I’m downright giddy about Thanksgiving. I have waited since the pandemic began to see if my love for Thanksgiving would be reduced or if I’d become less enthused about it as I have many things this year, but I’m happy to report I am giddy as ever. Thanksgiving is home to me. It’s the first holiday I started doing completely by myself as early as 16 years old. Everything from baking the rolls from scratch to the intimidating prized turkey was done by me. Not only do I love a good challenge, but I love the aspect of making things I love with and for my family. This year will be no different.
COVID may have taken many other things from me this year, but it hasn’t touched my love for this holiday. And, believe it or not, as much as I’m known for my desserts, it’s the savory food that fills every hole in my heart. I could live off the sides alone. Be that as it may, I get asked more for dessert recipes than anything else, so fret not, I've got a stellar dessert recipe to bring to any gathering or enjoy by yourself if you plan to stay home this year.
Now on to the semi-serious part, but just for a bit. Whether you travel to see family, have family visit you or enjoy a quiet, socially distant holiday, the most important thing to remember this year (or any) is being thankful this season. We already write down daily things for which we are thankful, but I think this year will feel different. The things we are thankful for are really hitting home.
This year is also a reminder of the reason I love to cook: It’s because I love to bring friends and family together and see them happy. Having amazing friends and family is one of the things I’m most grateful for this year and always. One way to honor them is to make their favorite foods, whether you can share it with them or not.
I love to turn sad things into uplifting things whenever possible. If you like to do that, too, maybe the following will interest you. This year, pick a family member or friend and, unbeknownst to them, make their favorite foods or something they are known for. Write down the recipe and a story about them to go along with it and share a copy with your guests. If you are not having guests, then do the same thing but on a friends/family Zoom call to keep connections alive during this gray season where not everyone can be with the ones they love.
I won’t make this too long as I know how much people loathe to read before getting to a recipe, but I will share two recipes with you and who they remind me of. I picked people randomly, otherwise I’d have such a tough time. I put a few names in a hat and selected two. One is my dear friend Alexis Jones, and we just texted about this apple cake, so it was completely fitting to use that recipe for her. She is one of those people you cross paths with and know it was fate at work. She is a gem of a person and an equally astounding chef. The most beautiful thing about her is her openness and willing to let everyone around her succeed. It is for that reason she is a success in my book.
The other randomly selected person is my mom who loves my mashed potatoes. I could go on and on about her since I have a lifetime of stories, but my favorite thing about her is that even though she is an incredible cook, she lifts others up and downplays anything to do with her own cooking. She asks for these mashed potatoes every year and thinks I hung the moon when it comes to these potatoes (even though I know there are probably better versions out there). This is a spin on my regular mashed potatoes, but I think this and the cake both will fit perfectly at your Thanksgiving table this year.
Apple Buttermilk Cake
By: Zara Abbasi
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. cardamom
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup peeled and chopped apples
- heaping tbsp. of raw sugar (demerara, turbinado or Sugar in the Raw)
- extra cinnamon and cardamom for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom and salt; set aside. In a separate bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about two minutes. Add vanilla and egg and beat well.
With the mixer set to low speed, beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture. Add half the buttermilk and continue beating on low speed until incorporated. Scraping down sides of bowl as necessary, beat in another 1/3 of flour mixture, then remaining buttermilk. Finally, beat in the last 1/3 of the flour mixture until just combined.
Scrape batter into the cake pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Scatter apple pieces evenly over the top of the cake batter, then sprinkle evenly with raw sugar. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and cardamom.
Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool until warm. Invert onto a plate.
Fluffy Herb Butter Mashed Potatoes
By: Zara Abbasi
- 5 lbs. peeled and chopped potatoes
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 lb. butter
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 7 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 1 sprig fresh oregano
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Boil potatoes in salted water until fork tender. Drain potatoes, then return to the pot and let them dry out in the pot. I leave the heat on the lowest setting to help speed it along, but keep an eye on them because you don’t want them to scorch. Once every few seconds, move the pot around aggressively in order to rough up the potatoes a bit.
While the potatoes are boiling, heat up the cream, butter, garlic and the herbs together until simmering. Mash up the herbs and garlic to release their oils and flavor, then remove from the mixture and discard. Optional: To increase the herb flavor, remove herbs from the stems, use a little bit of the cream mixture and blend the herbs, garlic and cream together in a blender, and then add remaining cream and butter and simmer.
Use either a potato ricer or a masher to smash the drained and dried potatoes. Once they’re uniformly mashed, add in the heavy cream and herb mixture and slowly mix together.
If you like a heartier texture, keep mashing with the masher until the cream and butter is incorporated. For a creamier texture, blend a little with a hand mixer until fluffy, being sure not to over beat (some variations of potatoes have a lot more starch and can start to become gummy).
- Season with salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste.
From Z to A with Zara Abbasi
Zara Abbasi is the pastry chef and recipe developer for Zara Made It. Follow her food adventures on Instagram at @zaramadeit.