Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ignore title of last post below. Back to catching up...

You want a picture? Well, too bad. I forgot my cameras from the dorm (which were locked up for holiday), so I will compensate with a generic food pic. Anywho, continuing with the blog...

dum Dum DUM!!! Finals are coming up in 2 weeks! Should I be studying for the classes that have continually kicked my sorry behind? YES! Should I begin writing a 10 page analysis on Asian food rituals that I have no utter idea what to write about even after my professor said my proposal had no legitimate thesis? YES! Should I begin to set myself into hibernation mode and eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates to store during the weeks before finals? ... PROBABLY NOT! ... Well, if the carbohydrates are tasty...

So what have I been doing the last few weeks?

Pretty much everything opposite to what I had declared I should be doing. With the exception of the last one, though I'm not sure whether that's a good thing.

So, let's get caught up. How was your Thanksgiving? Did you enjoy the break? Did you dream of steaming gingersnaps dancing out of the oven? Wait, I did. Anywho, did you take a lot of pre-Thanksgiving naps and post-Thanksgiving naps? Did you meet family you haven't seen for a while to share that beautiful meal?

My Thanksgiving came off without a hitch. My original intent was to reflect those famous words of Thoreau: "Simplify, simplify, simplify". I don't remember when, but I have become the official menu planner of Thanksgiving. The first few times, I was eager to impress and made a bountiful selection of complicated dishes. I made spice brined turkeys (with the fact that I didn't have a cooler so I had to buy ice and perpetually wake up in the middle of the night to put more ice around the pot of brine and turkey). I tried to upgrade my family's ritual green bean casserole to sauteed fresh green beans with garlic and bacon (only to realize that I was the only one who ate it). I made curried cubes of yam to boost the typical yams with marshmellows (realizing later on that I should have used raw yams instead of the canned-"I'm ready to be mashed real good" yams). I even made mac-n-cheese from scratch (but was soon notified that a deep dish casserole is the way to go when baking the cheesy pasta. Wide shallow pans make each bite really really crispy/ kind of inedible).

So this year, Thanksgiving was going to be typical foods that everyone in the family would eat. Salt and pepper roasted turkey, old fashion Campbell's green been casserole with a healthy spread of crispy French's onions, sweetened baked squash, cool and refreshing cranberry sauce with whole cranberries, Pillsbury crescent rolls, roasted marinated beef (for the non-turkey eaters. Yes, I've got those in my fam), cheesy mashed potatoes with bacon bits, sauteed asparagus, buttered mushrooms, and caramelized brussel sprouts, and finally steaming corn bread apple sausage stuffing. It was probably my easiest Thanksgiving ever. On actual Thanksgiving day, I spent more time mastering my skills on the drums for Rock Band (it's a game that you should play, but not while you're trying to make an appearance of studying for finals) than I did for the cooking.

But alas, there must be at least 1 failure to a Thanksgiving meal. For me- cornbread. You see, I really love cornbread. It not only looks beautiful and smells so nice as it steams its enticing aroma throughout the house, but its taste is also so very delicious. Cornbread can be so diverse- from cheesy and savory and sweet and chewy. It's like I have a new date and a new chance to be familiar with it each time. Best of all, there's nothing better than receiving a warm embrace from this rich bread. But all good things must come to an end.

Why? Well, sometimes when one meets cornbread and gets along with it very nicely, cornbread throws a curveball and introduces you to its twin. Not identical, but fraternal. Cornbread's twin seems very agreeable, if not as good as cornbread. It has the same promise of delight and tastiness, and so one decides to pursue a more "intimate" relationship. Just to (literally) spice things up in the relationship, one adds some parmesan cheese, kernels of real corn, chilli and garlic powders into the mix, and tops it all off with provolone shavings. The twin of cornbread goes to a spa for a 30 min. treatment in a 400 degree oven, so one is gracious enough to wait. I mean, why wouldn't you if you knew what great things will come from a little patience? So all is well and the twin comes out, freshly baked and begging to be, well, in nicer terms- "taken advantage of". This one particular individual wants nothing more than that. After releasing the twin from its loaf pan and then slowly slicing it into a nice chunk, allowing the twin's aromas to produce its seducing powers, one takes a bite. The first bite is strange, a little awkward. But that must be natural as it is only the first experience to what seems to be a promising relationship. So, eager to explore, a second bite is taken. This time, a sense of nagging trouble is arising. The taste bud friends of this individual had approved of cornbread immensely, but the introduction of its twin is somewhat lackluster. The taste buds, though nice and polite, express their concerns about this new bread in one's life. They warn, "It's not that we don't like cornbread's twin. It seems very nice, it's just that... well, you two don't seem right for one another". One heeds the thought, but persists because the taste buds just don't know cornbread's twin that well. Cornbread was already so good; it would be very difficult for anything, even its twin, to make a better following impression. So one takes the third bite. But, one realizes that their friends' warning may have some substance. Cornbread's twin starts to show characteristics that one had not noticed before. Why does the twin seem so pale? Why does the twin complain that it is being ignored? The feeling of doom is now ever present as one faces the reality: Cornbread's twin is not the "one". One knows that it is time to end it- 4 bites is as far as one will go, but a fifth one might give the wrong impression. So, after enduring the wretched fourth bite, one breaks the news to cornbread's twin. "It's not you," one states, "but it's me. I just can't eat you anymore." The twin is visibly upset as it had been sliced, but cannot go back to its original form. One offers some help and introduces the twin to various friends and family member with the false hope that someone else will take a liking to cornbread's twin. But steaming trays of crescent rolls have dropped by at the same time the twin is out, so the twin remains untouched and unloved. Though one knows it's wrong, enough is enough. One asks the twin to leave the premises and puts the twin in the trash to go about its own business. It has been afterall a few days and one has been kind enough to lend the twin a helping hand (but certainly not mouth). So the relationship is over and one can only hope cornbread will come back in all its glory and wonderfulness.

So, what did win this year's first and probably-not-annual-because-I-just-came-up-with-this-thought best dish of Thanksgiving meal? Surprisingly, the stuffing.

I'm not a stuffing person. It's just not done in my house. In the past when friends have gushed about their family's stuffing (or dressing for Southerners), I'd reply with, "You crazy person! That's crazy talk- stuffing ain't good!". My reaction was not necessarily unjustified. I did do my best to make stuffing for Thanksgiving- from using packages that gauranteed deliciousness to making it from scratch myself. But the end result would prove very lacking as the only person who'd eat it was my brother (who doesn't count because he eats anything).

Nevertheless, stuffing IS traditional. So I whipped out my pseudo-Apple laptop (I put an Apple sticker on top of the real brand's logo) and looked up for traditional stuffing. I found two recipes- one using toasted/stale cornbread with the traditional soaking of broth while the other one using a bread pudding method where eggs and cream were ladled over the bread, allowed to soak, and then baked. As I have previously digressed, I am a lover of cornbread, so I was intrigued with the prospect of incorporating it into stuffing. Additionally, I had never made bread pudding in my life, but I have tasted it. And while I have always eaten the broth-soaked stuffing, as previously stated, I still was not a convinced fan. The mad scientist that I am (or at least that I pretend to be with a chemistry degree I am currently pursuing), I did a Frankenstein and tied these two recipes.... TOGETHER! Sans evil scientist laugh though- my friends say I laugh as if I'm choking, which is (sigh...) hardly intimidating.

Southern Cornbread Apple Sausage Stuffing- bread pudding style
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine November 1997 Sausage, cranberry, and corn bread stuffing and Jimmy Dean Maple Sausage Corn Bread Pudding
Note: I know this blog is specifically for single people who are in their 20s and provides ideas for single servings, and this recipe is definitely the antithesis, but it's a holiday recipe. Spend the holidays with friend and families- not by yourself! That's just sad and lonely :)

1 large loaf of baked sweet cornbread
1 roll of sausage (I used an original flavor brand-name sausage, but if you like fresh sausages use 3 while discarding the outer membrane)
2 medium apples (any can be used)
3 ribs of celery
1 large onion (yellow or white or red)
7 baby carrots or 2 normal carrots
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp red chili flake
4 eggs
1/2 c orange juice
1/2 c chicken broth
1 c milk
1 tbsp parmesan cheese
1 tbsp butter

Equipment: 1 large baking sheet, oven, stove, spatula, large baking dish (glass or metal, must not be shallow or less than 2 in. in height), cutting board, chopping knife, large sautee pan, bowl, fork, measuring cups and spoons, aluminum

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Cut corn bread into bite size pieces and transfer to baking sheet in 1 even layer

Toast the bread cubes in the over for 20-25 min until mostly dried out and brown.

While bread is toasting, chop the vegetables and fruit into bite size pieces. Set aside.

Heat sautee pan on medium high heat and place the sausage in the pan. Cook sausage thoroughly while breaking it into little chunks with a heat-resistant spatula (5-8 min).

When sausage is nearly done, add chopped veggies and fruit. Season with salt&pepper (appropriately- I used 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper to suit my own tastes) Sautee everything for 5 min or until veggies begin to soften and brown slightly.

Remove pan from heat and let mix cool.

When bread is completely toasted, remove from oven. Do NOT turn oven off- set it at 375° F

Place the bread cubes in the sautee pan with the veggie and sausage mixture. Mix thoroughly so ingredients are well distributed.

In a bowl, mix eggs and liquid ingredients and season with salt&pepper (I used 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper), and oregano and red chili flake. Set aside.

Butter a baking dish and carefully pour and spread the bread mixture. Pour the liquid mixture on top and press the bread so that the liquid is absorbed. Let this sit for 10 min. Right before placing the dish in the oven, sprinkle the top with parmesan.

Cover the baking dish with a sheet of aluminum foil and bake in oven for 30-35 min covered.

Carefully remove the foil (beware of steam!) and let the stuffing bake for anther 5-10 min or until the cheese has slightly browned.

Serve the same day (and hot) or let completely cool and place in fridge for up to 2 days before reheating in a 350 degree oven for 30 min.

Can't wait till the next break...

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