A Iaciofano Family Thanksgiving

Many of you may be wondering (probably not) what it's like in the Iaciofano family household for Thanksgiving. Well, I'm going to tell you. And I'm going to tell the story with recipes.

First, the cast of characters:

The Box: also known as our dad

Marmo: Mom and executive chef of Thanksgiving

Aunt Emily: a great aunt. She is 96. She is actually not related by blood, but is the wife of my dad's uncle. A few things you should know about Aunt Emily: 1.) She is in perfect health except that she is mostly deaf. So she talks REALLY LOUDLY all the time. And so do we, so she can hear us. 2.) She enjoys calling people "crooks." 3.) See point No.1.

Aunt Olga: Another "great" - Marmo's aunt. She's hovering somewhere around 90, age wise, and is intensely happy all the time. Which provides an interesting (but which I mean alarming) counterpoint to Aunt Emily's canktankerousness.

Elana: Me - sous chef. As sous chef, my responsibilities include burning myself (Thanksgiving tradition) on hot plates, and keeping the Box from eating all the food before it's even served.

John: 'Sup

First, the menu:

Not much has changed over the years at Iaciofano HQ for Turkey Day. It's a small holiday - there aren't very many of us, as both our mom and dad are only children. No cousins! No aunts and uncles - like Wally! It's nuts.

When I was younger and still living at home, the first smell that greeted me as I walked down the stairs from my bedroom in the morning was the smell of onions cooking in butter. That aroma might be one of my favorites. The Macy's Day Parade (this is my favorite balloon) would be on TV, closely monitored by the Box in hopeful, boyish anticipation for Santa's appearance. Marmo would be in the kitchen, like a mad scientist in the lab, with 18 pots on the stove all simmering various wonderful things, including the onions in butter.

Thanksgiving dinner begins around 1-2pm in our house. Why so early? A few reasons:

1. Aunt Emily refuses to eat anything after 5pm. This causes a lot of commotion in my family, in general.

2. Marmo wants to get rid of everyone so we can go do other things. This usually involves either falling asleep on the couch or seeing a movie.

At around 1pm, the Box fetches Aunty Em and brings her back to the homestead. Shouting begins. Marmo retrieves Aunt Olga (the Box categorically refuses to go get her) and what ensues from this point on is something like witnessing the two parts of a manic-depressive episode with Emily voicing the depressive, and Olga the manic.

For example, if you ask Emily how she is, the response is, "Eh, well I'm still here." While if you ask Olga, you will get a bright-eyed (manic gleam in the eye), "I'm grrrreat!" Kind of like Tony the Tiger.

Traditionally, Aunt Emily has always brought over the antipasto.This is an Italian term for a bunch of appetizers, usually consisting of cured meats, cheeses, olives, roasted peppers, and when my Uncle Harry was alive, chopped chicken livers, which even as a little girl, I LOVED. Sometimes there's even some jumbo shrimp cocktail thrown in there. Random, but tasty.

The turkey itself is a HUGE point of contention in our house. My mom and I both like turkey – we actually enjoy the taste of it. Everyone else hates it. And we get a lot of jokes, mostly from the Box about when the Lasagne is going to be served. Or the spaghetti...on and on. Aunt Emily complained so much that she gets her very own dinner – hens! This year we are all tempted to fry a turkey – a feat we have never before attempted. Please warn the fire department, but we do have this, just in case:

Anyway, all safety hazards aside, I've included a few recipes - the ones I think are highlights. I hope you enjoy them, try 'em out, make 'em better, or whatever. Next week we'll have specific turkey instructions along with some fantabulous desserts.

Marmo's Sweet Potatoes With Apples

What You Need:

4 large sweet potatoes

1-2 peeled, cored and sliced apples

Brown sugar (your judgment)

Butter (again with the poor judgment)

Heavy whipping cream (and one more time)

What To Do:

Put your sweet potatoes in a large pot and fill with water to above the level of the taters. Cook on the stove for about 45 minutes until tender. You may need more than 45 minutes - pierce them with a sharp knife to test for tenderness.

Drain the taters and when they cool, peel the skins off.

Coat a large baking dish with butter. Slice the potatoes horizontally (so they are like little orange hockey pucks) and cover the bottom of the dish with about 4-5 slices of potato. Sprinkle a healthy amount of brown sugar and dot with a a healthy amount of butter. Add the apple slices on top of that. Repeat these layers until you reach the top of the baking dish. Add about 3 tablespoons of cream (or your best judgement - you really can't mess this one up).

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Try to baste with the juices that settle at the bottom of the dish.

Another hot one is the Cauliflower. The Box claims he doesn't like this, but he usually asks for thirds, sooo....

Gratinée of Cauliflower

What You Need:

6 Tbsp unsalted butter

4 cloves of garlic minced

4 ounces of thinly sliced prosciutto

Florets of 1 large cauliflower cut into ¼ inch slices

2 Tbsp flour

1 ½ cup heavy cream

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper

1 ½ cup grated swiss cheese

½ cup chopped parsley

What To Do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes.  Stir in the prosciutto and cook two more minutes.

Add the cauliflower and cook just until it begins to lose its crispness - about 3 minutes.

Stir in the flour and then the cream. Blend well. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper. Heat to boiling and remove from heat.

Pour the cauliflower into a baking dish.  Top with cheese and parsley.  Bake until the top is lightly browned and bubbling – about 30 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Cranberry Sauce

*I have to confess to liking the Ocean Spray variety that comes out of the can in one big cylinder that you can slice. But making your own Cranberry Sauce is shockingly easy. Here is how I do it:

What You Need:

12 ounce bag of cranberries

1/2 cup of honey

2-3 T firmly packed brown sugar

2 three inch cinnamon sticks

6 whole cloves

1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

3/4 cup water

Optional: orange zest

What To Do:

In a saucepan, combine the cranberries, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and water and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes or until the cranberries have burst and the mixture is thickened. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and let it cool. Can be made 2 days in advance, covered and chilled.

Cranberry Relish

What You Need:

1 orange – cut into chunks

1 apple – cored and cut into chunks

1 bag of cranberries

1 cup of sugar

Zest of one lemon

What To Do:

Put everything in the food processor and pulse.  Taste for sweetness.  You may need to add a little more sugar.  Enjoy!

As for dessert, the Apple Pie and Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipes are forthcoming. But we have a special presentation of those for you, so you will have to wait until next week.