Thanksgiving cooking frenzy

Around this time of year, people around the U.S. are often spending time writing out their grocery lists, planning what they are going to make for Thanksgiving, which is oftentimes one of the only times of the year they actually cook. It’s actually a bit comical that some people choose this to be the one time of year when they not only cook, but for whatever reason feel compelled to showcase their culinary abilities that are otherwise not used the rest of the year. And thus, they feel like they need to impress their house guests.

The funniest thing about major eating/family gathering events like Thanksgiving and Christmas is that oftentimes, people will still go for the usual favorites that are not particularly impressive presentation-wise, but simply are reliable, comfortable, and rib-stickingly delicious. While we hosted our friends for our early Thanksgiving meal tonight, we noticed that what seemed to go the fastest of all the dishes was the roasted garlic mashed potatoes. You’d hardly consider mashed potatoes an impressive dish, nor is it particularly time consuming to make, but in general, people just love it.

The dark meat on the tandoori turkey also went much faster than the white meat. Even as we encouraged our friends to take leftover food home since we’ll be leaving for Europe tomorrow, the white meat was what we mostly had left over for ourselves to freezer for food when we come back the week after Thanksgiving. It’s further proof that dark meat is the best, and people know it whether they are willing to admit it out loud or not.

Tandoori turkey

This always seems to happen whenever I’m preparing food for a big event; something tends to go wrong, and I need to salvage what I have to make something edible. I was prepared to make this tandoori turkey recipe with this spiced yogurt marinade for the 12.66-pound organic turkey I got. The recipe calls for a roasting bag, which I’d never used before, so I ordered a pack and opened it up tonight, Well, just as I imagined, the oven-safe plastic seemed a bit flimsy, and I was worried about the weight of the turkey, in addition to the yogurt marinade, which is over four cups of liquid. Lo and behold, just as I am coating the turkey with the tandoori marinade, the bag breaks, and about a half cup of the marinade spills out onto my kitchen counter. What a mess.

Unless this turkey is the best turkey of my life, I’m never using this recipe again. Either that, or I need to get much sturdier roasting bags.

Grinding spices

I spent this morning gathering all the different spices I’d need to make two different spice mix powders, tandoori masala and garam masala. Probably no one I know has all the ingredients right in their pantry to make these items at home, but I’ve been gathering these things over the last year and keeping them fresh in the fridge. They even came with us on our move from the Upper East Side; not a single spice got tossed out. To freshen them up, I toasted them over the stove before grinding them to a pulp to then store in glass containers until I’m ready to use them for my long-awaited tandoori roasted turkey for our early Thanksgiving party.

The unfortunate part about grinding and toasting potent spices in your apartment is that… well, in smaller spaces, the odors tend to stick a lot more. We went out for the evening and came home to an entire house that smelled… Indian, and not necessarily in a good way. We enjoy Indian food and flavors and scents… but not on our walls and all over our living room. I ended up having to boil vinegar twice to get the smells to un-stick.

Papaya salad

Papaya salad is one of those much loved, Southeast Asian dishes that everyone seems to embrace, but no one ever actually makes at home. Why is that? The first reason is that when most people see papayas at the average grocery store, they are the yellow/orange, sweet variety, so they’re not the green, unripe ones that are used in Thai or Vietnamese papaya salad. I figured it couldn’t be that difficult, especially after I picked up the papaya shaver that seemed so nifty and useful in Thailand.

Well, I tried it on a green papaya that was just over two pounds, and… it took forever. It was one of those tasks that too so long that halfway through, I asked myself whether all this effort was really worth it. And that wasn’t even the end of it. It needed to be salted, then all the excess water squeezed out twice, before being refrigerated and finally served tomorrow. It’s no wonder that in Vietnam as I learned from my cookbook, papaya salad is considered a “special occasion salad” that is NOT an everyday starter.

No one is ever going to look at that salad and realize how much effort was put into that. And then it hit me as I was squeezing the excess liquid out… does anyone ever really look at anything homemade and genuinely appreciate it and realize how much time and energy went into it if they don’t cook themselves?

Granola

I never thought I’d be a granola person, nor did I think I’d ever make my own granola, but here I am, in April 2017, actually making my own granola. I’ve been enjoying the occasional homemade smoothie bowl at home, and granola always seemed like it would be a good addition for crunch. But when I bought a Nature Farms hemp granola box, I was so disappointed that I was driven to looking up granola recipes online to see how I could make this better. The ultimate granola recipe is crunchy, has a variety of nuts and seeds, and also has a dried fruit like cranberries or cherries in it. I used a certain base recipe I found online and added a number of additional ingredients, and it ended up totaling to about 16 different ingredients. It sounds a little crazy, but when I tasted it, it was seriously the best granola I’d ever had. The only issue is that I decreased the amount of oil, so there were less large crunchy bits, but the flavor was spot on. And given I used macadamia nuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds, it wasn’t a cheap granola, but sometimes you really have to pay for things to make them worthwhile.

Spices

I get really annoyed when uppity publications like Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, or even Food52 (which I love to death) start getting classist by making inane generalizations like “the more expensive your spices are, the better the quality you can expect.” No, guys. No, no, no, no, NO. This article even made the argument that when we get excited buying “cheaper” spices abroad, we’re actually also getting crappier quality. As someone who bought a considerable bag of some of the most fragrant dried bay leaves in Valencia in November and compared them to my sad, expensive (and empty) bottle of bay leaves from Whole Foods, I know this is a sad generalization to get us all to spend more, and in this case even worse, to be a bit xenophobic and question quality of product in other countries! This really is just not true, and I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who has purchased a number of spices abroad and compared them to the ones I have here.

If I buy a bottle of McCormick’s ground cardamom at Fairway and it cost me $3 less than the same brand and bottle at Whole Foods — no, it doesn’t mean that the bottle at Fairway was sitting on the shelf for longer. If I buy cinnamon or cloves in bulk at Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights for a dirt cheap cost (in an Indian / South Asian area where families and businesses are buying these in bulk constantly), it doesn’t mean my spices will be less fresh or fragrant than the ones I paid an arm and a leg for at a specialty spice shop like Kaluystan’s in Manhattan. Not everyone is cooking as a hobby and wants to spend $10 on a few pinches of a single spice; most of the people who are actually cooking (especially in Manhattan) are cooking for families that just need food on the table (and want that food to be good). More expensive does not always mean better quality. Sometimes it does, but in this case, it definitely does not.

 

 

Whirligig buns

I started my chocolate and pistachio whirligig buns on Friday by making the yeast dough, kneading it, and allowing it to rise twice, both times in the fridge to make sure I could freshly bake them on Sunday morning for our brunch at home with friends. They rose twice and puffed and browned in the oven; everything seemed like it was going swell. Then the strangest thing happened to them, though; my friend took a bite and asked if there was any alcohol in the buns. I said no and thought that was strange. I then took a bite of mine and realized that the alcoholic taste was really there; neither of us was imagining it. And then I got worried. What did I do wrong?

So me being the anal person I am, I went to look online and found out that oddly enough, the yeast may have turned “cannibalistic.” This basically means that if left in a place that is too warm (the heating in our apartment has been really high in the last few weeks!), if the yeast runs out of sugar in the dough to “eat,” the yeast will then start eating itself, producing the byproduct of an alcoholic taste in the bread. I was not happy about this; I had no idea that this could even happen!

And the day after, as homemade bread tends to be in this apartment the day after I make it, the bread has become a bit stale. This also is strange to me because I made bread many times at my parents’ home, and also at my Elmhurst apartment, and the bread never got this stale until about three days later. I’m not adding or subtracting anything from the bread that I used to use. I’ve never added any preservatives. This apartment just has so many odd quirks to it. I’m going to blame the apartment for this one.

“Yogurt”

Many articles have recently been written about whether it’s accurate to be labeling nut beverages “milk” — e.g. almond “milk,” cashew “milk,” walnut “milk.” Milk, in its technical definition, actually has to come from an animal, whether it’s a cow, sheep, or human being. Beverages that are thus derived from almonds or cashews therefore would not count as “milk.” Could the same then be said for yogurts that are made from nuts and get their probiotics externally?

Here is the definition for “yogurt” in the dictionary:

yo·gurt    —-> ˈyōɡərt/

noun
noun: yogurt; plural noun: yogurts; noun: yoghourt; plural noun: yoghourts; noun: yoghurt; plural noun: yoghurts
  1. a semisolid sourish food prepared from milk fermented by added bacteria, often sweetened and flavored.

If this is the case, then shouldn’t coconut “yogurt” and cashew “yogurt” be wrong in speech and therefore renamed? Speaking of which, I just bought coconut “yogurt” on sale at Fairway to find out that it tastes absolutely disgusting, and you should never waste money and buy it.

Banana pudding gone wrong

Tonight, I decided to finally put the Tahitian vanilla bean my friend got me to good use by adding it and its scraped seeds into a banana pudding with pistachio crumble recipe that has long been on my list of things to make. I had been saving these Tahitian vanilla beans for years now, properly storing them and deciding they would be best to use in a custard or pudding of some sort. This pudding shattered all my dreams; it came out mealy, completely unlike a custard, and really just tasted like pureed bananas with some vanilla flavoring added to it. Even the pistachio crumble turned out brown, with the taste of sugar and butter completely overshadowing the delicate pistachio flavor.

You win some, and then you lose some. I hope the next time I use one of these vanilla beans that I will win. This stuff ain’t cheap.

Bo ssam

I spent 6.5 hours slow roasting a pork shoulder in preparation for bo ssam, or Korean-style slow roasted pork shoulder, to be torn up and served with ssamjang (homemade Korean barbecue paste), ginger scallion sauce, rice, and lettuce. It actually wasn’t much work, as the oven does the cooking. The one thing that took the most time were the ginger scallion sauce since I had to finely mince a decent amount of scallions and ginger.

When I was growing up, up until I started eating dinner at my friends’ homes and out at restaurants with my friends’ families, I was exposed to an extremely limited amount of food. Sure, I had a lot of good food — my grandmother and aunt made some of the best (and most laborious) Cantonese dishes, my mom made delicious potstickers, stews, and Vietnamese dishes, and my dad exposed me to different types of meatloaf and biscuits — but they were all in the realm of Cantonese, Vietnamese, or generic American-household foods like spaghetti or mashed potatoes. I had no idea that Thai curry existed; I never knew people ate pasta with sauces that weren’t red. And I definitely would not have known that in many parts of the world and even within China, bread was actually the primary household staple, not rice.

But what I hope is that when we have children that I’ll continue to have the desire and love to experiment with recipes of cultures other than our own. So many people have found it comical that I know how to make Indian food, even making my own curry mixes. Other people laugh when they hear I am making Korean or Turkish dishes. But I think this is important for knowledge and to ensure our future children are exposed to a wide variety of cultures via these cultures’ foods. What better way to learn about and appreciate other cultures than eating their cuisine?