Thanksgiving is an emotionally-charged event for most Americans. The word itself can cause spontaneous posttraumatic stress disorder flashbacks to the year Gramps got too drunk and told the whole family about the Bangkok transvestite he almost left your Nana for. Or perhaps it simply conjures fond memories of delicious food shared around another hilarious Detroit Lion’s loss (not this year, baby!).
Whatever your memories of the great American holiday, it can be disconcerting to spend your favorite Thursday away from home. The University of Minnesota’s hatred of days off means that classes envelope the tiny break, and a lot of us can’t feasibly travel back for our share of momma-made turkey and mash. While many a stranded student would love to replicate the family feast with their fellow refugees, roasting a turkey isn’t practical on most undergraduate budgets and timetables.
Do not despair, my forgotten ones! The A&E department spent days cooking up a great alternative menu that mirrors the textures and tastes of a classic Thanksgiving — with an eye toward cheap, accessible ingredients. Try the whole menu or pick and choose as you see fit — and of course, experiment!
A final note before we begin: It can be easy to lose sight of the beauty around us when all we can think about is a warm family dining room in some state that’s just out of reach. There’s no need to feel lonely this Thanksgiving, though. As soon as you start cooking, you bring into your home the world’s greatest family — the food production chain.
So don’t feel alone this Thanksgiving, because you’re not and please give thanks to everyone that worked hard so you could eat like a king, even on a pilgrim’s budget.
This is the centerpiece and a beautiful one at that. Fulfilling the role of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy all at once, this dish is hearty and delicious.
4 chicken thighs, drumsticks or breasts (I like the freezer packs that have eight to10 pieces in them — you probably have one lying around.)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, sliced fairly thin
3-5 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons paprika
2 cups white rice
1 1/4 cup wine, any color
1 large can tomatoes (diced, chopped or whole, with juice)
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper
Defrost the chicken, then rub with salt and pepper. Put the oil in a large skillet or dutch oven (with a lid) over medium-high heat until hot, then add the chicken and brown on all sides (it won’t cook through, it’ll just get crispy). Put the chicken on a separate plate and drain out all but a couple tablespoons (a nice pan-covering) of fatty chicken goop. Add onion, bell pepper and a little salt, cooking over medium heat for six to seven minutes, until everything starts to get a little soft. Add the garlic, paprika and rice to the mixture. Stir and cook until everything is nice and coated in oily goodness, about a minute. Add the wine and bring it to a boil, letting it bubble for a couple of minutes. Dump in the tomatoes, broth and turmeric, then snug the chicken in with everything. Put the cover on and drop the heat down to low, letting everything cook for 13 to 17 minutes. If it starts to dry out (which it might), add a little more liquid. If it’s too sloppy, then cook it a little longer. When the rice and chicken are cooked through you are good to go!
While chicken is the best option, you could use any other poultry, a pork chop or even steak if you wanted (increase the cooking time for either of those options). Use extra firm tofu or big portabella mushrooms in place of the chicken for a vegetarian dish; either will lend a nice flavor. Any oil but sesame will do for the olive oil (as will butter), and any color bell pepper will do. Throw in any veggie you want, making sure to cook the harder ones a little before throwing in with the rice (works great with carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) Beans work great added in with the rice. If you aren’t of age and don’t know anyone that is, dilute a couple tablespoons of vinegar into a cup of water and increase the broth by a quarter cup. Any broth (including veggie broths) will work for the chicken broth, and any rice will work for white (though brown and wild will require a much longer cook time).
Any veggie or meat you can dream of!
The name sounds fancy but it basically just means sauce. This sweet and tart, super simple apple dish takes place of canned cranberries and for good reason: the taste and texture are quite similar, and you probably have every necessary ingredient lying around.
6 apples (more or less depending on your crowd) cored and chopped into even slices
Any other dried/fresh fruit you can imagine (see additions)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves)
Core and chop your apples, peeling first if desired (I like the skins in there, but a lot of people don’t). Put apples and any dried fruit in a saucepan and cover to the top with water. Put the pan on the stove over high heat and bring to a boil. Let boil for about five to 10 minutes, testing every once in a while for tenderness. Once the apples are tender but not quite breaking apart, strain the water and turn the heat to low. Put the apples/dried fruit back on the stovetop, add butter, sugar, lemon juice, fresh fruit and spices and mash with a fork/potato masher until well mixed. Serve!
Apples are pretty necessary as a foundation here, but everything else can be played with. Oranges, grapefruit, banana and even kiwi can be added at the end and simply heated through (if you use banana or other sweet fresh fruit, increase the amount of lemon juice/vinegar). Any dried fruit, is good here, especially apricots and craisins — just make sure to catch the little bits when you drain the apples. Any oil but olive and sesame will work for the butter, and brown sugar is a great substitute for white. Any vinegar can replace the lime juice, but beware of the slight flavor shift associated with a stronger-tasting style, such as balsamic. The spices can be played with a little, but the basic structure is important: very small amounts of nutmeg, allspice and cloves (and any of these can be left out without grave consequence), with a much higher preponderance of either cinnamon or cardamom. Cinnamon will give a traditionally American feel, while cardamom adds an Indian or Middle Eastern edge.
Garlic Buttered Green Beans with Nuts
A take on the classic Thanksgiving veggie normally served with cream of mushroom soup and French-fried onions, this simple dish can go a trillion different ways.
2 cans green beans
3 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Put the butter in a skillet over medium heat until melted but not burning, and throw in the minced garlic. Let cook for six to seven minutes and then add the beans (well drained) with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Once heated through, turn off heat, mix in chopped nuts and serve.
All types of veggies can be substituted for the green beans, as long as you ensure that they are properly cooked by the end. For hearty greens (spinach, bok choy, mustard greens, etc.) simply cook longer than the green beans (around 10 minutes) with a tablespoon of water added at the start of cooking. Same goes for carrots and other hard root vegetables, which should be covered during part of their cooking as well. Even a couple of cans of corn are a good stand-in for the beans, so be creative! This really isn’t the same without butter, but any other oil will work in a pinch (or for a vegan). Don’t replace the garlic. Seriously. Absolutely any nut will work, though almonds and pecans are the classic choice. Should you need to replace the butter, try using sesame oil with peanuts as your nut; the Chinese-style combination is lovely.
For the traditional route use only one clove of garlic, and pour in a can of cream o’ mushroom at the end of cooking, heating through. Top with French-fried onions and think of home. Alternatively dice up a quarter of an onion and start sautéing it two to three minutes before the garlic and add spices (paprika and thyme for a hearty European feel, cumin, coriander and cardamom for an Indian feel, hot pepper for zest, etc.) if you wish.
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