Thanksgiving Feast

Let’s talk about Thanksgiving for a moment, now that everybody is probably sick of talking about Thanksgiving and ready to move on to Christmas.

I like Thanksgiving. I don’t often get the opportunity to make big elaborate meals, and most of the time, I don’t want to. But every once in a while, I like to pull out all the stops and make way too much food and pig out to my heart’s content. While Thanksgiving’s historical background makes me cringe, I enjoy the general message of gratitude and fellowship that it tries to send. I’d much rather have a harvest feast in October, but I’m American and not Canadian, so November it is.

This year’s menu:

Turkey and gravy (Alton Brown’s Roasted Turkey)
Hands down, my favorite turkey recipe. I don’t bother with the brining – perhaps if I had a second fridge to store the bird during brining – but everything else makes for a perfect turkey anyway. I prefer a simple bird to more exotic flavors. To be honest, roasted turkey is not my favorite; I prefer chicken or duck. But I do like turkey in other things like soup, enchiladas, and pot pies. It also makes for a killer homemade stock/broth. So I don’t usually eat a lot of turkey on Thanksgiving, but I’ve got plenty of other uses for it.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
I don’t do the overly-sweet casserole of potatoes, marshmallows, and pecans. I just can’t. But I still want sweet potatoes, and I still want mashed potatoes. So I just mash my sweet potatoes. This year, I roasted the sweet potatoes first, and that made for some very tasty potatoes. After peeling them, I put them in a pot on the stove, heated them up with some butter and heavy cream and gave them a good mash. Very tasty.

Cranberry Sauce
Not from a can. Never from a can. I did not like cranberry sauce until I started making it myself (which can be said for a good number of things I’ve learned to make over the years). Cranberry sauce is very easy to make if you’re going the classic route: pour cranberries in saucepan and add water, sugar, orange juice, and orange peel. I also do a bit of allspice and a pinch of salt. Simmer until the berries soften and burst, about 30 minutes. Chill for a couple of hours. Done. This went terrifically with the sweet potatoes and turkey.

Mushroom Dressing
I’m not a big fan of stuffing turkeys (I’m not a big fan of extra work, really), so it’s dressing on my table. I’m picky about dressing: no onions, no celery, no meat, and mushrooms are a must. Not much room for variation, but I know what I like. This was a very successful dish. I’ve tried a couple different mushroom dressings, but this one has definitely been the best. Rich and creamy, with excellent flavor. I’ll probably keep this as my go-to recipe now.

Roasted Vegetables
Getting veggies onto the plate during Thanksgiving isn’t always easy. It’s like the best Thanksgiving foods are starches or meats. Green bean casserole is traditional, but neither my husband nor I like it. Instead, I roast Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and carrots. It’s a very simple addition, but it’s freshness is welcome and really helps to add some balance to the meal.

Bread Rolls
A necessary addition to the Thanksgiving table. I like to make my own rolls on Thanksgiving – I like to make as much as possible, really. This year’s rolls had good flavor, but they were harder than I liked. While they were a nice complement to the meal, they definitely needed butter and have only gotten harder in the days since being baked. This was another Food Network Magazine recipe, and I’m not sure I’d use it again.

 

I’ll admit, it’s a very traditional menu, and I don’t vary it much from year to year. But it’s a meal that I find appropriate for the season, with components that I might use in other meals but not so often all together. I like the simplicity of these dishes, and how they all come together to make a delicious autumn feast. And though I’m not usually a fan of leftovers, I make an exception for Thanksgiving.

Happy harvest, folks. May the bounty of the season be ever-present for you.

 

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Pear-Apple Crumble Pie

Source: Food Network Magazine (Pear-Apple Crumble Pie)

I made this for a pre-Thanksgiving playdate potluck. I had already decided that I was going to make the Sweet Serenity Apple Pie (which I posted about already) for Thanksgiving, but I thought it would be nice to give something else a try.

I don’t often make pies, even though I do like them. I don’t mind working with pie crust dough now that I’ve had more experience with it and feel much more comfortable with it. I make big batches of four at a time and always have some hanging out in the freezer. It’s doing all the rolling and the pre-baking and the cooling that adds time to even simple pie recipes and puts me off a bit. Mostly, there’s just something holiday-ish about pies. I bake cakes and cupcakes and cookies quite often, but pies are truly special occasion desserts. I like them for holidays, they just seem to fit.

I chose this pie because I had everything I needed on hand, and it didn’t require too much effort. I usually make treats for playdates in the morning, so I wanted something that wouldn’t take too long or be too difficult. This still took quite a bit of time, mostly in the cooking time and the prep work. It baked for an hour and a half.

Three pounds of fruit went into this pie in the form of three apples and four pears. It was too much. When the pie came out of the oven, it was mounded like a little fruit-crumble hill. It deflated as it cooled, but it was still quite large. It was difficult to manage, in both cutting and eating. There wasn’t a lot of distinction in the flavors, which might have had more to do with my fruit than the recipe itself. With the amount of filling I had, I felt like I should have made two pies instead of just one. Also, there was too much lemon juice for my taste.

On the plus side, it wasn’t an overly sweet pie, so a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream would have helped it out a lot without ruining the balance by adding both a little flavor and sweetness. Overall, though, I wasn’t impressed. It went over well at the playdate, but sometimes I wonder if they just tell me they like it so they don’t hurt my feelings.

(For the record, it doesn’t. Nobody can be more critical of what I make than I am. Also, food is totally subjective. What I like is what I like.)

Rating2 of 5 stars. This just didn’t work for me. I didn’t really like the flavor, I didn’t like the bulkiness, I didn’t like the texture much. Almost everybody else liked it, so maybe it’s just me. I just feel like it could have been better – or I could have made it better. I don’t know.

Would I make it again? Nope. It’s nice to try something new every once in a while, but sometimes, it just doesn’t pan out. I’d rather stick with a classic old favorite.

Sweet Serenity Apple Pie

Source: Oh, how I wish I knew.

You see, many years ago (perhaps not too many, but enough), there was a show named Firefly, and it was a woefully short-lived show. Only 13 episodes. It was a tragedy.

The funny thing is, I didn’t know about Firefly until the follow-up movie Serenity was released and a sushi chef at a fusion restaurant that I frequented suggested that I go and see it. I did. And then I devoured every Firefly scrap I could find. One such scrap was a small collection of recipes inspired by the TV series. And by small, I mean small, maybe 5-6 recipes. All of the recipes came from brief mentions in the show itself. This particular recipe references an episode in which one character uses his windfall to buy a crate of apples to share with his fellow crewmates, a rare and expensive treat for a space-going group of people. What else would you do with an overabundance of apples but make some apple pie?

This was a time period in which I was just discovering that cooking could be enjoyable. I was still a novice in the kitchen, still hesitant to try new and unusual things. I doubt any of those recipes were truly too strange to try, but I can’t say for sure because I don’t remember any of them. Except for this one.

Well, to be completely honest, I only remember the recipe because I wrote it down and shared it in a family cookbook. I’m not even sure if I have the name of the recipe right. I think I do, because it’s what I’ve always called it, but it’s possible that I’ve misremembered it over the years. I first made this pie in 2005/2006. I have the recipe, but I don’t have the original page that I found it on. I’ve looked for it, because the internet never forgets, but I still haven’t found it. Now that I’m not a novice cook anymore, I wonder about those other recipes.

Because I LOVE Firefly/Serenity. I don’t tend to geek out too much, but there are two things that bring out the rabid geek in me: Firefly and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Combining them with my love of cooking isn’t easy to do, so I cherish this one recipe.

It helps that this pie is absolutely delicious.

I was not a big fan of apple pies before I found this recipe. I didn’t realize that apple pies did not have to be double-crusted. I didn’t know about crumble toppings. Making a double-crust apple pie seemed like far more work than I was capable of at the time. I was a newbie, and making an apple pie – a pie of any sort, really – seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. But this is a simple recipe, and I thought I could do it.

And I did do it. And it was delicious. I love it. I still don’t make apple pies very often, but this is my go-to apple pie recipe. Nothing beats it, for me anyway.

Apple slices piled up on apple slices. A thickened simple syrup turned deep brown by ground cinnamon. A soft crumble topping with just enough sweetness. It’s a simple pie that satisfies any apple pie craving I’ve ever had. It’s also very simple to make, especially if you use a storebought pie crust.

I don’t often share recipes on my blog because I don’t develop my own. I take other people’s genius and see what I can do with it. But because I legitimately cannot find a link for this recipe, I’m going to post it here, because I don’t think it’s fair to talk about how awesome something is and then not provide a way to make it happen for people who might be interested in it.

So, here you go.

 

Sweet Serenity Apple Pie

for the pie:
1 9″ pie shell, pre-cooked
2-3 apples of your choice (I usually use Gala because that’s what I have)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons cornstarch

for the topping:
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup flour
4 tablespoons butter, softened

Peel, core, and slice the apples thinly. Place in the pie shell, layering until all slices are used and the shell is full.

Combine sugar, water, cinnamon, and cornstarch in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and allow to cook down until thick, between 5-10 minutes. Pour evenly over the apples.

For the topping, combine the sugar, flour, and butter until crumbly. I just use my fingers to rub in the butter and get the consistency I want. It should be clumpy and not too sticky. Cover the pie with pieces of the crumb mixture. It will be a bit patchy, but that’s okay. It looks really nice with glimpses of the reddish filling peeking through the browned topping.

Bake at 350º for 35-40 minutes, until the topping is just lightly browned. Set aside to cool completely. The pie is just fine on its own, but it would also be terrific with some vanilla ice cream or slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Guinness Beef Stew

Source: Tracey’s Culinary Adventures (Guinness Beef Stew)

Every so often, usually when summer in our area lasts twice as long as it should and it’s still 90 degrees in October, I think wistfully about how nice it would be to live someplace where seasons actually exist. And then the first cold night of the season arrives, and I think, nope, I’m good. I make some cold weather comfort food, which is really one of the only reasons I like cold weather.

I find it nearly impossible to enjoy pot pies and stews before October and after March. These are meals that are meant for cozy evenings, enjoying the warmth of home when it’s too cold to think about going outside. Which is too bad, because I love cold weather meals. I love autumn and winter vegetables. I look forward to October every year because I’m so sick of salads and dishes that aren’t uncomfortable to make when it’s 100 degrees outside. Nobody wants to have the oven going for three hours when the AC unit is rumbling all day long in an attempt to keep the house at a livable temperature.

And this stew takes about three hours in the oven. It actually could have stayed in for a bit longer, but the meat was still fall-apart tender, the potatoes were cooked through but not mushy, and the carrots added a bit of crunch.

Everything blended together so well in this one-pot dish. The Guinness didn’t overwhelm any of the other flavors, though my husband did comment that the gravy tasted “like root vegetables,” so maybe a little more Guinness was called for. But my husband will always say yes to more beer, so I’d be surprised if he didn’t approve of that idea.

About three-quarters of the way through making the stew, I was a bit concerned about the thickness of the gravy. Beef stew needs a nice, thick gravy, otherwise you’re just eating soup, right? I resisted the urge to do any doctoring, placing my trust in the ingredients and the wonderful magic that happens to them by adding heat. Good thing too, because the stew came together beautifully with a lovely thick gravy that tasted amazing.

Rating: 5 stars. Yes, this was a very tasty meal. I don’t like pot roasts, but I do like stews. There are a couple of daubes in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table that are absolutely terrific and should be made at least once a year. But this was an excellent meal in its own right and should certainly be considered a fine example of the humble (but delicious) beef stew.

Will I make it again? You bet. I would make a couple of minor changes. I’d cut the carrots smaller to allow them to cook a bit more. I’d serve it with a nice, soft roll to help soak up all the tasty Guinness-rich gravy. I’d even consider leaving out the potatoes and serving the stew over mashed potatoes instead, because seriously, the gravy is pretty awesome.

This one is going into my “saved” recipes file, and I’ll be happy to make it again in the future.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms in Cream

Source: The Kitchn (How to Make Roasted Pork Tenderloin)

Sometimes, simple is best, and this is very simple. We do pork tenderloin every once in a while, and this is generally how I cook. Seasoning can be as simple as just salt, pepper, and garlic granules. It’s really good with some Dijon mustard rubbed into it, especially if it’s left to marinate for a while. This time, I didn’t have any mustard, so I added some Worcestershire sauce. And too much salt. I also overcooked it a little. Oops. Can’t be perfect all the time.

I served this with some leftover mashed potatoes that had been made with all sorts of delicious and fattening things: butter, milk, and cream cheese. Probably also a splash of heavy cream, but I really can’t remember. I don’t usually add heavy cream to my mashed potatoes, so maybe not.

Heavy cream definitely went in with the mushrooms though. This pork tenderloin benefits a lot from a little sauce, and I had a feeling that the mashed potatoes would too. So while sautéeing the mushrooms, I added a splash of red wine and let them simmer in that for a few minutes. Then I added a half-cup of heavy cream and let that thicken up a bit. It did not get as thick as I would have liked, but it was too late to add flour, and I was out of Wondra. So the “sauce” wasn’t very sauce-like, but it went well with the potatoes and added a nice creaminess to the mushrooms and the meat.

The toddler does not like mashed potatoes, but she ate a few bites with the sauce. She used to love mushrooms, but that is so 2014 and she doesn’t eat them anymore. The pork she will dig into if she has ketchup to go along with it. Ketchup would not be my first choice for this pork, but I’m an adult so what do I know.

Rating: 4 stars. This is not a remarkable dish, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a fairly simple weeknight meal. Pork tenderloin goes a long way, and it’s very easy to cook, which is why I like it for weeknights. Also, the toddler likes it, so that’s a bonus. The mushrooms weren’t quite as I wanted them, but they were still a very nice addition on the plate. And the mashed potatoes were leftovers from a previous night, but that just means they didn’t go to waste.

Would I make it again? This is my go-to recipe for pork tenderloin, so yes I would. Not sure I would do the mushrooms quite the same way, but it’s something I’d play a little with to see what works best for us. Mashed potatoes are like a blank canvas for me – I use whatever I have around, be it cream or random cheeses or cream cheese or even buttermilk. Whatever works. All three of these components work together, but they’d work with other foods too. Which is why simple is such a good thing.

Lemon Chicken with Roasted Kabocha and Brussels Sprouts

Source: Food Network Magazine (Lemon Chicken with Butternut Squash)

I have a soft spot in my heart for Food Network Magazine. In the days before I had a toddler dancing around my legs and stealing my free time, I could start cooking at 3 in the afternoon. I could take my time, and it wouldn’t matter if we ate at 6 or 7. I could skip over the “Weeknight Meals” section of the magazine and move on to more advanced fare that usually involved time and technique.

Now, I don’t usually start cooking until my husband gets home, which is roughly 90 minutes before dinner time, which I aim to have on the table at 6. Or at least by 6:20. If I don’t wait for my husband to come home and distract our toddler, she stands at my side and shouts, “See? See! See?!” until I give in and let her bring her step-stool over or I give up and wait for Daddy to come home.

In other words, the “Weeknight Meals” section of Food Network Magazine has become my favorite part of the magazine. I go for the lower-calorie ones (in my world, 600 calories or less, which rules out about 25% of the recipes) that use seasonal ingredients or are easily adapted to them. And, of course, they have to past certain tests: does the recipe require onions, peppers, or other things we do not like? Can those ingredients be replaced without the dish completely falling apart? Does the husband agree that this would be nice to eat? Does it fit into the weekly meal plan? Will the toddler consider eating it, or will she be having a dinner consisting of Greek yogurt and a veggie pouch?

This recipe passed muster, with two changes: I used kabocha squash instead of butternut squash, and I added Brussels sprouts, because green vegetable.

We like butternut squash, but we like kabocha better. Kabocha is a Japanese pumpkin with a green, edible skin and orange flesh. It’s the only kind of pumpkin I ever saw while living in Japan, but that was okay, because it’s delicious. It’s sweeter than a butternut squash and can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, and stir-frys. In Japan, it’s often served in tempura dishes (and it is awesome this way) or as nimono, which is simmered in a stock of soy sauce and sake (also very tasty). But sometimes simplest is best; more often than not, I just sprinkle it with salt and pepper, apply olive oil, and roast it. Perfect.

The toddler loved it last year, and it took a little prodding before she remembered that she loved it. She ate her fair share of this time around, though she would not touch the Brussels sprouts, which were roasted along with the kabocha. I don’t blame her for that. I was 30 before I realized Brussels sprouts could be worth eating. She did eat the chicken but only after I gave her ketchup, which is pretty much the way things work around here. She ate the meat, that’s the important thing.

Overall, this got 3 stars out of 5. The veggies were a 5, the chicken not so much. Partially my fault for over-cooking them a bit, but the seasonings didn’t do much. Chicken with lemon is alright but not mind-blowing.  A little lemon cream sauce would have been a nice addition and would have gone with the veggies too. It was very easy to make (other than the tedious job of cutting up kabocha and trimming Brussels sprouts), so that’s always a plus.

Would I make it again? Nah, probably not. I can roast vegetables on my own, and I can do chicken better than this. I might do variations, but this recipe won’t be a repeat.

What We Ate

Once upon a time, I used to write a blog. It was a bit of a random blog, in which I would write just about anything that was currently on my mind. Very often, food was on my mind. But because other things infiltrated and simply had to be written about, I never made the decision to dedicate the blog entirely to one thing or another.

I think I’ve changed my mind about that.

You see, I’m still writing, but it’s been focused almost entirely on novel writing. I finished a draft this year, and I hope that it will turn into a submittable novel manuscript next year. But it means that other writing areas have suffered, like my blog. I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would, except for the food part. I do miss writing about food.

So, that’s what this blog is for. Just food. I don’t have any plans to write about anything else, mostly because I haven’t had much interest in writing about anything else (blog-wise, that is; I still intend to work on my fiction writing, but that’s not being blogged). It’ll be fulfilling a couple of my needs.

First, it’s the best way for me to keep track of what I make and when I make it. I do meal plan by the week, but I keep the record on a white board that gets erased at the start of every week. At least 80% of the meals I cook are made from recipes that I’ve never tried before, so it’s nice to have a more permanent record of what we liked and what we didn’t like, or any variations that might make the meal better. It’ll also (hopefully) help me remember what our toddler liked and what left her completely uninterested.

Second, I like sharing food with people. Because I’m limited in my meal-making to just our family of three, this is the best way to do that.

Third, I like sharing recipes. Let me be clear: I don’t write my own recipes. I don’t improvise meals, I don’t make them up on my own. 99% of the time, I cook from a recipe. I have plenty of cookbooks to draw from, thousands of pins to sort through on Pinterest, and a monthly delivery of Food Network Magazine to peruse. So I’ve got a lot of resources at my fingertips; there’s always something new to try. I keep a few classic recipes on hand: my chicken pot pie is tried-and-true, my roasted chicken never varies because we love the way I do it so much, and sometimes you just can’t beat a simple sauteed steak or oven-roasted vegetables.

I don’t really know what my goals for this blog are. A post a day? Maybe. Probably not. When I remember to do it? Well, more often than that, I hope. When there’s something I particularly want to share? Well, yes, absolutely. At least, I hope so. I just don’t want to end up neglecting this blog, not when I still very much want to write about the food I make.

Food is an adventure, writing is an adventure, and I’m eager to keep combining the two.