Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Kitchen Adventures

What exactly did I make over Thanksgiving? Well, to the first Thanksgiving celebration, I brought my now-famous cornbread casserole (extremely simple recipe at bottom), gingerbread cookies, and guacamole + tortilla chips. The future MIL was very pleased with my offerings (^_^) and all the guests loved them, too.
For the second Thanksgiving (on Saturday), I brought the same cornbread casserole (not leftovers, 'cause there weren't any), gingerbread cookies (leftover because I made so freakin' many), guacamole + tortilla chips, cranberry sauce (with ginger and orange; recipe at bottom) and two loaves of bread: beer bread and super easy Honey Molasses Whole Wheat bread (recipes in future post... ahah! now you have to continue reading into the future!). We came home with almost none of the food we brought, but super full and delighted to have spent such a lovely time with friends. I posted a recipe for and wrote about the guac in my World AIDS Day post. Find the molasses bread in a future post about molasses-based recipes.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to show off my new bread-making skillz. The beer bread is toooo easy and I love that you can add all manner of extras, even though I kept this loaf simple. I'm sure I'll get a little more adventurous with it soon. Despite how easy this bread is, I really messed up my first try at it. Originally, I had thought to make a beer loaf because I had a whole fridge full of almost unpalatable Miller Lite (failed Halloween party, anyone?). Using cheap-o beer, though, didn't really work out as well as using a better beer, so I ended up finding a pretty reasonable lager at Trader Joe's.
Of course, the first, Miller Lite loaf may have failed because I stirred the batter for too long. What happened was I used a small bowl, not the enormous one that I really should have used for mixing up bread. Because the bowl was so small, I had to overstir the batter to get to all the hidden flour deposits. Also, I think months-old Miller Lite maybe loses a little carbonation. Or, maybe that's why it's "less filling" ... because it's less able to rise my bread!

In any case, the loaf I made for SaturGiving turned out great! I was more than pleased with the feel of the loaf and, more importantly, everyone else at the party really enjoyed the flavor and texture. This is a really moist bread and tastes great slathered in holiday leftovers. I'm really super-excited about bread-baking, now. Look for more bread in the future!

Now bread wasn't the only new item on my cooking agenda. Cranberry sauce was a really interesting avenue for me to explore. The future MIL actually requested that I not bring my own cranberry sauce to her Thanksgiving because she wanted to try her hand at it, first. Her sauce was great -- very tart and tasted fantastic on the turkey! So, what did I do? Totally stole her recipe inspiration.
My future MIL is a great lady, but I wouldn't call her exactly adventurous. She tends to find a recipe, maybe tweak it a bit, and turn out a fantastic meal. I am a big-time food explorer, though. Now, I won't buy that $15 package of Thyme when I have nameless-random-spice-of-the-day at home. So, I took the basic cranberry sauce recipe, and combined it with several other sauce recipes to make, what I think, is a superb, fascinating rendition of traditional cranberry sauce.
Well, all cranberry sauce begins with 1 cup each of water and sugar along with a package of cranberries, easy enough. So, I stuck those into the saucepan to get started and then went to town! I peeled a good-size ginger root and just grated the heck out of it, right over the boiling, frothing cranberry deathpit brewing in my saucepan. Then, I got out a great-big orange and zested it to death. All the zest from an orange the size of both of my fists went into my sauce. Admittedly, I have tiny hands, so both fists is still reasonably sized for a citrus fruit. Of course, I couldn't stop with just the zest: I chunked up the orange into little pieces (maybe 3/4 inch, all around) and threw those in toward the end (if I had put in the orange pieces too early, they would have disintegrated, leaving me with a smoother, less stylish sauce).
Ultimately, I think I ended up crafting cranberry relish, rather than sauce, but I was very happy with the results and came home with only a few tablespoons out of several cups that I brought over.

Cornbread Casserole Recipe

1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 can creamed corn
1 can whole kernel corn

1. Mix up the corn muffin mix batter in a bowl. Follow the directions on the box!
2. Add the creamed corn and whole kernel corn to the mixture (don't drain, just dump in the whole can, liquid and all)
3. Pour the resulting, super-liquidy batter into a 9"x13" casserole dish (or whatever other size you have available; this recipe doesn't rise very much at all)
4. Bake at 400 F until casserole has set (doesn't wiggle when you shake the dish), about 15-20 minutes.

Ginger-Orange Cranberry Sauce Recipe
recipe courtesy of Ocean Spray bag and Martha Stewart's suggestions

1 12 oz. bag cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 orange, cut into small sections, pith and seeds (duh!) removed
zest from 1 orange
some fresh ginger, grated (make it TINY!)

1. In a large (the taller the sides, the better, because you're exploding cranberries) saucepan, heat water, sugar, and cranberries until boiling.
2. Reduce the heat to a gentle boil and add grated ginger, orange zest, and orange pieces. (Do this at your own pace... you really can't go wrong).
3. Cook until all the cranberries explode and sauce has reached desired consistency, 10-30 minutes, with the sauce thickening as it cooks longer.

Beer Bread Recipe
makes 1 loaf (recipe credit to Farmgirl Fare blog of delight)

3 cups flour (I used 1 cup white all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat all-purpose)
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder (unexpired, or else your bread will FAIL)
1 12oz. bottle/can of beer (I used Miller Lite at first, then switched to Trader Joe's Bohemian)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease just the bottom of a bread pan. (I used an 8"x4" Chicago Metallic one)
2. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl (you'll need a great big bowl, because otherwise you'll end up overmixing). Slowly mix in beer just until moist. Don't overmix!
3. Pour the thick batter into the bread pan and smooth the top with a wet spatula.
4. Bake until golden-brown and a toothpick (or chopstick!) inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 45-60 minutes, depending on your stove.
5. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then cool out of the pan on a rack another 10-20 minutes. Don't put it in an airtight package until it's all-the-way cooled.

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