Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving: The Inedible

The very first thing that I set out to make on Wednesday morning actually went wrong. It was my mum's cranberry-orange relish which - let's face it - is just cranberries and oranges and doesn't even involve any cooking. So this did seem like a Portent of Doom. It just came out too orangey - inedibly orangey.

Then there was this...

Yes, my gravy was inedible too. Thought I was being so clever doing Mark Bittman's Make-Ahead Gravy the day before. But something went astray with my roux - even though I cooked it for about 15 mins, the gravy still tasted floury. What did I do wrong?

So at the last minute I pulled out my backup can, and went with that instead - though did add some of the very impressive pan juices that a less clueless and terrified person would have been able to use... :(

Last on the inedible list were the roast potatoes, which I cut up too far in advance and turned black while I wasn't looking. I hoped they'd still somehow go crispy and golden in the oven, but nope.

But still...

We give thanks for the fabulously fun company.

And I give thanks for Jack and his incredible patience.

And for leftovers!

Thanksgiving dinner - done!
All in all, it was a blast.

Thanksgiving: The Acceptable

Here it is - kinda, there were peas too (this is a shot of the leftovers). Doesn't look too bad, does it?

Actually forgot to mention that I made an apple galette too (again, no pictures), which came out fine and joined a delicious lemon pie and some rice krispie treats made by our guests, and a pumpkin pie from the old Italian bakery next door (pumpkin pie much too daunting to attempt).

But other things were a bit more, shall we say, challenging...

The main problem was - all together now - timing.

The turkey got off to a good start, but then I worried it would be ready before our guests arrived, so slowed it down by covering it with foil.

But then I put the stuffing and the veggies in the oven and everything seemed to grind to a halt. Nothing was cooking.

So I turned up the oven a bit. And then suddenly everything was done all at once. Which was a bit of a problem, as I still had to rest and carve the turkey, reheat the cabbage, cook the carrots and peas, fix the gravy, etc. Panic!!

The Recipe: Basic Roast TurkeyAdapted from various sources, including Mark Bittman and the NY Times, which was running a very helpful and funny Thanksgiving web hotline.

Our 10lb turkey (very scary and repulsive).

1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. Prepare turkey: remove neck and giblets; rinse, pat dry; put onions and lemons into cavity (I used 1.5 onions, quartered, and a couple of lemons, halved), with some herb sprigs (I used thyme); rub outside with 3 tbspns melted butter, salt & pepper.
3. Put on rack in large roasting pan. Add 0.5 cup water to bottom of pan. Roast for 30 mins, then turn oven down to 325F.
4. Continue to roast, checking every 30 mins, basting if desired (people don't seem to think this is worth doing, I didn't bother). Cover top with foil if browning too much. Add 0.5 cup water to pan if it dries out.
5. Roast until done (temperature read in thickest part of thigh, not touching bone, is 165F). Allow approx 10-15 mins per pound.
6. Remove from oven, and allow to rest approx. 20 mins before carving.

Sounds so easy. Huh.

The Recipe: Roasted Vegetables
From my friend Kate.

I used half a butternut squash, 4 parsnips, 2 yams, 4 yukon gold potatoes, and had about twice as much as we needed (6 people).

1. Chop veggies into small-ish cubes (about 1.5 inches). Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper, and toss to cover.
2. Roast at 400F (yes, a problem right there) for approx 30-40 mins or until done, tossing occasionally to make sure they don't stick and are roasting evenly.

The Recipe: Macheesmo's Favorite Stuffing
From Macheesmo.

My sister recommended the one she uses every year - it's truly gorgeous, but rolling logs was well beyond my capabilities.

Before all the trouble started.

I left out the chestnuts (as he suggested). His only problem with the stuffing is its tendency to be too moist. This is not an issue if you burn it to a crisp.


Oh, where to start?

The problem began, I think, with me trying to slow down the turkey. Too late (i.e. the next day) I saw the entry on the NYTimes blog that said you shouldn't do that - the turkey will be fine sitting and waiting for everyone/everything else to catch up. Better to have lukewarm, moist turkey than hot, dry turkey.

I'd hoped to start the veggies and stuffing alongside the turkey, then crank up the oven after it came out to finish them off. But that all went wrong.

Then I forgot to switch off the oven after removing the turkey, so even though they were done (perhaps perfectly) at that point, the veggies and stuffing sat there, overcooking, for the next 20 mins.

The veggies survived, but the stuffing was a travesty of its no doubt delicious self.

But the end result was still edible (mostly, see above), no-one got food poisoning, and only one person apart from Jack saw me have a very tiny meltdown.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving: The Good

So, back when all this started, I made a rash vow to cook a proper Thanksgiving dinner for Jack, without opening a single packet, jar, or can. I also promised to have a dinner party, "for maybe six people, with multiple courses, and appropriate side-dishes, all made by me, and produced without any visible panic or weeping."

And it came to pass that these things combined - a miscellaneous bunch of Europeans and wayward Americans gathered in our apartment for Thanksgiving dinner, and made it out alive.

First I'll tell you about the things that went well...

We started out with a bruschetta/crostini-type setup - toasts and french bread with various toppings - the ones below, plus an olive-garlic tapenade that I bought. People really seemed to like them. (But don't have any pictures, sorry.)

The Recipe: Tomato Bruschetta/Crostini
Adapted from How to Cook Everything (10th Anniversary Edition) by Mark Bittman

To make real bruschetta you're supposed to brush the bits of bread with olive oil and grill or broil, then rub with garlic. I didn't do any of that - the oven was otherwise engaged, and I can't eat garlic.

I just mixed together the following:

  • Two large vine-ripened tomatoes, core and seeds removed, and chopped
  • About a quarter of a red onion, diced
  • Torn basil leaves, to taste (hmm, maybe about a quarter cup?)
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
Serves 6 (as one of 3 toppings).
The Recipe: Pesto
Adapted from How to Cook Everything (10th Anniversary Edition) by Mark Bittman

  • 2 loosely packed cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
  • Half a garlic clove, peeled, or more to taste (I leave this out)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (I use 3 to make up for the lack of garlic)
  • 0.5 cup freshly grated Parmesan, pecorino Romano, or other hard cheese
  • 0.5 cup olive oil (I use probably half this amount)
  • Salt, to taste
Makes about 1 cup (probably less without all the oil; anyway, it was plenty for 6 people, we had some left over which we can have with pasta when we're sick of turkey).
Combine ingredients in food processor or blender with about half the oil. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container as necessary, and adding remaining oil gradually. Add more if you prefer a thinner mixture.
The Recipe: Traditional Cranberry SauceFrom How to Cook Everything (10th Anniversary Edition) by Mark Bittman
This came out perfectly. What can I say? You might miss the way the canned stuff glops out of its tin, but you won't miss the tinny taste.
  • 4 cups (about 1 lb) fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed, or frozen cranberries
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
Makes about 1 quart.
1. Combine the cranberries, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries are broken, 10-15 mins.
2. Transfer to a bowl; cool, then chill until ready to serve. The sauce can be refrigerated, covered, for up to a week.

The Recipe: Red Cabbage
Adapted from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook, 1949 edition (this is the one my mum has, I managed to find a copy on eBay)

My dad was the red cabbage maestro in our house. I left out a couple of things (apple, flour) that I'm pretty sure he didn't use. It tasted exactly like the stuff he used to make.

  • 1 2.5 lb head red cabbage
  • 0.75 cup water
  • 3 tbspn butter
  • 0.25 cup vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
  • 0.25 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • Salt & pepper to taste (they say 2 tspn salt, but that might be a lot, can't remember exactly how much I used)
They says it serves 6, but that would be 6 people who only eat red cabbage for dinner.
1. Shred cabbage medium fine. Put in large pan; add water; cook, covered, 10 mins.
2. Add remaining ingredients; cook 10 mins, or until tender.

But what about the rest of the dinner? That will have to wait till tomorrow...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Tale of Two Soups: Curried Squash & Fiery Coconut Tofu

It was the best of soups... it was the worst of soups...

Yes, one soup was gorgeous, the other was the first truly inedible thing I've made this year.

Bad soup first.

The Recipe: Fiery Tofu & Coconut Curry Soup
From a copy of Cooking Light magazine that appeared in our mailbox.

One thing I've (re)learned through all this cooking is just how trusting aka gullible aka dimwitted I am. Oh, what a lot of curry paste that is, she says to herself as she obediently dumps it into the pot.

When, of course, what a sensible person would say is: A quarter-cup of curry paste?!! That can't be right! And would then cross-check in some other recipes and find that it is right only if you never want to feel your lips again.

The bizarre thing is that, if the comments are to be believed, people have fed this to their children!!

As for us, we picked out the tofu and vegetables, nibbled on them as best we could, and sadly threw the soup away.

I dunno - maybe our curry paste is just much stronger than the stuff they used... But the idea of the soup was nice, and maybe one day years from now when the memory of nuclear-holocaust-mouth has sufficiently faded (and Jack has forgotten what he delicately called his "ring of fire" the next day) I'll try it again with some crucial adjustments.

Now - the nice soup.

The Recipe: Curried Butternut Squash Soup
From Emily Weinstein on the NYTimes Bitten blog.

I actually first made this back in January, at the beginning of this whole enterprise, but didn't take any pictures. We were excited to have it again - it's really delicious, with just a light curried flavor :)

Made about 3/4 of the recipe, which is more than enough, and used some parsnips and sweet potato to supplement the half a butternut squash that we had - the parsnips especially turned out to be a nice addition.

It did come out a little thick, as Emily says, but we liked it that way, and you can always dilute it.