Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, probably because it’s all about food and there’s no gift buying pressure.
Our family’s Thanksgiving tradition is a little different from most. It started back when my mother was a young graduate student at Berkely in the early 70’s. I remember it clearly and I couldn’t have been more than 4 years old at the time. We had about 25 people over to dinner and they were all “friends and orphans” with no family in the area and nowhere else to go. We didn’t have a lot of money, but somehow my mom managed to put on an amazing feast.
Over the years little has changed. We still have somewhere between 15 and 25 people at dinner, mostly friends and sometimes the occasional relative. The players have evolved to be a greater proportion my generation’s “friends and orphans” but the love and familial feeling has remained the same. Some of my friends have been coming for over 20 years and now bring their own children to dinner.
The food has evolved throughout the years. The old standbys are there; turkey, mashed potatoes, yams with brown sugar, but some items have fallen out of favor. We said goodbye to the “ambrosia” fruit salad with walnuts and marshmallow cream once and for all about ten years ago. My mother no longer burns the rolls because she no longer makes them.
Every year there are new dishes with some success and a few failures. I still believe 1992’s pumpkin ravioli were ahead of their time but will admit that ’08’s creamy parsnip casserole, while tasty, was a tad heavy. Each Thanksgiving I try to make a new dessert to go along with my famous pumpkin chiffon pie and search for a new vegetable side dish to offset some of the starchier ones.
Last year I made a spinach salad with persimmons. This year, I have no persimmons thanks to the squirrels, so it has to be something else. It’s back to basics time. I wanted something simple and straightforward, something which could be partially made in advance if needed and that’s where carrots come in. You may think carrots are boring, but oh no, these carrots are dressed up for the party, but still friendly enough for kids.
The use of apple cider syrup (aka “boiled cider” and “apple molasses”) is a new ingredient for me. My mother made a few bottles, inspired by this blog post boiled cider on Foodie with Family, and then right after I’d made a test batch of these carrots, saveur.com featured a cocktail using boiled cider. Once I tasted the syrup (refreshing when added into some soda water), I knew I needed to make something with it. You can buy Boiled Cider, or make your own by following the simple instructions on Foodie with Family. If you don’t want to buy or make the apple cider syrup for this recipe, you can substitute 100% maple syrup, but the flavor will be slightly sweeter (there’s a nice tang on the apple cider syrup).
Recipe for Apple Cider Roasted Carrots with Rosemary and Nutmeg
2 lbs fresh carrots
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp apple cider syrup
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
3 sprigs fresh rosemary (about 1/4 oz wt.)
salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1. Peel the carrots, cut off the ends and cut into batons (that’s a fancy French culinary term for sticks). You can actually cut the carrots into any shape and size you prefer, though cooking times may vary.
2. In a large bowl, toss the carrots with the olive oil, apple cider syrup and nutmeg, until coated. Spread out in a baking dish large enough so that the carrots are only 1 layer deep. Add in 2 of the 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary and place in the 350 degree oven.
3. Remove the rosemary leaves from the last sprig, and chop into 1/4 inch pieces (about 1.5 tsp total, chopped).
4. After about 20 minutes of cooking time, remove the pan from the oven. Remove the rosemary sprigs from the pan and discard. Sprinkle the carrots with the freshly chopped rosemary and stir to combine and turn over the carrots. Return the pan to the oven for another 10-15 minutes until the carrots start to brown slightly. When done, they should still be slightly firm (no mushy carrots here!).