Changes are difficult to swallow, especially when it comes to something so grand like a holiday supper. But when my mother, an amazing chef, handed me the honor to cook the special dinner for the family this year, I was committed in making something fresh, homemade and healthy — unlike the usual artery-clotting delights that is Thanksgiving dinner.
I was determined to create everything from scratch this year, and none of the packaged stuff was to appear on the table. Most of the ingredients came from Whole Foods, and although they were a little more pricey than usual, the freshness made everything worth the extra splurge. Unfortunately, I could not afford the turkey from Whole Foods so I settled for Butterball’s 8.9-pound birdie, which turned out very juicy, tender and flavorful. I stuffed the bird with lemons and oranges, along with bundles of thyme and rosemary. Aside from giving turkey the light finish, putting citrus in the cavity seemed more humane than stuffing the bird with all the dressing up its behind …
I began the meal with leek and potato soup, a recipe courtesy of my favorite Gourmet Next Door, Amy Finley. I watched her prepare this simple but hearty soup on her new show the other day and got inspired to create a soup dish as a starter. I like Amy – the worthy winner of The Next Food Network Star (I even voted for her!) — and her cooking, which is very simple but elegant. Soup is not something that appears on our table regularly (unless it’s a miso soup) so I caught everyone by surprise when I brought out the warm, comfort delight. It was a bit tough to make this pureed soup without an immersion blender though. I had to use a regular blender and made a big mess (although it is nothing new when I’m in a kitchen)!
The side dishes included:
Brussels sprouts sautéed with minced shallots, garlic, and Pancetta. I used the thinly-sliced Pancetta and chicken broth to soften the Brussels sprouts to reduce the amount of oil that went into the pan. I made this especially for my father because ① he’s probably never had this strange looking vegetable before, and ② he is the biggest cabbage fan in the world. I knew he would find the dish quite amuzing.
Sautéed spinach with red onion. This is such a simple but delicious dish. What makes it so delicious is the drizzle of balsamic vinegar that goes in right before serving. The tanginess of the vinegar really brings out the sweetness of the onion and spinach.
Sweet mashed potato. I still don’t know the difference between yams and sweet potatoes but I think I used the latter … I steamed the potatoes instead of boiling them to help retain the flavor and nutrients and mashed it up with a tiny bit of half-and-half. Absolutely no sugar was added but it was sweet and absolutely heavenly. I think this was my favorite side dish of the night.
Roasted zucchini and squash. I made my own version of Herb de Provence by mixing thyme, sage and rosemary to my course sea salt and sprinkled it generously on olive-oil-coated zucchini and squash and roasted in the oven for 30 minutes. I decorated the turkey platter with them.
Stuffing. Okay, I cheated on this one. I bought the boxed stuffing and added chopped celery, carrots, onion and chicken broth to create this holiday staple. I mistakenly picked up the cornbread stuffing instead of the regular so I didn’t care too much for it. Bummer.
Couple of the things I forgot to photograph were: ① Green bean casserole (Thanksgiving is not complete without the casserole!), ② Cranberry Sauce I made by cooking fresh berries in freshly-squeezed orange juice and a sprinkle of sugar. It was really tangy and tasted nothing like the canned one, and thought it was delicious, and ③ Spaghetti salad with romaine lettuce, which is my mother’s specialty and she made it for us.
Because I’m more a baker than a cook, I was most concerned about the outcome of the pumpkin pie. I made the Pate Brisee from scratch by mixing the flour and butter in a blender (yep, I don’t have a food processor either), blind baked it, and pour the pumpkin pie mixture. I thought the result was fabulous. The dough was flaky and the edges of the pie caramelized perfectly in the oven.
It took me about four hours (except the turkey) to create everything for a small party but I had a blast! I can’t wait until Christmas dinner. And I would like to take this moment to send my sincere thanks to everybody and everything that makes my every day full of joy and happiness.