Ready, Set … Holidays!
Thanksgiving came and went as did my son’s second birthday party. Of course, I overcooked, overextended myself and over-thought everything. But in the end I am thrilled that my family and friends all were left satisfied with my efforts and more so with being in each others’ company.
I’ll admit I was exhausted this Sunday. Cooking and baking for what I thought was going to be a party of just over 20 on Thanksgiving day and then doing it all over again for a party of 45 two days later proved quite tiring. But with a little organization and planning I managed–from decorating; to baking a bunch of desserts, as well as a birthday cake and cupcakes; to cooking up a storm of appetizers and entrees. Not that I didn’t have any help: my mom and sisters each brought a bunch of yummy side dishes and desserts on both occasions, but I’ll be the first to admit that I am a bit of a control freak and a tad of a perfectionist, so you’ll find me at the stove even as my guests are walking through the front door.
As I mentioned the day before Thanksgiving, the highlight of our holiday table was–of course–the turkey (a 24 pounder!) and our traditional stuffing. The stuffing, or “gemisi” as we call it, of Kalymnos is not at all similar to the stuffing of bread cubes and various other ingredients found on most Thanksgiving tables across America. Ours is a combination of rice, ground meat and pine nuts flavored with cinnamon. It is the gemisi we use to stuff the lamb which graces our Easter table every year. But we, as most Kalymnians do, also use it with poultry on other very special occasions. Only I didn’t think it wise to stuff my oversized turkey as it already took nearly 5 1/2 hours to cook and most certainly would have needed even more time had it been stuffed. So I made our gemisi as a side dish and, in all honesty, it was just as flavorful. Beyond taste, however, our gemisi is rich with meaning and memories and a much needed staple on our holiday tables.
I kept the turkey simple: placing some butter combined with chopped fresh herbs (parsley
and thyme) under the skin; filling the cavity with as many onions, carrots, celery, apples and oranges as it could fit; sprinkling it generously with salt and pepper; and leaving it to cook–without even basting–for nearly 5 1/2 hours. I also let the turkey “rest”–covered with foil–for almost an hour. It was moist and flavorful and I will definitely be making it this way again (maybe just add another herb or two to the butter next time).
Below I’ll share my family’s recipe for gemisi. Be advised though that our recipe is somewhat of an undocumented family tradition that’s been passed on simply by watching grandmothers and mothers use these same ingredients time after time. So in terms of amounts and exact quantities of ingredients, we really go by heart (or gut) and determine what’s suitable to each occasion we make this for.
P.S. There were a ton of appetizers out on Thanksgiving Day and a number of other side dishes to accompany our turkey (from this cranberry apple chutney
, to thyme roasted potatoes, to my mom’s yummy candied sweet potatoes) but … I failed to take pictures of everything! I’ll try to touch on a few of the recipes tomorrow though, when I post a little about all the goodies served for my son’s birthday.
Traditional Gemisi from Kalymnos (Rice Stuffing)
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1/2 pound liver (I used turkey/chicken for Thanksgiving, but we use lamb’s for Easter), diced
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cups long grain rice
6 tablespoons butter
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
5 to 6 cups of water (this is if you’re only making this on the stove top as opposed to stuffing a chicken or turkey)
Heat olive oil in a large pot and toast pine nuts until just golden. Add the onion and cook until softened. Stir in the liver and ground beef and brown well for a few minutes.
Add the cinnamon sticks and rice, stirring until the rice is well coated. Stir in the butter and the tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the water one cup at a time, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and let simmer about 25 minutes until rice is done.