Food Firsts

November is almost over (seriously, how did that happen?!) and December is closer than I realized, which also means my baking frenzy is about to start!

I love to bake for anyone and everyone throughout the year, but the need to bake really kicks in around the holidays. I mean, baking is such an easy way to show others you care, and everyone (both neighbors and loved ones alike) appreciates the results. I do try and step it up a notch and do something different than peppermint whatevers or the peanut butter kiss cookies you see on numerous cookie trays, and sometimes my ambitious nature gets the best of me and my “well that looks easy” fun-loving nature turns into “why did this look fun again?” but thankfully, everything seems to work out, the finished product is tasty and all my worrying was for nothing.

November gave me a chance to expand my cooking/baking repertoire (and my mix of emotions mentioned above) whether I wanted to or not. For the first time since moving to Nebraska, Mike’s parents were going to visit his sister and we were on our own for Thanksgiving. Well, we didn’t have to necessarily be alone…he does have other siblings who would have let us join their Thanksgiving, but they also have children and their own extended families, so we decided to do our own thing this year. My first thoughts: Yay! I get to do it for two! That should make it easier!

I started making the menu in my head (which at the time consisted of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, mashed potatoes, gravy and turkey), then I asked Mike what he liked at Thanksgiving and my list grew: stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls….I wrote down everything on a sheet of paper and realized there was waaaaaaaay too much food for just two people to eat (although I’m sure Nova would have enjoyed eating any and all leftovers). Then something even more pressing entered my mind: I had no idea how to make anything but pie, rolls and potatoes. Then the further realization I’d never actually made a pumpkin pie, I just enjoyed eating it. My “fun Thanksgiving for two” bubble burst and the hardcore planning started.

And by planning I mean something like this: Look up recipe for ____________; find billions of results. Search through some, feel confused; call mom for advice. Mom gives semi-advice (“they all sound good” or “I don’t know about a specific stuffing recipe, I kind of do my own thing”), wishes me luck and I ponder on my own. I think I made about five or six attempts at a menu before my wonderful boyfriend said it didn’t matter what we had for Thanksgiving. We could have Chipotle (which at a certain point sounded like the best idea ever, except they’re closed on major holidays) and it’d be perfect because it’d be just the three of us (yay, Nova was included!). He also advised me I should go super easy and light for the meal because it was just two of us and there was no reason to stress about it so much.

It made my heart oh-so happy to hear that, but it kind of pushed me to make it even better. I mean, it’s our first “us only” Thanksgiving, it needed to be good and my need for it to be good kept my menu fairly hefty. I proudly made my grocery list, then did a double take at the loooooooong list of things I’d need for just Thanksgiving. I reworked my menu again, caving and adding a few premade items and ended up with: turkey breast, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing mix (which would be doctored up with some real ingredients) and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. The day we went grocery shopping, I warned Mike if the turkey failed, we would have the BEST Thanksgiving meal of mashed potatoes and pie ever. Boy oh boy was I right about the pie.

I went all out for the pumpkin pie, and used Martha Stewart’s “Pies & Tarts” book recipe (click the link for the recipe and a peek at the book–it is definitely worth buying). And in typical, fancy, impressive Martha Stewart fashion, the pie crust was more complicated than it probably needed to be but there was no way I was going to cheat and do it in an easier way. I made 48 little leaves to line my crust (I made extras just in case), carefully used egg wash to stick them on, put it in the oven to prebake, made the filling, popped it in the oven for the allotted time, pulled it out to cool and hoped for the best. I didn’t have the patience to wait until the next day to try out my pie so I cut a slice the night before Thanksgiving. Mike thought that was insane, but I liked to look at it this way: I still had half a recipe of crust and enough supplies for filling so if this pie was awful, I still had enough time to do another one before dinner tomorrow. All the fuss and work was worth it in the end. It was so, so tasty. It’s possible I ate like, 60 percent of the pie. Okay, okay, probably more like 80 percent.

Despite having stuffing mix, my guilt of not doing it “the real way” and knowing it would be tasty got to me. I used up every remaining bit of bread we had around the house, combined two different recipes and made stuffing from scratch that would serve a max of four people versus the usual 10 or more.

Overall, the meal and the panic was worth it and all was yummy. It was actually really nice to do a holiday celebration with just the two of us. Maybe we’ll have to do an early Thanksgiving for two again before the larger, family version. However, my mini feast idea kind of backfired on me: there was not enough stuffing. We had it all eaten by the next day and I happily could have eaten more. Guess next year I’ll be making stuffing for 10…I might even try to work stuffing into our meals more than just once a year–who says I can’t have stuffing with pork chops or chicken on a Tuesday night in April anyway?!

We also did not have enough turkey left over to make turkey pot pies and I’d already hunted down and bought a bunch of leeks. I knew little about leeks, except what I’ve heard/seen from cooking shows: they’re kinda hard to clean, have a mild onion flavor and look like huge scallions. Thank goodness I’m a recipe hoarder: I flipped through binder #2 and lo and behold, a recipe for pan-roasted chicken with leeks.

The shows were right because they are kind of a pain to clean (I triple washed mine to be extra sure there was no dirt anywhere), but worth the effort. Sure, the bacon they’re fried with and the cream sauce they’re used in might have helped a bit, but they’ll definitely make more appearances in our meals.

December will also hold a few baking challenges for me. I’m participating in a “sweets swap” with some of Mike’s coworkers and since there’s so few of us doing it, I’m going to pull out the Bon Appetit cookbook and see what yumminess I can find!