Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 Experience

Thanksgiving this year was such a great experience for me! I was sad to be away from home again (haven't celebrated with my family since 2008) but I figured as I'm getting ready to graduate and move away permanently, it was about time I started getting ready to create my own traditions and have my own recipes! Last year, my boyfriend and I made the usual boxed Stove Top stuffing, Idaho potato flakes, can of gravy, can of cranberry jelly, and turkey cutlets and legs (his oven is itty-bitty). This year, thanks to the generous offer of oven use from my friend Tony, Thanksgiving was able to be bigger. And since I had a full-size oven to cook with and lots of time on my hands, why not go all out? I decided that I would make everything from scratch this time around. I wanted to see if I could make things a little bit healthier (or at least have more nutrients even if it had more fat) by creating homemade dishes, and plus it would stretch my cooking skills to a new level.

A couple weeks before I left for NYC, I wrote out a recipe list for myself:
-mashed potatoes
-sweet potatoes
-green beans
-cranberry sauce

It seemed like a crazy idea. But I was willing to do it. All I needed was time, determination, and money. Looking back at the basic list, I decided that it sounded a bit plain, so I started to think of a bit more complex menu ideas. Mashed potatoes would be flavored with rosemary and garlic. The stuffing would have cornbread and veggies. The Jell-O would be two-layer and studded with mini-marshmallows and fruit (like my parents always do). The cranberry sauce would be spiked with orange. I was finally ready.

I bought several ingredients in Ithaca where it was cheaper, and dragged them across the state with me. It was worth it (even though I was carrying a small suitcase and a piano keyboard as well!).

Thanksgiving day, my boyfriend had to spend time in Chicago, so we moved our celebration to the following day. Though this had initially put a damper in my carefully constructed schedule, I got to shove everything a day later and be lazy a day longer, so really, it was okay. I started by cooking the pies, cornbread (for the stuffing) and cranberry-orange sauce on Thursday (I was crashing at Tony's that night so I could spend the next day cooking, so I had to get them done).

The pies ended up being the favorite part of the dinner, surprisingly, though they took the least effort!
Click Here For The Pecan-Walnut Pie and Pumpkin Pie Recipes
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters

 I was immensely proud of the cranberry-orange sauce, though I never wrote the measurements down!
Click Here For The Cranberry-Orange Sauce Recipe
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters

I shoved the pies in the fridge (and later, the freezer), and when I was ready, I packed everything up and took a taxi across Manhattan to Tony's apartment. Carrying all those groceries was crazy! Luckily, I got to have the night off and went to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with Tony and our friend Jeff. I made a simple rocket/butter lettuce salad with walnuts, gouda, and pears, dressed with olive oil/balsamic vinegar. It's one of my favorite salads that I first ate in Italy (pretty sure it was different cheese, though). We had a nice night of food and wine, then returned to Tony's and crashed.

Friday, Tony was off to work all day and his roommate Erik hadn't returned from his trip yet, so I got to spend most of the day by myself. I lazed around for a bit, knowing that if I got started immediately, I would run out of things to do. When I finally made the decision to start, I made the sweet potatoes first, because I knew I could refrigerate those for awhile without them getting soggy (like stuffing).

Click Here For The Sweet Potato Recipe
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
After I mashed the sweet potatoes and popped them in the fridge, I tackled the bird! Dealt with the giblets and popped them in a pot to make some turkey stock.
Click Here For The Turkey Stock Recipe

I cleaned the bird, drained it, and rubbed it all over with spices. Then I covered it in foil and put it back in the fridge to let it marinate a little bit while I made the stuffing.

Stuffing is one of my boyfriend's and my favorite side dishes, so I had to make sure it was delicious! I used cornbread, which he specifically wanted, and combined it with light whole wheat bread for a bit of health value. I'm very happy with my decision to add celery and onion because it added lots more depth, flavor, and texture. I would have to say that I'm quite happy with how it turned out! My parents haven't stuffed a turkey in awhile, so when Ethan asked me to put some in the turkey, I was unsure. I have to say that I'm glad I did!
Click Here For The Whole-Wheat and Cornbread Stuffing Recipe
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
Once the stuffing was ready, I took the turkey out of the fridge, doused it in melted butter and stuffed it! I was scared that I was going to mess up or the turkey would be terrible and a waste of four hours of my life, but I have to say that I am so proud. It was juicy and tender, the skin was beautifully crispy--it was everything I could have wanted! And the boys were impressed. Oh, did I mention that it was 20lb. turkey so that I could feed five men? Yep. Five men and myself. And we still had plenty of leftovers (thank goodness! I love my Thanksgiving leftovers). I hope every year from now is as successful as this one. I would like just a bit more flavor in the future, though...perhaps putting some spices underneath the skin next time? We shall see!
Click Here For The Successful First-Attempt Turkey Recipe
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
In the meantime, I made the double-layer Jell-O with lime and strawberry flavors (always the choice of my folks), and throughout its refrigeration time added crushed pineapple, canned mandarin orange slices, and mini marshmallows. I got far too impatient with the layering and poured in some of the lime too early, creating a small section of brown Jell-O, but that's okay. Live and learn. I also spent some time snapping the ends off my fresh green beans, which I later pan-sauteed with cayenne, a dash of cumin, salt and pepper. It made a nice contrast to the other flavors of dinner.

I put the potatoes together in a dash because I have been making them in my apartment in Ithaca almost all semester. I am obsessed with them.
Click Here For The Rosemary-Garlic Mashed Potato Recipe
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
Lastly came the gravy! I asked my dad at the beginning of the month for some turkey tips as well as his gravy recipe, because it's always been one of my favorite parts of dinner. My dad makes damn good gravy, guys. I adapted it just a tiny bit, but I have to say that he would be satisfied with it!
Click Here For Dad's Turkey Gravy Recipe
Photo Copyright 2011 - Katie Peters

The final spread (minus desserts) - Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
All in all, Thanksgiving dinner was a huge success! All of my men were well-fed, full, and satisfied, as was I. I had a stomach-ache afterwards from eating too much too fast! I can't wait for the next Thanksgiving (though my body will thank me if I do) and to cook for people again. It was a great culinary expedition and a fun, new, slightly stressful experience. I think it was helpful kicking people out of the kitchen, though, so I was master of my domain. I think it would be much more stressful if others were in the kitchen, too. I found myself getting a little antsy toward the end of my journey (especially as the boys began wandering into the kitchen and finger-tasting everything, asking when food would be ready, or staring longingly in expectation), and I must have lost a pound through sweating my ass off, but yes. It was definitely all worth it. Plus, the praise I received through mouthfuls of meat, carbs, and dessert wasn't so bad, either. ;)

Hope everyone else had a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving as well! Next, a delicious Christmas dinner back in WA from my parents!

Happiest of Eating, everyone!

Simple Cranberry-Orange Sauce

This recipe is actually not worth posting because I played everything by ear and have no recollection of how much of each ingredient I used. However, I figured I may as well share the basics with you. It's a recipe that is super easy to adjust so you could probably make it better than I! It was my first attempt at making homemade cranberry sauce, and I was incredibly proud of it. It had the right balance of sweetness, tartness, and citrus bite!

Simple, Recipe-less Cranberry-Orange Sauce

-1 bag fresh cranberries
-water (not a lot, just enough to fill the bottom of the pot and cover the bottom half of the berries)
-sugar (at least a cup)
-zest of an orange
-juice of the same orange (watch for seeds!)

Colorful cranberries and orange! - Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters

1. Combine all ingredients in a pot. Make sure the sugar dissolves. As the mixture begins to heat up, the berries will start to pop and burst, which is really fun. Add more water/sugar as necessary, especially depending on how tart your cranberries are.
Steamy! - Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters

That's it! Stupid-simple!

Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
Happy Eating!

Pecan-Walnut Pie and Pumpkin Pie

I spent so much time obsessing over the turkey and stuffing dishes, that I didn't put all too much thought into the pies. I knew I wasn't going to spend any time making them healthy, that's for sure. But they were pies, and I've made pies before, so I thought they would just be a nice little dessert to accompany a fabulous dinner. Funny enough, the pies (especially the pumpkin pie) were the biggest hit at the table! We ran out very quickly and my friends talked for days about how they wished they had more! Alas! Next time. :)
Ready for the oven! - Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
I made both of these pies at the same time (well, the pecan-walnut first, then the pumpkin), and popped them in the oven together. They both cooked at their allowed times and turned out perfectly. It helped reduce overall Thanksgiving cook-time, and I couldn't be happier!
Forgot to take pictures before they were being eaten! - Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
Pecan-Walnut Pie

-1 c. Karo Lite Corn Syrup (fewer calories than the original!)
-1 c. sugar
-3 eggs
-2 tbsp. margarine (I Can't Believe It's Not Butter), melted
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-5 oz. pecans
-1 oz. walnuts, roughly chopped
-1 9-inch pie crust (I used a basic pie crust recipe...and by that I mean I took the knowledge I had and made the crust from scratch without a actually went very well...but sorry I can't give you a recipe for it!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook pie crust in oven for 10-15 minutes.
2. Combine corn syrup, sugar, eggs, margarine and vanilla with a spoon or fork. Mix well. Stir in pecans and walnuts.
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
 3. Pour filling into pie crust.
4. Bake for 60-70 minutes. Cool on wire rack (or if you're desperate, like me (I had to get everything to my friend's house in a short amount of time), shove it in the fridge).
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters

Popular Pumpkin Pie (slightly adapted from the famous Libby's recipe)

-3/4 c. granulated sugar
-1 tsp. ground cinnamon
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. fresh ginger, finely grated
-1/4 tsp. ground cloves
-2 eggs
-1 can (15 oz.) Libby's Pure Pumpkin
-1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk  (Nestle Carnation is standard but I tried a generic brand and it worked just fine)
-1 9-inch pie crust (see Pecan-Walnut Pie for crust explanation)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook pie crust in oven for 10-15 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves. Beat in eggs and mix well. Stir in pumpkin and continue to mix. Then, slowly stir in evaporated milk.
3. Pour into pie crust.
4. Bake in oven for 40-50 minutes or until knife/toothpick inserted in center is clean. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack (or, like the Pecan-Walnut pie, shove in the fridge wrapped in foil if you're in a time crunch).
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
I had to put both of my pies in the fridge (and later in the freezer for about half an hour) because they had to be cool enough to transport in a taxi from one end of Manhattan to the other! It didn't hurt the pie consistency or flavor or anything, so I would suggest that if you are low on time, refrigerating/brief freezing is a huge help! Also, if you noticed, I did not start at a high temperature for the Pumpkin Pie and reduce it after a bit of time. I just started at a lower temperature and kept it in there--it clearly turned out just fine if it was the "Popular" food of the evening!
Who took a bite?! - Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
Happy Eating!

Easy Mashed Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic

If there's one thing I love to eat, it's potatoes. I have been on a homemade mashed potato kick this semester, so I definitely wasn't going to stick to the boxed variety this season (though I do love boxed potatoes)! I also love garlic and rosemary, so I thought I'd spice up the usual plain mash this year and go with some extra flavor. I used fresh raw garlic for a big kick, but bottled garlic would be flavorful and gentle, and roasted garlic would be even more delicious. It's up to you--I usually use the bottled kind. The great thing about these potatoes is that they're very easy and require little attention. Perfect when you're busy with turkey and other side dishes!

Easy Mashed Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic

-5-6 medium red potatoes
-1/2 c. skim milk
-1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
-1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted sweet cream butter (or margarine)
-5-6 cloves garlic, minced
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters

1. Bring the potatoes to a boil in a large pot of water. Cook until fork tender. Drain water or move potatoes to a separate bowl.
2. Mash the potatoes well with a fork or potato masher. Don't worry about skin--if you don't want it, however, peel the potatoes before boiling or let potatoes cool after cooking and peel. I like the extra color and texture.
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters

3. Add remaining ingredients and mix well, ensuring the butter melts and is incorporated evenly.

Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
How simple!

Happy Eating!

Turkey Stock and Dad's Turkey Gravy

This turkey stock is surprisingly flavorful for being mostly boring and having no additional veggies or spices except salt. I primarily made it for the sake of the stuffing and the turkey gravy, but I'm sure you could use it as a base for turkey soup and other things as well.

Now...the gravy. Mmmm. I have always loved the turkey gravy my dad makes. It is just so delicious smothered over anything and everything I could cover it with. This year, I asked him for his recipe, and adapted it just a tiny bit to make it my own. Thanks, Dad!

Basic Turkey Stock

-giblets from turkey
-any excess skin
-turkey tail and neck

1. Place all turkey bits in a pot and cover with water (I used about 9-10 cups). Add a dash of salt.
2. Bring to a boil for about 10-15 minutes, then simmer for another 15-20. My numbers may be a little off, as I made this stock while busy with everything else.
3. Remove giblets and turkey pieces from stock. Store stock in tupperware.

*I am sparing your eyes from the giblets picture (it's a pretty good picture, but it's kind of unappetizing!

Dad's Turkey Gravy (adapted)

-1 1/2 c. turkey grease from roasting pan
-1 1/2 c. flour
-7 c. turkey stock
-additional water/broth as needed
-dash of salt
-dash of pepper
-2 tsp. onion powder
-2 tsp. garlic powder
-1 tsp. cayenne pepper
-1 chicken bouillon cube, crushed

1. Cook grease and flour in roasting pan to create a roux. Make sure the flour is getting mixed in well and cooked so you're not left with flour-y taste in your gravy.
2. Once cooked, add turkey stock and all spices.
3. Adjust water/stock levels as needed.
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters

Yes! It's just that easy and delicious. :)

Happy [condiment] Eating!

First Attempt and Success at Thanksgiving Turkey!

So this was my very first attempt since I left for college at a Thanksgiving turkey. Freshman year, I went back home to WA. Sophomore year, I went to my boyfriend's family's house in Chicago. Last year, I made turkey legs and breast fillets in the boy's oven (his apartment's oven is tinyyy). And this year, I got the wonderful opportunity to go to my good friend Tony's apartment, which has a full-size oven. :) More info to come when I create my Thanksgiving blog post! All in all, it was a great experience, and the turkey turned out juicy and tender with crispy skin and lots of flavor! It was a great hit (not as much as the pumpkin pie, though, which has a recipe to come later)! My boyfriend implored me to stick some butter inside the turkey with the stuffing, and after a lot of refusing in an attempt to be healthier, I finally gave in...and I'm happy I did!
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
Juicy Thanksgiving Turkey

-20lb. turkey
-1 heaping tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
-1/2 tbsp. sage
-3/4 tbsp. thyme
-1/2 tbsp. onion powder
-1/2 tbsp. fresh-cracked black pepper
-1 tsp. onion powder
-1 stick unsalted, sweet cream butter (yep, no margarine this time!)

-premade stuffing (See my Whole Wheat and Cornbread Stuffing recipe)
-3 carrots, roughly chopped
-1 medium onion, roughly chopped
-4 stalks celery, roughly chopped

The naked beauty! - Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
1. Remove turkey from packaging and drain well (my turkey came in brine...try to get a low-sodium solution or none at all and brine yourself if you can!). Place turkey in large roasting pan, pot, or broiler pan. Combine all herbs and spices and rub all over turkey. Feel free to make more rub if desired. This seemed to do the trick for me. Cover in tin foil and pop in the refrigerator. Marinate until ready to cook (about an hour and fifteen minutes in my case--I'm sure the longer, the better!).
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
2. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove turkey from fridge. Pour 1/2 stick of the melted butter over the turkey.
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
3. Place a large handful of carrots, onion, and celery inside the turkey cavity, and use the rest to cover the pan and surround the turkey. The pan veggies will not be for eating, but instead to help flavor the grease a bit as they sweat out.
4. Stuff the turkey with homemade stuffing until full.
5. Shove the other 1/2 stick of butter way inside the turkey cavity, as far toward the back as possible.
All stuffed! - Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
6. Place in over for 3-4 1/2 hours or until done. My turkey came with one of those pop-up thermometers, and it was perfectly accurate! If you are unsure, check with a meat thermometer (being a poor student, I didn't have one), and the internal temperature of the thigh meat should be 180 degrees F.
7. Remove turkey from the oven and let rest for 30 minutes. This will help make your turkey easy to carve and remain super juicy (see the leg meat in the picture?)! Mine was overflowing! This also allows you to finish up last-minute potato, green bean, and stuffing work. :)
Crispy skin and juicy meat - Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
8. Carve!
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters

Happy happy happy Thanksgiving eating!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Whole Wheat and Cornbread Stuffing

One of my boyfriend's and my favorite parts of Thanksgiving is stuffing. I am in love with Stove Top boxed stuffing, but this year on a strive to be a bit healthier and more original, I decided to make stuffing (among other things) from scratch. I don't think it was actually too much healthier, but it was definitely delicious! He loves cornbread, so that had to be a part of the dish, and I like healthy bread, so I used Arnold whole wheat light bread, which has far less calories than ordinary bread. I really wanted to use white bread, but that just wasn't in the cards. Ah well. I got lots of flavor this way, so I can't complain. :) The stuffing ended up being one of the dishes that went the fastest, so it must mean that it was good!
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
Whole Wheat and Cornbread Stuffing

-2 tbsp. olive oil
-1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
-2 stalks celery, finely diced
-cornbread, cubed (I used a package mix from the store that filled about an 8x10 pan)
-1 loaf Arnold whole wheat bakery light bread, cubed
-3 tbsp. margarine (I Can't Believe It's Not Butter)
-1 1/3 c. turkey stock (made from boiling the giblets that were removed from the turkey)
-1 tbsp. garlic powder
-1 tbsp. onion powder
-2 low-sodium chicken-flavor bouillon cubes
-salt/pepper, to taste

1. Heat up a large pot and add oil. When oil is hot, add onions.
2.Once onions are on their way to becoming translucent, add celery and margarine.
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
3. After celery softens a little, after 4 or 5 minutes, add the cornbread and whole wheat bread. Mix very well (make sure the margarine soaks into the bread!).
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
 4. Add turkey stock, continue to mix.
5. Add the spices and bouillon cubes and mix. There should be no liquid remaining at the bottom of the pot.
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
 6. When turkey is ready to put in the oven, use this stuffing to fill the cavity.
7. Place remaining stuffing in a baking pan. Top with thyme sprigs. Bake at 325 degrees until hot throughout and crispy on top.
Mmmm! - Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters

Happy Eating!

Sweet Potatoes

All right. Here's the first of my Thanksgiving posts. When I'm all done, I'll post a big blog with all these links plus my Thanksgiving 2011 experience. Stay tuned!

Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
-4 medium-large sweet potatoes
-dash of salt (optional for water)
-3 tbsp. I Can't Believe It's Not Butter
-3 tbsp. lightly packed brown sugar
-1 tsp. salt
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
1. Fill a large pot with water (and optional salt) and bring to a boil. In the meantime, peel and slice the sweet potatoes.
2. Add the sweet potatoes to the boiling water and cook for 10-15 minutes or until fork tender.
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
 3. Drain the water and move the sweet potatoes to a large bowl. Mash with fork or potato masher (my dad uses a potato ricer).
Photo Copyright 2011 Katie Peters
 4. Cover and set aside/refrigerate until you are closer to dinnertime.
5. When you are ready, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine the sweet potatoes, 1 tbsp. margarine, 1 tbsp. brown sugar and salt and mix well. Pour into baking pan and spread evenly.
6. Top with remaining brown sugar and margarine (I spread the margarine with a spoon and then sprinkled the brown sugar on top).
7. Bake in oven at 325 degrees for 15 minutes or so.

Happy Eating!