Thanksgiving 2009

A small gathering this year, just 4 people, Chris, my parents and I.

Not that I would let that stop me from making too much food. I had the usual suspects: turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing. Then, a few things to try. In consideration of my vegetarian mom, I make the stuffing with vegetable broth. This year I am also adding a wild rice dish, also vegetarian. I did not plan a strictly vegetable dish. I have a in-law family recipe for green beans as a back-up but I’m hoping no one misses it. I was never a fan of the green bean casserole anyhow. I also wanted to make an apple based dessert after buying a bag of Michigan Empire apples at Whole Foods.

For pre-dinner noshing, we had onion dip (from 101 cookbooks, a personal favorite of mine and always a hit at parties) and chips with cheese, crackers and a fruit platter.

Dinner is:

Smashed Red Skin Potatoes:  Made these last year too, but subbed thyme for rosemary this year. Still think they are awesome on every level. Creamy, good on their own but also tasty with gravy. The cream cheese adds a tangy level of flavor you won’t get using milk.

I am still interested in making a whole mean of mashed potato varieties some time, just not for a holiday dinner.

Wild Rice-Corn Casserole: From Pioneer Woman, using of  course, frozen corn because you can’t find fresh sweet corn in Michigan in late-November. Comments on PW’s site indicate this is either a love it or hate it dish. It was a love it dish for us. I added a little shredded cheese and onion crisps for the last 10 minutes of cooking (reasons listed below). My dad, the usually quiet type, actually commented on my Facebook about this dish!

Stuffing/Dressing: No recipe really. I used some stuffing cubes with seasoning, adding celery and onions, chopped apples, and vegetable broth, generally following the guidelines on the bag of cubes. Baked in the oven, separate from the bird, again in consideration of my mom’s needs. Chris doesn’t really like it this way and has been correcting my use of the word “stuffing” as it was not actually stuffed in the bird. Whatever.

Garlic-Rosemary Roasted Turkey: I brined the turkey overnight, just using salt, sugar and a handful of thyme plus a bit of rosemary. The next day, the turkey is thoroughly rinsed and allowed to air dry slightly. Then, using the cell phone photo of a recipe in Cooking Light magazine (as seen at the dentist on Wednesday but later located on the internet),  I created a butter-garlic-rosemary rub to put under the skin on the breasts then over the skin everywhere.

Gravy:  No picture, no recipe. After taking the turkey out of the oven, I removed it to a serving dish and covered it in foil to rest. The drippings from the pan were poured off and I set the pan over two burners set to medium. Using a wooden spatula, I scraped up the bits and goodies, then added a few tablespoons of flour to make a paste. I then added 2 cups of chicken broth before mixing in the drippings which had been skimmed of most of the fat. Cook over medium-low until a little less thick than you want at the table. Because of that garlic paste on the bird, this gravy was uber-garlicky. And delicious.

**Dandelion Greens: Even though I didn’t plan any green vegetable dish, my mom mentioned having a bag of dandelion greens and suggested I could do something with them. I wasn’t sure if Chris would like them as they can be quite bitter but he does like arugula, a lot. I really did not want to do something like creamed spinach or otherwise add a lot of cheese/cream/dairy to the greens. I decided to just saute them in garlic and olive oil with some lemon juice added at the end. I also added a bit of sugar to counter the bitter. I should have added a lot of sugar. Even then, though, I don’t think this dish was going to work. The leaves were fully wilted but the stems were still very crunchy, even after trimming a fair amount of stalk off. Either this batch was just far too bitter for anyone in the family to eat or every recipe on the internet is only for people who really like bitter greens because all the sauteed versions I found recommend cooking for no more than 10 minutes; seemingly nothing was going to make it less bitter except perhaps more sugar. Which defeats the purpose, in my mind.

Apple-Cranberry Crumble: No picture, sorry. Actually, my parents didn’t stay to eat dessert so Chris and I tried this later on. It was decent, the crumble topping was especially tasty- of course I’d expect that of something made with brown sugar and butter! I should have peeled the apples. The recipe is Martha Stewart but I found it by way of the blog Lisa is Cooking. As Lisa did, I skipped peeling the apples but I think I would have been happier if I had although it could just be that the Empire apples were not the best choice even though they are recommended for baking.  Maybe a little more sugar? I did add a few splashes of our apple brandy from Uncle John’s Cider Mill & Fruit Winery in St. Johns. I had planned to serve this with ginger ice cream but didn’t. I guess I’ll just have to eat that some other way!


Now that you know how the meal came out, let’s talk about how it was made.

The night before, I made the carmelized onions for the onion dip and cooked up the wild rice too. And of course, brined the turkey.

When my parents arrived Thursday morning, following the Lansing Turkey Trot, I made up the dip and pulled the turkey out of the refrigerator. We had our snacks and generally, I goofed around. I planned to have dinner about 5:30-6pm so there was plenty of time.

Eventually, I prepped the turkey (it sits out for 1 hour with the rub on it) and started assembling my stuffing, corn/wild rice dish and scrubbing potatoes.

The turkey is roasted at 500° for 30 minutes then the temperature turned down to 250° and cooked until thermometer in the thigh reads 165°. My turkey, round about 11 lbs was the same size as the recipe version so this should have equaled 2 hours.

During the initial 30 minute high-heat roast, you can really hear the fat cracklin in the oven. And, upon opening the oven to insert the thermometer for the 2nd phase, I set off our smoke detectors briefly.  Oops.  Our oven, a gas version, doesn’t actually have a reading for 250° on the dial. It goes from “warm” to 260° to 300°. Knowing that it runs a little cold anyway, I set it just below the 300° mark.

After about 45 minutes, I put the stuffing/dressing and the wild rice dish in the oven too. Normally, these only need 30-45 minutes but with the lower temperature for the slow-roasted bird, I decided this would work. The temperature on the bird was still rising so I didn’t pay much attention when I put these dishes in alongside.

Another 30 minutes later (so 1 hr 15 min down, 45 to go), I realize that A) the temp isn’t going up anymore and B) I don’t hear anything “cooking” in the oven. I open it up and immediately notice that abscence of heat. I fiddled with the control and couldn’t make the flame come up, even cranking it to broil. I realize this means the pilot has gone out- randomly since we never shut the oven off, at all. According to the directions on the oven, the door, racks and bottom of the oven have to be removed to access and light the pilot. Fortunately, the oven door comes off easily but we still had to take all the pans out. As I did so, it became apparent that the oven had been off for awhile as I could remove everything, including the roasting pan which had been in for 30 minutes at 500° degrees, with my bare hands.

After removing everything, finding a lighter and getting it lit, we started reassembly, only to have it go out again. It took four or 5 tries for it to stay lit. After you light the gas, you have to hold the knob down for 60 seconds and they should say “60 seconds minimum.” Of course, you can’t turn the oven to on yet because otherwise you’ll scorch a finger or two during reassembly.

All told, this process took 30 minutes and overall delayed dinner by about two hours. I still made gravy though- must have my gravy for my turkey. And potatoes. And stuffing.

Two notes:

**Notice the little gizmo next to the dandelion greens? Its our Vinturi wine aerator and it rocks! One of many wedding gifts used during this meal including new wine glasses and the platter upon which the turkey is sitting.

**The turkey recipe from Cooking Light advises you to remove the skin after the formal presentation. HA HA HA. Do it if you want but we did not want.

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Making it up as I go along, part deux

Now this, I really did just make up as I went along. I had to make a dish to pass for Thursday’s holiday luncheon at work. I planned to make something like the squash risotto but then I just did not feel like doing all the stirring required. And cutting up a hard, awkwardly shaped squash.

On our sign-up sheet I had marked “casserole” and US/Italy as the country (this year’s theme was international). A little departure from that but I definitely think I got the US of A part down!

All American Rice Casserole

Ingredients

1/2 bunch asparagus
1 small red onion
1 can creamed corn
5-6 cherry tomatoes, halved
Gouda cheese
brown rice (2 cups dry)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
chicken broth
nutmeg
sage
salt/pepper
1 mashed clove of garlic

Directions

  • I cooked the rice in the rice cooker first. Took about 40 minutes for 2 dried cups of short grain brown rice. I let that work its magic while we ate dinner (see Part 1). When ready, preheat oven to 350°.
  • Trim asparagus, set tips aside then cut stems in to 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Quarter the red onion then slice thinly.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds then add red onion. Sprinkle a little salt on the onions to encourage the water to come out.
  • Season onions with 1 teaspoon dried sage and 1/4 tsp nutmeg (I grated part of a whole nutmeg using a microplane grater). Reduce heat to medium-low and allow onions to soften and begin caramelizing.
  • Meanwhile, spread cooked brown rice in the bottom of a large casserole dish. Unless the rice is very moist, pour a 1/4 to 1/2 cup broth (chicken or vegetable) over it. Sprinkle generously with grated Gouda cheese. Spread 1 can of creamed corn over the rice and cheese. Season with 1 teaspoon dried sage and a dash or two of nutmeg.
  • When onions have just started to brown, add sliced asparagus stems to pan. Cook 2-3 minutes until asparagus turns bright green.
  • Spread onion-asparagus mixture over corn in casserole dish.  Cover completely with grated Gouda; get right up the the edge of the casserole dish.
  • Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove covering and raise temperature to 475 or turn on broiler. Scatter tomato halves, asparagus tips and sliced (or slivered) almonds over top of casserole. Cook 10 minutes more until almonds begin to turn light brown. I did this under the broiler, about 8-10 inches from the element. Closer in, I would say 5 minutes or less- watch for burning!
asparagus corn casserole

asparagus corn casserole

 


Since I really did just make this up as a I went along, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. Then I was late getting in the buffet line today and wondered if I’d get to try out my own dish! But I did. It was about 1/2 gone (and completely gone by the time the serving was over). I’m pleased but I would say that this dish is best served hot from the oven with the cheese bubbling. Being reheated and held in the oven dries out the rice.

From farm to fork

From my bag of treasures from yesterday’s Farm Market, we made corn on the cob for dinner last night. This is, by far, the freshest corn we’ve had this season. You know its going to be good when you put a hole in a kernel and the juice is sticky like sugar.

We don’t really have room for a grill, what with the herbs, tomato and pepper plants taking up the patio,  so I opted to just boil the corn on the stove.

Since I was buying this at the special Michigan Farmer’s Market and since the signs on the stand said “picked last night!” I didn’t really have to consider how fresh this corn was. BUT, if you are out shopping and don’t know when the corn was picked, consider the color and texture of the husks. Green and pliable is best. Also, the softer and lighter the silks are, the fresher the corn. Lastly, peel back a little bit of the husk and pierce a kernel with your fingernail. If the liquid is a little cloudy, its probably fresher corn. One thing you shouldn’t do is peel all the husks off at the store. I admit that leaving the mess there is nice but your corn will like you better if you keep the husks on till you get home.
Besides, if you want to grill your corn, you can use the husks as free wrappers. There are a few variables to consider when grilling corn on the cob.

  • Husk removal: You can take them all off and wrap the corn in foil. Or you can peel off all but the innermost 2-3 layers. That is what I do. You will want to peel back all the layers enough to remove the silk before you throw them on the grill. If your husks won’t stay on, use a little piece of kitchen twine around one end or create a tie with a narrow piece of husk.
  • To soak or not to soak: SOme people soak their ears (of corn!) in water prior to grilling. I can go either way on this one depending on time and type of grill. The water will help to steam the corn which can speed cooking along. But you lose some of the “grilled” flavor. Not so important on a gas grill but with a woodfire or wood chips, you might want to consider not soaking or a minimal soak.
  • Flavor enhancement: Grill them plain or add spices, herbs, oil or butter. WHen I’m really feeling ambitious, I’ll mix up a flavored butter which I then smear on the ears (under the husks) prior to grilling. Serve with more butter at the table. Some people prefer oil on the grill then topped with butter.

Since we just boiled ours last night, it was a really simple process. Boil a big pot of water. Add salt. Toss cleaned ears in pot, let boil 5-10 minutes. Done.

On the subject of salting the water, I read something at The Sustainable Kitchen about the proper salting of food. This was a hurdle for me, when learning how to cook. I grew up in a household that minimized using salt due to blood pressure concerns. Overtime, I learned to prefer low-salt versions of some things and my palate adjusted to the point where many common processed foods were too salty. I still prefer low-salt peanut butter and I would still buy reduced sodium canned goods because I’d rather add the salt myself. BUT, I do add salt now. I had to readjust my tongue but now I understand that foods should taste better- brighter and stronger, not salty, when properly seasoned. Alton Brown once referred to salt as a flavor enhancer not a flavor in itself. And we all know that Alton is a genius.

By the way, Mr. Brown is a fan of kosher salt which I also use. But lately I’ve become enamored of sea salts. Nothing fancy although there are some gourmet sea salts available. I use the fine texture and had found that it works well to pre-season meats but also as a table salt.


We ate our corn with a cranberry-brie stuffed chicken breast from The Fresh Market. I was really not excited about the chicken- not enough stuffing, never did find the brie and it took much longer to cook than indicated on the directions. I was saved from having to cut through the ties and lose all the juices by my handy-dandy probe thermometer. Another Alton Brown referral. You set the target temp, insert the probe and set the timer to beep when your targeted temperature is reached.

This salsa is great! Can I have the recipe?

I hosted a baby shower on Saturday for my best friend who is having a girl in August.  I had hoped to make a great spread of tasty appetizers but space and time being a premium this week, I went with veggie trays, cake from Sam’s Club and cheese and crackers instead.

But no party hosted by me is complete without something homemade.  A few weeks ago, I came across a recipe at 101 Cookbooks for a Cherry Macaroon Tart that sounded interesting and with Michigan being a big cherry growing state, figured I could get my hands on some nice fresh sweet cherries without much effort.  The cherries I did find were a little more tart than sweet but the tart was still pretty good. A lot was eaten at the shower and my dad was chowing on the leftovers today.

I knew I’d have some down time during the baking of the tart and decided I’d make some salsa too. I have a spinach dip I’m kind of famous for but didn’t have a food processor on hand for that.  Salsa only requires a knife and cutting board, which I did have. Oh, and this salsa required a can opener.

At the shower, I’m talking with some old friends and one says “I have to get the recipe for this from you.” I said okay, but its really hard and time consuming.


What you gotta do is….

a. chop up 1/2 a red onion

b. chop up 1 red bell pepper

c. Open a can of corn, a can of black beans, a can of fire-roasted tomatoes. Drain/rinse (beans).

Dump all of the above in a bowl.  Squeeze some lime juice over the veggies, add some chopped garlic and as much cilantro as you like plus a little salt and pepper. Mix it up.

Add chopped jalapenos as desired.

DONE!

Now, for the garlic, I actually sprinkled the salt over the chopped garlic then used the side of my knife to mash it in to a paste.  I let it all sit in the fridge overnight then adjusted the lime juice in the morning.

And I bought an avocado thinking I might dice that up and add it right before the shower. But then I didn’t so instead I’ll eat that avocado all by myself tomorrow with tuna over my salad, for lunch.

Easy-peasy salsa-reasy!


You could of course use fresh tomatoes if desired.  This “concept” for this salsa came about as I was packing up the pantry in anticipation of moving.  I just held out the cans of beans, corn and tomatoes.  And of course, tomato pickens’ are slim at the moment, what with all the deadly salmonella running around. Or not.  Or running around, not on tomatoes.