Thanksgiving 2014


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!


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.


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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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!

Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving with family and loved ones! And those of you who worked or shopped the Black Friday sales last night – hats off to you!

This year’s Thanksgiving was amazing. We had a wonderful time last night with my husband’s side of the family, and indulged in traditional Thanksgiving feast, prepared by a chef at Kevin’s sister’s workplace. We were impressed with how the turkey came out extra moist and delicious, even after it sat there for a few hours.

In addition to the usual mashed potatoes and stuffing that came with the meal (plus bread pudding for dessert), there were a few other delicious homemade flares, like vegetable soup, fried shrimp, tomato salad, green bean casserole, sautéed French haricot verts, and chirashizushi.

I wish I took pictures of Porto’s Fruit Tart and Rustic Tart that we had for dessert. They were amazing, as usual (although the Rustic Tart, unfortunately, was not as good as the first time we tried it a few weeks back). It’s always very crowded at this famous Cuban café and bakery, but this day was extra crazy. When I got there around 11:30 a.m. to pick up the tarts, the line went out the door, and went around the building, into the parking lot!

I hope you enjoy the rest of the week relaxing and spending time with your loved ones!

Thanksgiving Leftover Samosas

I really don’t understand the whole Black Friday thing. I understand that some items go on sale but I am still not too certain if the discount is worth waiting outside a store for hours or fight the crazy crowds. I’d rather spend the Thanksgiving weekend at home, in my pajamas, relax, make samosas with leftover food, and enjoy them with my boyfriend.

I made the dough using Aarti’s recipe that I used before. For the filling, I mixed the leftover turkey, mashed yam, and grilled vegetables all chopped up to small pieces, and wrapped them in the pastry dough. Brush the samosa with olive oil on top, and just pop them in the oven at 375 F degree for about 20-30 minutes until samosas are golden brown. It’s a great way to use up the leftover food, and have something to munch on all weekend long.

Very Simple Thanksgiving

When I first started planning the Thanksgiving dinner menu, I had all the French-inspired dishes in mind, influenced by my recent trip to Paris. I thought, maybe a puff pastry appetizer to start, followed by cream cauliflower soup, then the vegetable tatin … Then, I watched the Biggest Loser special the night before and changed the entire menu to a more, healthy, guilt-free dishes.

The menu was very simple – maybe a little too simple – but I decided to make everything vegetable-based, and not overly prepared. I wanted the true flavors of ingredients come out naturally, with a little sprinkle of Fleur de Sel that I brought back from France.

Here’s the star of the night — turkey! I rubbed the bird with the mixture of garlic, sage, rosemary, oregano, salt, pepper, and olive oil. I think it was about 10 pounds so I cooked it for about three hours. When I checked the temperature, it said that it was at 170, the perfect temperature for poultry. It turned out that I could cook it a little longer because some parts were still pink-ish and I had to re-cook pieces in the oven!

I enjoyed the turkey with the homemade cranberry sauce I made by cooking down the berries with water, agave nectar, and lemon juice.

Grilled Vegetables: I marinated the onion and zucchini slices overnight in olive oil and grilled them. My entire apartment got really smoky and I had to turn on a fan for about an hour but it was well worth it!  I also severed some sauteed green beans but I guess I forgot to take a picture of it!

Stuffed Mushrooms: These little stuffed mushrooms were stuffed with traditional turkey stuffing of onion, celery, and bread crumbs (I used panko), and seasoned with red chili flakes for some heat.

Quinoa Salad: This is a very simple quinoa salad, with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper, with a little sprinkle of fresh parsley and lemon juice.

Glazed Carrots:  These carrots were cooked in a little bit of butter and agave nectar for subtle sweetness.

Tomato Salad: I made the tomato salad with cucumber, onion, and avocado cubes, dressed in olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper.

Mashed Potatoes:  Instead of the traditional kind, I mashed yams and cooked them in milk.  No sugar or any other seasons were added and they came out delicious!

And last by not least, I made Bobby Flay’s pumpkin bread pudding with homemade ice cream for dessert.  His recipe calls for vanilla beans anglaise and spicy caramel apple sauce, but I substituted all that with David Lebovitz’s vanilla ice cream. This was the most time-consuming dish of the night because it required me to make the pumpkin bread (which, by the way, was delicious by itself), the pudding, and the ice cream separately but each component is fairly easy and the efforts are well worth it. I got the inspiration to make this when I watched the latest episode of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown when he went head-to-head with the lovely Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman (her blog is amazing) on the Thanksgiving challenge and made this dessert.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family!

Rewriting Thanksgiving Tradition with New Dishes

I still remember my first Thanksgiving dinner vividly. It was 1985, a year after we came to the states, and we were invited to my parents’ friend’s house, who cooked us and other new Japanese expats traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce – the works (they were also Japanese but had been in the U.S. much longer than many of us there). Perhaps looking back, maybe those dishes were not all that authentic (I have a sneaking suspicion that there were soy sauce hidden somewhere) but for many of us who were completely foreign to this mysterious holiday, seeing a whole turkey displayed beautifully across the table never felt more American — the world we only knew through movies and books!

For the next two decades, our family developed our own Thanksgiving tradition, with my mother cooking turkeys and traditional side dishes. It was a trial and error for my mother, who learned to cook turkey and stuffing simply by looking at holiday spreads on a magazine, and peaking her curiosity while strolling down the isles at a supermarket in the autumn months.

About five years ago, my mother passed down the torch and Thanksgiving became my holiday, and a chance to hone my cooking skills. I was becoming increasingly interested in cooking and baking around that time, and she thought it was a good chance for me to tinkle around in the kitchen, while she finally got to relax. For the first several years, I cooked the same items my mother cooked, the same way she cooked them. But through time, I got bored with traditional stuffing and mashed potatoes, and decided to explore into more seasonal and healthy alternatives.

I replaced regular turkey with an organic, free-range kind. I ditched regular potatoes for parsnips. I bid farewell to heavy cream and welcomed in soy milk. And I even said goodbye to pancetta, bacon, and another flavor-enhancing animal products and replaced them with vegetable or chicken stock.  I even started using agave nectar in place of sugar. Sure, I agree that these products make foods taste delicious and I may incorporate them from time to time, but everything is done in moderation. And when I do use BS ingredients (Butter and Sugar), we only eat a very small portion of it. Our Thanksgiving has evolved into a unique culinary festivity with no real resemblance of the old tradition, but I think our family enjoys the new tradition that we’re rewriting every year.

This was my first year hosting the dinner at my new place, and while every part of my body was hoping to impress everyone with beautiful centerpiece and mind-blowing dinner, I decided to go the opposite direction and go super simple, serving dishes that required only little cooking.

The turkey was very straightforward. I rubbed the mixture of minced garlic, Dijon mustard, chopped parsley, sage and dill, olive oil, and salt and pepper, all over the 10 lbs. bird and cooked it in the 375 degree (F) oven for about four hours. There was no stuffing up the … um .. cavity, only lemon wedges around the pan from my folk’s backyard.  I must say that the meat came out slightly dry but it was still very flavorful.  I didn’t make the gravy even through there was a pool of juicy dripping at the bottom of the pan because I thought it would be too greasy.  True Japanese family that we are, we sprinkled drops of soy sauce for extra flavoring!  🙂

For starter, I prepared my go-to appetizer of prosciutto-wrapped asparagus for everyone to enjoy when they arrived.  Everyone munched on these, olives and enjoyed red wine while I finished up the last of cooking.

Instead of the traditional mashed potatoes, our family favorite is mashed parsnips made by mashing the boiled roots and cooking it with low-fat milk (it is so sweet, filling, and delicious).

I did not plan on cooking a cauliflower dish until I found these purple ones at a supermarket. It was so beautiful and enticing that I HAD to have it. I cooked the florets with chicken stock and flavored them with curry powder and cinnamon.

This red cabbage dish was perhaps my favorite of the night. I picked up the red cabbage because I fell in love with the deep purple color (what is up with me and the color purple this year?), and while trying to figure out what I should do with it, I came across this recipe for Braised Red Cabbage on the Food Network site, courtesy of Guy Fierri. I didn’t follow the recipe much, but I got the inspiration to cook it in red wine vinegar and agave nectar for a perfect combination of sweet and tangy! I know I’m going to make this dish over and over again!

Our Thanksgiving is not complete without the simple but delicious grilled vegetables. I marinated the sliced onions and zucchinis in olive oil and red wine vinegar for several hours, and grilled them on a pan with a little more olive oil.

This sautéd string beans was inspired by a dish I had the other day at Buca di Beppo. I fell in love with the way the string beans were flavored with tangy lemon, and I tried to replicate it here.

I don’t know why people buy a canned cranberry sauce when it’s so easy to make one yourself that tastes 10 times better than the manufactured ones! I made mine by cooking the cranberries with a juice of one orange, its rind, three tablespoons of agave nectar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. It was still very sour but it tasted so good with turkey meat!

And last but not least, I made Ina Garten’s Pumpkin Roulade with Ginger Buttercream for dessert (okay, you caught me. This is THE super duper guilty portion of the meal redface ). I was intimidated at first because the recipe was labeled “difficult,” but don’t believe it – this is really simple to make! It is a little tricky to roll the cake with a kitchen towel but if you follow the direction carefully, it will come out okay.  The pumpkin spice cake was delicious and the mascarpone filling was so rich that you only need a small slice to feel satisfied and completely euphoric (which is great when you only have a little room left in your stomach)!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your loved ones! 🙂 There are so many things to be thankful for this year, and I was really happy to be able to spend it with my family. My boyfriend was sick and he couldn’t join us this year … I’m sending him my love and my wishes for a speedy recovery! (Feel better, honey! I love you!)

Vegetarian Thanksgiving (except for turkey)

thanksgivingI thought last year’s Thanksgiving dinner was pretty healthy, but I wanted to one-up it by eliminating all butter, sugar and milk (including cream) from the menu this year.  I wanted to make the meal extra healthy for my friends and family, as we all hate being in food coma and spend the entire night regretting all the greasy food we consumed, which we, admittingly, do all too often. All the sweetness from this night’s dinner came from Agave nectar, a much healthier and tastier alternative to refined sugar.

Expect for ①the turkey, ②cheeses for the appetizer and ③the gelatin used for dessert, everything on the table was vegetarian. I know it sounds weird (it’s like so-called vegetarians claiming that they don’t eat meat except for bacon), but all side dishes this year had absolutely no animal products in them. Although everything was organic, natural and cooked with very little sodium (thus very light in salt), no flavors were compromised.  Instead, I though everything actually tasted more robust and very, very fresh.

What was so interesting about this year’s approach was that I didn’t have any set recipes when I got in the kitchen in the morning to begin the cooking process. I just went with whatever I felt like at that moment (any other day and all dishes would have come out completely different). Even when I went grocery shopping earlier this week to Whole Foods, I didn’t really know what I was going to make. I just walked around the store and picked out all the ingredients that looked good to me. When I picked up bunches of kale, I had no idea what I was going to do with them. The same goes for the parsnips — I had never cooked with this root vegetable until this night. I just relied on my body to tell me what I was truly craving.

I bought the organic, free-range, 10-pound turkey from Whole Foods (which we named “Mary” because it came from a company called, Mary’s Turkey).  I rubbed the rosemary / sage / thyme / garlic (lots of garlic) / salt / pepper / olive oil mixture between the skin and the flesh, as well as all over the outside of the bird.  I stuffed it with lemons and cooked it in 375 degree oven for about 4 hours.  The skin came out cripsy and the lemons in the cavity made the meat very tender, moist and flavorful.

Here are the side dishes for the night:

The appetizer plate, with olives, goat cheese drizzled with agave nectar, and manchego cheese (yes, these cheeses were not vegetarian, as you figured!). These are great to munch on when you’re waiting for all guests to arrive.  And I can never get enough of these lovely olives!


Parsnip puree with sautéed garlic and soy milk. I liked this better than traditional mashed potatoes because it was very light. Parsnips have this very distinct scent but the flavor is surprisingly mild. And soy milk made everything pluffy as well as, or better than, heavy cream. I recommend this alternative if you’re watching carb intake but still want something hearty and creamy.


Quinoa and vegetable salad. I cooked the quinoa in vegetable broth, added the diced, sauteed zucchinis and bell peppers, and dressed it up with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and lots of Italian parsley. It’s very similar to cous cous but I like the texture of quinoa better.


Very simple beets salad. I just boiled them and sprinkled sea salt on top.  Simple is best when dealing with beets.


Grilled vegetables. I first marinated onions, zucchinis and bell peppers in olive oil, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and dill, and grilled them on a pan on a high heat. I served the dish cold.


Lentil salad with dill. I cooked the lentils in boiling water, drained, and dressed them with simple Italian dressing.


Sauteed yam with sage (left) and kale in miso sauce (right). I wanted to oven-roast the yam wedges but decided to sautee them in olive oil and let it cook in a little bit of water instead.  I didn’t add any sweetner for this but they came out sweet.  Kale with miso sauce was inspired by the salad I had at M Cafe de Chaya, but instead of dressing it with heavy peanut butter sauce, I decided to use miso.  I made the miso sauce by mixing the red miso paste with a tablespoon of agave nectar, and pour it in the pan while I stir fried the kale.


Green tea panna cotta with azuki topping. We loved this dessert that I created on the fly.  I really didn’t want to bake this year so the gelatin dessert was the ideal alternative — easy to prepare and contains no butter or any sort of fat.  It only has soy milk, green tea powder, gelatin, and a little agave nectar for sweetness.  I was afraid at first that it wouldn’t set properly because I didn’t have heavy cream or milk in it, but it came out to a perfect consistency after letting it sit in a refregirator for about six hours!


In additionl to the food, I made these place mats specially for this night using Amy Butler’s fabrics 🙂 I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration with your loved ones!


Dinner Impossible? Healthy Thanksgiving Dinner

aa-turkeyChanges 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.