I trolled the internet. Here is what I discovered. The ubiquitous Thanksgiving appetizer is crisp cheese crackers. I can see that. The Pilgrims surely had a few cows; somehow they made cheese, grated it, mixed it with butter and flour and baked the dough into tiny, thin, delectably crisp rounds. I did the same.
I also made butternut squash soup which I garnished with black sesame cream, praline almonds, dukkah, crudités, and pastry sticks seasoned with piment d’Espelette.
The rest of the menu was a culinary ode to nostalgia…roast turkey, mushroom stuffing, Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, stuffed jack-be-little squash, wild rice, mashed potatoes, and my grandmother’s sinfully delicious crescent rolls (which always disappear by the handful). Dessert was Fiona’s bailiwick, and she made pecan pie and pumpkin pie, while I contributed apple caramel pie.
We had a wonderful, Franco-American evening!
Here are recipes for the cheese crackers and the stuffed jack-be-littles. Happy Thanksgiving!
Crisp Cheese Crackers
Croquants au Fromage
1 cup (135 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
10 tablespoons (5 oz.;150 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces (230 g) very sharp sheep’s, cow’s or goat’s milk cheese
(such as Sardinian “fiore sardo” or Parmigiano Reggiano), grated on a grater with small holes (to give 2-3/4 cups grated cheese)
- Sift the dry ingredients together into a small bowl or onto a sheet of waxed paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter until it is soft and slightly whipped. Thoroughly mix in the cheese, then add the dry ingredients a bit at a time until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be quite stiff and crumbly, but it will hold together.
- Shape the dough into two 8-inch (20cm) logs that are about 1-1/2 inch (4cm) in diameter. Wrap them well so they are airtight, and refrigerate at least four hours and up to overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).
- Slice the rolls into 1/8 to ¼ inch (.3 to .6 cm) thick coins and place them about ½ inch (1.3 cm) apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until they are golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer the cheese crackers to a wire cooling rack and serve when they are cool. They will keep for several days in an airtight container.
Makes about 70
2 cups (500l) creme fraiche
1 generous ounce (38g) smoked bacon, cut in matchsticks
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper20 jack-be-little squash, tops removed and saved, seeds scooped out
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large (1 pound;500g) golden beet, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
20 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup (60ml) water
4 parsnips, 4 ounces (120g) each, trimmed and peeled, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
20 flat leaf parsley sprigs, to garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 350F; 180C.
2. Place the cream and the bacon in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, and scald the cream. Remove it from the heat and let it infuse for at least 1 hour, and up to several hours, depending on the smokiness of the bacon. You want the cream to have a subtle, not overpowering, smoked flavor.
3. Salt and pepper the interiors of the squash. Replace the lids. When the oven is hot, place the squash in two baking dishes and pour enough water around them so there is a depth of about 1/4 inch. Place them in the oven and bake until they are tender through, about 1 hour, checking them from time to time to be sure there is water in the bottom of the pan
4. While the squash are baking, place the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat. Add the beet while the oil is still cool, stir, season with salt and pepper, add the thyme and the bay leaf and 1/4 cup (60ml) water. When the the water boils, stir the beets, cover the pan, and cook until the beets are partially softened, about 8 minutes. Add the parsnips to the pan, stir, add additional water if necessary (to keep the vegetables moist), add the shallots and the garlic and cook until the beets and the parsnips are tender through, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove the herbs from the pan.
5. Strain the cream and discard the bacon.
6. When the squash are tender, remove them from the oven, and divide the beet and parsnip filling among them. Pour the bacon-infused cream over the filling, top each squash with its top, and return to the oven until the squash are hot through, an additional 10 minutes. Remove the squash from the oven, garnish each with a sprig of parsley and serve.
20 side-dish servings