It was my first Thanksgiving after I moved to New York that sealed the deal. Horrified that I hadn’t bothered to make plans, my American friends promptly invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them. And in the nine years to follow, various friends would either invite me over to their families’ homes, or we would take turns hosting Friendsgiving for our fellow transplants.
I grew to love the entire ritual. Starters, chips and candy to tide us over until dinner, sitting down to a table groaning with the weight of a big, brown turkey, stuffing, gravy, candied yams, mashed potatoes, green beans, pecan pie and countless other goodies.
Changing into sweat pants after the feeding frenzy (Note: I’m always especially thankful for elastic waistbands after Thanksgiving dinner) and cleaning up at a leisurely pace. Gossip and girl talk while the men watched football and just enjoying the food coma-enhanced feelings of camaraderie and gratitude.
It’s a tradition I try to continue here in Manila by hosting a small Thanksgiving dinner at my apartment. Even in the first couple of years when my oven couldn’t fit a turkey, I got around it by either ordering a turkey dinner and making some additional sides, or roasting a giant, organic chicken. Either way, it’s always been a good time with good friends full of love, laughter and tryptophan.
Of course there will always be the haters, making snide comments about Pinoys celebrating Thanksgiving, and to them I say: Have some turkey with gravy and mashed potatoes. You’ll feel better.
Thanksgiving traditionally includes people listing what they’re grateful for. But since this is a cooking column, I thought I’d make a list of some stuff I’m particularly thankful to have in my kitchen. These are the things that help me celebrate a life to be truly grateful for and the people (and cats!) that make it so awesome.
So in no particular order, I’m thankful for:
1) Green smoothies. Up until this year, I’d really only been grateful for my blender on Tex-Mex night when a wonderful recipe for frozen margaritas was guaranteed to keep us all olé-ing till the wee hours. But green smoothies for breakfast help me ensure that I get a decent amount of fruit, vegetables and fiber in my system even when it’s a food coma kind of day.
2) Salt and vinegar. No, my friend, they’re not just a flavor of potato chips. Assorted flavors of salt and vinegar help keep things really interesting with a minimum of effort. Truffle and smoked salts, balsamic, rice and raspberry vinegar are just some of my secret weapons for making meals interesting.
3) Wine, wonderful wine. Red, white, rosé or sparkling, you can never have too much of this in your kitchen. A bottle of wine makes everyone all warm and fuzzy at dinner, and keeps harried cooks from having a meltdown and perhaps throwing a casserole at bewildered guests. A glass for the cook, a glass to throw into whatever you’re making, and the rest to share is always a foolproof formula for a successful dinner.
4) Freezables. I’m a big fan of slow cooking, stews that you simmer for hours. They may seem like a lot of work, but they’re really not. A lot of those hours are spent just bubbling quietly on your stovetop getting delicious and filling your home with luscious aromas while you go do your groove thang. Soaked and boiled beans, homemade chicken stock (both so much better than canned), and various stews that get better with age are a godsend when you’re jonesing for a really good meal but are too tired to do anything but push microwave buttons.
5) Leftovers. Especially Thanksgiving leftovers. Even after sending guests home with Thanksgiving doggy bags, there's usually still a lot of food left over. So when you’re tired of those big, open-face turkey sandwiches smothered with gravy and cranberry sauce, tear any remaining meat off and then simmer that turkey carcass, for a rich turkey stock that you can freeze for later.
As for the turkey meat, I’m pretty much done with Thanksgiving flavors after a couple of days, so I like to do something different. Turkey nachos for Tex-Mex night along with the aforementioned frozen margaritas are guaranteed to have you saying Muchas Gracias for at least another night.
1 cup leftover shredded turkey meat (roast chicken leftovers work great, too)
2 tablespoons fresh lime or kalamansi juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups pinto or kidney beans (pre-soaked and -boiled dried beans or a 16-oz. can)
8-12 oz. tortilla chips (1 big bag)
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
1-2 tablespoons chopped jalapeños (or finger chilis)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (wansoy)
Suggested accompaniments: sour cream, salsa, guacamole, hot sauce and lime wedges
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Toss turkey with lime juice and cumin, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat and cook garlic, cumin, and oregano, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in beans and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 1 minute. Add more of the spices as desired, then season with salt and pepper.
Spread the chips on a shallow pan or baking sheet and layer with the beans, turkey, jalapeños and cheese. Bake until cheese is melted, around 10 minutes.
Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve with accompaniments of your choice.
This article was originally published in The Philippine Star on November 27, 2014.