Jeff and I are celebrating our Thanksgiving a day early here (two days early US time) – tonight, since he has all day work meetings AND a dinner (?!) on Thursday and we’re taking the train to Nanjing on Friday for the weekend, so wouldn’t be here to eat the leftovers if we had dinner on Thursday anyway. I’ve been cooking up a mess for two days. It’s quite … “fun” … since my oven is in Celsius (and can only set in 5 degree increments) – which never match up to 300, 325, 350 or any other “US” standard recipe temp. SO I either go up a notch or cook less time, or down a notch and cook more time.
Anyway, I have, as is my nature, gone a bit overboard on the menu. Which –after yesterday’s adventures may actually be a good thing as my edible results average isn’t that great (except in baseball. If cooking were like baseball, I’d be a star, as I rather consistently have a close-to 500 batting average….)
So, yesterday, I premade the following
All-Purpose Gravy: I made this almost exactly per recipe (except less than half of the beef broth called for), and it’s the one thing that seemed to turn out “correctly. It’s delicious.
Crispy Onions – for the Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions: I picked this recipe because – well, I love Smitten Kitchen – but also because I couldn’t find French’s fried onions so decided to try making them myself. Now that’s a whole lotta work (and oil to dispose of) for a pile of crispy onions but they ended up being delicious.
Crockpot Apple & Cranberry Sauce with Orange & Crystallized Ginger: Of course, the best cranberry sauce ever is the one on the back of the Oceanspray bag. But I couldn’t find any fresh cranberries here and thought that since there’s tons of ginger root, this might be interesting. Since I couldn’t find crystallized ginger, I found a recipe to make it. The crystallized ginger turned out wonderful, I think anyway. It looks like the pictures and tastes like candied ginger. (Ok, it has a REAL “bite” for something candied, but – good in small doses.). UNFORTUNATELY, I decided to get creative with the cranberry sauce. Me getting creative in the kitchen is generally not a good idea as stuff turns out only sometimes when I follow the recipe. BUT – the ginger recipe said to save the “ginger syrup” for future use. So, I tasted it and it was kind of good. So, when the cranberry sauce was still way too tart, I decided to add some ginger syrup to sweeten it up some more. That didn’t make it much sweeter at all – only slightly sweeter but now with a bite too. So I had to add still more sugar. Then - when I realized I was making things worse, I just stopped. Have a feeling there’ll be LOTS of leftover cranberry sauce – I’ll have to think of some way to hide the leftovers in some other dish.
Roasted Garlic Chipotle Sweet Potatoes: Another disaster. Jeff likes savory over sweet, so I was looking for a recipe NOT including brown sugar, etc. Only problem was that I couldn’t find Adobo sauce from chipotle chilies (or buttermilk, but wasn’t really worried about that). So I goggled and read somewhere (can’t find it now) that one can just “reconstitute” dried chipotle peppers in hot water. And, while I was trying to figure that out, I boiled the potatoes too long so they were way too mushy/watery. I drained and drained (but couldn’t use oven because the cheesecake was in there), but still too watery. Then … I added the not-really reconstituted peppers. It just made a mess – and didn’t make the potatoes hot/spicy either – I think because they were just too watery to start. Not sure what I’m going to do, but I’m going to play with a bit more today (can’t make them worse), and then serve them with leftovers tomorrow, depending on whether I can make them taste worth eating…
Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake: This recipe looks sooooo delicious – other than the pecans. I’m so highly allergic to walnuts and had a (very very) bad reaction a few months ago after eating some mixed nuts (that did NOT contain walnuts), that I’m not taking any chances on a nut that even remotely looks like a walnut. I know almonds are safe, so I used almonds instead. Also, I couldn’t find graham crackers – actually 3 different “ex pat friendly” stores carried them – but were completely out this week. (Also out of fresh sage everywhere. But that’ll just affect the chicken...) But I did find a “premade” graham cracker crust. It was all cracked up but – since I was using a spring form pan, I figured I had to break it up anyway. So – I did. Then added crushed almonds and just enough butter to make the stuff stick together again and reshaped it into the spring pan. But – have my serious doubts whether it’s going to hold.
I also could not find packed pumpkin anywhere, but pumpkins are plentiful, so made my own using this recipe – which really worked, although it took quite a while to get the last step right. (Of course, I can’t exactly ask which pumpkins are “pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins” – because those concepts just … don’t translate. But I knew that a small pumpkin at the local market was delicious after making clean eating pumpkin fries last week. I was glad that I was patient because -- ohmygoodness, the batter for this pie is lick-the-beaters-then-lick-the-bowl clean delicious. Then I baked. But – recipe said bake until center was “just set.” Well, I did google that to find out what it means and read this – and tried to follow it but think I guessed it right because five minutes after I took it out, it had fallen down/settled a good 1/3+ inch. Oh well. I still put on the sour cream topping (which seemed WAYY too runny to me), and put it back in – this time for 10 minutes instead of the 5, hoping that’d fix it. Don’t think it worked though it did make the edges brown. But at least it looked pretty (but for the too-brown edges) … right up until I laid a piece of wax paper over it (afraid cats would jump up – Gracie loves yogurt, sour cream, etc.). The wax paper fell down onto the top – which of course messed up the perfectly smooth top. I think I should have stopped at the batter phase and just served that in custard cups or something – it was truly scrumptious.
Sooo …….. after cooking most of the day yesterday, I have really tasty gravy and crispy onions. I have cranberry sauce that may not be edible. The sweet potatoes are not servable in their present state. The cheesecake is a mystery still – I’m afraid to take off the spring form until much closer to dinner, in case the topping runs and/or the crust crumbles.
HOPEFULLY, today will go better. I’m working on …
“Perfect Roast” Chicken: We’re having chicken rather than turkey. Turkey is not a Chinese meat, so it’s incredibly expensive. (I saw 8-10 lb turkeys in three stores – priced at between $90-$100 each). Even if turkey’s weren’t so expensive, our oven is so tiny I don’t think a 5 pound turkey would fit anyway, so – chicken it is.
“Simple is Best” Stuffing: I couldn’t find plain white bread, so used a French Baguette. Also added carrots just because the stuffing my sisters and I made always included finely chopped carrots, and it was always delicious.
Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions: Have the crispy onions, so just have to make the rest…
Balsamic Braised Brussels with Pancetta: Since I’m only batting 500, figure I need to make two greens in hopes that one turns out …
Garlic Mashed Potatoes: Since I ruined the sweet potatoes yesterday, I’m making plain ol’ mashed potatoes. They’ll go well with the gravy anyway. And I haven’t messed up mashed potatoes for a long time ….
It’s all an adventure, right? One (other) wonderful thing about this whole experience is that I have the time to “play” and figure things out. And I have a tolerant husband – who can make a great meal from scraps in 30 minutes or less, but still manages to tolerate most of what takes me hours to put together. (And, all this also keeps me busy NOT thinking about fact that we're 1000s miles away from family this Thanksgiving...)
Anyway, by the end of this assignment, maybe I’ll be a halfway competent cook if I keep trying …