T-Day. For those of you in the United States, Thanksgiving has come and gone, nothing left except your promise to exercise a bit more this weekend and, of course, lots of leftover turkey.
Here in Thailand, though, we’re doing a delayed Thanksgiving since everyone has to work on the weekdays. Tawn and I expect about 16 guests over for dinner this evening. This number has changed a lot because of the airport seizures. Brian, Ken and Vic are all stuck outside the country. On the other hand, we have picked up one or two guests as visiting friends of invitees are stranded and cannot get home.
Throughout the week, I’ve been doing preparation work for Saturday’s dinner and testing out some new recipes, to decide what should make the final cut.
There is a recipe for roasted sweet potatoes with toasted spice rub that sounded interesting. On Tuesday, I made a big batch of the rub and tried it on some regular potatoes.
The rub is mostly coriander and fennel seed, with lots of chili powder, crushed chili pepper flakes, and a dash of cinnamon. The flavor was very nice although I think some cumin would add to it.
I also tried a recipe from my childhood: Baintree Squash Rolls. These yeast dinner rolls have roasted squash puree which adds a wonderful color and an addictive flavor. They are easy to make, especially in this warm country where yeast doughs rise without difficulty.
There really aren’t that many dishes from my childhood memory. While my mother cooked all the time, I don’t have a firm memory of that many of the dishes. West African Peanut Butter Soup is one. These squash rolls are another. Over Christmas I’ll have to talk with my sister and see what dishes she remembers. Maybe my memory just needs a poke and it will kick back in.
Our trial run dinner on Tuesday. This was just for me and Tawn and it tried out a cranberry sauce, the squash rolls, and the toasted spice rub on both regular potatoes and a pork steak.
The sauce, as you can see, was very watery. While making it, I kept thinking that there really was way too much liquid and I even ladled some out. It wasn’t until the following day, reviewing the recipe, that I realized it was watery because I had added only one package of cranberries instead of the three that was called for! The flavor was pretty good, although ratios were off because there weren’t enough cranberries.
My final midweek test was with pecan pies. Matt’s partner Si is baking fresh pumpkin pie for Saturday, which is just wonderful. I’m usually hesitant to let guests cook for my parties because most people just go to the store and buy something prepared. This, in my narrow definition of the word, isn’t “cooking”. But I have full faith that Matt and Si will show up with some wonderful desserts.
To provide some contrast and an alternative for anyone who doesn’t care for pumpkin (I didn’t as a child, but love it now), I started to think about pecan pie. I have two large bags of pecans from Costco that I trucked back from the US with me last visit. Need to use them up before the next visit so I can buy some more.
Pecan “tartlets” after being pried from the muffin tin.
Never having made a pecan pie before, I actually went out an purchased corn syrup, supporting the agricultural monoculture that is American farming. I thought that mini pecan tarts would be fun so I made three different sizes: small, medium and large, below. They tasted fine but the topping just bubbled over the small and medium tarts and made for a huge, sticky mess. It took a long time to get the pans scrubbed clean.
Test runs finished and my menu finalized, I started my preparations on Thursday. Cranberry sauce was first, a re-do that would this time more closely follow the instructions.
Villa Market now had fresh cranberries on its shelves, which had been missing over the past few weeks as I prepared my menu. Curious as to the difference between the two, I bought both fresh and frozen berries. The price (about US$7 for a 12 oz / 300 g container) was the same and I couldn’t tell any difference in taste, texture or quality.
The recipe starts with a simple syrup infused with vanilla, fresh squeezed orange juice is added along with the berries, salt and pepper. This is simmered until the berries start to pop then is taken off the heat. I don’t cook it for too long because I like my cranberry sauce to still have some recognizable berries in it. After taking it off the heat, I stirred in a little Dijon mustard. Sounds strange, right? The tangy flavor goes very well with the tart berries and the citrus-vanilla sweetness of the sauce.
Friday was final prep. After a day of working and completing some errands (our car battery died this week so we had to get a jump start from a taxi and go buy a new battery), Tawn and I stopped by the market for one final push.
The big item: homemade cornbread chorizo sausage stuffing. This is not a difficult process but it is time-consuming. First I have to make the cornbread, then I have to toast the cubed cornbread. I have to cook the sausage and de-fat it. Chop the veggies and cook them, then start combining everything.
The nice thing is that this can be prepared in advance, refrigerated, and then baked on Saturday noon. Trying a few bites after I was done, I have to say that this is probably the tastiest stuffing I’ve ever made. And I was able to find locally made chorizo!
After finishing the stuffing, I sifted the ingredients for the rolls and put them in ziploc bags, then made the pie dough and refrigerated it. Finally, before going to bed at 1:00 am, I took the turkey breast out of the bag where it had been dry brining, rinsed it off, patted it dry, and set it back in the refrigerator to finish drying out.
Because my oven isn’t as big as standard US ovens, I’m not cooking the whole turkey – that’s been ordered from Villa and for 1000 baht (about $30) they are baking it for me and making the gravy, too. But I am cooking a turkey breast myself, either so we have a little extra meat or because I feel guilty for not cooking the whole turkey. I’m not sure which it is.
So here it is, Saturday morning. Cool – about 74 degrees F – with a light breeze. Our pool-side dinner will be fantastic. I just have a lot of cooking to do.
As of this point, I need to finish the pies, make the rolls, roast the turkey breast, bake the stuffing, bake the sweet potatoes, make the salad dressing and go buy salad greens. There wasn’t enough room in the refrigerator for 16 people worth of salad greens.
This time tomorrow, I’ll tell you how it went.