Friday, November 14, 2008

Upon Us

Things have seemed generally more festive lately...lots of giggling, amazing food, catching up with family & friends.
Despite the dark and dismal nightly news, it just seems like the folks around here have an extra twinkle in their eyes.
The holidays are upon us.
Time to give thanks and reflect on our blessings.
To hold our loved ones close, to watch children play, to snuggle up to our parents & grandparents and listen to old stories.

I absolutely adore this time of year and look so forward to the short pilgrimage to my aunt's huge old house - 3 floors of interesting rooms filled with fun, junky antiques. Every year she hosts an immense gathering of our close family (there are many of us). We gather around 5-6 tables end to end, with gorgeous homemade decorations & filled with food.

Each family member receives a special homemade gift made by the children of the family. My sister holds a special Thanksgiving prep craft session with the kids the day prior, where they carefully craft exquisite little tokens of love.

Now back to the food...aaahhh...the food is amazing. For such a large gathering we all contribute something. My aunt handles the turkey & main dishes, my mom & sis take care of the desserts and some sides and I get the relish tray.

I know what you are thinking...I got off easy, right? Dump some store-bought pickles and cranberry sauce in a dish and call it done? Well, as anyone who knows me well would say, I can't do "lowkey". It's just not in my DNA. So although its truly meant to almost be an afterthought accompaniment, I have been determined over the years to bring it to a new level of stature on the Thanksgiving table.

There have been experiments with pickling, olive medleys, chutneys and the like. Some were good, some were very, very bad. It got to be such an obsession that my hubby started calling me Chutney-Queen.

During this time of year, there is always a big pot of bubbling chutney on the stove.

And to serve all of these chutney labors-of-love?
First issue was the "tray". One tray didn't seem like enough for such a crowd, and I really wanted to do something creative, so I altered/decoupaged the rims of several ivory china trays with snippets of meaningful Thanksgiving phrases and words. They were sealed for protection and we carefully handwash them every season.
Now the serving pieces...those get a new treatment every year. I use them to not only serve the dish but to describe what it is they are eating. Sometimes I add tiny tags like "Spiced Pear & Apple Chutney", sometimes I've written directly on the handle and scrubbed it off later on.

If you've never had a relish tray at your Thanksgiving table, I really hope you try it. There is nothing more magical in the mouth then the combo of savory & sweet. Most recipes are quite simple and it also makes a great host/hostess gift during the holidays. Here are some of my favorites...I found both way back when on the Food network website.

Cranberry-Apple Chutney
Yield: 8-10 servings
1 (10-16oz) bag of fresh whole cranberries
2 crisp apples, peeled & cored, sliced 1" thk (I have used Macs or Granny Smith)
2 in piece of ginger, peeled & very finely grated
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Cook about 30 minutes - until softened, reduced and thickened.
Transfer to storage containers or pretty canning jars. Cool fully before serving. Can store up to 2 weeks refrigerated

Vidalia Onion & Granny Smith Chutney
Yield: 8 servings
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled & cored, small dice (should yield approx 6 cups)
2 Vidalia (or other sweet onion), medium dice (yield approx 3 cups)
2 cups golden raisins
1 tsp minced ginger
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp grnd white pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Cook about 1-1 1/2 hrs - until most liquid evaporates.
Remove bay leaf and cinnamon stick.
Transfer to storage containers or pretty canning jars. Cool fully before serving. Can store up to 2 weeks refrigerated
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