Category Archives: holiday

Recent eatings (and some crazy weather)

A few weekends ago I had to go into work on the weekend (which is one of the things that I dread most), so I dragged my boyfriend along to grab lunch afterwards. Hehe the 30 minute walk to work in the cold weather is a bit more bearable when there's someone with you, and a hot lunch afterwards is great incentive for both parties :) Unfortunately when we were leaving my workplace and making the 10 minute walk to the Indian restaurant for lunch, the weather reared its ugly head. It was cloudy as I left my work, and then a minute later it began to rain, just a few droplets at first, then a little more, with the wind picking up dramatically. I was getting blown over, when next thing I knew, there was a gust of small snowflakes, which then turned back into rain. But no, the sky couldn't make up its mind, and in the next minute, the rain became a wall of little tiny ice pellets, flying sideways with the strong wind. Within literally a few minutes, I could no longer see ahead of me… the icy rain was coming down so hard and dense that it was completely white-out conditions. I was caught right in the midst of it all, and the icy rain came pelting down so hard that my face felt like it was being battered with needles, and I had to take cover next to a building before running the rest of the way to the restaurant yelling "ow ow ow!" the whole way there. Crazy weather I tell you! Of course, minutes after I was seated, the icy rain turned to a falling blanket of giant snowflakes, and another few minutes after that, bright sun. What a storm!

Anyway, we were getting lunch buffet at the Indian restaurant, which is called Royal Bengal. They serve mostly Northern Indian and Bengali cuisine, even though I don't really know what that really means hehe. Indian buffet is always a good time, because well first it's all you can eat, and that's always exciting for students living on a budget, but also because I don't eat Indian food often and it's fun to have something different every once in a while. The prices uses to be great, with the lunch buffet costing about $6 on weekdays and $7 on weekends (more meat dishes), and over the years it has risen gradually, to the point where weekend lunch is now $9.50 per person, which is at the threshold where I would not be willing to pay for it if it went any higher. Luckily MIT and Harvard students get a 10% discount, but honestly that's like less than $1 off, so it's not that much of a difference. So that particular weekend they were serving goat curry, fish tikka masala, and fish curry as their specials. The usual fare includes chicken tandoori, aloo gohbi (cauliflower and potatoes cooked with tomatoes, onions, herbs and spices), vegetables curry, daal (a creamy lentils dish), samosas, vegetable pakoras (battered and fried pieces of cauliflower usually), and some fresh vegetable salad with chutney and pita bread available on the side. Yum, here's my first platter of goodies. I try to get a little of everything, but I have to admit I'm not very good with spicy food, so I try to stick with less spicy stuff or else I'd be drinking water like crazy. I usually get a generous portion of the lentils, and some masala item, as they are mild and help give a little buffer to the spicy curries :)

The other thing I really like about Indian buffet is their rice pudding, which is called badami kheer. Indian style rice pudding tends to have a harder rice kernel (not as soft and mushy as English rice puddings) and a more liquid milk that makes the pudding a very refreshing dessert, especially after the spicy entrees. Served cold, it's usually flavored with cardamom, almonds, and raisins, although I try to avoid picking up the almonds and raisins since I like the pure texture and flavor of the rice with the milk. I grew up loving the Kozy Shack style of rice pudding, topped with a healthy bit of cinnamon, and while that is still one of my favorite comfort desserts, I am always looking forward to the Indian rice pudding each time I'm at Royal Bengal. Mmm yum.

Other things I've had lately include a good deal of homecooked meals. On the day that I got back from my latest NYC visit, my boyfriend had prepared dinner for us, which I thought was a really nice gesture especially after my long bus ride back. He pan fried together some onions and a bunch of garlic marinated pork chop medallions, which were thin and juicy with a slightly crispy layer of thin cornstarch. We ate them with rice and a side of garlic stir fried broccoli, and it was a great satisfying meal to come home to after a long day traveling. It's really nice to have someone there who can pick up the cooking when you just don't have the time for it (I had been thinking of getting fast food for dinner when he called me on the phone to let me know he was making dinner – good timing!).

To return the favor, I was in charge of dinner on a night when Greg had to meet with some classmates for a group project right around dinnertime, so that he could come back and we could have dinner ready to eat before like 9pm. Even though cooking alone takes a while since prep time and cooking time can't be cut down by doing both simultaneously (not very well anyway), I really do like having total control over our tiny kitchen space and trying my best to multi-task while planning out what I wanted to make. I definitely relish in the execution of my dinner plan. That's the thing about cooking which makes it so different from baking. For the most part, at least in Asian cuisine, you never have to worry about perfect portioning of ingredients. A dash here, and spoonful there, and a sip of what's in the pot are really the only things you need. Everything else is just trial and error (and execution via familiarity) until you get things to be exactly (or close to) how you want it to be. It's difficult to mess up… as long as you're not burning anything.

There's so much personality in each dish, so much room for variation, that I honestly believe no two dishes I ever make come out the same. Which is fun for me, but I guess difficult for many Westerners to manage, since so often Western cooking is governed by recipes (even when they don't really need to be). That said, I believe cooking is a very intimate thing, and one that you can really only improve on with experience and a flair for experimenting. Whenever I ask my mom how to cook the dishes she likes to make at home, she can never spit out a recipe for me. Never. She'll just insist that I come and watch her cook, and she'll be able to rattle off the general steps, just never the amounts of the ingredients used. And now that I've done a bit of cooking myself, I know just how true that is. When you're just adding and adding an ingredient until you get that satisfactory taste, you definitely lose track of how much is going into the dish. Anyway… heh tangent.

So that night I made a simple cabbage and bacon dish, which is one of my go-to dishes for fast and fool-proof cooking. First off, cabbage must be the world's easiest vegetable to cut. All I do is rinse it, peel off the outer layer, cut the head in half. Then I cut out the stem and proceed to cut the half-head horizontally and vertically in just a few fell swoops before the entire thing is cut into a bunch of small rectangles, since the head holds together so well. So fast! Then I sizzle up some bacon until it's a little bit crispy, and I set that aside. I leave the oil from the bacon in the pan to cook the cabbage with, until the leaves are nice and soft and a bright light green color (the parts closer to the stem will stay a light yellow color). A dash of salt goes in, and then I throw the bacon pieces back into the pan for a quick twirl and it's ready to serve. I personally think cabbage is just as tasty without the bacon, but my boyfriend really likes it with bacon, so I throw some in to humor him. Cabbage just has a great mild but slightly sweet flavor that makes for a nice refreshing vegetable side for most dishes I think.

The other dish I made was improvised on the spot because when I reached into the fridge after defrosting my chicken thighs, I realized that the mushrooms I had intended to use for a nice chicken and mushroom dish were moldy. Fungus growing on fungus is some nasty stuff. So plan B was to use whatever else was in the fridge that could be used to make a chicken dish (and honestly, there wasn't a lot that day). I had onions, carrots, and two small tomatoes. So I cut those up, and softened up the onions and carrots in a skillet while the chicken was cubed and marinated with salt, sugar, white pepper, rice wine, onion powder, garlic powder, cornstarch, and soy sauce. When the carrots were 2/3 of the way done, I threw in tomatoes which soften pretty fast, followed by the chicken, and let that sear to just a bit underdone before adding in some water to make a sauce. For the sauce I used soy sauce and hoisin sauce to achieve a balanced flavor that was neither too salty nor too sweet, something similar to a teriyaki but with a stronger hoisin flavor which made it a rich and rounded sauce. Finally I added a cornstarch slurry and brought the sauce to a boil until it thickened slightly.

You know… it boggles my mind, but how DO people come up with names for their dishes? Like the one I improvised above, I wouldn't know the first thing to call it other than just describing what it is. Who came up with the names like scallopini and casserole? Pad thai? General Gau's? I'm going to call this… hoisin chicken… even though the translation into Chinese makes it mean seafood chicken lol. What, I'm not good at making up names! :P

For Chinese New Year, which I apologize for not having had any interesting entries about despite being Chinese and enjoying its cuisine (I just don't have the ingredients to make those special new year's dishes), I spent the day eating something pretty normal. Greg had the chance to grab a big family dinner in Chinatown though, and brought back some leftovers for me which included a beef clay pot dish, some taro fried duck, beef with tofu, and Cantonese style chicken. He also brought back some dessert that one of his relatives picked up at an Italian bakery… some mini cannolis! Mmm I love cannoli… it has the most interesting texture combination – crunchy outer shell with a creamy but gritty ricotta-like filling. The big cannolis can be a big daunting to handle in one sitting, but the mini ones are great for a bite-sized dessert :)


Happy Belated Valentine’s Day

It's been a busy week, with school starting and coordinating Vday plans, but surprisingly I found time to cook and bake several times, so there will be updates forthcoming as soon as I get off my lazy bum to write them heh. On Valentine's Day, I was pretty excited to get my very own big heart shaped frosted cookie :D Apparently there was a lunch meeting and this cookie was the only one left over, which my boyfriend nabbed and presented to me at lunch. Yum! It was chocolate shortbread with royal icing on top, rich and buttery. We shared the cookie, but I refused to break it down the middle on principle, so we just ate from both sides until we got to the middle lol. I've always thought Valentine's Day cookies are so pretty, and even though it was a left over item from an event, it still made me giddy :)

For dinner, my boyfriend and I got off work early without any concrete plans, and after discussing it briefly we decided to relax and order in for Italian food and watch a movie together. We got our dinner from Stefani's Pizzeria, which consisted of tortellini alfredo for my boyfriend (we ordered fettucini alfredo, but apparently they misheard us), and linguini carbonara for me. We also got a nice complementary Caesar salad, soft garlic bread, and some flatbread to go with the salad. I really liked my linguini carbonara, it wasn't made with a cream sauce like most carbonaras are, instead it was made with a white wine sauce, with olive oil, shallots, mushrooms, and prosciutto. I really liked the flavor of the white wine in the sauce, it was a strong but refreshing taste that went quite nicely with the rest of the ingredients. 

We watched the Bucket List while we ate dinner, and it was such a sweet movie and it made me cry at the end. I don't know why it was given such poor reviews, but we both really liked the movie, even though it's not really a Vday kind of film. I'm a big fan of both Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, and the both of them were just wonderful in their roles. Yes the plotline is mostly formulaic and yes it moves a little slow, but the movie isn't meant to be action-packed, and I feel like both actors did a great job telling their story, and it was certainly moving. Critics might be right most of the time, but there are still many times when you should just let your own intuition do the judging.

Then for dessert we shared a decadent molten chocolate cake together, which I whipped together in no time at all (recipe to follow, with less blurry pictures). It was a delicious way to end the day and I liked being able to add a homemade touch to our meal.


On Friday night, we had made reservations to eat dinner at McCormick & Schmick's, which is a chain seafood restaurant similar to Legal Seafood. There was a coupon for $20 off any entree, so we thought it would be nice to get dinner at a pricey restaurant without breaking the bank. The atmosphere was a bit stuffy for me, and not very romantic, with the place catering mostly to the older folk (something like a men's club). We had a pretty crazy meal that night… first we were seated in a center table, surrounded by cozy wrap-around booths, which made us feel like we had gotten brushed aside in the seating department. Next our table tilted heavily to one side if we both leaned on it (poor weight balance on the legs?), and our table candle was not lit. We ordered our food and started off with soup, clam chowder for me and Maryland crab soup for my boyfriend. (Sorry for the black & white photo… I accidentally had my flash on, after setting the white balance, so the whole thing came out with a terrible tint of blue that I couldn't fix in photoshop… so I just discarded all color information altogether haha). The thing with this restaurant is that they are very heavy with the salt in everything. The chowder itself was not bad, but a bit too salty (I definitely prefer Legal's chowder) and not as creamy as I expected it to be.

Next came the entree ordering mayhem. They have a special menu every day, based on the fresh seafood they get, which I thought was a nice idea. I was especially interested in their Atlantic salmon special, which was salmon stuffed with blue crab, shrimp, and brie. I ordered that, and Greg ordered their broiled seafood platter, which had salmon, shrimp, scallops, crab cake and stuffed clams. Later the waiter comes back to tell me that they were out of the stuffed salmon, so I had to change my order to their jumbo seared scallops instead. Then 10 minutes later, the waiter comes back to tell Greg that his dish was also out, so he had to then change his order to a yellowtail sole. Well, after all this, it's been about half an hour and our orders for dinner were just going in. Plus, we never got bread and butter, which every other table had gotten, so we had to ask for it ourselves. Finally, a server came with our dishes, and puts down a plate in front of me that I don't recognize… I stared at it for a minute, and that moment our waiter just happened to be coming by and said to the server that it wasn't my dish. Turns out, it was the broiled seafood platter that Greg originally ordered but they had run out of… interesting. So the waiter was clearly very embarrassed and confused, as the other dish the server was carrying was Greg's yellowtail sole. So the waiter gave the original seafood platter to Greg, and took back the yellowtail, and then shortly thereafter brought out my scallops entree. Very confusing.

Anyway, my entree was seared jumbo sea scallops with a saffron risotto and lobster sauce, with a side of steamed vegetables. The scallops were huge, and it doesn't look like it but I actually got 4 of them, which were more than enough for me to even finish. The saffron risotto was, although overly salted, still quite good. It was creamy, and the rice was al dente, with a slight crunch in the center, which I really enjoyed. This is the second time I've tried risotto, and let's just say the first time was terrible, with a lump that was dried and flavorless. So while this risotto was a bit too salty, it was at least better than any other time I've tried it haha. The scallops came in a bit of a brown sauce whose lobster flavor was pretty strong, not at all like lobster cream, but more like lobster stock in a sauce, reminding me a little bit of lobster bisque. The entree was very filling, although it didn't look like that much food at first. I was only able to eat 3 scallops and 2/3 of the risotto with all the veggies before I was completely stuffed to the point of being in a bit of pain heh. So certainly the portions were more than adequate. Mine and Greg's entrees were both about $24, and the soups were $6 per bowl, so the total for the meal after using the $20 coupon came out to about $45 before tip. It's not a bad price, but I think I can get a more satisfying meal experience elsewhere for that price, and less salty overload for sure heh. The one thing M&S does do very well though, is sell desserts. They don't have a dessert "menu" on paper, instead it's presented on a tray with all the desserts molded in very realistic looking plastic. They pick up each dessert to show you and tell you about it, so that it becomes very difficult to deny when the time comes. Luckily we were just literally stuffed to the gills and couldn't handle another morsel of food, but there was a very interesting looking "edible chocolate bag" filled with white chocolate mousse that looked quite delicious. Maybe another time…

More goodies and some belated Christmas presents :)

I left home and came back to school a few days ago, but I thought I should finish posting the things I've been enjoying at home. When I was at a retreat in October, a co-worker of mine found it amusing that I was taking pictures of the food I ate. Just a few weeks ago, she excitedly came up to me and told me that she had been "influenced by me". I had no idea what she meant at first, but then she pulled out her cell phone to show me pictures of meals that she had eaten, homemade by her boyfriend. It was really cute, and she told me that it was fun to take pictures of all these delicious foods so that she could look back on them and remember how great it was to enjoy them. And it made me realize just how much I enjoy looking back on the things I've eaten, since what we eat defines so much of our lives. Plus, I always find that I associate the foods I eat with the events that happen to me at the time, so seeing certain dishes has the effect of making me think of my life from certain periods of time. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I say that a picture of what you've eaten is worth a thousand memories :)

My mom made this black sticky rice pudding after Christmas, and filled it with a sweet red bean paste filling. Black sticky rice is similar to glutinous white rice in texture, except that its color is black when it is raw. To use it, you would soak it in water overnight, which turns the rice kernels a deep burgundy color. My mom builds the pudding in a round-bottomed bowl by layering the bottom with the black sticky rice, then spreading on the bean paste filling before covering with more black sticky rice. The pudding is then put into a steamer to cook the rice and obtain that sticky chewy consistency so familiar of glutinous rice. In the case of black sticky rice, the flavor is more unique in that it has a nutty taste, somewhat like a whole grain pasta or brown rice, except that it is slightly sweet and therefore suitable for a sweet dessert like this sticky rice pudding. Sometimes when my mom makes it she likes to stir up a almond or coconut flavored sauce to pour over the sticky rice pudding for extra flavor and to keep it moist. It's a delicious dessert that is often eaten for breakfast or as a snack in Asia, but not usually for an after-meal dessert, since sticky rice tends to be very filling and rich.

Instead of making the usual red braised pork belly that she likes to make, my mom decided to slice the pork belly up nice and thin, and toss it with sliced carrots, baby lima beans, and Chinese black beans for a dish filled with variety. The pork belly was soft and chewy, the carrots were slightly crunchy, the lima beans were soft and pasty, and the black beans were strong flavored. Though the presentation is never that amazing in Chinese cooking, the way that flavors and textures can be married in a dish is infinite. I've never heard of such a dish in Chinese cuisine, but it was definitely tasty and complemented the pork belly uniquely, in my opinion.

What a mouthful for a dish name! I'm not actually sure what to call it except to describe it, but this is basically a soupy kind of dish, containing silken tofu, napa, black wood ear fungus, and pieces of a Chinese fried dough called "you tiao", all stewed in a thick clear sauce. You tiao looks like a long and thin stick, somewhat similar to churros, and is often eaten for breakfast in China, accompanying a nice hot bowl of congee or soybean milk. When it's fresh, the you tiao is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. After it goes stale, it can become quite hard, and so my mom threw it into the soup to let it soften. If you think about it, this kind of dish is kind of like the Western chicken and dumplings soup, except that it's with tofu and Chinese fried dough instead hehe.

This is another dish that I grew up with, red braised potato sticks. My mom cuts up potatoes into these tiny little sticks, and cooks them with a red braise sauce until they are nice and tender but still a little crunchy. They do a great job of soaking up flavor from the sauce, and the potatoes really stick out in this dish, as opposed to fading into the background as a side dish. I love the texture of these little potato sticks, and they're always nice and tasty, never bland or dry like chunks of potatoes can be in other dishes. My mom also threw in a little bit of sliced Chinese sausage and some baby lima beans in here (you can tell she was having fun with the lima beans, it was like her new discovery as of late).

My mom's favorite way of cooking pumpkin is in this dish, flavored with some soy and black beans. She really dislikes the Westernized method of cooking pumpkin with cinnamon and other such spices. She enjoys the natural flavor and texture of pumpkin, with just black beans to give the flavor a kick. Since pumpkin has a natural sweetness, it actually pairs quite well with the saltiness of black beans, with neither flavor overwhelming the other. A really tasty way to eat pumpkin, in my opinion.

On my last night at home, I decided to contribute a dish to dinner, since everyone was pretty busy that night. I thawed out a few salmon filets and made a teriyaki flavored marinade consisting of soy sauce, honey, white sugar, white pepper, sesame oil, fish sauce, and black vinegar. I didn't really follow any recipes, but ended up using my intuition based on previous times that I've made teriyaki (it always comes out a little different each time, because of this). Plus I don't mind being able to play around with different teriyaki marinades. I let the thawed fish marinate in the sauce for just a few minutes before I threw them into the oven at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes (I leave the marinade in the pan so that the fish cooks in it). No basting necessary. Then I serve the fish with a few spoonfuls of the sauce on the plate, and keep the rest of the cooked marinade for future salmon, because it can be reused quite easily as long as it is kept refrigerated. Easy and effortless, that's what I like :) The fish was tender, and by dipping each bite into a little bit of the sauce, the flavor was just right. My parents really enjoyed it, my dad even asked me what I put into the sauce, because it had a unique flavor that he doesn't usually taste because my mom doesn't make sauces this way.

On my parents' anniversary, I had forgotten to bake something to help celebrate, so at the last moment, I dug up a few packages of those instant muffin mixes from Betty Crocker. The instructions only ask for 1/2 cup of water per bag of mix (which makes 5 cupcake-sized muffins), and it made me weary, because I was afraid they would come out without great flavor. I was quite right… they lacked any buttery taste, and were not very crunchy on top, and too moist on the inside. The mixes I had were blueberry and triple berry, which were done with these imitation berry pellets that apparently melt into a jam-like substance to look and taste like baked-in berries. Well, I suppose these muffins are passable if you are just looking for a quick fix and something baked to eat. But if you are really looking for a true muffin with a buttery flavor, crispy top, and dense inside, this is definitely not the mix to use. It's very fast to whip together, and cheap, but not worth the disappointment. On the other hand… they are rather healthy haha, only 150 calories per muffins, as opposed to the insane calorie count of other authentic muffins…

After I got back to school, I finally got to see my boyfriend after having been on winter break for several weeks. We presented each other with belated Christmas gifts, which we both loved. I gave him the complete Calvin and Hobbes collection, which comes as three hardcover volumes in a boxed set, printed on beautiful paper. It was definitely an impressive set, and heavy too (nearly 10 pounds)!

For my gifts, I received a most dazzling 1 carat journey pendent necklace from Zales…

Isn't it beautiful? When he told me to open my eyes and I saw that necklace sitting in a box in the palm of his hands, I was just so ecstatic. I've always thought the journey pendants were beautiful for their simple shape embodying a romantic concept that love grows. And it was especially touching because this is the first piece of jewelry my boyfriend has ever bought me in our nearly 4 years of dating. Of course, don't be fooled, it's not diamond (a 1 carat diamond journey pendant would have cost about $800). But it's great that Zales sells this white sapphire version of the necklace, because you can't tell that it's not diamond :) The setting is also sterling silver instead of white gold, which also makes the necklace much more affordable without sacrificing appearance. The only thing is that with sterling silver I have to wear it carefully to minimize tarnishing, and I'll have to clean it occasionally. But it's just as beautiful as a diamond journey pendant, and the meaning behind the gift is the same isn't it?

The other gift my boyfriend gave me was a self-assembled gift basket filled with goodies that I like, it was so thoughtful! We refer to it as the "fatty basket" haha. He bought me a box of crab cakes, because I love them and like to get them when we go out to eat. He also got me a box of Ghiradelli chocolates, a box of rocky road fudge (I was eying them earlier in the day at the grocery store haha), a bag of Smokin' Cheddar BBQ flavored Doritos (I love this flavor), a carton of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in Strawberry Cheesecake flavor, and a big Kit Kat bar. Haha such an indulgence of food, he is sure going to spoil me silly! But luckily… I am very sentimental and tend to dislike eating food gifts. I feel like if I eat a food gift… then it will be gone! So in the past, I have almost always saved my food gifts, uneaten, to the point where they can no longer be eaten / have gone stale / or become rock-hard. Of course, this being a basket of things I like, I can't really not eat any of it, but at least I'm not tempted to eat the entire thing right away haha. And of course… he's sharing with me :)  I really liked my presents from him this year, because it's clear that he put time and thought into the gifts. Earlier, when he was asking me what I wanted or needed for Christmas, I refused to give him suggestions, because I told him that I wanted him to just give me what he wanted me to have, things that he felt would add to my life based on everything he knows about me. He took what I said to heart, and gave me these wonderful gifts that although may give me a heart attack at 30, are unique to who he is and what we share together. Thanks for your gifts, Greg! :)

Well, that's it for now. Now that I'm back at school, hopefully you'll see some meals cooked by myself soon hehe.

Happy Thanksgiving

Something about the Thanksgiving, regardless of where I have dinner, what I eat, or who I see, always makes me feel warm and happy inside (and sleepy too). Having grown up in an Asian family, we don't celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday to be thankful for things, but rather as a way to make lots of food and see friends and relatives. I always feel a little guilty when we start on the food without giving thanks or any such thing. But I guess it's implicit in the way we enjoy each ourselves :) I have yet to master the skill of being able to handle making all the dishes for a Thanksgiving dinner with ease (how exactly does one person manage to crank out a zillion dishes in the kitchen yet keep them all nice and warm for the moment when everything can be served?). However, I can say that this year was more successful than the last, because for starters… I didn't burn the turkey again this time haha.

We had two families over at my house for Thanksgiving, which was nice because it meant more people to eat the food! I can't tell you how disheartening it is to put a lot of variety into the dishes only to see that there is too much left over because a small handful of people can only eat so much food. This year, I was in charge of making the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the stuffing, and the dessert. In previous years when the food was for our family alone, I have experimented with other dishes like baked corn, sweet potato chowder with curry, and candied yams. With all this on my hands, I never had time to make dessert. Plus, nobody ever had room left afterwards. So this year, with a bunch of guests coming, my mom wanted to make a bunch of Chinese dishes, which left me with much more time to make a dessert… and we all know how happy that makes me hehe. Oh and the dessert gets its own entry :)

A lot of logic must go into the design and preparation of a meal, and I love this about cooking in general. I know that the way to make the juiciest turkey is to use an oven bag, but having tried it the past two years, I knew that it was next to impossible to get a beautiful brown and crisp skin – essentially the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving dinner. I was stressing over how to keep the turkey moist when the Thanksgiving dinner episode of America's Test Kitchen (a more trustworthy source of cooking tips than even the Food Network) came on TV. What a lifesaver!

My mom bought a 12 pound turkey this year, and when I came home on Wednesday night, it was thankfully already thawed and ready to take a bath in brine. I placed the turkey in the largest dutch oven I could find, filled with about 2 gallons of water plus 2 cups of salt and some star anise. It brined overnight in the cold, and the next morning we took the turkey out to air-dry (important for good skin!). Four hours before dinner was to be served, our turkey got patted down with paper towels and a coating of melted butter on its skin. When you brush the melted butter on, the coldness of the turkey turns the butter solid, which is great because it coats nicely and doesn't drip off like vegetable oils tend to. Then I sprinkled on top a mixture of salt, garlic powder, and herbs, and the bird was ready for the oven!

To crisp and brown the skin, I roasted the turkey at 425 degrees F for the first 45 minutes or so, until the skin was brown and beautiful. I could hear the sizzling from the butter the entire time, so it almost becomes like you're frying the outer skin, that's why you want the temperature so high. Then after the turkey browned, I turned down the temperature to 350 degrees for an hour and a half to prevent overcooking the meat, and finally for the last 45 minutes I placed a foil tent on the breast and turned the temperature further down to 325. I usually budget about 15 minutes per pound of roasting time when the turkey is unstuffed (25 min/lb if stuffed), so my turkey roasted a little under 3 hours. Then I took it out to settle for about 20 minutes before my mom carved it up. The turkey itself came out beautifully browned, and was juicy and tender, although my mom carved the breast and served that to the guests, so they all got to eat the driest part of my turkey lol, but with our big Asian dinner, the turkey was really just another dish, so it wasn't that big of a deal. I ran out of time and couldn't make a gravy from the drippings, so we went with canned mushroom gravy, which was fine except it was kind of thick.

For the stuffing, which I chose to make outside of the turkey this year, I cut up 5 slices of white bread into cubes, and tossed them with diced carrots, celery, onions, shitake mushrooms, Chinese sausage, and shrimp. It was cooked on the stovetop with a light brown sauce (combination of oyster and hoisin) so the consistency was still wet and saucy like stuffing cooked inside the turkey. I like giving the idea of an Asian fusion stuffing, and you'll see the concept again in my mashed potatoes, because it suits the Westernized aspect of my palette while still bringing back the Asian flavors of my upbringing (and reaches out to my family too). Of course, most people at the dinner table were confused with the stuffing, I think because it looked more like a Chinese dish than a pile of stuffing, probably also due to the addition of shrimp haha. Next time maybe we'll have to introduce all the dishes before people dig in.

My final contribution to the dinner was a mashed potato dish that was not only healthy but also Asian-inspired. I peeled and quartered six fist-sized red potatoes, then let them boil in a pot of salted water. When they were soft (probably about 15-20 minutes), I strained them out and mashed them to a smooth pulp with a hand masher. Next I added about 3/4 cup of skim milk, 2 tbsp of butter, 3 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tsp of sesame oil, and a few dashes of white pepper, and folded everything in with a fork to aerate the potatoes a bit. Finally I added salt to taste, and it was ready to serve. I wanted to garnish with some chopped scallions, but forgot, oops lol. I felt pretty good about the fact that this was the dish I was able to make with the most ease, not only because I've played around with the recipe at least 4 or 5 times before, but also because the potatoes boiled up perfectly. In the past I've had a mishap once where the potatoes turned into a really gross mess that reminded me literally of glue. That was a pretty disappointing attempt. Other times I underboil and then I have to spend lots of time mashing the leftover chunks. My biggest problem with making mashed potatoes though is that it gets cold so easily, and nobody wants to eat cold mashed potatoes. Short of sticking the whole thing into the oven again before the guests arrive, what other way is there of keeping it warm? I'm glad the flavor came out quite well though, Thanksgiving would never be complete for me without a good mashed potato side to go with my turkey.

Now then, the rest of the dishes at the table, courtesy of my mother:

There was also ginger soy noodles with scallions and pot roast pieces, and spaghetti squash plus daikon with shredded pork that I've posted before from a different dinner party (you can see them in the backgrounds of some of the pictures above too). All in all, a very plentiful meal with some great company :) I got to catch up with a childhood friend, which was great.

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