Buzzfeed’s Sara gives voice to the inner chef

I have a bit of an unhealthy relationship with Buzzfeed videos (when you’ve been unemployed for 10 months you’ve got to find ways to fill the time!). This one, though, gave me a good laugh so I thought I’d share.

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Food writing finds

I recently came across this listing of “20 Recipes Sam Sifton Thinks You Should Try in 2015” and thought I’d share it with you. There are a few other articles on food I’ve been reading lately. What’s especially interesting is the article about therapists encouraging cooking and baking as cures for depression. As someone who suffers from anxiety and very mild depression, I know first hand what a help being in the kitchen can be to my mood and mental state.  As the article says, “Psychologists call this type of therapy “behavioral activation,” and its popularity seems natural as it encourages goal-oriented activity, the WSJ reports.” Cooking becomes something to take your mind off stress. You have to focus on what you’re doing, which effectively crowds out negative thoughts. It also has the benefit of making you feel like you’ve accomplished something. I know I feel like I have more productive days when I’ve worked through a recipe or cooked something I enjoy. Hell, that’s how this blog started. I was bored and stressed out from not having a job, so I started cooking and crowding my friends’ Facebook feeds with pictures of all my creations until someone suggested I start a blog!

Thoughts on the therapy, or the other articles?

 

Thanksgiving Wrap Up

I know, I know. I said I’d post this yesterday, but really, the thought of all that food again made me a little green. This may be a long post, so get comfy. Maybe make a leftover sandwich.

First, big thanks go to my dad (see him in the potato post next to me) for helping me pull off the whole meal. We work really well together as a team in the kitchen. Also, to my grandmother (standing by the buffet in this post) for helping keep the kitchen from becoming a disaster zone by washing up dishes as we used them. Big help.

On to the food. We were rather more organized this year, I think. We did a lot more prep work on Wednesday that meant a little less oven chaos. My grandmother made the green bean casserole ahead of time so that on Thursday all she had to do was add the fried onions and heat it up. We also boiled the yams ahead of time to free up the stove top, which was helpful when dad realized he hadn’t preboiled the red potatoes like he’d planned. With those things out of the way, the first two and a half hours of cooking were pretty stress free, as all we had to worry about was basting the turkey.

The turkey, oh man. It came out so well. I was worried that having such a large bird with a long cook time would end up dried out. But with the brining and the basting and the cooking position, it was great. We started it breast side down, and then flipped it for the final hour of cooking. When dad went to flip it, the hip joints actually broke the bottom half of the bird away from the breasts, it was so tender. We ended up having to sort of Tetris the bird into place after that, the legs at one end, the breast at another, so that everything would brown nicely. We took it out a little after I had originally scheduled to (only about ten minutes late) because of other things going on in the kitchen, but it wasn’t dry at all. Dad carved it up, and we both pilfered a little as he went since neither of us ate anything after breakfast.

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There was so much meat from the bird that we only put one leg’s worth on the platter. One misstep with the bird though: we forgot to put the gizzards and neck in the roaster, so they’re still sitting in a ziplock bag in the fridge. Not sure what we’re going to do with them now.

As you saw, I also made my famous Brussels sprouts. I know a lot of people don’t like sprouts, but trust me, these will change your mind.

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Now, I usually do them with a little pancetta, but considering the richness of all the other dishes, I left that out. I’ll give you the recipe in another post to come. This was the only dish I felt I screwed up a bit. I got distracted and twice found that there was no liquid in the pan and they got a bit burnt in places, but everyone seemed okay with them and they still tasted great.

I’ve already mentioned that we did potatoes and yams. We actually did yams two ways. There was a discussion about how to do them that I’ll leave out, but it resulted in my grandmother preparing three yams in slices with brown sugar and butter, while my dad and I had them mashed with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. We actually went so far as to put the little mallows on top, which I didn’t think we were going to do, but for dad it was a “why not?” moment. So we mallowed them up! They were really good. In previous years I’ve done chopped butternut squash in butter and brown sugar, but we decided to mix it up a bit for this year.

Joining the starch party (so many, many starches on tables this time of year), we also made stuffing. Now, I love a good homemade stuffing, but that is too much work on a day like Thanksgiving (for me), so we turn to the standard: Stovetop Turkey stuffing. Besides the sprouts, the stuffing is always my favorite part. I really don’t know why spiced moist stale bread is so good, but it is!

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We also outsourced the gravy this year. I have in past done a gravy with the pan drippings, but this year we decided to be a bit easy on ourselves and got some premade. It did taste great, but I held back on having too much myself. The problem with outsourced gravy is that there’s usually some dairy in it. Now, that’s understandable. I know plenty of recipes use cream or milk to smooth out the gravy and give it a richer flavor. More power to ’em. But since I’m lactose intolerant, that wasn’t going to fly too far with me. This brand didn’t have any milk or cream, but listed in the “turkey flavor” parenthetical that there was lactose.

I’ve made some good strides lately, handling small amounts of dairy in milk chocolate and caramel (thank you Halloween for letting me test myself), so I did pour a little over my potatoes. What always gets me is the people who pour gravy over everything. Thankfully, no one did that at my table, but it always upsets me to see people do that. I understand it if the food is dry. Fine. But when I cook, I plan seasonings and such so that there are distinct flavors. Don’t go messing it all up by dumping gravy over everything. Isn’t your meal boring when it all tastes the same? Hmph.

Thankfully the cranberry sauce is spared from overgravying. We always get the can of Oceanspray cranberry sauce. It’s not the same otherwise. I may have to revise my earlier statement that stuffing is my favorite. Cranberry sauce is right up there. And you know what? I have to agree with Hamilton Nolan in this piece from Gawker on Monday. We should have cranberry sauce as a side all year. It’s delicious. Who’s with me?

So, let’s see. We had:

  • Turkey
  • Stuffing
  • Gravy
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Yams (two ways)
  • Mashed roasted red skin potatoes
  • Cranberry sauce
  • A fruit bowl (for the guests we had)

I guess that’s it. It was a long day, but a pretty good one. Hope everyone enjoyed theirs and had as successful a day of cooking as I did. Cheers!

Happy Turkey Day

AKA Thanksgiving.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. Graduating college, having a super supportive family, great friends I couldn’t do it all without, travel (over 2,000 miles this year), and of course, great food and people to share it with!

I hope y’all are having a great day. We’re getting ready this morning with a whopper of a bird, weighing in at 19.34 lbs. Biggest bird we’ve ever cooked. Something else I’m thankful for: dad will be doing most of the heavy lifting.

Surprisingly, most of the action in the kitchen won’t really get going until 2 pm, but I’ll keep you guys posted.

And yes, Kelly, I’m making the sprouts. (We should make a batch together!)

Good luck to all you tackling the turkey and sides today!

It’s officially Fall!

Okay, this has been true for a few days, but I don’t care. I’m still so happy that it is and now it’s October and it will be cold and I can bake and roast and do chefy things to my heart’s content. I’ve been out of the kitchen (in any real way) for a little while now, but I’ve been busy the last few days and I’ll have some new posts up soon. I’m hoping to get to the Farmer’s Market in Forest Grove today *crossing fingers*, so I’ll be blogging about that soon. Also, I’m working on posts about my crazy ice tea recipe, mushrooms, pasta sauce I make from scratch, and a few other things. Happy cooking!

Green things are my favorite

asparagus

 

Last night I took a small step back into the kitchen after a couple of days off. Dad barbecued pork chops and I made some oven roasted asparagus. This particular goodie is courtesy of the one cooking class I’ve taken. A few years ago during my first summer in Oregon, I took a three-day cooking course at Sur La Table in downtown Portland (conveniently across the street from Powell’s City of Books!) as a birthday present.

It was billed as a knife skill course, which I am sure I gained something in, but really I was exposed to great food and got to meet Gina Bellman (Leverage and Coupling). In it, we made everything from poached sea bass with orange sauce to crème brûlée to this asparagus dish, albeit in a different form. Originally, the asparagus was roasted in the oven with cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced shallot, and mozzarella. Can you guess why I changed it? Most of the time I cook it now, it’s the asparagus on its own. Occasionally I make the effort of slicing the shallots and placing them on top of the spears. It’s been quite a while since I involved tomatoes, but the more I think about it, I want them to make an appearance the next time I make this.

For those of you interested, I take a bundle of asparagus, trim them of their harder ends and roll them in a little extra virgin olive oil. I season them with salt, pepper, granulated garlic, and Italian herb seasoning. They roast at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, more or less depending on the spear thickness. I also turn them and move them around about half way through so that they evenly cook. When I add the shallot, I slice them about 1/4 inch thick and place them on top of the spears after a little seasoning, top them with their own small amount of oil and season it all up. The shallots on their own are pretty tasty. A bite of both is great. Try them out for yourself. What other flavors do you think would match well with this dish?

I’ve been a very busy bee lately

When I get bored, I do random things to fill the time. I’ve been very bored lately waiting to hear back about jobs and waiting for the Oregon weather to get with the program already, so I decided to try my own tactics to nudge Mother Nature in the right direction. First, I redecorated my house with my Fall foliage like I do every year at about this time. No luck. Next I tried lighting my fall scented candles. Nada. I thought I’d up the ante, so I looked up “Fall recipes” online. I didn’t make any serious moves, thinking I could just scare MN into action with the threat of baked butternut squash and maple glazed ham. But no, MN does not take kindly to threats. She decided to turn UP the heat. Well, the saying goes that if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. I do not heed platitudes well. Instead, I got IN the kitchen and it has been a friggin’ throw down with MN ever since.

pasta dinner

I started slow. Oven roasted some zucchini from my garden (still a summer veg). Made some pasta sauce from scratch (not counting the canned tomatoes–who has time to tiny dice 4 or 5 tomatoes when someone else is willing to for a cheaper price?). Both of those could be any time of the year dishes. But I also boiled some carrots. First hint of Fallishness food.

I’m going to take an aside here and say that if you have never had boiled carrots, you should. I usually put a bag of baby carrots in a sauce pan, cover them with water, and put them on the burner to boil/simmer until fork tender. Something sciencey happens to them in that water (I’m guessing something along the lines of cooking converting proteins to sugars, but then I’m not a scientist so that could be complete BS) that makes them awesome. They’re a little sweeter for their sweating, and I love them. The carrots are also my favorite part of chicken noodle soup, which is another dish I love to make in fall when there’s frost and the (gigantic) dwarf dogwoods in the yard start shedding their leaves. Admittedly, I’ve had a love affair with the orange veg for many, many moons. When I was a kid, my mom even joked that I would turn orange from eating so many carrots, not unlike Arnold in that one episode of Magic School Bus. (Yes, I went and looked up that kid’s name. Season 4, episode 6.) But back to my battle with MN!

In response to my modest turn towards Fallish foods, the next day was a solid three degrees warmer. Alright MN, you think you’re squeezing me? Let me show you what I’ve got. What I had up my sleeve was an epic grocery store trip with mom. By the time we had left the produce section, our cart was already about half full. I’m not kidding. That night, I tried to let MN stew on what was about to be unleashed upon her, and dad cooked dinner. He lulled her into a false sense of security by barbecuing steaks. We’ve always been a good team in the kitchen.

finished peppers

My next assault came in the form of stuffed peppers and broccoli. Now, I know what you’re saying, how are stuffed peppers a Fall food? Well, I had found the recipe in my “Fall recipes” search: Stuffed Jack-O-Lantern Bell Peppers. Bwahaha! Take that MN! Though I didn’t actually cut the faces into the pumpkins bell peppers (because I do not possess the patience or paring knife skill), I still chalk it up as a point in my corner. Also that night, I spontaneously decided to make banana bread.

banana bread

I don’t know if it was because I was on a high after dealing such a kick to MN and pumped for my next move, or if I was just tired of seeing this one sad banana in the bowl next to all the other bright yellow ones, but it happened. And it was delicious. After letting it cool (for all of 5 minutes out of the pan), I sliced right into the center and took a steaming piece. Banana bread and I go together like Forrest and Jenny.

The next morning, MN showed up, acting all tough despite the loaf shaped bruise on her jaw, and turned up the temp a measly two degrees. Pathetic. I, on the other hand, was raring and ready to go. At 5 o’clock I turned my oven on to 325 degrees and slid a beautiful ham in. I also had Brussels sprouts sitting on the counter and Pillsbury rolls in the fridge, ready to tag in. As the ham baked, I cleaned the sprouts and chopped the shallot that I cook them with.

Another aside, this time about Brussels sprouts. I don’t know how many times people have told me that they think they are gross, or smelly, or utterly unappetizing (because who keeps track of things like that?). Well, you know what? You haven’t had my Brussels sprouts. I have actually converted a few people with them (and soon the world!…I watched a lot of Pinky and the Brain when I was a kid). If you’re interested in my recipe, leave a comment and I’ll share. They are amazing.

Let me say, as much as I love these sprouts, they are a pain to clean and get ready. For that reason, I don’t do them that often. But this battle royale required nothing but my best. So I trudged on and they came out beautifully. The rolls were no big deal. They did their thing. The pièce de résistance was this:

apple pie

I baked an apple pie. From scratch! Yes, okay, the dough was store-bought. But I peeled and sliced all of the apples, and worked out my own seasoning mixture (which I’ll have to tweak for the next time I make one). With the ham, the Brussels sprouts, and this beautiful pie, I was pretty sure I had MN on the ropes. And I knew just how to finish her, Mortal Kombat style.

roasted chicken

I roasted a chicken last night. Along with it, I sautéed yellow squash, green beans, and asparagus pieces, and roasted some herbed potatoes. I’m not one to gloat, but it was definitely a TKO. Today’s weather? Overcast and six degrees cooler than it has been.

Update: It is raining. Muahahaha!