Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving: The Day or How to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner

So, I had a whole schedule set up and it seemed to give me a whole bunch of time from about 11-3. I was excited, it wasn't going to be a hard day at all. I should have remember that starting late and taking breaks would throw my timeline off, but we only started 1 hour behind schedule, so I think we did pretty well. (One of my big reasons for writing this is so that next year, I can do better - when I try to remember what to do).

My menu is pretty traditional.

Stuffed Mushrooms (new this year as finger foods while waiting for the meal)
Mashed Potatoes
Baby Peas
Brussel Sprouts (H. is bringing those)
Creamed Onions
Cranberry Sherbet
Faux Croissant Rolls
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Vanilla Ice Cream and/or Whipped Cream
The post for this is in the order that I was cooking, not the order that it was served.
I had put my bread crumbs (coated with plenty of sage, pepper and salt) in the oven the night before, but they weren't quite ready - so I turned the oven back on and then fell back asleep (not exactly according to plan) so they were a little darker than planned, but still tasted fine.

Once they were ready, I could make the stuffing and then get the turkey in the oven. The plan for this was 9am - I got it in by 10, so only 1 hour behind schedule right at the start.

This is my mom's recipe. It's easily enough for 15-20 people.

1 loaf of bread crumbs (well flavored with sage, salt and pepper)
3 apples
1 large onion (I actually used a small onion and 2 shallots that I happened to have)
1 box golden raisins
1 cup of pumpkin seeds
2 sticks of butter
  1. Melt the butter in a pan
  2. Toss in the onions, apples, raisins and pumpkin seed. Flavor with sage, salt and pepper (I used both white pepper and black fresh ground)
  3. Cook until the onions are clear
  4. Put the bread crumbs in a paper bag (I use 2 paper bags - double bagged), dump in the fruit mixture and shake it up

Cooking the turkey is the easiest part of Thanksgiving - but it's the part that impresses people the most. I've never had a problem and I've done just about everything wrong that you can do (like forgetting to take it out of the freezer, etc.). I did a 20lb bird for 10 people because I knew that I wanted plenty of leftovers - and really it is a lot of turkey.

1 Turkey
1 - 2 sticks of butter (softened)
Chicken or turkey stock
Pepper (both black and white)

  1. Stuff the turkey (this is optional - I do it because I like the taste and have never had a problem, but I know some people worry about it, so I also serve it separately)
  2. Mix the sage, thyme, pepper and salt in with the butter to taste (it should look pretty grey-ish green)
  3. Use your hands to get in between the turkey and the skin (just on top). Once you've got the space, take half of the butter and push it in between the turkey and the skin.
  4. Take the second half of the butter and spread it on the outside of the turkey

  5. Put the turkey in the pan and put in about an inch of the stock (I used to work water, but why not use stock - I used turkey, but chicken would be just as good)
  6. Put in the oven at 350. Cover the turkey with a sheet of aluminum foil for the first 3-4 hours. Remove it, but then keep an eye to make sure that it doesn't get too dark and put the foil back if it starts to (I put mine back after about 2 hours). Make sure that there's water in pan for the whole time as well (I think that's the magic to keeping the turkey moist).

I got complements on what a good looking turkey it was (butter makes the skin extra crispy), but I forgot to take a picture.

This is a must for Thanksgiving. It's totally simple though. If its good, 2 squash should feed about 15 (so I don't have quite as much leftover as I'd like).

2 butternut squash
1/2 - 1 stick butter
white pepper
maple syrup

  1. Put the butternut squash in the oven at 350 (I did it while the turkey was cooking) for about 1 hour (until a fork goes in easily)
  2. Let it cool til you can touch it. Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds and discard. Then scoop out the flesh into a bowl
  3. Add the butter and season to taste (I used about 2-3 T of maple syrup and 1-2 t each of salt and pepper)

I almost stopped seasoning my squash 2 times, but then just kept going. And everyone loved it - they said that it was the best squash ever (and I would say that I have to agree - it was amazing).

Creamed Onions
This is just a standard cream sauce, but if you do it right - it's delicious - especially with the onions. We added this to our family menu for my uncle, but now I love it.

2 packages frozen pearl onions (I made twice what I needed so you could probably half this)
1 stick butter
~4Tbsp flour
~2 cups of milk
white pepper (you may be noticing a theme, but I only use freshly ground black and I thought that it was too much for some of the dishes, so I highly recommend having the white pepper)

  1. Put the butter in the top of a double boiler and melt it
  2. Add flour until you have a smooth paste (not paste like from elementary school, somewhere between ketchup and mayo)
  3. Add milk slowly until you have a nice cream (it's still a bit watery - at least for me, I used skim milk), so then I kept it heating until I got it a little thicker - mostly done.
  4. Add the onions about 5-10 minutes before you remove from the heat (I put it back in the oven with about 30 minutes to go to heat it back up)

Stuffed Mushrooms
This recipe is one my friend K uses all the time. It was my first time making it. I ended up with a lot of extra stuffing - I need to figure this out.

30 oz mushrooms (big enough to stuff)
1 onion
1/2 - 3/4 cup Jarlsberg cheese (grated)
1/2 - 3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/2 - 1 cup
thyme (fresh if at all possible)

  1. Clean the mushrooms and remove the stems. Dice the stems in a food processor. Put the mushroom heads upside down in a pie plate
  2. Chop the onions and mix with the mushrooms, grated cheese, bread crumbs and thyme.
  3. Stir in the cream
  4. Make loose balls of the stuffing and put them in each of the mushrooms
  5. Bake for 25-35 minutes at 350

These went over very well. And they were the perfect little bites to stave off starvation without filling people up before the big meal.

Mashed Potatoes
I made about 7 lbs and have way more than I need - for 10 people plus good leftovers, probably 5 would have been enough.

7 lbs peeled potatoes
1 package cream cheese
1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 stick butter

These are just boiled then mashed. The key is to make sure that there's enough of the good stuff (cream cheese, butter and heavy cream) as well as that its well seasoned.

This is Step 3 - rolling them out and baking them.

Bread dough
1 beaten egg

  1. Take the previously made dough and divide in thirds
  2. Roll one of the thirds into a flat pancake (it should be about 12 inches in diameter)
  3. Cut into eight pie shapes
  4. Place a bit of egg at the tip of each triangle
  5. Roll the triangles into croissants
  6. Place on a baking sheet (I usually fit 12 on one). Brush the top with the egg and then dust with sugar. Let rise for 1/2 hour.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes (I usually put them in as everything else comes out and they're hot and ready to eat as everyone is actually seated)

Turkey drippings

  1. Remove the turkey from the pan and put it on top of two of your burners (assuming your pan is that big) - (This year I had to cook down my drippings a bit, but usually I just start with what I've got)
  2. Add flour to the drippings to create a paste
  3. Slowly add milk and keep stirring until its mixed in - I usually add 1/2 -1 gallon of milk (I use skim, but that's only because that's what I've got)

Baby Peas
2 packages frozen baby peas

  1. Microwave and serve

It is absolutely not Thanksgiving for me without the peas. I mix the peas in with the potatoes, stuffing, turkey and gravy - I guess it's sort of like a Shepard's Pie or something, but I really need that bright green flavor in the middle of all that heavy Thanksgiving-ness.

I forgot to take a picture of the plate the night of, but here's what the leftover plate today looked like (same as that night except for the brussel sprouts and cauliflower (that L brought).

Thanksgiving: Wednesday Prep

Wednesday is my Thanksgiving prep day. On my list for today is all of my bread and pie related stuff (bread crumbs, rolls, 2 types of pie). I started with the rolls as it's a 3-step process.

Dinner Rolls/Faux Croissants
This recipe comes from something like the Fleishman's yeast (or some flour) recipe book. They're not as light and flakey as a croissant, but I like them better for a dinner roll because they have a bit more of that roll-ness.

Step 1 is to make the butter thing:
1/4 cup flour
1.5 sticks butter (softened)

  1. Mix flour and butter together
  2. Plop it on to a 18 inch length of wax paper and smooth that into a 10"x4" block (really thin block) and then wrap that in the wax paper
  3. Put it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.
Step 2 is to make the dough:
2 1/2 - 3 cups flour
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 pkg yeast
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup warm water
2 eggs
  1. Mix yeast and water. Mix everything together and knead it.
  2. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches by 14 inches (14 inches across, 12 high)
  3. Place the butter rectangle in the center (4 inches across, 10 inches high)
  4. Fold the left and right hand side in over the butter
  5. Roll out again to the 12 x 14 (or so - it gets harder each time, just make it as big as you can without going crazy)
  6. Repeat for a total of 4 times (I do sometimes give up at 3, but it really is better to do 4)
  7. Chill for another 2 hours

Step 3 is tomorrow and is rolling out the dough into the rolls and cooking.

After the rolls, I did the pies. Pies are great for quick and good. I chose pumpkin (because I love it and it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it) and pecan (because there are some people who don't love pumpkin, but it takes a whole lot of time to peel apples to make that).

First I make the pie crust. Now, I highly recommend making pie crust because it's not very hard and everyone will be VERY impressed.

Standard Pie Crust
This is my grandmother's recipe. I'm sure it originally came or evolved from something else, but I have no idea what that would be. This makes 2 pie crusts (or the top and bottom of one pie).

3 cups flour
1 cup + 2 Tbsp Crisco (to measure this put in a measuring cup with water in and measure the displacement - so a 2 cup measuring cup with one cup of water, add Crisco until it gets to 2 cups and you then have 1 cup of Crisco - otherwise it's just messy)
a little salt
4 Tbsp ice water (really cold from the tap is fine)

  1. Mix the flour, salt and the Crisco by hand until you get a bunch of small balls
  2. Add ice water and mix in with a fork (don't use your hands and the temperature does bad things)
  3. Once mixed, put half onto a rectangle of wax paper and cover with a second sheet

  4. Roll the ball between the 2 sheets of wax paper out into a circle big enough to cover your pie plate

  5. Bake in the oven for about 10-15 minutes (you want it dried, but not browned)
  6. Fill
See, pie is generally pretty easy - it just tastes difficult!

Pumpkin Pie
This recipe comes straight from the Libby's can (with one slight change). This is filling for 1 9-inch pie. I made 3 (there are just some things that you do not want to run out of).

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) Libby's Pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie stuff)
1 can (12 fl. oz.) Evaporated Milk
1 tsp vanilla (this is my addition - but doesn't vanilla make everything better)

  1. Beat the eggs and mix with the pumpkin
  2. Add in all the dry ingredients
  3. Mix in the evaporated milk
  4. Pour into the pie shell

  5. Bake for 15 minutes at 425 and then for 40-50 minutes (that's the directions, I usually bake 50-60 minutes) at 350

Let it cool before you eat it. I had a slice after only 30 minutes this year and it tasted a little jumbled (still good, just not ... perfect), but as soon as it cooled down it was smooth as silk. I like it with whipped cream, but I always offer vanilla ice cream as well as an option.

Maple Pecan Pie
This recipe is from epicurious. I chose it because it sounded good, there wasn't any corn syrup and it was maybe the easiest recipe I've ever seen. This is for 1 9-inch pie.
1 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 9-inch frozen deep-dish pie crust
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

  1. Whisk the first seven ingredients to blend
  2. Place pecans in the pie crust
  3. Pour filling over nuts
  4. Bake at 350 until filling is puffed up (it really will puff up above the crust) or about an hour (I let mine go probably 70 minutes, but I think my oven is weak)

This is seriously the best pecan pie I have ever had. It's still really sweet, but it's not that sugar high sweet, it's a slightly better (in my opinion - and in that of my friends) maple-y sugar flavor. I did this with the option of whipped cream or ice cream as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving: Cranberry Sherbet Redux

So, for the first time in about 5 years, I'm hosting Thanksgiving - which means I'm being confronted with the old - how do I do that again? I mean, it's bad enough when you're doing it once a year, but how much do you really remember from 5 years ago.

So, today I started with my Cranberry Sherbet and realized that I didn't remember any of the details - tough when it's such a vague recipe to start with. So, this year, I'm capturing it all - in detail.

I started with 4 bags of cranberries.
To this I added tap water until they started to float, and then added a bit more (I should have added a bit more than I thought). I boiled it for 10-15 minutes (so 20-25 minutes from when I turned on the heat). I stopped when it looked like most of the berries had burst open.

I poured the berry stuff into the colander and then pushed through a bit. Then I had a crisis, do I include the thicker stuff from the bottom of the colander or just the pure juice - one call to my aunt and I stuck with just pure juice (though my mom says she includes the stuff from the bottom of the colander (i.e., the seeds and 'thicker juice' is okay with her). The four bags plus my water gave me seven cups of juice. I added 3.5 cups of sugar and was ready to add more, but it was already almost too sweet (my mom told me that this year hers needed 3/4cup of sugar for every cup of liquid - so clearly we've either got different cranberries, different water quantities (don't know if that would really affect it) or different taste-buds).

Then it needs to boil a bit - I ended up doing this for 15-20 minutes (which I think was too much - I didn't have enough water left). I didn't get too much scum on the top, but when I left it for a few minutes it got like a fruit roll-up on top, so I figured that was good.
I poured it into four tupperware containers, each half-full (it puffs up when you whip it, so you need to fill about half full - I'd recommend one or two containers max, but I only had the little ones).

This is then frozen for at least 24 hours. Then whip it up with about ~1/4 cup of lemon juice and refreeze it for at least another 24 hours. In the end it should look like a beautiful deep magenta pink sherbet. Mine this year didn't freeze totally (I think it was that there wasn't enough water), I ended up with sort-of, half-frozen stuff (which tasted totally great, but just didn't have the form I was going for).

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Basics

I probably eat more hot dogs than most people over the age of six. But the hot dogs I most look forward to are the ones at a sporting event - baseball is probably the best, but really any stadium-y event is fine.

Tonight we went to the Rangers game. I'm actually a Penguins fan, but I didn't wear my jersey. I actually wore work clothes - which made me stand out, though potentially less so than being the only person (other than the refs and the opposing team) not wearing red, white and blue. It is what it is.

Anyway, barely had we sat down (and did I mention that we were practically in the penalty box (everybody's friends should have fabulous season tickets) - I could reach out and touch the plexiglass with my hand - it was awesome), before the girl came up to ask what we wanted. It seemed like mere seconds later before I had a beer and a hot dog. But here is the issue (and I have the same issue with American sushi): It turns out that size does matter, but bigger isn't always better. The hotdog should be a hotdog size - not a superdog size. It throws everything off balance (even when they have a big bun (as they did) it just wasn't the right bite size (I had to take multiple bites to get clear across)). So while I got plenty of ketchup and mustard and even some sauerkraut (so it was all set up to be good) - I would rather have had a smaller dog - even if it meant needing two (though after the nachos and the second beer - I probably would have been fine with just the smaller dog).

So, while I recomend MSG for a Ranger's game, especially when you've got great seats - and while I enjoyed my dog - it's not the best stadium dog ever. But I would be happy (!) to go back (and would probably order it anyway).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Slightly More Than $10 Trip to Tokyo

It's not like I'm going to secret Japanese holes-in-the-wall in NYC every day, but I have gone to more this year than in the last couple of years combined (2). Last night, we went to a fundraiser event for Leadership Prep (an awesome Charter School in Brooklyn) and my friend O had cleverly made us a dinner reservation for afterwards at a place only 2 blocks away (it was below freezing out, so close was key!)

We rounded the corner and he pointed us to an office building, but right there in front of it was a little light box with 1BF and the name of the restaurant: Sakagura. These things are all over Japan - and basement restaurants in an office building are a lot more common. This felt oddly authentic in it's external impersonal charm. The stairs down were less authentic - more basement-y. But walking through the door I landed right back in Tokyo.

We were a bit early, so we had to wait but they were nice and the reception area had space (basically just a way of saying that I would recommend you go with a reservation, not as a walk-in, because if it was packed on a freezing Wednesday night on the day the Dow dips below 8...).

We ended up with a table, though the next time I would request a booth as they were cute and spacious. We decided to do it sort of small plate/family style and seemed to have pretty consistent ideas about what sounded good. We started with the plate of sashimi. It arrive looking beautiful with: Salmon, Red Snapper, Tuna, Fluke and Uni (Sea Urchin) - I was in heaven (I love uni). I started with the salmon (my least favorite) and it was good, so I prepared to enjoy. But the tuna was above my expectations - a perfectly oily, delicious piece of fish (did I mention the wasabi was fresh) and the uni shattered them - it was potentially the best uni I've ever had. It was musky and sweet. If I hadn't been hungry, I would have stopped them - why ruin perfection. But I was hungry, and thank goodness for that.
Next came the Tuna Tartare. This is one of C's favorites and here (no surprise after the sashimi) it was great. I big circle of tuna on a bed of cucumbers covered with half dark roe and half light roe (it's only now as I'm writing this that I start thinking yin-yang). It was fantastic - though not as differentiated as some of the other dishes.
Next came the Agedashi-dofu (deep fried tofu). This is one of my very favorite Japanese appetizers (it's deep fried, so how bad can it be), but I've been somewhat disappointed by what I've found in the US - merely adequate versions of it. And then this. What may have been the best agedashi-dofu ever! The tofu was silky and kept breaking apart, the fried covering was light, the broth was perfectly flavored and there was enough grated daikon (white radish) and horseradish to perfectly season it. If I had been hungry at the end, I might have ordered another one just for me. I didn't, so instead I have a compelling reason to go back (like I'm dying for it right now - I'm guessing though that they don't deliver).
Then we had Daikon (white radish) with Beef Cheeks - this was very good, the beef was tender and the broth gave the daikon a nice flavor. The only issue was it was hard to share (they had brought bowls for the agedashi-dofu, but not for this).
Then we went for the Eggplant with Miso. It was eggplant with three different types of miso, I had the dark, heavy one and the light green one - completely different flavors, but both very good (the first one was still a bit hot when I ate it - beware).
Finally we got our last order, the Deep Fried Mashed Potatoes in a Doughnut Batter. Now, I was totally into ordering it, but I was pretty convinced that it would be a warm pasty mess, not particularly distinctive. It wasn't - it was amazing. It was like a little beignet, with a surprise inside - but better. It was just a bit sweet - and served with a bit of dipping salt. And it was delicious. I could have eaten more, but that would have been piggish.
At this point, we were trying to decide what to do next. We decided on sashimi for dessert (seriously, that uni was sweet!) and treated ourselves to an order of the cold buckwheat noodles on the side.
We looked at the dessert menu, but while some looked interesting (Black Sesame Creme Brulee, Chocolate Sea Salt Sorbet), we decided to skip dessert (even after years in Japan, Japanese desserts still aren't my favorite (there are some I like, just none that get me the way the regular food does)). We sipped the tea and waited for our check. And while it wasn't as cheap as Tsukushi, it wasn't bad at all (and significantly less than even coach to Tokyo).

As we were leaving, I grabbed a business card so I wouldn't forget to come back (like that's possible) - and here again we're talking authentic (I know, what makes a business card authentic - if it's in Japanese, it's not as useful to the customers - and what else is there...)

Nope, that's not it. It's the back

Tokyo has the worst address system of any place I've ever been (the buildings are numbered in the order they were built, not in any order that would be useful to people trying to find them (e.g., the order that they line up on the street)), so maps are not just useful, but necessary - all restaurant cards have them.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Japanese Lunch: Oyako-don

Many years ago, after college, I spent a couple of years in Tokyo. I went there with no idea of what I was getting in to - it's hard to believe at this point, but I had never even tried sushi before my plane landed.

I was lucky - I love Japanese food, but it was an adventure. I had never tried of it, but I guess I probably did think I would eat sushi every day for lunch. Turns out that sushi isn't an every day kind of lunch - there's a lot of other food that is more typical as a Japanese lunch.

My first year in Tokyo, I found a great little noodle place just under the Tamachi train station. That said, I don't know if I ever had noodles there - instead I had Oyako-don. Don-buri (don) is the other thing that is typically served at a Japanese noodle place - and all it is is something on top of rice.

Oyako-don is chicken and egg on type of rice - almost like an omelet with chicken chunks. It has a bit of a dashi-type sauce. And it's awesome. It tastes so good. But, to be totally honest, I don't think taste was the only reason I ate it so much - it's also the name

Oya ko

Oya is parent; ko is child. The dish translates directly as Parent/Child over rice. It's a little disturbing, but I rather liked the cleverness - and did I mention that it tastes really good.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

All Hands on Deck

We decided to start a Food Club because we felt like we needed an excuse to go out and eat good food. J had suggested Ethiopian and we were all up for it, but then we were calendar challenged and weeks went by. And then, last minute yesterday worked for four of us.

We were at Ghenet - which is apparently 'Where Angels Eat' - and it was good. None of us are supremely knowledgeable about Ethiopian, so we just ordered the Vegetarian Combo (for 2) and one each of a Lamb, Beef and Chicken Dish. Now, I'm a bit of an idiot and I didn't write down the names - but it was the chopped Chicken Dish (#3 I think), the first Beef (the spicy one), and the third (?) Lamb.

They brought it all out on the big huge piece of bread and gave us plenty of the bread to grab our food with it. J asked for a fork (the bread is a bit bitter and she didn't love it), so there was plenty for the rest of us.

I loved the beef and liked the lamb. The others liked the chicken and beef the best. We all liked the variety of vegetarian options that were spread all around.

And then we ate. And ate. And ate. Finally I forced myself to stop. It wasn't easy - it was really good food, nicely spiced, lots of different flavors. Lots of lentils, but all with different flavors.

And then, I'm not sure if there's a real Ethiopian dessert, so I didn't feel bad when we chose Cream Caramel (I would have gone Tiramisu as well, but I think the others thought that was too out of the realm) - and I felt great when we got it. I consider myself a bit of a flan expert - and this was a very nice custard. It was smooth and very solid, and the caramel had a really nice just burnt flavor. Perfect end.