Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner

Here's my Thanksgiving recap. There were eight of us this year - me and my husband, my parents (who drove down from Chicago), and four international students from the local university whom we have become friends with. So naturally, I felt compelled to make more food this year. I mean, last year there were only five of us, so I had to make more so that we didn't, uh, run out. Truth be told, we were never in danger of running out of food. We probably had two-thirds of the food leftover even after all of us had stuffed ourselves to the point of discomfort. My main goal actually was to not cook for the rest of the long weekend for the four of us, and so far so good. Well without further ado, here's the recap on what I made this year:

The bird

I made the same turkey as I did last year - Alton Brown's brined turkey. I bought an 18 pounder, since we had a 15 pounder last year for the five of us. This year I knew better and started defrosting it on Sunday rather than Monday, and I did not forget to take out the neck bag from the inside of the turkey like I did last year. I was a little disappointed with the turkey this year. I overcooked it probably by half an hour. The recipe says cook until the breast was 161 degrees, and it kept staying in the 150s even though I was well past the estimated cooking time. I don't know if I just bought a bad meat thermometer or what. It took about 4 hours total to cook the turkey. I just remember it being so moist last year... although I think that I have romanticized my Thanksgiving dinner experience from last year since it was my first Thanksgiving dinner that I have ever made. Everything turned out so much better than I had expected last year, since my expectations were fairly low. So in my head, I think, the turkey I made had reached mythic proportions... it was so moist, so delicious, so flavorful! I think I just had such high expectations this year, since I have had a whole year to become better at cooking so I just assumed that this year's would be even better. Oh well. I think next time I will make a different turkey, just for variety's sake.

Wild Rice, Apple, and Dried Cranberry Stuffing

I made this one last year too. It was very good (a stick of butter certainly helps). I used Gala apples. I made two pans of it - we only ate 2/3rds of one pan on Thanksgiving, but then we had plenty of stuffing for four more meals over the weekend.

Roasted Carrots
Made this one last year, too, but this year I added the dill that the recipe calls for. I didn't read the recipe fully though, and added the dill before I roasted them rather than adding it at the end, which changed the flavor. My hubby and parents liked them this way though. I like carrots so much better roasted than raw or cooked on the stove - they become sweet, and I have read that they are better for you when they are roasted rather than raw. (I can't remember where I read this, but it was somewhere reputable. Trust me - I'm a doctor!).

Roasted Asparagus
This was a new one. Simple and good. I had to cook these probably about four minutes longer than the recipe called for. I made two bunches of asparagus but should have made three.

Basil Mashed Potatoes
This was loosely based on a Joy of Cooking recipe. I chopped up some fresh basil and threw it in there - makes it a little different. We used Yukon Gold potatoes.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Another JOC recipe. Same as last year, I used a little bit of fresh lemon juice and just a couple tablespoons of butter.

Pan Gravy
Same recipe as last year. It calls for three tablespoons of cornstarch - I needed four. It also calls for four cups of stock but I only used three - should have used four.

Cranberry Chutney
and Cranberry Sauce
I made the cranberry sauce last year, but the cranberry chutney was new. I thought I'd try a non-sweet one so people could have a choice. I thought the vinegar was too strong of a flavor, but otherwise this was pretty good. My parents actually preferred this one over the sweet sauce, probably because Filipino food tends to be more savory than sweet. Maybe I would used one less shallot also.

Apple Pie
Apple pies are harder to make than you would think. I was disappointed with my apple pie last year, so I tried a different recipe this year for a more traditional apple pie. I used Pillsbury refrigerated crusts, and used Granny Smiths instead of McIntosh. I guess Granny Smiths release a lot of water when they cook, because a few hours later when I cut into the pie, I had apple soup at the bottom of it! But the taste and the texture was very good. I think if I make this one again, I will either use McIntosh apples, use more flour, or fewer apples. Sigh. I will keep trying.

Spiced Pumpkin Pie

I also tried a new pumpkin pie recipe, just to toss it up a little. My husband really liked this pie, but I thought the molasses flavor was too strong. I could not find light molasses, so I used about 3/4 tablespoon of full molasses instead. I think I would prefer it without molasses entirely. I doubled the spices, which was just right.

Vermont Maple Bread Pudding with Walnut Praline
This was really, really good. The bread pudding is pretty rich though - eight eggs, one quart of cream, one cup of sugar, one cup of maple syrup... My Dad asked if I could give them the recipe, and I told him no, because I love my father and I want him to live for a long time. Once a year eating this is probably plenty. I thought the praline was good, but not really necessary. I cooked the sugar a little too long, so it had a faint burnt flavor (I think I toasted the walnuts one minute too long too). Next time I would only cook the sugar just long enough for it to turn brown. I had decreased the temperature on the stove when the sugar started boiling, but I needed to keep it at high until it melted. The praline was really tasty mixed in with vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla Ice Cream, Philadelphia-Style
This was my first egg-less ice cream that I have made at home. I, of course, used David Lebovitz's book The Perfect Scoop for this one. This was good - tasty, but not too rich since there were no eggs in it. I used 2 cups cream and 1 cup milk. I think it would be better if I had a really good vanilla extract - I used McCormick's which I think is just so-so. We used to have a big bottle of vanilla from Mexico that smelled and tasted awesome, but then I found out that most cheap Mexican vanilla is fake and contains rat poison, I poured it down the drain. I would like to get a bottle of Penzey's vanilla but it's so darn expensive.

Overall, the meal was a success. Everything was good, and everyone left with an overstuffed belly.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Orzo with Shrimp, Feta Cheese, and White Wine

I made this one for dinner this week. We had chicken and tofu other nights this week, and I was just feeling like shrimp. I had all the ingredients for this one on hand except white wine. We don't drink wine, so I had to go to my friendly neighborhood liquor store and pick up some. It was actually a fairly classy liquor store, right next to Kroger; lots of frou-frou wines with names that I had never heard of. I picked up a four pack of little single serving wine bottles (Sutter Home Sauvignon Blanc) - got that tip from the Chowhound forums. Apparently, opened wine goes bad, some say after three days. Now, I don't even like the taste of wine, so I probably wouldn't be able to tell a good wine from a rancid one. But the little four pack cost six dollars, and that way I don't waste a whole bottle of wine for one dish, when all I need is half a cup. Now I have three more little bottles for the next time I need white wine to cook with. So that's my tip for the day.

This dish tasted good, but was a little disappointing. One, because you could not really taste the feta. There were too many strong flavors in this recipe and they competed with one another. If I made it again, I would cut the amount of oregano and crushed red pepper in half, and cut down on the basil a little bit. Two, my husband took one bite and declared that it needed more tomato sauce. So he goes to the fridge and pulls out some Walmart spaghetti sauce and pours some onto his dinner! After I slaved over a hot stove to make a fresh, home-cooked meal - he puts Walmart sauce on top of it! He kind of sensed that I was not happy with his desecration of the dinner I cooked for us, and asked me if this was comparable to the time we had an acquaintance over for dinner (for Greek chicken kabobs over white rice) and she asked for salsa to put on the white rice. Now, if you want to insult an Asian person, an easy way to do this is put bottled salsa on top of white rice. My jaw may have dropped when she asked for salsa, I can't really remember.

Anyway, I will probably not make this again just because my husband didn't like it, even though overall I did. It's no fun cook things for dinner that are only enjoyed by half the people eating it. This did taste better the next day, though, after the flavors melded a little bit. Though I still really couldn't taste the feta.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mediterranean Couscous Salad with Roasted Vegetables

Tried this one recently because I had some couscous that I needed to use. I skipped the eggplant, only had one zucchini, subbed onions for leeks, and used more bell peppers to make up for the lack of other veggies. I also did not use olives or capers. I do recognize that my omissions and substitutions basically change the whole recipe, so I cannot comment on the actual recipe. This was okay; I guess I am just not a huge fan of couscous. I like the quinoa salads I have made so much more. If I made this again I would definitely use more zucchini and perhaps an eggplant, although my husband is not a big fan of them. I would also use the capers, but my husband does not like olives so I would continue to omit those. Yes, my husband is somewhat picky.