This is not entirely mom's fault. Looking back, I think my mom really wanted to be a good cook. But it was the 70s, when there wasn't much variety in the grocery stores, and processed foods and lots of meat were the thing. And we had a lower middle-class income. And though mom tried mightily to get us interested in vegetable gardening, we just couldn't be bothered. So I suppose that mom is to be congratulated for cooking a decent variety of relatively nutritious meals for a family of five on very little money. But try culinary experiments on three kids and a husband who grew up on a meat-and-potatoes German/Irish diet? Then have one daughter after the other go vegetarian in high school? Mom played it safe. There was a great deal of "-helper" and "roni" in our diet, and as a young person, I was just fine with that -- what kid doesn't like an extra helping of fat, sugar, and salt? But as an adult, I'd never say "I must have mom's recipe for X" (Except maybe the cookies -- and canning: did I mention that mom knows how to can? Note to self: have mom teach you to can).
My sister, now: she can cook up a storm. Even her seven year-old says, "Yep, mom sure is a good cook." And I do pretty well myself. I love food. I love fall food especially. Root vegetables, butternut squash, cranberries, rice, nuts, soups...
So Thanksgiving is great for me, in spite of the fact that the two main things -- turkey and stuffing -- are off my menu. And because I usually get taken in as someone's stray kitten, it's an occasion for me to do some serious cooking. A couple of years ago, I made butternut squash lasagnae. Probably the best Thanksgiving entrée I've ever made, it's delicious, and has the added advantage of adding 5-8 pounds per serving, to help you stave off the cold.
This year, since I'm walking to the home where I'm invited, I'm going with something that I can carry more easily, and that won't need to be reheated before serving: brown/wild rice and cranberry salad. It's easy, it's a nice texture (and fiber) counterpoint to the typical dishes on the Thanksgiving table, and it's best served at room temperature, so there's one thing you don't have to worry about timing just right (not that your true friends will mind what temperature the food gets served at -- they're just happy to be with you). So, here's the recipe. It's a super-easy, dash-of-this, dollop-of-that kind of recipe, which can be adjusted to taste.
Rice Salad, Girl Scholar Style
Get this stuff:
- a wild/brown rice blend (I like "Lundberg's wild blend", but grab what looks tasty to you) -- you'll need about 2 cups dry measure
- dried cranberries
- orange juice (I actually like to use an orange-pomegranate blend)
- prepared balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing (the non-emulsified kind; reduced-fat is fine, if you like)
- Prepare the rice a bit in advance, and let it cool to room temperature. With two cups of dry rice, you should end up with about six cups cooked.**
- Chop the pecans & parsley, and get the cranberries at the ready. You'll want about 1/3 cup of parsley, and maybe 2/3 cup each of chopped pecans and dried cranberries -- give or take.
- Get a little tupperware container and put in a quarter cup of juice and a quarter cup of prepared dressing; cover tightly and shake vigorously to blend.
In a big bowl, start with about 4 c. of the cooked rice mix. Stir in about half the dressing (shake well immediately before adding), parsley, cranberries, and pecans. Now you use the remainder of all your ingredients to adjust to your own particular taste. You don't have to use them up if you don't want to -- make this to your taste. Remember that the flavors will intensify slightly as it sits (and you're going to let it sit, refrigerated, at least an hour), but not a whole lot, since there's nothing like onion or garlic in there.
After it's to your liking, refrigerate at least an hour. Serve at room temperature or so, perhaps garnishing the dish with a bit of the cranberries, nuts, or parsley right before placing on the table.
Enjoy! And if you don't already, why not try Girl Scholar's traditional morning-after-Thanksgiving breakfast: leftover pie (pumpkin or pecan) and strong black coffee. Yum.
**If you're unfamiliar with brown rice preparation, then it goes like this: twice as much (minus a skosh) water as rice; bring to a boil, add salt (or substitute), add rice and return to boil; cover tightly and reduce heat to one click above simmer & cook there for 10 minutes, then without lifting the lid, reduce heat that last click and simmer another 35 minutes; turn the heat off and let sit, covered, for 10 min. Larger amounts (like making up 6 cups cooked for this recipe) will require larger pans (I use my big stockpot for this) to make sure the rice cooks evenly, and may require slight temperature/time adjustments.