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!

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