Category: General Cooking


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At long last, the Thanksgiving post has arrived!  Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, but I’ve come to appreciate it exponentially more in recent years, partially because I’ve gotten more into cooking, but also because I spent three Thanksgivings in a row (2006-2008) outside the US.  In 2008 I did get to attend the US embassy potluck Thanksgiving, which was fabulous and full of delicious food, but now that I’m back in the US, I’m just so thankful (no cliche intended!) that I get to spend Thanksgiving with my family!

As has become the tradition recently, we had two Thanksgivings this year.  The first was at my parents’ house and had nearly 20 people in attendance (so many cousins!).  The second?  I hosted!  Since my fiance and I have a big table and a nicely functional kitchen (unlike the teeny kitchen we were working with in his apartment last year!) I thought it would be lots of fun to have both of our parents plus his sister and her husband over for Thanksgiving.

I had never made a turkey before.

I had never cooked that many dishes all at once before.

I am really bad at timing (as in getting all components of a meal to be done cooking at the same time.  This is why I usually cook one-dish meals.)

This had great potential for disaster.

In the end, mistakes were made, there were a few things that didn’t make it onto the table for various reasons, and the timing wasn’t perfect, but no one went home hungry, I didn’t light anything on fire, and nothing turned out to be completely inedible.  So I’d say it was a success! And now you can learn from everything I did wrong and do much better than I did the next time you host a major gathering!

Part 1: Overall Tips: Start in advance.  Way in advance.  Like…a month or two in advance even.  Your freezer is your friend for many things, from roast pumpkin and squash to cranberry sauce.  So don’t, for example, stress yourself out by trying to roast the pumpkins for pumpkin pie two days before Thanksgiving, because you will inevitably be stuck with a stubborn pumpkin that does NOT want to be cut open.  (More on that later).  Save yourself the headache, and roast your pumpkins in October, puree the flesh and then freeze it, leaving yourself free to make stress-free pumpkin pie from scratch.  Same for cranberry sauce–make it in early November and freeze it.  Applesauce too.  And if you happen to be making coconut butternut squash soup, freeze that too!

Just don’t freeze your mashed potatoes.  Those are better fresh.

Another tip: get a cooler to use as a temporary spare refrigerator.  It is likely while you’re in the process of preparing all these dishes, that you will run out of refrigerator space.  We were lucky that it was just barely cold enough to keep some things outside, but if you live in a warmer climate or the weather is unseasonably warm for late November, you will want a cooler with ice in it for overflow refrigeration.

Part 2: The Dishes I made a lot of food.  Too much, judging by how full my freezer still is.  But leftovers are good!  And I’m convinced that had we been able to use the bigger plates, people would have eaten more.  But more on the plates in a bit. So here’s what I made:

  • Turkey – I bought a 12lb organic bird.  I had wanted a 10lb turkey, but I didn’t know until it was too late that you can pre-order your turkey from the grocery store.  I bought it fresh, four days before Thanksgiving.  Its sell-by date was the day I bought it–I was a little concerned, but it was fine.  But I’d definitely say pre-order your turkey if at all possible.A note on turkeys–obviously not everyone can afford or even find organic turkeys.  So if you can’t, and if you don’t hunt your own wild turkeys (I certainly don’t!), then at least aim to get one that is a) under 14lbs or so (have you seen those 25lb turkeys?? They’re so breast-heavy they’d tip over!  Just get two if you need to feed more people) b) natural, as in it hasn’t been treated with all manner of antibiotics and chemicals, and hasn’t been injected with weird stuff and isn’t self basting.

    Once you’ve got your turkey, for the love of all that’s holy do not just set it in your refrigerator!!!  Put a large plate or platter under it at the very least, or better yet set it in the roasting pan.  It WILL leak.  You don’t want to know how long it took me to scrub out our fridge.

    If you’re going to brine your turkey, keep in mind that it takes quite a long time (8-16 hours), so plan accordingly.  I didn’t brine mine this year, but maybe next year!

    Assuming you’re doing what I did, on Thanksgiving morning, take your turkey out of the fridge and move it over to the sink.  It should be thawed by this point if it was frozen.  Make sure you’ve given yourself enough time!  You’ll want about 2 hours of prep time (this is generous, but you never know how long it’s going to take, especially if you’ve never done it before!) and you’ll want to make sure you have enough time to roast the bird.

    Turn on the cold water, and start washing your turkey, inside and out.  Make sure you take out the neck and giblets.  And please do us all a favor and throw the giblets away.  Unless you really like organ meat and know how to cook it, neither of which are true for me.  Just make sure you don’t do what I did and throw them in a pot to try and make some sort of stock.  You’ll just end up stinking up your entire house.  It’s *really* hard to get rid of that smell.Anyways, rinse your bird thoroughly, and check it for unplucked feathers.  It likely will have a few, and if it’s an organic bird, possibly more than a few.  You especially need to make sure to check the armpits and crevices by the legs.

    Once the turkey is all clean, pat it with some paper towel and set it in your roasting pan.  Now you’re ready to stuff/season/flavor/otherwise prepare the bird so that it comes out juicy and delicious!  This is where a recipe can definitely come in handy.  I used Jamie Oliver’s turkey recipe which was definitely a good choice.  The turkey came out moist and tender–it’s true what they say: bacon makes everything better!  I did find it rather difficult to get the pancetta wrapped rosemary skewers into the thigh, and I ended up only doing two per thigh unlike the 6 he recommends, but I found that by poking a hole with a knife, and then widening it with my finger, I could shove the pancetta in there first, and then pin it in place with the rosemary.  Just try not to make the hole too big–the skin needs to be mostly intact to keep the juices in.  The other key point of his recipe is to stuff the turkey breasts.  Even if you’re not making his exact recipe, you should totally do this!  It’s a little tricky to get your hand up in there, but that was the moistest, juiciest turkey breast I’ve ever had.

    His name was Mr. Turkey.  He was delicious.

  • Mashed potatoes – Not much to say here…mashed potatoes are tasty.  And easy.  Just keep an eye on them so they don’t boil over.
  • Mushroom gravy – Since my fiance is a vegetarian, I made mushroom gravy instead of gravy from the drippings.  It’s really easy to do, and plus you can do it earlier in the day so you won’t be scrambling to make gravy while your turkey is resting and your guest are arriving.  I’ll put the recipe down at the bottom of this post.
  • Stuffed onions – I decided that for the vegetarian stuffing, I would make Smitten Kitchen’s stuffed onions. The stuffing inside of these onions?  Delicious!  The onions?  A giant pain in the neck.  She’s right that a melon baller is definitely the appropriate tool for hollowing out an onion, but if you’re making 10-15 of these, unless you have onion goggles, your eyes will be burning for the rest of the day.  And you will stink like onions for quite some time thereafter.  Still determined to make them?  Hollow them out as much as you possibly can without punching a hole in the side–if you can get it down to one layer of onion?  Awesome.  And make sure you pre-roast the onions long enough before stuffing them.  I was a bit rushed for time, and I don’t think they went nearly long enough–and you really don’t want that raw onion flavor, especially if you, like me, were unsuccessful in scooping out all but one layer of onion.
  • Sausage stuffing – I made the stuffing from Jamie Oliver’s recipe, but sadly, this was one of the things that didn’t make it onto the table.  I had put the leftover stuffing that wasn’t in the turkey into a casserole dish and stuck it in the oven, but I don’t think the sausage managed to cook through.  It is currently in the freezer, waiting for me to toss it in a skillet to turn it into something else.
  • Green bean casserole – The stereotypical dish that can be made entirely from canned goods!  Blech!  Make it from scratch.  Blanch your fresh green beans for three minutes (less if they’re not very tough), toss them in a casserole dish with homemade cream of mushroom soup (I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe) or just use some of your mushroom gravy, and top it either with panko breadcrumbs or make your own crunchy onions. But since crunchy onions roast at a much higher temperature than turkey and I only have one oven, alas, I had to forego the crunchy onions.
  • Sweet potato cranberry bake – My fiance got this recipe from a coworker and can I just say–yum!  Chunks of tender sweet potato (the real stuff!  the canned stuff is nasty!), tart bursts of juice from the fresh cranberries, and a crunchy, sweet oatmeal and brown sugar topping!
  • Kale and apple salad – Just what it sounds like, and with a lemon vinaigrette dressing and some walnuts on top.  You’ll want to blanch the kale a little bit to make it less tough, and you can do this ahead of time–just make sure you have an ice bath ready for it, because you don’t want mush!
  • Cranberry apple chutney – This is one of those things that is super easy to make but looks really impressive in the end.  All you really do is simmer fresh cranberries and a granny smith apple with some spices until the cranberries pop and the sauce thickens.  It’s good by itself, on a leftover turkey sandwich, or on crackers with a bit of goat cheese!in progress
  • Applesauce – If you, like me, bought an absurd number of apples at the farmer’s market, make applesauce!  I don’t bother peeling the apples–I just cube them and toss them in a pot with a little water (only enough to cover the bottom layer or so of apples), ground cinnamon and cloves, and a bit of allspice.  Cook it down until the apples are mushy, add a little brown sugar if it needs it, mash it all up, and there you go!
  • Coconut butternut squash soup – This time around I had a 6lb butternut squash.  It was absurdly huge.  But in fact, the ratio of 6lbs of butternut squash to two cans of coconut milk makes a delightfully textured soup that actually deserves to be called soup and not a puree.  Fresh grated ginger as opposed to ground also adds a nice dimension of flavor.
  • Pumpkin pie – Like I said above–if you’re going to roast your own pumpkins, do it in advance!  You don’t want to end up with a pumpkin like this throwing off your entire day:

    I do now have a lovely pair of pumpkin shell bowls!  The shell stayed super hard, even after roasting for 45 minutes!

In addition to all the dishes mentioned above, my fiance (the baker in this relationship!) baked three loaves of French bread and an apple pie.  Yum!

And now the recipe I promised you:

Mushroom Gravy

  • 2 handfuls crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 3tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2tbsp flour
  • 1c mushroom broth

Put a saucepan on the stove over medium heat and add 1tbsp of the butter.  Let it melt and start to sizzle a bit, and then add your mushrooms.  Cook them until they’re nicely browned and then remove them from the pan and set aside.  In the same pan, add your remaining two tablespoons of butter, and when it’s melted, add the flour.  Stir until it forms a thick paste, then add your mushroom broth.  Reduce heat and stir more or less constantly until your sauce starts to thicken.  Then  add the mushrooms back in, and cover it and keep it warm on the stove until you’re ready to use it, stirring occasionally.

Chocolate chip cookies!

My apologies for the lack of postings lately.  It’s just that I haven’t cooked anything terribly inspired of late!  The main culprit for this is the lasagna I made several days (a week?) ago.  It was small, as lasagnas go–only 8×8.  But I’m just one person.  It takes a long time to eat an entire 8×8 lasagna.  And while I had good intentions of freezing half of it, I realized that I had no good containers to freeze it in, and then I got busy and lazy, and pretty much just lived off of the lasagna til it was gone.

Why didn’t I write a post about how to make this lasagna?  Because everything you need to know is on the back of the Barilla lasagna noodle box.  I told you!  I got lazy!  (And plus it was a good way to use up the pre-cooked ground beef that was left over in my freezer from a particularly unfortunate cooking debacle a while back).

Anyways, I now have a fresh batch of groceries and grand intentions of cooking new and creative dishes, so be on the lookout for new posts coming soon!

The Year of the Vegetable!

Check out this article on Salon about how cooking vegetables is the hot new trend of 2011. Which sounds kinda dumb, except look around–vegetables so rarely feature as the main part of a dish in a restaurant! And it’s so hard to find good vegetarian meals. (I’m not even vegetarian, not that you’d know it by my cooking) It’s always about the meat. But it doesn’t have to be!

The Rice Always Boils Over

Well it does!

Unless you have a good pan.

Actual posts coming soon!