Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner has a reputation for being ripe for disasters. This Thanksgiving was no different. Ironically, the only disasters came from the single dish I had made before on various occasions: the butternut squash soup. Two first-degree burns, a second-degree burn, and a ten-minute-state-of-panic-from-thinking-that-I-had-blended-cheesecloth-and-twine-into-the-soup later, Thanksgiving went much better than I had ever hoped.

Prepping started on Tuesday. What was supposed to be a three-hour trip to three different grocery stores ended up being a six-hour ordeal with the random bus schedules and routes because of a snowstorm that hit Seattle. In the end, the snowstorm was a blessing because Tuesday and Wednesday were announced snow days. With that announcement, cooking Thanksgiving dinner seemed much less daunting. After managing to pick up all the ingredients, I pumped out the Butternut Squash Soup with Crème Fraîche and the Orange-Cardamom Date Bars. The date bars were surprisingly easy and ended up having a delicious nutty flavor. Orange and cardamom might be one of my new favorite combinations.

Wednesday started off with boiling some brine. The brine included flavors from vegetable stock, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger. Next was some prep for the Rustic Herb Stuffing before making the Roasted Cranberry Sauce with Herbed Candied Walnuts. The walnuts were out of this world. If you ever need a table snack, make these walnuts. They're packed with herbs, are only slightly sweet, and leave you feeling healthier. Before heading out to watch Harry Potter 7 in IMAX, I put together the parts for the Green Beans, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried-Cherry Vinaigrette. After a break complete with obliviate, avada kedavra, and expecto patronum spells, I apparated back to my apartment to make some Pumpkin Ice Cream before my dad and brother arrived.

Thursday was a bit of a late start. After an energizing brunch, I started putting everything together: cooking the stuffing, cleaning the turkey, stuffing the turkey, making the turkey stock, thickening the gravy, roasting the garlic, and puréeing the cauliflower mash. Somehow it all came together for a timely dinner. Thank goodness my brother was there to make the Warm Root Vegetable Salad. Otherwise, we would have been eating much later than planned.

Anyways, on to the food!

The Butternut Squash Soup with Crème Fraîche was as good as I remember it from the last time I had made it, but it was a bit sweeter than usual. I love the way this recipe balances the earthy sweetness of the squash with the tart sweetness of the vanilla crème fraîche and the light heat of the cayenne pepper. The mix of herbs from the bouquet garnit also adds a nice subtle aftertaste of peppercorn and bay leaf.

I was most nervous about the Brined Turkey Roast with Rustic Herb Stuffing. The golden brown turkey was on the cusp of being dry in a couple areas of the turkey, but the rest of turkey was undeniably tender. The candied ginger and allspice berry flavors from the brine really came through.

I was also worried that I'd stuffed the turkey with too much stuffing (I really love stuffed turkeys), but the stuffing came out thoroughly cooked and moist. The baked excess stuffing was also delicious with its crispy golden layer.

The Mixed Mushroom Gravy was perfect with the turkey and stuffing. The rich spices of all three came together well, and the mushrooms added a great texture to a combined bite. I was glad that the guar gum acted as a solid replacement to corn starch and thickened the gravy really well. I combined the recipe's porcini mushrooms with chanterelles and morels. I'm always wary about the use of dried mushrooms, but they actually accentuated some of the mushroom flavors. It wasn't the chanterelle gravy that I love at Laurelhurst Market (a post on that restaurant coming soon), but I'm still proud of the product.

The Roasted Cranberry Sauce with Herbed Candied Walnuts was a little unfortunate. I think I messed up my conversions and put in a little too much stevia, making the sauce a little too sweet. I tried to salvage the flavor with more cranberries, but it was still on the sweet side. Tip to those who use stevia: convert as directed on the stevia container and divide that amount by half. You can always add more later without the risk of making the dish too sweet. The walnuts, as I said, were awesome. I still have a small batch on my table to snack on responsibly.

The Cauliflower and Garlic Mash was the most surprisingly simple and tastiest dish of the night. Who knew that steaming cauliflower, roasting garlic, and blending them together with a little salt and pepper would act as an amazing mashed potato alternative? Probably lots of people out there, but not me. With the gravy, the mash was even more delicious and mimicked the texture of a smooth and creamy set of mashed potatoes. I'm definitely making this more often, probably with some herbal variations here and there.

I really enjoyed the Green Beans, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried-Cherry Vinaigrette. I wasn't sure about the recipe at first because the vinaigrette tasted a little strong, but with the toasted walnuts and blanched green beans to balance the vinaigrette out, the dish really came together well. The vinaigrette was also packed with herbs, which helped it to relate with the rest of the meal.

The Warm Root Vegetable Salad came out well, too. There was a lot of prep involved, but the dish showcased a simple and clean combination of root vegetable flavors. The yogurt, walnut, and herb dressing was spot on and really helped to marry the subtle differences among the turnips, radishes, sunchokes, and beets.

Dessert is probably my greatest weakness. Making ice cream and desserts with sugar-free alternatives is a tough gig.

As I said before, the Orange-Cardamom Date Bars were amazing. I highly recommend trying out the recipe. They also stay really well in the fridge. The Pumpkin Ice Cream, on the other hand, was a bit of a flop. The texture was a bit chalky and the ice cream took on too much of the grainy texture of the pumpkin purée. I added a little bit of salt to bring the ice cream together with the date bars, but in the end, I think I'd rather just have the date bars separately. The journey towards figuring out how to make a delicious and consistent ice cream continues...

In short, this meal was all about a healthy, diabetic-friendly attempt at a Thanksgiving dinner. The main themes were typical Thanksgiving herbs (sage, tarragon, thyme), walnuts, and seasonal vegetables. Overall, I'm extremely proud of how it all came together and am looking forward to another opportunity to take a stab at a holiday meal. Maybe Christmas? Stay tuned.

Here's to family, friends, and good health.

Butternut Squash Soup with Crème Fraîche
How to Cook Like a Top Chef

Brined Turkey Roast with Rustic Herb Stuffing
Brine from Alton Brown's Good Eats
Roasting Technique and Rustic Herb Stuffing from Bon Appétit

Mixed Mushroom Gravy
Bon Appétit

Roasted Cranberry Sauce with Herbed Candied Walnuts
Bon Appétit

Cauliflower and Garlic Mash
Personal Guess & Check

Green Beans, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried-Cherry Vinaigrette
Bon Appétit

Warm Root Vegetable Salad
Harvest to Heat: Cooking with America's Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans

Orange-Cardamom Date Bars
Food & Wine Magazine

Pumpkin Ice Cream


  1. Found my way here from Dan's blog. :)

    Was wondering how your T-Day went! a) that herby stuffing looks incredible, b) wooden menu board = awesome.

  2. Dang dude this is one legit Thanksgiving dinner! So impressed with the diabetic alternatives too! My attempt totally pales in comparison with yours.


  3. OH MY GOODNESS. So impressed. I want to make that gravy and cauliflower mash. Also, this would be a prize post on any diabetic-friendly cooking blog.

  4. charlene: how was your tday? your pie looked BOMB.

    effing dy: YES. i'd be happy to host, bahahaha.

    steph: thanks :). let me know if you want those recipes.


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