Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving Debriefing

My evil plan worked!  Actually, it worked a little too well.  The turkey was done an hour before I expected, so I kept it warm at 200º until it was time to put in the casseroles.

I had bought food for eight, then a few people decided to have dinner with their relatives (how dare they), so there were more leftovers than expected.  Not complaining, and I somehow managed to lose a pound over the past week, despite having a "Thanksgiving" dinner every night since Thursday and pumpkin pie for breakfast three days in a row.  Can't say enough about portion control.

After taking great pains to keep the majority of the meal meat-free, the vegetarian decided to have some turkey.  Not only that, she ate one of the legs!  There was more than enough, and I still have small pieces for at least one casserole.  That is, if Princess doesn't con me out of them first.  When the claws come out, you're more likely to feed the cat table scraps.

I'm really thinking that I need to make the green bean casserole more often.  Why do we only eat it once a year?  It isn't even difficult to make!

I braved the mall early on Black Friday, mostly for essentials I had needed for some time but was waiting for a good sale to buy.  It was funny to see all the people who weren't used to being up and out at 4:30am.  I got a couple of promo buttons at JCPenney.  One was of cranberry sauce out of the can, with the ridges intact!  That one is going up on my pin collection.

Once my jury duty is done, I'll be able to set aside time for some real cooking and recipe posts.  I'm crossing my fingers that no one wants to seat a jury the week after Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hostess Apocalypse

Forget the zombies.  The real end of the world as we know it came on November 16, not December 21 2012.  That was the day Hostess shut down its ovens.

I buy one or two boxes of Ding Dongs a year.  They're expensive, and that's about how often they are discounted.  I never liked the texture of Twinkies, and while I love Wonder Bread, it's all sugar and can't hold up to a sandwich filling heavier than peanut butter.

I did buy into the panic of facing the reality that Ding Dongs may never be made again and got to the market in time to buy the last box.  That was 10am last Friday.  There were still a few boxes of other items in the Hostess display, but they were probably gone by the end of the day.

The only thing I like about this whole crisis is that none of the cakes will go to waste.  Of this one last batch, every box will or has been sold.  What's more, they will be eaten.  Maybe a few years from now, but they will not end up in the trash.  Americans waste too much food, a lot of it expiring on store shelves because grocers like an overabundance on display.

I'm not going into the reasons that the company folded.  From what I understand, it's pretty much 50-50 to blame on the part of both management and labor.  And now 18,500 people are out of work right before Thanksgiving.  Even if they get hired by whoever buys the company, I can guarantee you they won't make as much in pay or benefits as Hostess was going to give them on the new contract.

And for people who say that Hostess sales were falling because consumers are more health conscious, go get a container of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt and compare the nutrition information to that of a single Ding Dong.  I'm not kidding.  The Ding Dong has a lot of saturated fat, and the yogurt has significantly more protein.  Other than that, the nutritional breakdown is almost identical.  You might as well have the snack cake and make it up with a lean-protein-rich meal at another time of the day.

Whoever ends up with the company, I will doubtless buy another box when they go back on the market, just to show support for the institution.  Then I'll go back to getting them once in a blue moon, because they really are better when you haven't had one in a long time.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving Menu

Since I'm having all new people to dinner this year (many of whom I have never met), I'm going with ultra-safe, expected dishes.  While I like being inventive for Tea, Passover, and pretty much any fancy dinner through the year, Thanksgiving is something you don't mess with.

The only major change to the menu was making sure everything except the turkey was vegetarian.  I'm not saying that a vegetarian at the table is a bad thing, but it really makes you conscious of every ingredient.  At least she's ok with gelatin in the Pumpkin Chiffon Pie.  I'm not changing that.  You can just skip it if you have an issue.  It's going on the table no matter what.

Turkey:  I don't do anything fancy.  Light rub of salad oil, generously salt and pepper the outside for a crispy skin, stuff the cavity with the parts of onion, celery, and carrot that I didn't use for everything else, and roast at 325º until the thermometer hits 160º.  Let rest during the half hour that the starches and green beans are in the oven.  Serve with a couple of jars of gravy and cranberry sauce carefully removed from the can.  Keeping the ridges intact is important. :)

Greenery:  I was going to do either a salad or the Cream of Asparagus Soup.  The vegetarian voted for salad, so that's what I'm making.  Just chopping up a head of red leaf lettuce and adding tomatoes, green onions, and candied walnuts.  Also vital is the French's Green Bean Casserole.  To reduce the salt, I plan to make my own sauce instead of using cream of mushroom soup.  Just basic White Sauce Base with a can of mushrooms and a reasonable amount of salt and pepper.

Starch:  Candied yams out of the can (baked with marshmallows, orange juice, and brown sugar) and stuffing.  I expected to have to make the stuffing from scratch, since the boxed ones have chicken stock in them, but Mrs. Cubbison's basic version is a blank slate of seasoned bread bits.  It costs a tiny bit more than the other brands, but far less than making it all from scratch.  I'll just doctor it up with celery, onion, dried cranberries, herbs, and sliced almonds, and use plain water for the liquid.

Kick-Ass Rolls:  Because they're awesome.  Also an excellent do-ahead.

Dessert:  Pumpkin Chiffon Pie.  Can be made the day before, then put a lock on the fridge.

I did make a conscious cost-cutting effort for the shopping, mostly that I got the dry goods and turkey at Vons and will get the last-minute fresh produce at Sprouts.  Everything traditional is on sale anyway.  It's when you think out of the box that a holiday meal gets expensive.  I also loaded up my Vons card with online coupons and found a few paper ones that were useful.  The best deals were getting an extra dollar off the turkey ($9 for a 14-lb Butterball), the French's onions for under $2, and $4 off the dried sage.  Basically, the meal cost what I thought it ought to, not what today's inflated prices have done to a trip to the grocery store.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pre-Party Cleaning

I haven't been doing as much writing as I had hoped, and even less cooking,  but I have been finishing a few projects that had remained undone for far too long.  I really need to do the NaNo project on my own schedule, possibly in January.

Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching, and I am determined not to wait until the day before to make the house presentable.

The first step in making your house party-ready is to establish in your mind how clean, tidy, and decorated you want to make it before starting.  Everyone has their own comfort-level for both everyday cleanliness and company clean.  I'm the first to admit my standards are higher than most, and I try not to look down on how other people keep house.  Without children leaving stuff everywhere, most of my weekly cleaning involves laundry, putting away out-of-place items, and sweeping up cat hair.  For company, I dust, clean the bathrooms, and mop the floors.  If your comfort level is more "lived-in", I congratulate you for not bowing to the expectations others place upon you.  As long as the food is prepared and served in a food-safe manner, it doesn't matter if every piece of lint has been removed from the ceiling lights.

I find it best to start the extra cleaning at least a week ahead of the event.  Then you can do it in half-hour increments each day, or one task.  First up is making room in the fridge for party groceries, especially the turkey.  This is followed by cleaning and decorating areas the guests definitely will see, and lastly the areas they might see, but probably won't.  The night before, I set the table and put little slips of paper in all the serving platters that say which dish goes in what.  That way, I don't forget to serve something or use the platter for something small, leaving a large item plate-less.

I'm going to buy my turkey on Wednesday, so it has a full week to defrost.  I'm tired of trying to pull the giblets out of a half-frozen Butterball.  I don't even know how many are coming, but no one ever complained that there was too much turkey.  I'm limited by the size of my oven, as I discovered last year.  I had to roast the 20-pounder I bought in the large oven at work.  I'm sure a 15 lb bird will be more than enough for the number I can get around my table.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Writer Smurf told me about National Novel Writing Month several years ago.  The point of it is to write a book from start to finish in a month.  No stops, no editing, just get a story out of your head and onto the medium of your choice in thirty days.  Ideally, you also hit the word goal.

For my first attempt, I'm kind of cheating.  I started to rewrite the first book I ever finished several years ago, and never got past page 10.  Then my hard drive imploded and erased the ten pages.  It's a decent story, but the writing style is awful.  It reads like a textbook instead of a novel.  I'm going to use NaNoWriMo as a way to focus what passes for my spare time and restart the rewrite.  I don't expect to finish it, but it would be nice to create some momentum and a habit of writing at least half an hour a day.  That's about twice as long as I spend on blog posts (excluding cooking), so I know I can find the time if I really want to.

What that means for The Yellow Apron is that I'm not going to have time to cook as many interesting dishes or write many posts.  I don't know why they picked November for this project.  It's a short month with a major holiday in it.  August would have been a much better choice.

So, assuming my new hard drive makes it through the month, I'll have a lot more recipes in December.  Posting just might be a bit scarce for a few weeks.