Saturday, November 28, 2009

My First Thanksgiving!

The spread

I really, really wanted to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year. I kind of toyed with the idea last Thanksgiving, but I had to work and there just wasn't time. This year I planned ahead and asked off several days, and Mom agreed to let me cook *and plan* everything.  Actually, she was pretty happy about not having to be the Thanksgiving cook for the first time in 20-ish+ years.  Of course, she was happy to help.

I've been looking forward to it for weeks.  I kept the menu simple, because it was just the immediate family, and well, obviously I'd never tackled Thanksgiving dinner before.  Here's the menu I ended up going with:

Rustic Bread Stuffing with Red Mustard Greens, Currants, and Pine Nuts
Glazed Carrots with Molasses and Marjoram
Bacon and Thyme Sauteed Brussels Sprouts- didn't use a recipe here
Dinner Rolls (Um, not homemade- I'm not that ambitious) (this year)


Cranberry-Apple Crumble Pie

I'm not going to post every recipe because I think that would feel monotonous. Instead, I'm going to walk you through my cooking and planning process.

The day before Thanksgiving, I made the pie. 

Fall flavors

I've never really been partial to cranberry sauce, and neither has the rest of my family.  I think my mom has always felt kind of obligated to make it because it's "traditional".  I decided to get rid of it.  This recipe appealed to me because I was still able to work cranberries into the menu.  The tartness of the cranberries worked really well with the softly-sweet Gala apples.

Going into the oven

For some reason, I've messed up a few pie crusts lately, so I was a little nervous about this one.  I used lard for the first time as a substitute for shortening.  I ended up scrapping the first one I made because I thought it came together a little too quickly. The second crust acted much better though, so I went with it.  The crumble topping didn't go on until halfway through the baking process.

Coming out of the oven

The recipe was actually pretty simple, so I kept my fingers crossed that it was a keeper. I'll come back to the pie.   


I also got a little prep work done the day before the big dinner.  I bought the Brussels sprouts on the stalk because they were soo much prettier than the pre-bagged ones.  

Just found out recently that Brussels sprouts were members of the cabbage family.
Don't know why that surprised me.

So, I cut all the Brussels sprouts off the stalk, trimmed them, and blanched them. This way, I figured, all I would have to do for dinner would be to slice them and toss them in a saute pan with some bacon, garlic, and thyme (my favorite way of cooking them).


Thanksgiving day, I woke up excited and ready to cook. I started, of course, by getting the turkey ready to go into the oven.  I love sage, and apple cider makes me think of fall, so this recipe seemed perfect to me.


Mom and I thought it was strange that the recipe didn't call for anything to go into the cavity of the bird.  So, we decided to stuff it with some onion, lemon, and more sage.

My dad made the comment that there is nothing pretty about a raw turkey.

So, in the turkey went.  While it roasted, we prepped the stuffing.  It could be made a couple hours ahead of time, which was great so it could be in the pan and ready to go when the turkey came out.


I was excited about this recipe because I love pine nuts, and I didn't want a meaty stuffing because of the bacon in the Brussels sprouts.  I thought the greens would be a nice touch.  Alas, Mother couldn't find red mustard greens at her little Morganton grocery stores, and I went to three places here in Charleston and couldn't find them either.  What really upset me the most is that I know they had them at the farmer's market, but I couldn't get off work last Saturday morning to get them.  So, we substituted kale for the greens, and it worked out fine.  We also substituted orange zest for lemon zest because I thought it might be a nicer flavor with the currants.  I added some extra chicken stock, because it seemed a little dry and I wanted to make sure it bound together properly. 


Basting the bird

Also, Margaret brought some nice cheese and wine from A Southern Season, where she works in Chapel Hill. God, I love that place.  We enjoyed some bubbles and cheese while we were waiting for dinner. 

 Triple cream, Gruyere, and a local goat cheese from Chapel Hill

Dad and Margaret looking skeptical

Mom and I taking a break

When it came time to take the turkey out of the oven, it got slightly hairy.  The stuffing and rolls went in, and I started sauteing the Brussels sprouts and carrots. After those were just finished, I started the gravy.  No, I don't have any pictures of the carrots.  Not sure why except that I just got a *little* busy.  So, here's a turkey picture:

Gobble gobble


A good one of Dad carving the turkey

Finally, we sat down and enjoyed our meal. Margaret brought several bottles of red, including a Valpollicella Ripassato, a Rioja, and a Tempranillo from Argentina. We drank them in that order, and they were all delicous.

 Oh yeah

The food turned out really well! I loved the flavor of the gravy.  The stuffing was a hit, although we all agreed I could have doubled the kale and added a bit more stock as a binder.  The flavors were right on though, I just love greens and could have had more.  The carrots were a little sweet, even though I cut back on molasses and added apple cider vinegar. I didn't really mind the sweetness, because they were kind of like a substitute for a tradidional sweet potato or yam dish (another Thanksgiving tradition no one in my family is particularly fond of).

Didn't think I would forget, did you?

I absolutely loved the pie.  Considering how easy it was, it really turned out well.  The lard made the crust nice and flaky, and the overall flavor was nicely refreshing, not cloyingly sweet like some holiday desserts. I would totally make this again.


So, I think that pretty much covers it! I really enjoyed myself, and of course, spending time with the family was the best part by far.   

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chapel Hill

So, this week, I returned to Chapel Hill to go see The XX with my friend Cindy. It was the first time I have been to the Local 506, and I thought it was a pretty cool little venue.  We had a great time at the show, and of course, ate some good food while we were in town.


We ended up pretty hungover the day after the concert, so Cindy and I went to Franklin Street in search of some good bar food.  We ended up at Spanky's, where we enjoyed a couple of Bloody Marys. I devoured a club sandwich with ham, turkey, bacon, and Russian dressing.

hangover cure at Spanky's


For dinner, the three of us were all strangely craving some good sushi. So, we went to Margaret's favorite spot in Chapel Hill, Akai Hana.  We sat at the sushi bar, and the chefs gave us each a little bowl of cucumber, crab, and sesame salad to start with.  It was a really nice little palate cleanser.

Cucumber salad at Akai Hana

We ordered some edamame and several rolls to share.  Along with some beers and hot sake, it was a fun, enjoyable dinner.

Pretty little sushi platter at Akai Hana

To keep up with tradition, Cindy, Margaret, and I ended up at Lantern for cocktails.  Still haven't eaten there, which is kind of a bummer, but we loved our drinks. This time, Cindy ordered the Strange Acquaintance, which sounds kind of strange but tasted pretty good. It had whiskey, ruby port, Blenheim spicy ginger ale, and egg whites. I got the Cunning Kimono, which was house infused jasmine flower vodka, honey, and a lemon twist.  Margaret had the Junebug, which was my favorite of the three. It was made with Pimm's liquor, fresh ginger, lemon soda, and a cucumber.

Strange Acquaintance, Cunning Kimono, and Junebug cocktails at Lantern  

I love the little darkly-lit bar.  Maybe someday I'll actually eat there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Pork Roast Dinner


 I know, I know, it seems like I just posted about a pork roast.  The truth is, they're really cheap! When I find one on sale, I can't help but to grab it up, even if I'm not exactly sure what to do with the cut.  This particular cut was a pork sirloin roast, and was very easy to make. I just followed this simple recipe on for Honey, Mustard, and Rosemary Glazed Pork Roast.


So, to change things up, I'm not going to focus this post on the pork.  Instead, I want to showcase the beautiful acorn squash I picked up at the Farmer's Market this week.

I wasn't too sure what I wanted to do with these

I've really wanted to experiment with squash recently, but Brandon gets a little finicky when I mention the idea.  Upon my continual prying, he finally admitted that he doesn't really like sweet preparations (brown sugar, marshmallows, etc.). Which makes me kind of sad. But, alas, you can't always get everything you want, so I set out to find a savory recipe. I finally found a recipe that I deemed acceptable for both of us on, which I used as a base for this recipe:

Savory Roasted Acorn Squash
2 medium acorn squash
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 onions, thinly sliced (the original recipe called for 2 onions, which seemed like just a little too much in the end)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup chicken stock (use your judgment here)
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce (here as well)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  

Cut acorn squash in half. Roast them cut side up on a baking sheet for 50 minutes or until the flesh is just tender.  Let the squash cool for 20 minutes. 

Going into the oven

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter; saute the onions.  Stirring occasionally, cook the onions for 10 minutes, or until they begin to brown at the edges. Mix in the garlic, ginger, coriander, and nutmeg. Cook the mixture 2 minutes more, then remove the pan from heat.

Spoon the seeds and stringy middle out of the squash, and discard these. Spoon out the flesh, chop it and add it to the onion mixture. Discard the skins.  Heat and stir the squash-onion mixture.  Add chicken stock and applesauce to moisten the mixture, as it may seem a bit dry.  Gently mix the ingredients, adding more stock and applesauce if the mixture still seems dry.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve hot. 

Finishing up the squash, sauce, and brussels sprouts.

To round out the dinner, I made some easy Brussels sprouts.  I washed and trimmed them, taking off all bitter outer leaves.  Then, I boiled them until they were tender.  I cooled the Brussels sprouts and roughly chopped them while the squash was roasting. When I was starting to finish up the squash and the pork sauce, I browned some chopped bacon with a little garlic, and added the Brussels sprouts to the pan.  Finished with a little salt, pepper, and dried thyme, and it was as easy as that. 

The final product

 All in all, this was a pretty easy dinner to make.  Roasting the pork and squash took a little time (I roasted the pork first, then the squash. Probably could have done them at the same time, but I was happy doing it this way), but it gave me time to get everything cleaned up.  I was also able to enjoy a couple of leisurely glasses of wine with Brandon.  Who, by the way, enjoyed the not-so-sweet squash.   

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Rare Sunday Morning

The pampered and the pauper

Rare because I usually have to work the dreaded brunch shift.  Indeed, I was scheduled to work a double (as usual), cocktailing tonight.  When I came in though, we had too many servers on and I was asked if I wanted the morning off. Which, of course, I did.

So, what to do?

I visited my favorite coffee shop right down the road, Alchemy Coffee. Got their signature coffee, The Alchemist, which is a mocha sprinkled with a bit of cayenne pepper.  The cayenne adds a nice spicy complexity to the cocoa/coffee flavor.

Picked up a Sunday paper (which I never do) and read the entire thing, front to back. 

Spied on Bam Bam spying on the black kitty outside.

And.. made a big batch of breakfast hash.  I had a leftover baked potato from lunch the other day ( I always bake one extra with this very breakfast in mind) (Mom gets props for teaching me to do this) that I chopped up.  To start, I sauteed the onions and garlic until they softened.  In the meantime, I cooked a couple boneless chicken breasts (one for the hash, and one to have in the fridge for the next random meal) (are you seeing the trend?) and steamed a bunch of broccoli florets.  Add the potatoes to the onions, brown, and add the chicken.  In goes the broccoli, some frozen corn, salt, pepper, chili powder, dried thyme, and it looks like this:

This is one of my dad's favorite breakfasts

Then, cook an egg.

Still trying to perfect this art

 You know what to do next.


Now that I'm fat and happy, I have to go back in for the night shift. Boo. At least I had a nice morning :)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween Sugar Cookies

Sprinkling a bat

This is my Halloween post, part II.  I really felt the need to make these cookies, even though they were pretty tedious and time consuming.  I recruited Caroline to help me with the decorations. I took my recipe from The Joy of Cooking, doubling both the cookie batter recipe and the frosting recipe:
Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup white or brown sugar (I used white)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used half almond extract because I love the flavor)
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in remaining ingredients.  Chill the dough 3 to 4 hours before rolling.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out, cut, and place cookies on a greased or lined cookie sheet. Bake 7 to 12 minutes.

Ready to be decorated

 I also took the frosting recipe from The Joy of Cooking:

1 lb (4 cups) confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2 to 4 tablespoons milk or heavy or light cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Site confectioner's sugar into a large bowl.  Add and mix the remaining ingredients and mix well with an electric mixer.  Continue beating until frosting is smooth.  It will be slightly stiff.  Add more liquid to reach the proper consistency.

I didn't know they sold black food coloring!

The frosting actually tasted really good. We separated the frosting and made three different colors: black, orange, and white. For white, I read that one or two drops of blue food coloring helps the color stay bright.

Ready to play

Then came the fun part. We had a blast decorating these special cookies.  We had a few tubes of decorative gels as well as some colored sugars. 

Feeling silly


So, we took these into work on Halloween and everyone  enjoyed them. However, there were a lot of bats left over. For some reason, no one seemed to want them (black frosting not appealing?). I was supposed to work a double and actually ended up getting cut... kind of think the cookies helped me get the night off!