November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving, the aftermath

Well, here's the spread:

I guess I didn't need to add the leaves to the table (dying laughing). We ended up moving the chairs/place settings so we didn't feel like we were miles apart.

The turkey was delicious, but I overcooked it a bit. I'm not quite as daring as the folks who cook their turkeys to ~155-165, but I made the mistake of following the directions of the package and cooking it for 3 hours, which resulted in 180+. Next time I'll probably pull it out at 170. It was still pretty tasty though - just sayin.

The mashed potatoes and gravy were delicious as usual - thanks Dovie! We made sure to make more gravy this year because it's always the first thing to run out when eating leftovers.

I kind of screwed up the rolls, presentation-wise this year. However, they're more delicious than I ever remember. I decided to experiment and rise them overnight this year rather than doing it on the same day, and after reshaping them I did the second rise while the turkey was cooking. They grew really huge - I probably should have split them into two pans. What I ended up with was a pan-shaped mass of roughly divided (but delicious) bread.

The big new thing was the chestnut dressing. I thought it was good, but I don't think I'd put it above our usual stuffing recipe. This recipe has you shape the stuffing mix into patties and cooking them on a cookie sheet, which I've never seen before. The result was good, but I think I still like our regular recipe better. From a practical perspective shelling all those chestnuts was...interesting. I managed to cut myself under my fingernails on three seperate fingers while shelling them. Chestnuts are delicious though, so it was worth it. Next year I think I'll just add chestnuts to our usual recipe.

I also made some Cranberry daiquiris, courtesy Keith Law and bon appetit. I made them last year to mixed reviews, but I thought they were better this year despite the liberties I took with the recipe. I only use one type of rum, and this year I used the cranberries from canned cranberry sauce (GASP) instead of regular whole cranberries. They imparted more flavor, especially considering I didn't pick up any cranberry juice to dilute it. It was still pretty strong, but very drinkable. Klaw's warning is very important - I drank one glass during dinner but drank the rest while making stock with the carcass afterwords.

Pie-wise, I just made an apple pie, which disappeared rather quickly over the holiday weekend. It's not necessarily my best pie (see: Peach-Blueberry/mixed berry pies for the champ) but it's probably my favorite and one of the easiest. Pie making is so easy now that I've learned how to use my obliterator for makign good pie crusts. I've earned the ire of my mother for trashing her traditional family pie recipe (which IIRC uses Crisco) for being waaaay too dry. I'm glad I've found a butter-based crust I like, and is incredibly easy to make.

Kira, of course, enjoyed Thanksgiving (her favorite holiday). I didn't get any pictures of her confusion about mashed potatoes, sadly. It's a good thing everything smelled so good, as she's pretty much blind now :( she's still hanging in there and is a happy girl, but I think she misses her buddy and is a bit lonely these days.

Final injury tally:
4 cuts (3 below fingernails, one minor one on thumb that I didn't notice until an hour or so later). One minor burn while basting turkey.

Overall: WIN!

November 23, 2009

Turkey Day lineup

It's about time I make a food post for once (dying laughing)

It's hard to believe this is the 7th Thanksgiving Jennie and I are having together. It's probably my favorite home-cooked meal of the year, other than maybe the decadent shrimp and grits that I occasionally bust out for major birthdays/anniversaries. It's one of Kira's favorites too.

Last year we had a great time, though we need to remember to crack a few windows as we keep cooking as this kitchen gets too hot when cooking a turkey. Jennie's best friend Kate took the train up from Louisiana and we had a grand old time. Sadly, no visitors this year. Here's the rundown

  • Definites:

    • Turkey Breast - Aside from the enormous size of most turkeys you can buy, Jennie and I found this is a great solution because we both hate dark meat. They're easier to cook, and we get more white meat than the full turkey we would normally get.

    • Mashed Potatoes - Jennie makes delicious ones. Also, there's nothing more amusing than watching a dog try to eat mashed potatoes and get confused.

    • Chestnut Dressing - I found some chestnuts at Trader Joe's this week and picked them up, remembering that Jennie's family has a legendary chestnut dressing recipe. This is the first time I've seen them sold anywhere I shop. I'm really excited!

    • Potato dinner rolls - Another family recipe of Jennie's that I'm a huge fan of. Maybe I just love baking though.

    • Obligatory Cranberry Sauce from a can - It's not thanksgiving without it. Bonus points for keeping as much of the can shape as possible on the plate

    • Spiced Peaches - Another thankgiving staple - delicious. Basically you cure some peaches in vinegar, sugar, and spices and end up with pure win

    • Cranberry Daquiris - per Klaw, these are delicious but can get you drunk in a hurry.

    • Apple (probably) pie - I used to be a HUGE pumpkin pie fan but that fell by the wayside for some reason when I was in high school. I love making (and eating) pies though so I'll probably bang out an apple pie tomorrow night. I might end up making some sort of berry pie instead though - they're my favorite but fall always makes me hungry for apples.

  • Maybes:

    • Regular Dressing - I think I'm going to make the chestnut dressing the day before and see how it turns out. I don't think we'll have enough energy to make two. We sure do LOVE our regular recipe too so it's a tough decision

  • Not this year:

    • Sweet potatoes - I despise the usual sweet potato recipes that make the rounds - they're usually candied or caramelized and have cornflakes and/or marshmallows in them. I had Thanksgiving at my Aunt Jonette's house (she's considered the best cook in my family) my freshman year of college and while the rest of her food was outstanding, I was floored that she would ever make a recipe with marshmallows in them. Why add all that to sweet potatoes? They're already delicious! My mom's recipe is taken from a Colonial Williamsburg cookbook and is closer to mashed potatoes in spirit - it uses butter and brown sugar with nutmeg and is quite delicious. Sadly it misses the cut behind all the other must-have foods, but it will be back on the menu when we have more guests (and/or a larger family!).

    • Green Bean casserole - This felt the axe of too-many dishes too, but will be back someday. We've made it a few times in the past but somehow our recipe is always a bit off. One thing that bothers me about it is that it doesn't keep well.

  • Non-food: This is the only day of the year when I wish I had a TV in the kitchen.

    • Macy's Parade - I dislike parades in general, but I've come around on the thanksgiving parade a little. The commentators are incredibly insipid and I hate how scripted all the parade performances are. But since I'm usually cooking during most of it, no big deal

    • Dog Show - I'm always rooting for the Cocker Spaniels, of course. They got little to no face time 2 years ago but I think one of them won its group last year.

    • Packers - Lions - Something tells me I won't be hanging on every play of this game. Now that Madden is retired I wish that Fox could bring back the Turducken leg as the game MVP as opposed to the incredibly stupid looking 'Galloping Gobbler' trophy.

    • Miracle on 34th street (the original) - another Thanksgiving tradition. My wife always cries when Santa talks to the Dutch girl in her native tongue.

Should be a good time!

November 14, 2009

Book review: The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Tedium book 12)

I was very excited when I went to the bookstore last week and picked up a copy of The Gathering Storm. I hadn't even realized it was out yet - we were there buying the last of the Meg Langslow books that my wife (and I) have been reading. When I spotted the book I thought "this is it! Finally the last book in this series!". It turns out I was wrong - it was merely 'part 1' of the last book in the series. The author died a few years ago but he and his wife (who is also his editor) passed on his notes to another fantasy author to finish it up. After you've already written 11 huge books in a storyline you need some kind of closure.

I've got a long history with the Wheel of Time (aka Wheel of Tedium). It was one of the first mainstream fantasy series that I began reading back when I was 11 or 12 years old. The first three books of the series are very good - it's your usual epic tale of three youngsters in a fantasy world with Destinies and Magic and all the usual stuff you expect to find. Then Jordan was hit HARD by plot bloat. Too many storylines spiraled out from his main story, and at times you lost sight of the original three main characters that started off the piece. In later books, it was not unheard of for one of them to not appear (or at least not have a POV at all), and it was hard to keep track of many of the marginally important peripheral characters who kept popping up.

As far as the new book goes, it was a good read and grabbed me in a way the last few books did not - I read the last 300 pages or so pretty much in one sitting. I can pick out a few reasons why:

  1. Stuff actually happened in this book. Several of the recent books (most notably, Crossroads to Twilight) were very light on both action and plot points. You can only read so many impromptu planning sessions where everyone disagrees with each other and is always glaring and getting nothing done. Everyone in this universe is incredibly convinced that they are Right and everyone else is Wrong (and generally, idiot children for doing/thinking what they do) and never bends in their judgement. This time around people actually made decisions and confronted their enemies (or did stuff despite the objection of their allies). Of course the bigger thing was that people didn't spend as much time fuming over what everyone else has done. Basically the outline of the last few books has been:

    • First 600 pages - eveyone fumes and argues over the Major Event that happened at the end of the last book and tries to figure out how it works to their advantage

    • Next 50 pages - people start making plans

    • Next 50 pages - one of the POV characters does something

    It could just be that new the author is pressed for time/space now (since presumably he only has a book deal for these last three books, but whatever it is, thank goodness we're getting more plot points now.
  2. This book largely consisted of POVs that I actually gave a crap about (and in one case, changed my opinion of one of the other major POV characters). Honestly, I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book was the total lack of Elayne Trakand in it. I've never really liked her, but was okay with her when she was a secondary character in the B storyline of Egwene/Nynaeve/Elyane, even though that storyline wasn't really my favorite either. But Elayne has always had that whiny-princess-who-is-'actually tough' but is really just incredibly bitchy/catty vibe that drives me nuts.

    Of course, that's kind of a problem with all of Jordan's women from what I can tell. I don't know if he hates women or what his deal is. Almost all of the women in this series are incredibly bossy and opinionated, which is fine, since women absolutely should be assertive and have opinions. However, nearly all of them can be incredibly catty with other women and think that all men are idiot children who can never make a single decision for themselves and require the guidance of a woman just to tie their shoes, and are always seeking to manipulate everyone around them in any way possible. Some of that has to do with the Aes Sedai in these novels - there is a big large-scale power imbalance because for the past 2000 years women have been the only ones who can work magic in this world, and those who can live centuries-plus long lives and are experts in scheming. However, this is true of women even outside of that community as well (see, for example, Faile Bashere) and can be incredibly frustrating. The main character (the Dragon Reborn) is a kind of messaianic figure who's supposed to lead the forces of the world against the forces of darkness in an armageddon-ish battle, and all everyone (various Aes Sedai factions, other empires, all led by women) can think of is how best to get him under their control so they can be the ones in charge.

    Anyway, I did change my views on one of the POV characters in the series. In the last few books one of the main characters was raised to be the leader of the rebel faction of Aes Sedai, despite (or really because of) her youth and inexperience. They wanted a leader they could use as a puppet but found an actual leader who actually led them, which is a real rarity in these books. In this book she had been captured by their opponents and their batshit crazy leader and managed to undermine her entire regime by merely being the bigger person for once, instead of the usual route of skulking, scheming, and arguing with everyone about semantics for pages upon pages upon pages (there's a reason why the series is nicknamed the Wheel of Tedium).

Anyway, long story short (heh), I did really enjoy this book and I'm tempted to re-read all of them again. I sold all of my copies when I heard Jordan died a few years ago though. As I've got plenty of books yet to read (and my dissertation...) I guess it will just have to wait.