Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Wrap-Up!

It was a rather low-key Thanksgiving Day here at the Chez Nelson...and no wonder.  The menu was pretty understated (for me, that is):

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp
Blue Cheese and Pear Crostini

The Dinner:
Roasted Mashed Potatoes
Green Beans & Corn Medley
Cranberry Relish
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Dutch Apple Pie
Dutch Apple Pie with Blue Cheese

And then you remember that I did my Thanksgiving Dinner like this:

Layer #1 & 2: My mom's stuffing, which had, hours ago, filled the main orifice of Mr. Turkey.  Then, the stuffing layer was covered with a nice, generous layer of shredded turkey, cooked the day before.

Layer #3: A straight-up, no-frills corn and green bean medley.  Green bean casserole would be good.  So would scalloped corn.  So would diced roasted sweet potatoes or squash.  You just gotta have some vegetable in there.

Layer #4: Mashed potatoes.  I roasted some Yukon Golds in the oven first then mashed them up in my mixer.  Salt, pepper, garlic powder, butter, and milk.  OhEmGee.

Bake at 400 degrees until temp is 165.  We discovered that 350 was not hot enough to get this massive casserole heated through in 45 minutes...that's why we cranked it up.  Twenty minutes later at the higher temp, we were good to go.

So, essentially, this casserole is like a Thanksgiving Dinner all in one shot.  Some friends of ours asked us, Didn't you miss all the dishes on your Thanksgiving table?  Honestly, a little.  I mean, yeah, the table was pretty sparse-looking with just one blue Pyrex dish, one bread plate, and one gravy bowl.  But, did I like having the one-stop-shopness of this casserole?  You betcha!  Did it taste just like Thanksgiving dinner anyway?  Heck yes.

Would I do it again?  Maybe.  After all, this casserole best lends itself to traditional items...turkey, veg, potatoes, stuffing.  I did feel a little stifled, like I couldn't really go outside the box on the menu items, because I had to take into consideration how well it would go into the casserole.

But, it was fun and delicious.  Now, onto the Christmas meal planning...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Leftovers...For Thanksgiving?!

Well, what a month November has been.

My National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) novel is almost at 40,000 words, so I'm par to finish on the last day of the monthNothing like the 11th hour, right?

Professionally speaking, there are changes coming in the next month for me.  I took a job last month that didn't quite fit my overall career goals, so I'm making some changes in that regard.  Hopefully, this change will make my home life a lot less stressful.  I have also had some interesting business propositions come my way, and now I guess it's time to, putting it crudely, crap or get off the pot.

Or, like Andy Dufresne says in The Shawshank Redemption - get busy livin' or get busy dyin'.

I can talk more at length about that some time later.  For today, though, I am finally going to reveal my Thanksgiving dinner plans.

The past several years' Thanksgivings have been full-out, all the stops affairs.  And especially the past two years, there have been classic dishes with a Nelson-esque twist.  This year, however, it's a nostalgic return to simplicity.

The Casserole.

My mom and I were discussing The Original Happy Meal about two weeks ago and I jokingly said, we should do like an all-in-one Thanksgiving dinner meatloaf (although I think I used the word terrine, but she didn't know what that was).  And she was all like Yes!  But I was kind of kidding...

Then I realized that a Thanksgiving loaf had many, many pros: 1. Less dishes in the oven at one time and less dishes dirtied at one time in general.  2. No need to worry about fitting all the choices in on your plate, one slice of the loaf and the entire meal was right there.  3. More room for dessert.

Of course, were my in-laws coming to my house for Thanksgiving, I would not have even thought about doing this.  They are traditional people and they want traditional-looking food.  Truth be told, my dad's the same way, but he either eats the weird stuff my mom wants to eat, or he eats peanut butter sandwiches and Van Camp's pork and beans at home by himself.  However, this year, things just worked out in that way where the day is just the five of us and my parents...and we just do bizarre things like this.

Eventually, the loaf idea gave way to a layered casserole.  Mom's going to roast the turkey the day before and bring over turkey slices/pieces.  She's also in charge of gravy and stuffing.  I've got the mashed potatoes and vegetables (I'm also doing breads and desserts, which we actually discussed putting in the casserole too, but thought that really might be pushing the gross factor).

Just so you have an idea where this is all going, here's an example of it from  Notice how the original title is Thanksgiving LEFTOVER Casserole??  What do you call it when it's not leftovers but the first-time, fresh-from-the-oven foodstuffs?

You call it something like Thanksgiving Dinner In A Dish (like, Bed In A Bag, but Thanksgiving-related, you know).

Don't worry, you know there will be pictures.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November 18 - A Great Day for Tomato Marmalade

A little over a week until that great American holiday of Thanksgiving.  And the big furor this year are the number of shopping places that are announcing that they will open on Thanksgiving Day, in addition to Black Friday.  Of course, critics from sea to shining sea are outraged at the desecration of the sacred American Family Holiday.

You know, because we just can't have good family time any other day of the year besides Thanksgiving.

But, don't read that last sentence the wrong way.  Although close members of my family participate, I do not go Black Friday shopping...ergo, I would not consider shopping on Thanksgiving either.

To me, Thanksgiving is ALL ABOUT FOOD.  Of course it would be.

In fact, my mom and I already have our Thanksgiving meal planned.  I want to wait a few days...then, you'll all have your set Thanksgiving menus, and won't want to take my idea.

Let's just say it doesn't quite involve your mom's green bean casserole.  I'm not slagging green bean's one of the great dishes that nourished our parents through the post-WWII years.  But...there is a lot to be improved upon there. 

In the midst of the new job, meal planning, writing a novel, and so on and so forth, I rediscovered the word document file folder on my laptop called: Heather's Recipes, with a subfolder of Recipes to Try.  These particular recipes are ones I culled during my time on the island, when I would take out the subscription to Bon Appetit magazine and copy down recipes I thought would be good.  I've decided to attempt making all these recipes within the next several weeks...and discard the mehs and keep the keepers.

So, tonight was a little on the light side...and as it's Ethnic Night at Chez Nelson, a little on the Italian side as well.

The actual recipe, courtesy of Bon Appetit, is found here.  The professional food stylist for Condé Nast decided the final product should look like this:

Yeah.  That's gorgeous.  Someone for Condé Nast is really earning their paycheck.  But, let's put this recipe in its appropriate context...I got this from the August issue of Bon Appetit, when beautiful, colorful, juicy tomatoes and herbs were at their peak, and the weather was still warm enough to crank on the grill

And when one doesn't make this dish until mid-November when it's really cold, snow is on the ground, and the grill is put away...well, modifications need to be made.  I would appreciate it greatly if you could withhold passing judgment for now.

This is what I got:

 I know.  Not nearly as pretty as the professional.  But, I think it would taste just as good, if not better.

So, one loaf of Italian bread (from scratch would be best, obviously), cut into thick slices (like 1/2" or so). One pint-ish of cherry tomatoes, halved, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, garlic, basil and parsley.

I was fresh out of minced garlic, so I used garlic powder.

I could only find fresh basil at the grocery, so I bought that.  No parsley, so I got that squeezy tube stuff.

The recipe calls for raw tomatoes, but I roasted mine, because I just like the flavor.  They got soft enough that I could lightly mash them into what I will now call Tomato Marmalade.  And Tomato Marmalade's got possibilities:  take out the basil and parsley and sub in cumin and cilantro....Boom!  Southwest!

And instead of grilling my bread, I baked/toasted in the oven for about 10-13 minutes.  A little salt and pepper sprinkle over the finished product, and it was chow time.  I'd bought a fancy little meat platter from Walmart, and we had that with the tomatoes and bread.  Awesome.  Light and relatively easy.

Would be much better in August, true.  But like I'm going to tell Condé Nast that.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Procrastinate Daily...But Only If It Leads to Epiphany

The first week of National Novel Writing Month is over (NaNoWriMo), and because of work, kids' activities, and all that jazz, I have fallen behind on my word count.  So, on a free morning like I happen to have right now, I am doing the right thing...


It's weird.  I love to write, and I should leap at the chance to work on my story.  But, to be honest, it's been a struggle this year.  It's a story idea I absolutely love and have had in my head for about two years...but I feel like I'm killing it with my subpar, half-hearted writing.  But, that's my problem, not yours.  Your problem is to read my subpar, half-hearted writing here.

Ha.  Jokes!

So, anyway.  I'm procrastinating on writing my novel this morning.  Instead, I did my grocery list, submitted an invitation request for the new Echo on Amazon, flatironed my hair, and cleaned and organized my kitchen countertops.  And as always, cleaning and reorganizing any kind of home space usually results in discoveries of the various kind.  Like:

1. We have entirely too many tea bags.  Some have been around for quite some time, too.  How many bags of English Breakfast does one really need?

2. What do people do with extraneous kitchen tools like peelers, salad tongs, wooden spoons, spatulas, etc?  I suspect most people don't, like me, stuff these into ceramic crocks, Mason jars, or kitchen drawers.  I would like to know their secrets.

3. And while I'm thinking about it, what about bigger detritus like mixer or Nutribuller attachments?  Is there anything wrong, really, with chucking these things into a smallish Tupperware tub and shoving it into a corner of the kitchen counter?  And...if you knew someone who did this...would you judge harshly and condemn them to the ninth circle of Home Management Hell?

4. Appliances fall into a number of categories.  First, there are fixed and movable, yes?  Like, I can't shift around or put away my dishwasher, fridge, stove/oven, refrigerator - hence, fixed.  Movables are things like my coffeepot, Nutribullet, blender, food processor, mixer...ones I can put away.  But within the Movables category, there is a spectrum of subcategories.  At one end are appliances that are Necessary.  At the other end are Appliances I would categorize as Arbitrary.  For example, at the Necessary end would be my coffeepot, because I use it everyday.  Even though I could stash it in a cupboard somewhere, I don't because I'd just get it back out the next morning.  At the Arbitrary end is Kirby's Belgian waffle maker, which we maybe use, oh, once a month...usually on weekend mornings when we have time and energy to make waffles.  Not practical to keep that on the countertop, and not to mention, it's a lightweight little thing, easy to tote around.

Everything else falls in the middle.  True, I do not use my Breville mixer but once a week...maybe.  But it's heavy and cumbersome, and that's why it stays on the counter.  The Nutribullet and processor also stay because I use them often in the process of cooking or preparing foods or making smoothies in the morning.  And, upon reorganzing and pondering my kitchen space, I decided to take the blender downstairs to storage, namely because I used it mostly for smoothies, which I now have the smaller, lighter, and more efficient Nutribullet for.  The next time, though, I have a big Margarita party, I'll haul the Oster upstairs

And now, visuals.
The Big Three.  They meet daily on how they can better serve the Nelson household.
The Crockpot...spends most of its time as an Arbitrary.  But not today.  And not for Mr. Chicken inside.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

One Night Only: Bein' Korean

Tuesdays are Ethnic Food Night here at Chez Nelson.  So far, we've done chicken curry, shrimp and pork spring rolls, and alfredo lasagna (probably not really true Italian, but who's keeping track?).

Tonight, we paid a little homage to our Korean family with:

Bulgogi (a Korean marinated and grilled beef), rice, homemade white kimchi, and seaweed wraps.

The dynamics of this meal was incredible: savory beef, neutral rice, salty wrap, and spicy-sweetish kimchi.

I don't have much to say about this tonight, except that you should make it sometime.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Not A Manic Monday...A Marvelous Monday!

Monday is my Sunday...and Sunday is a fun day.

Good things:

1. The last soccer game was yesterday, and so now, our evenings and weekends will be soccer-practice-and-game free!  Let me say, though...I do support my children.  It's just, well, it'll be nice to have the time back...time to eat meals together again and whatnot.

2. My parents have dug up about a 14' x 24' patch in their backyard so that we can do a nice, big, communal garden next spring.  My mom and I are big garlic lovers, so we decided to give growing out own a shot.  And that special member of the Allium family went into the ground this morning to sit and get all deliciously garlicky over the winter.


I know it's hard to tell exactly what's going on here...but if you look at the top and bottom center of the picture, you'll a group of small bulb-looking things.  That's the garlic, planted in happy little groups.  The other junk in the picture are the worked-in scraps from my compost bucket.  I'm trying to be a friend to the Earth, see.

And this is the layer of pretty mulch put keep the garlics warm and hopefully the squirrels away too.

3. Mondays are a day off for me, and I have the peace and quiet of the kitchen to myself.  So, this morning, I've done two loaves of multi-grain bread, spiced squash soup for tonight, and prep work for tomorrow's Korean Dinner.

When I was doing the Monday-Friday daily grind, I used to dread Mondays, but now, I really love them!  Serendipity now!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

It's November!

Ate at P.F. Chang's today for lunch and received this fortune...

Hahahahahahaha!  How fitting.  It is, after all, National Novel Writing, yes, I will write a book.  Thank you, mass-produced Chinese fortune cookie fortune.

If I'm a little scarce here, that's probably the reason why.  Oh, and yeah, I need to talk about work here one of these days.  Along with craft beer.

Speaking of which...let this tide you over.

Trappist ales are my new favorite beer these days.  And tonight I tried them with an extra sharp cheddar.  Verrrrrry nice.