Thanksgiving 2014

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This year’s Thanksgiving dinner took place at my parent’s house, with five couples who are most important in my life: my parents; my parents-in-law; my sister and her boyfriend; me and Kevin; and Audrey and Minnie (the house dog). I didn’t want my mother to tire herself out by cooking such a large meal, so I volunteered to cook the meal for everyone this year, with my mother setting the table, my in-laws bringing the dessert and my sister bringing the wines. I was the official catering lady of the evening, with disposable tin containers and all!

Since I was transporting the food and they were destined to get cold, I decided to prepare everything the night before (except for turkey) and store them in the fridge until we were ready to hit the road. I’m glad I did this because I was able to just relax and play with the kid during the day, completely stress free!

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It took me about four hours total to prepare the stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, braised red cabbage, and Greek salad. Kevin whipped up the haricot vert at the parent’s house right before all the guests arrived.

I also prepared a charcuterie plate (not pictured), with prosciutto, salami, smoked salmon, and some goat cheese, brie, and colby jack, with cucumber slices and assorted crackers. My in-laws brought giant pumpkin pie and apple pie (and whip cream!) what were heavenly.

I think everything turned out pretty decent, but I must admit that I’ve cooked a better Thanksgiving meals before.

Here’s the menu for the evening!  Each recipe makes enough to fill the 9 x 9 pans.

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Roasted Turkey:

It takes about 4 hours per pound to defrost the turkey in the refrigerator, and it takes 20 minutes per pound to roast the bird in the oven. As long you know these two things, you’re good to go! We roasted two, 13 pounds turkeys this year to feed 9 people. It turned out that that was WAY too much, since 4 out of 9 were our parents with small appetites, and another one was a toddler. We only got through one, and everyone took pieces from the other one home.

Pat the turkey with paper towel to dry. Take out all the giblets out of the caucus. Rub the turkey with a mixture of finely chopped rosemary and thyme, grated garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Place the turkey on a roasting pan and roast the turkey in a 375 degree F oven for about 4 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degree F. Take out the turkey every hour and baste the skin with the mixture or the dripping from the bottom of the pan. Make sure to do this quickly to maintain the oven temperature.

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Braised Red Cabbage:

Chop 2 heads of red cabbage into half inch strips. In a very large pot, sauté the cabbage in olive oil until slightly wilted, about 10 minutes. Add sliced apples (2 medium – I used Fuji for its tang and crispy texture) and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add 2 cups apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup maple syrup, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the cabbage and apples are completely wilted. Add dill for garnish. Serve hot or cold. Personally, I love letting this sit overnight and serve it cold.

Sauté Haricot Vert:

Boil about 2 pounds of haricot vert in a large pot of boiling water for about 3 minutes, take care not to overcook (This is optional. You can do all the cooking in the pan. Boiling them first speed up the cooking process). Drain the beans and add them to a large frying pan. Sauté them in olive oil, in medium high meat, until you reach the desired consistency. We like ours slightly crunchy so we don’t overcook it. Add ¼ cup white wine, 1 tablespoon butter, salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the liquid evaporates. Add ¼ cup lemon juice, ¼ cup almond slices and toss. Garnish the plate with lemon wedges.

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Roasted Root Vegetables:

Chop 5 medium size unpeeled red potatoes (more, if you’re using the small ones), 2 large onions, and one head of cauliflower into bite size, and add them in a large roasting pan. Also add one bag of ready-to-eat baby carrots and 5 cloves of peeled garlic to the pan. Toss the vegetables in ¼ cup olive oil, making sure that each vegetable is well coated with oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Bake in 375 degree F oven for about one hour, or until the veggies are tender. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

Mashed Potatoes:

Peel and cut 10 Russet potatoes and add them in a pot of cold water. Bring the water to a boil in high heat and cook the potatoes until fork tender. Drain the water and return the potatoes in the same pot. Using the handheld blender, mash the potatoes until smooth (I like mine a little lumpy so I went easy with the blending). Add 1-1/2 cups milk, 10 grated garlic, finely-chopped rosemary and thyme, slat and pepper to taste, and cook in medium heat until fluffy. Do not over mix, as doing so will turn the potatoes into a paste.  Garnish with herbs.

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Stuffing:

I used the boxed stuffing this year! I just sauted 2 large onions, 10 stalks of celery, and 5 cloves of chopped garlic in a large pan.  I added, to the vegetables, 3 boxes of cornbread stuffing mix and poured in 2 boxes of vegetable broths. I’m actually not too crazy about cornbread stuffing but Kevin insisted on his favorite so I compromised, like a good wife that I am.

Greek Salad:

Chop 10 medium size tomatoes into cubes. You don’t need to remove the seeds. Half one large English cucumber lengthwise and scrape out the seeds from the middle. Chop the cucumber into bite-size cubes. Toss the tomato and cucumber cubes in a large bowl. Add 5 cloves of grated garlic, ½ cup olive oil, crumbled feta cheese, handful of finely chopped parsley, salt and pepper to taste, and toss. Cover and let the salad sit in a refrigerator overnight.

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My mother- and father-in-laws made these two lovely dishes – pumpkin salad (like potato salad but with pumpkin) and roasted Brussels sprouts! These two were probably my favorite dishes of the night!

I think everyone’s top three dishes were: Haricot vert, pumpkin salad, and braised cabbage.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

RECIPE: Homemade Cheddar Cheese Crackers

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I got the recipe for the homemade version of Cheez-It-like crackers from the Mommy and Me class my daughter and I attend weekly.  It was originally from Creative and Healthy Fun Food that has many wonderful kid-friendly recipes.

Many people may not know this, but I’m a crazy Cheez-It head.  I love these little crackers so much that I can eat an entire box at one sitting.  I don’t keep a box in the house because I know I’ll lose all self control when it comes to these heavenly little savories, but I figured a homemade version is less evil than the processed kind.

These crackers are delicious, but very, very dangerous at the same time.  I left a bowl on a kitchen counter to cool, and ate almost an entire bowl without realizing it!  The good thing is that my 19-month-old daughter loved them too (although probably not as much as I did)!

I used Herb de Provence but I might try something different next time, as they got a little too “herb-y” if that makes sense.  Maybe even a sprinkle of garlic powder might work well here.  Also, as I noted below, these little things bake really quickly.  The recipe says to bake for 15-17 minutes which, I think, are way too long.  I burned my first batch, and even after reducing the time down to about 10 minutes, that even feels a bit long.  Keep checking the oven frequently.  I also noticed that I liked a slightly thicker crackers, instead of paper-thin ones. They’re cheesier that way!

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Homemade Cheddar Cheese Crackers
(Adapted from Creative and Healthy Fun Food)

Ingredients:

2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon spike salt-free seasoning, or any salt free/herb seasoning will work (I used Herbs de Provence)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 F. (I felt that this temperature is too high.  I baked mine with 375 F.)

Place the first 3 ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse and until a ball forms.

Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick on a floured or parchment-covered surface. Slice into crackers or cut out shapes with a cookie cutter.

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(I used my trusted Omnigrip ruler and a pizza cutter to get the 1″ x 1″ squares. And just for fun, I poked a little hole on each cracker to imitate Cheez-It.)

Bake for 15-17 minutes (I think this is way too long, especially if your crackers are very thin. I baked mine for about 8 minutes and they came out great). Serve.

Teany’s Top-Secret Chili

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I go through a major purging spree about three times a year. My first major overhaul took place last October, after I read this Japanese organizing book called “人生がときめく片づけの魔法” (Jinsei ga tokimeku katazuke no mahou) orThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.” (It’s translated into English and will be available in October 2014.) This book – that suggests that we should surround ourselves only with things that truly make us happy and bid farewell to the rest that no longer serve us — truly changed the way I look at things, as well as people in my life. The book helped me unload what feels like half of my belongings, including more than 10 large cardboard boxes full of cookbooks that I once considered as some of my most cherished possessions.

While I was able to part with books that I once believed I could never live without with a surprising ease, there is one book that always manage to hang on! It’s a cookbook / tea guide / memoir (the real classification of this book remains a mystery) written by musician Moby and his then girlfriend Kelly Tisdale titled Teany Book. I’m not a fan of Moby (in fact, I’ve never heard his music) but I love teas, and I’m addicted to collecting delicious vegan recipes.

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I think this book is worth picking up, just for Teany’s Top Secret Chili recipe. I recreated this delicious meat-free chili last night, and the result was as amazing as the one I tasted in the Lower Manhattan tea house.

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The secret: coco powder, cashew nuts, and espresso!

I reduced the amount of garlic (1/4 cup seemed a bit too excessive), omitted seitan (because I didn’t have it on hand) and added one zucchini, but followed the recipe for the rest.  (You can find the recipe by clicking here).  I’m so in love with this healthy version of the classic comfort food, this will surely become a staple at our house!  I served the bowl with a dollop of yogurt, avocado chunks, and a splash of Tabasco, which made it even more delicious.

English Muffin Bread from Cook’s Country

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My new obsession: America’s Test Kitchen from Cook’s Illustrated, on American Public Television’s Create channel.

I just can’t get enough of Christopher Kimball and his wicked dry humor. He reminds me of a slightly more cynical version of Alton Brown — both equally scientifically geeky. And I also can’t get enough of the recipes! Every time I watch the show, I get the urge to go into the kitchen and cook up whatever I just saw. And that’s exactly what I did with the English Muffin Bread.

It probably wasn’t the wisest thing to heat up the oven to bake this bread when it was over 100 degrees outside, but the result was well worth the sweat. The recipe is super easy and this yeast dough comes around in no time. And the best part – there’s NO KNEADING INVOLVED!

The end result – a perfectly soft and chewy bread, with every nook and cranny waiting for a slather of strawberry jam. It may not look like the round and thin disk that we might be accustomed to, but it’s English muffin alright.

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English Muffin Bread
From Cook’s Country

The original recipe made two 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pans but I cut the recipe in half to make just one loaf. What you see below is for one loaf. The instruction was taken directly from the Website.

Ingredients:

Cornmeal
2-1/2 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast (one packet)
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups whole milk, heated to 120 degrees

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Grease  8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan and dust with cornmeal. Combine flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and baking soda in large bowl. Stir in hot milk until combined, about 1 minute. Cover dough with greased plastic wrap and let rise in warm place for 30 minutes, or until dough is bubbly and has doubled.

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Stir dough and divide between prepared loaf pans, pushing into corners with greased rubber spatula. (Pans should be about two-thirds full.) Cover pans with greased plastic and let dough rise in warm place until it reaches edge of pans, about 30 minutes. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.

Discard plastic and transfer pans to oven. Bake until bread is well browned and registers 200 degrees, about 30 minutes, rotating and switching pans halfway through baking. Turn bread out onto wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Slice, toast, and serve.

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Is it fall yet?

The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread

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I finally baked My New RootsThe Life-Changing Loaf of Bread that I had my eyes on for … well, as long as I can remember. If you Google the bread, you’ll see hundreds of satisfied bakers raving about this nutty loaf. There’s no need for me to go on and on about the goodness of the bread, except to say that I’m now one of them.

When I posted a photo of this bread on Facebook, I received two kinds of comments: Half were from health conscious friends who salivated over the loaf full of nuts and seeds, while other half were puzzled. They wondered, is this a bread or just one, giant granola bar?

For all the skeptics out there — if you aren’t sure about this bread, just bake one and try it for yourself. You’ll be hopping on the life-changing bandwagon in no time.

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Baby’s First Birthday!

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It was Pon Pon’s first birthday (insert happy dance here!) and we celebrated this special day with our family over the weekend.  We wanted to invite a bunch of our friends but we settled on having a small, intimate gathering at our apartment instead.  We figured she won’t remember a thing now and it’s best to keep our sanity (planning a party is hard work!) and save a few bucks until she starts asking for it in coming years.

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Because we hosted a party here at our home and cooked our own food (except for birthday cakes), we were able to keep the cost somewhat low (and it was relatively stress-free because I was able to prep most of the dishes the night before).  The entire ingredients set us back about $100, but it’s not bad considering that we were able to feed 15 people, with lots of leftovers to feed us for days!

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Salad Nicoise-Inspired Platter

Instruction:  Arrange boiled haricot vert, red potatoes (cut into halves, quarters, or even sliced, depending on the size), and eggs (sliced, preferably using a nifty egg slicer), with mix greens and smoked salmon.  Decorate the platter with lemon wedges and some capers sprinkled on top of salmon.  I made a simple dressing with grated garlic (more flavorful than minced), olive oil, vinegar (1:1 ratio), Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper.  Put all the ingredients into a small bottle and shake vigorously.

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Arugula and Prosciutto Pizza

Instruction (Kevin made this pizza so I’m assuming this is how he made it but I can be wrong):  Follow the instruction on the pre-made dough before proceeding (it usually asks that you leave the dough out 30 minutes before baking).  Spread the dough onto a baking pan.  Smear garlic-infused olive oil onto the dough and bake until the dough is golden brown.  Top the pizza with handful of arugula, prosciutto slices, and shaved Parmesan cheese.  Drizzle balsamic vinegar.

Kevin made another pizza with pepperoni but I forgot to take pictures!

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Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Canapé

Instruction:  Slice a baguette loaf.  Smear a generous amount of goat cheese, and top it with sliced cucumber (two slices, if they’re small) and smoked salmon.  Top each canapé with capers.  I like to make these about an hour before serving to soften the baguette a bit.  If you’re using crackers, serve immediately before they become soggy.

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Greek Salad

Instruction:  Chop tomatoes and cucumbers into small cubes and toss them into a bowl.  Add minced garlic and onion, and mix them with vegetables.  Add a crumbled feta cheese, olives (preferably pitted), olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well and let it sit overnight before serving.

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Osekihan:

This was a courtesy of my mother, who made this auspicious Japanese “red” rice to celebrate the baby’s first birthday.  We eat this on special occasions like anniversaries, graduations, and of course, birthdays!   Check out this video by Cooking with Dog for instruction on how to make this rice, if you’re interested!

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We’re so grateful to have an amazing family (and my BFF Maya who flew from PDX to attend the party!) who spoiled us rotten with love and gifts.  And we’re incredibly blessed that our baby is growing up healthy.  We’re the luckiest people in the world.  Thank you.

Salmon Cakes

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I am trying so hard not to pass judgment or make assumptions about others. I recently read a story about a certain celebrity couple who left their three-month-old baby home to fly to Paris, to attend a certain celebrity event. The former self would have judged and said, “Dude, what the #%@#? They’re such #$@%-ing awful parents for leaving their newborn, just to satisfy their own vanity!” (By the way, I’m trying hard to curse less too.) But the new self now thinks, “Everyone is entitled to their own choices, and if going away and taking a little vacation from parenting actually makes them better parents, let them to fly to a foreign country and flaunt those mega post-baby boobies!” It’s not easy, but I’m trying!

So, in the spirit of positive thinking, giving the benefit of the doubt, looking on the bright side of life, and glass is always half full, give Salmon Cakes from a canned salmon a try! Canned fish often gets a bad rap but these flaky cakes are delicious!

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Salmon Cake
(Adapted from Ten Dollar Dinners, as well as Food Network)

Ingredients

2 strips bacon, cooked until crispy, crumbled, bacon fat reserved
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 egg
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 lemon, zested
1 (14-ounce) can wild salmon, checked for large bones
1 baked or boiled russet potato, peeled, and fluffed with a fork
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat in a small saute pan over low heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Cool the onions for a bit.

Mix the bacon, onion, egg, mayonnaise, mustard, sugar, and lemon zest in a bowl. Add the salmon and potato, mixing gently after each addition. Form the mixture into 12 small patties. In a shallow dish, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and pepper, to taste. Coat the patties in the bread crumb topping. Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat, and cook the salmon cakes in batches until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add more oil, as necessary. Arrange on a serving platter and serve.

I didn’t make the recommended side dishes. Instead, I served the cakes with pasta salad and string beans.

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