Friendsgiving

Perhaps better known as “Cranberry Barbecue Pulled Turkey” or “That Thanksgiving I Felt Completely Suffocated by a Turkey.”

Cooking and baking for friends and family has always brought me enjoyment and happiness. It’s the reason I always volunteer to bring a dish to the next get-together. I’ll even cook or bake for no special reason and hand-deliver dinner and/or dessert to your doorstep, especially if I know work or life has kept you too busy to think about your next meal. It’s my way of showing how much I care about you (but you have to be really special in my book to get that treatment).

One of my favorite new traditions in the last four years has been Friendsgiving the week before Thanksgiving. I haven’t left my house much in the recent month with the exception of work, gym and errands to the grocery store and Target. Before I knew it, Friendsgiving had descended upon me much quicker than I thought, and was going to force me to cook one of the month’s two actual meals and be social. And in true fashion, I decided to over do it and not only cook the turkey for the third time out of four years, but try a new, non-traditional recipe because I was looking for any type of change in my life to help get me out of my funk.

It all seemed like a great idea, since cooking usually has a way of being a sort of therapy, but then I had a busy week at work and felt like the to-do list was piling up and the cubicle walls were caving in. I realized I was on my way to becoming a hoarder when I couldn’t see my dining table or sit on my sofa – I hadn’t cleaned my apartment in, um, too embarrassingly long to tell (and shocking for anyone who knows me and my normal cleanliness and organization). Every volunteer commitment I had made to Make-a-Wish in the last year came to a head in one week. I suffered through one miserable evening that reminded me just how much I was missing someone. And then, the turkey…

I learned you can’t fit 12 lbs. of turkey into a crockpot at one time, just saying.

The turkey took me two days to cook each turkey breast separately (lots of people = lots of turkey), including one 5:30 a.m. wake up call to chop meat before putting the second turkey in to cook while I was at work and one late night spent on the kitchen floor with a bottle of wine after said miserable evening feeling like 12 lbs. of turkey was sitting on my chest. I could not escape the smell of barbecue turkey, even with the windows open and 40 degree temperatures.

Of course, everyone said they loved the Cranberry Barbecue Pulled Turkey. I don’t think I even tasted it – I had completely lost my appetite by Friendsgiving. And I felt absolutely drained of life that I was counting down to my 10 p.m. bedtime on a Friday so I could go home and sleep.

For the first time, cooking felt like a chore. I don’t know what to make of this. Today I sat at my desk looking at my December calendar filling up with cookie exchanges and potlucks. Will I make it a point to be there? Yes. But a warning: You might get ready to bake, refrigerated Pillsbury cookies this year.

Disclaimer: This recipe really was the simplest way to ever cook a turkey and extremely moist. So I hope you give it a try and enjoy it on my behalf, even if you go the traditional route of butter, salt and pepper or an herb marinade instead of barbecue. Just put it in the crockpot on low for 8-10 hours or until the thermometer pops. The cranberry barbecue sauce would also make for tasty post-Thanksgiving leftovers.

Cranberry Barbecue Turkey

Cranberry Barbecue Pulled Turkey

6 lbs. bone-in turkey breast

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons jalapeño pepper, finely chopped, seeds removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups whole berry cranberry sauce
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons mustard
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add onions and jalapeño and cook over medium heat until the onions have softened. Add garlic and continue to cook for approximately one minute. Add cranberry sauce, ketchup and mustard and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning. Remove from heat.

Place turkey breast in the crockpot and season with salt and pepper generously. Pour 1/4 – 1/2 of the barbecue sauce over the turkey. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or until the thermometer pops.

Shred or chop the turkey. Drain the juices from the crockpot. Place the shredded turkey back in the crockpot, add remaining barbecue sauce and simmer on high for about 30 minutes until hot. Serve on potato dinner rolls. A great non-Thanksgiving side dish would be Warm Potato Salad with Goat Cheese.

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Arugula Pesto

Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in a region of northern Italy. The name is the contracted past participle of “pesta” meaning “to pound or to crush” in reference to the sauce’s crushed herbs and garlic.

I love pesto. It’s sweet basil and garlic flavor is great on pizza, as a light pasta sauce, spread on crackers, tossed with potatoes, as a sandwich spread or even served alongside chicken or steak.

Earlier this summer when I went to a wine tasting, I had my first experience with arugula pesto. This was a new thought for me. When I think of pesto, I always think of basil. However, fresh basil isn’t always ready in your garden in early spring. You don’t need to limit yourself to using only basil, but can experiment with other herbs from your garden that are ready to harvest sooner like arugula.

Arugula is a spicy leaf herb with a “peppery bite” that is also sometimes referred to as rocket, roquette, rugula and rucola. It’s always been popular in Italian cuisine for flavoring oils, and I developed a love/hate relationship of my own with arugula while in Italy. It was used heavily in salads and on sandwiches (I can’t tell you how happy I was to come home to some romaine or iceburg on my sandwich!).

The daunting task of making pesto is deciding on a recipe. Do I need to blanch the basil or herb I am using? Do I want to use Asiago, Parmesan or Romano cheese? Do I want to use pine nuts or walnuts? Should I toast them? Should I toast the garlic or use it raw? How much olive oil should I add? Should I add sundried tomatoes? Really friends, pesto should not be this complicated or take this much thought!

I decided if I was going to try arugula pesto on my own, it was going to be the simplest recipe ever. And simple this recipe is! It took me a total of 3 to 5 minutes to make, which was perfect while my pasta boiled. If the spicy taste of the arugula is too much for your taste, I recommend adding 1 teaspoon of sugar until it reaches your desired sweetness.

Arugula Pesto

2 cups arugula, stems removed
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup toasted pine nuts
1 teaspoon sugar, if desired

In a blender or food processor, blend arugula, garlic and Parmesan cheese until smooth. Slowly add olive oil and pine nuts until you reach desired consistency.

This is served great over warm pasta or as a spread on ciabatta with turkey and provolone.