Sunday, November 27, 2016

Holiday Soiree: Thanksgiving

The Holiday: Thanksgiving(United States)
We all know the basic story/myth behind Thanksgiving in this country: The Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims and the Native Americans sharing a meal. Most sources say this took place in or around 1621. We'll probably never really know what actually happened, but we have built a narrative around what information we do have.

What you may or may not know, though, is what happened afterwards. Thanksgiving wasn't an annual celebration until over two centuries later. New York state became the first state in the Union to adopt an annual Thanksgiving celebration in 1817, and it wasn't until 1863 that President Lincoln declared the holiday to be celebrated by the entire country, in an attempt to unify a nation torn apart by war. It wouldn't be until the 1870's, though, when all states actually started participating.

From that time, until 1939, the holiday was celebrated on the last Thursday in November. President Roosevelt changed the date to the third week of November, in hopes of giving shoppers an extra week between Thanksgiving and Christmas in an attempt to boost the economy, which was still lagging due to the Great Depression. The outrage was so great, however, that by 1941, he changed it to the fourth Thursday in November, which is has been ever since.

Regardless of the true history, or how the dominant culture treats minorities in this nation, I still feel that there is nothing wrong with setting aside a day for being grateful for what we have in our lives. If done right, that gratefulness could be used to extend kindness to others. I think it's actually intended to be so, but we forget that part, most of the time. This is how I choose to think about Thanksgiving.

The Food: Stuffing Bread, Vegetarian Dressing, Cranberry Applesauce, Holiday Cranberry Tart, and Turkey Hash

I started these last Saturday, but because of timing and when I would actually get to taste them, I decided to put off writing this post until this weekend, when I could write about all of them from start to finish. This will be a long post, be warned!

Stuffing Bread
3 1/2-4 cups flour
2 Tbsp. active dry yeast
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. rubbed sage
2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 egg
For Stuffing:
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted
3-4 cups chicken broth or water

In a mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour, yeast, sugar, and seasonings.
Add water and oil; beat just until moistened. Add egg and beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.
Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down dough. Shape into a large round loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet. cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Bake at 375 degrees for 25-35 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

To make stuffing, cut cooled bread in 1" slices and then into cubes. Let stand 24 hours to dry.
In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, eggs, butter, and enough broth to achieve desired moistness. Stir to blend.
Transfer to a greased 2-qt. baking dish.
Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes. Uncover, bake 10 minutes longer or until lightly browned. Makes 8 servings (Editor's note on the recipe card: Stuffing may be used to stuff a turkey, chicken, or pork roast by substituting 3/4 cup egg substitute for eggs.)
This recipe is courtesy of Marion Lowery of Medford, Oregon, from the December/January 2001 edition of Taste of Home magazine. I have had this recipe forever and every year I looked at it and thought about trying it out, but it never happened. I thought this blog project was the perfect time to finally do it. It was so worth the extra work of making the bread. I ended up using about 5 cups of liquid for this, and I added sauteed onions and celery like a traditional stuffing. I used vegetable broth to make it suitable to the vegetarian in my family. It ended up being about 3 cups broth and 2 cups water. My entire family enjoyed this recipe and I am currently trying to convince my mom to switch over to it next year and use it in the turkey. I'd love to see how it tastes with the turkey flavor.

I made this bread last Saturday, and cut it up on Tuesday to sit and dry out a bit. I assembled the stuffing on Wednesday and baked it Thursday morning. There were a lot of leftovers, and I used some of them for last night's blog meal.

Turkey Hash
2 Tbsp. butter
1 med. onion, chopped
2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
2 cups leftover stuffing
2 cups (1/2" pieces) leftover cooked turkey
1 cup leftover cooked vegetables, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped(I skipped this, I think parsley is one of the most useless herbs in existence. Don't waste your money on it.)
1/2 cup leftover cranberry sauce

In 12" nonstick skillet, melt butter on medium. Add onion and cook 8-10 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently. Stir in mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and vegetables. (You have to really stir it a lot to get it to mix together, but I think it's better that way.)
Cook 20 minutes, turning occasionally and pressing with spatula, until browned.
Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with cranberry sauce. Makes 4 servings; 550 cal, 23g fat, 6g fiber
Like all hash recipes, this one looks a bit like a train wreck, but boy is it delicious! There's just nothing elegant about how a hash looks, but it's all about the flavor anyway, right? And don't skip out on the cranberry sauce, it really enhances the overall taste.

And speaking of cranberry sauce, why not try out the sauce I made this year? It turned out to be pretty excellent!

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
2 cups sliced tart apples
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup honey
Zest of 1 orange

Combine cranberries, apples, water, and orange juice.
Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until cranberries have popped and apples are tender. Add honey and orange zest.(I cut down the amount of honey to as little as I could get away with. I ended up doubling the recipe because I had too many apples, but ended up using only a bit over 1 Tablespoon of honey. Start with a small amount and adjust to your personal preference.)
Puree in a blender.(I used a hand-held blender.) Serve warm or cold. Makes about 3 cups.
This sauce is really smooth, more like an applesauce with cranberries than a cranberry sauce with apples. It's really easy to make too. I highly recommend this one.

And now that we're on the subject of cranberries, we can move onto the dessert!

Holiday Cranberry Tart
1 med. orange
2 bags(12 oz. each) cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup shortening(I used butter or you could use lard if you want)
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened

1.) Prepare Filling: Grate zest and juice the orange. In 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat, heat orange zest, orange juice, cranberries, and sugar to boiling.
Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, uncovered, until cranberries pop and mixture is very thick, about 20 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat; cool filling to room temperature.(This can be done a day ahead and kept in the fridge until ready to use.)
2.) Prepare Pastry: In medium bowl, using fork, mix flour, sugar, and salt. With pastry blender, cut in shortening and butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Sprinkle about 4 Tbsp. cold water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, into flour mixture, mixing lightly with a fork after each addition, until dough is just moist enough to hold together. Shape dough into disk; wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, about 30 minutes.
3.) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On lightly floured surface, using floured rolling pin, roll dough into 12" round. Press dough onto bottom and up side of 10"x1" round tart pan with removable bottom.
Press overhang in and against side of tart pan to form rim 1/8" above edge of pan. Using fork, prick dough at 1" intervals to prevent puffing and shrinking during baking.
4.) Line tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake 20 minutes; remove from oven. Turn oven down to 375 degrees and remove foil and pie weights from the pie.(The original recipe calls for you to bake longer after taking out the foil and weights but this overbaked my crust. I do not recommend doing this step.)
5.) Meanwhile, prepare crumb topping: In medium bowl, mix flour, sugars, and cinnamon until well-blended. Using fingertips, work in butter until evenly distributed. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.(This can be prepared a day ahead.)
6.) Pour cranberry filling into tart shell (no more than 1/4" from the top.) Using hand, crumble topping into chunks; sprinkle evenly over filling.
Bake tart until crumbs are golden brown, 30-40 minutes, if necessary, covering edge of crust with foil to prevent browning. Cool in pan on wire rack at least 30 minutes.
Makes 10 servings; 425 cal, 19g fat

I didn't alter the sugar content in this recipe because I didn't want to mess with the texture of the sauce. This was really tasty, but you don't need a lot. I tried my piece with Cool Whip(don't judge me, you try liking delightful whipped cream and being lactose intolerant. You'll turn to this stuff gladly, rather than have nothing at all.) and that made it even better.

Well, I am really glad that all of my recipes turned out ok this year. It's always risky trying out new things for a holiday meal, but I like the excitement and challenge of it. I would make any one of these recipes again. The cranberry sauce and tart would also work well for Christmas.

I hope everybody had a lovely Thanksgiving! Stay tuned for next week's post. I think you'll like it!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Holiday Soiree: Guru Nanak Jayanti

The Holiday: Guru Nanak Jayanti(India)
This joyous holiday celebrates the birthday of Guru Nanak Jayanti, the first Guru, and creator of Sikhism. He was from what is now Pakistan. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion with it's roots in both Hinduism and Sufism, though it is entirely its own religion. It was created in the late 1400's.

Sikhs are known for being very peaceful people, yet oftentimes they are mistaken for terrorists by people who don't know any better. Because Sikhs wear head coverings, and many Muslims do as well, some people don't know the difference and also think all Muslims are terrorists, jump to the wrong conclusion. If you have any Sikhs in your life, make sure to wish them a happy celebration on Monday!

More information
More information2

The Food: Lassi and Badam Halwa
This holiday is actually known for a traditional food, Karah Prasad, a sweet made with semolina flour, but I completely forgot this in my researching for recipes and came up with the other two recipes instead.(This week has been rough, and my mind has been a bit distracted. It's sort of a miracle I managed anything all today, actually.) Oh well, maybe next year I'll remember! I made sure the recipes I did choose were sweet, because that is what this holiday is known for most. At least I got that right!

The first recipe is Lassi, or a beverage made from yogurt. I happened to have all the ingredients on hand, which is always nice! This is ridiculously easy to make. I will provide the link to the recipe here, but describe the process.
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, and use a hand-held blender to combine it all. Be careful with the rose water, it is very strong. I didn't measure the sugar, but I think it ended up being about a tablespoon or so. When you blend it, taste it and adjust the sugar and rose water to taste. That's really all it took to make this. Probably three minutes tops!

The next recipe, the Badam Halwa, is a little more complicated and took a bit more time. Here is the recipe. Badam Halwa is an almond pudding that tastes a little like marzipan.
You start by soaking almonds in water for two hours. I stirred them around a couple times while they soaked.
After they've finished soaking, you drain the almonds and remove the skins. I placed them in a towel, rolled it up, and rubbed it on the outside, which is what you do to remove the skins on toasted nuts. Alas, this does not work on soaked nuts. I had to come up with a different way. That way ended up being, actually squeezing the skin off of each individual nut. It took about 20 minutes to do, but as you can see, it worked pretty well. I should note, that these were raw almonds, not toasted.
The almonds are placed in the food processor, with the milk, and ground up as finely as you possibly can get it. I needed a spatula to scrape down the sides several times before it was as fine as it would get. During this time, I was also melting the butter for the ghee, and making the simple syrup. Because I tend to not read recipe instructions well, I missed that you were supposed to put all the sugar in the water for the syrup, and only put 1/4 cup sugar into an equal part of water. I found this to be plenty sweet, so keep that in mind if you make this. You do not need the full amount of sugar the recipe calls for.
This is what it looks like after you mix the almonds into the simple syrup, add the saffron(which I didn't have, and used a pinch of turmeric instead. Turmeric is also known as "poor man's saffron," so I thought it would be an acceptable replacement.) I also added 2 drops of yellow food coloring.
This is the finished product for both items. You can see how frothy the lassi gets. Almost an inch of foam on the top. The flavor is very unique. The tang of yogurt, floral note of the rose water, sweetness of the sugar, and the inexplicable flavor of cardamom blend into something I can't really describe. It feels like a substantial drink that you could drink instead of a smoothie. I'm not sure I would drink this a lot, but it's worth trying once, at least.

The badam halwa is really sweet and almondy. It is very much like a soft marzipan. I found a little went a long way. I was sweeted out after a few bites. I'm not sure why mine didn't seem as gummy-looking as the picture in the recipe looks, but as I look over the recipe again, I see that I was supposed to do all the stirring and mixing over heat...I didn't do this...That probably explains why mine didn't get as tightened up as the recipe version. I really do need to actually read these instructions before I cook! It still turned out good, though.

I am not very familiar with Indian food, either eating or making, so this was a good way to introduce myself to it. I believe I have at least one more Indian holiday scheduled in this project, so there should be more chances for me to try it out in greater depth. Maybe try something in the savory realm too. I did research savory recipes, but didn't have an opportunity to track down some of the more hard-to-find ingredients.

Well, as I said, it's been a rough week for all of us, hasn't it? After the election, I wasn't sure if I would be able to do a blog post today, or if I should even continue this project. Did anything matter now? Wasn't a project like this too trite for the world we now live in? But after a day or so, I developed that old theatre adage: The show must go on. Our lives will go on, and in times like these, levity, joy, and celebrations are more important than ever. So, I will continue this project, to give myself and others a brief moment of enjoyment, and also to show that I am not going to let anybody have that power over me. Nobody gets to take away what I love to do and what make me happy. If I let somebody have that power over me, then they have won over me, and I will now allow that to happen. So, I hope to see you all next week, and I hope we all get out there and continue to look out for each other. Let's reconvene next weekend to relax for a moment, and enjoy the next holiday soiree.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Holiday Soiree: Guy Fawkes Day


The Holiday: Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night (England)
So, who is Guy Fawkes, you may be asking yourself right now, and why does he get his own day over in England? Well, Guy Fawkes was what today we would call a domestic terrorist, in England. He was one of a religious extremist group who conspired to blow up Parliament(literally, like with gun powder and bombs and stuff). They were all set to follow through with their plans when they were caught on November 4, 1605. November 5th was declared a day of thanksgiving for the fact that Parliament was well and safe. Guy Fawkes and co. were summarily executed for their planned crimes, and ever since, England has celebrated in some shape or form. These days, it's celebrated with bonfires and fireworks.

You may not know it, but you know what Guy Fawkes looks like:
That's right, the V for Vendetta comic/movie guy and/or the Anonymous masks are both based on the likeness of Guy Fawkes. Today, some people look to him not as a domestic religious extremist terrorist, but as a folk hero or a freedom fighter. He has gone from historical figure, to mythical figure, which means that his story will change to fit the times. Me? I'm a fan of historical accuracy, so I will probably continue to look at him as an extremist domestic terrorist who was going to use violence instead of words to solve his problems, but you are welcome to think of him however you will! And if you're not in England, you most likely won't think of him at all...Oh, and if you're looking for something with a connection to Bonfire night, try out the Sherlock episode entitled, The Empty Hearse. One of the major plot points takes place then, so you can feel connected to this holiday!
Source: Guy Fawkes History

The Food: Tomato Soup, Bangers and Wedges, and Flapjacks
So, what does one make for Guy Fawkes Day? There isn't a specific dish, so it's sort of up to you. I have a British co-worker, so I asked him for advice. He told me about his family's tradition to eat tomato soup out in the backyard while watching the fireworks. I have always wanted to make homemade tomato soup, so I thought this was the perfect time to try that out. As for the rest, I just looked around for traditional British food that would work well for this time of year. Comforting, homey foods. Bangers and Mash is one of those quintessential British dishes and I've never had it before, so it was a perfect time to try it out. And among the desserts I found, Flapjacks was so intriguing. I mean, for us, "flapjacks" is another word for "pancakes," but for them it's an oat-based dessert. It was a lot of cooking for one blog meal, but I couldn't narrow it down, so it just had to be done. And I regret nothing because they were all awesome!

First up is the tomato soup. I am a purist when it comes to tomato soup. I don't want basil or onions or garlic mixed in with it. I was raised on Campbell soups, so I want mine to taste like theirs, but minus the corn syrup. There is one other brand out there I have found that tastes almost like Campbell's but is dairy-friendly, but making homemade is fun! It wasn't nearly as complex as you might imagine it would be. If you've never done it before, you should give it a try!

Tomato Soup (Source Unknown):
6 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter or olive oil(I used butter because I like the flavor better)
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup milk
Salt/Pepper/Butter(I didn't use this butter at the end as instructed, but you might want to)

Saute the tomatoes in the butter or oil until they are tender. Mix the tomatoes with the tomatoes with the chicken stock, and simmer for 20 minutes. Run the mixture through a blender or puree with a hand-held blender.
(My note: This ended up clogging my hand-held blender with pieces of tomato skins, and there were a lot of seeds, so I poured all of this through a sieve to take these out. It seemed less thick after that, but I didn't care because I didn't want to eat that stuff. But you don't have to do this if you don't want to.)
Put back on the heat, and add the milk and a pat of butter. Heat through. (Season with salt and pepper, to taste. If it tastes too acidic or one-note, regardless of how much salt or pepper you add, try adding a little bit of sugar. It really can help balance out the flavors with tomatoes. I remembered this when I was tasting my soup and couldn't figure out how to get it right, and I tasted it again after eating an orange Life-Saver and it made the flavors balance out! It's funny how you discover/rediscover stuff sometimes!)
Makes 4-6 servings.

Next up, is Bangers and Mash, or Sausages and Mashed Potatoes. Except I had some potato wedges left over from lunch and wanted to use them up so I used them instead. I have renamed it Bangers and Wedges, which I think is just as catchy as a name and I'm actually shocked that nobody makes it like this cuz it's really good this way too.

So, the Bangers are just a type of British sausage that aren't a breakfast sausage. They're rather mild-flavored. My store has them in the fresh meat section, and I would recommend looking around for some because any other sausages will have the wrong flavor profile for the dish. These are pretty good sausages, but as far as sausage goes, I have to give the prize to the Germans. Nobody does it better than them. Sorry, Englishfolk, but you're going to have to take second place on this one.

Since the recipe is from an online source, I will provide the link here: Bangers and Mash, but describe my process.

For the mashed potatoes, just make them the way you always do. There's nothing out of the ordinary about them. The recipe calls for you to cook the sausages by pan-frying them, but since they are fresh, I boiled them first. Just pan-frying never seems to fully cook fresh sausages and I am more comfortable boiling them first and then frying them.

I cut the gravy recipe down to 1/4th of the original and it turned out just fine. I also replaced the beef broth with chicken broth and was very pleased with how it turned out. It's a pretty simple gravy recipe, so don't feel nervous about it.
Here was the final result for my soup and main dish:
I tried to follow the advice of my coworker who says his family put slices of cheddar cheese on their soup and used pieces of bread to dip into the soup and cheese, but my cheese immediately sank to the bottom of the bowl. I spent a good chunk of money and bought the good cheese too, but it still sank. It was tasty though!

The meal is a bit monochromatic, I will admit, but the traditional vegetable side dish for Bangers and Mash is mushy peas and I don't eat peas. I think they're gross and I refused to have them on the plate. But, if you like peas, feel free to add them to your plate and I'm sure they'll add a lovely splash of color!

And now for dessert, or pudding. I don't know why these are called Flapjacks, but they are. And I was highly impressed with this recipe too. I found a really simple recipe online, here. And I'm going to be extra mean by not translating the amounts to whatever not-Metric is called. I happen to have an electronic scale that does grams, but they have online calculators too that you can use.
All the magic is done in the food processor. I honestly have no idea what you'd do for this if you don't have one. I would recommend buying one if you don't have one yet. It really is an invaluable kitchen tool. It was difficult to mix everything together because it was pretty full and the butter didn't want to move around. I had to shake the machine while it was running to get it to work and even then it didn't work entirely. I ended up pouring it into the prepared pan and mixed it with my hands before pressing it down.
I baked it for 20 minutes but it didn't seem done at the end of that time so I put it back in for a few more minutes. It was nice and golden by that time.
I scored it before baking, as instructed, by as you can see, they didn't hold up while baking and I had to cut them again. It hardens over time, but is still nice and chewy. Today I tried them but microwaved them for a few seconds first. That seemed to revive them perfectly.

These are awesome! They taste just like oatmeal cookies but without any flour. If there is no gluten in brown sugar or corn syrup, then these are actually gluten-free. If you love oatmeal cookies but can't have gluten, you will love these! You could even put raisins or chocolate chips in these too, if you wanted. In fact, the more I think about it, I think everything in this menu is actually gluten-free. There's no flour in anything, except maybe the sausages. You would have to look at the package, but I think mine had breadcrumbs. They might make gluten-free kinds, I'm not sure. At least the gravy is gluten-free.

I recommend all of these recipes. They are all spectacular! Eat them and then set something on fire!