Thanksgiving: The Soup

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When we hosted the first Thanksgiving at our place, five years ago, we quickly realized what we were doing right and wrong and began learning from our mistakes. Don't buy a 25 lbs turkey for 10 people. Don't stuff the turkey, real chefs don't. Do use bacon whenever possible. Do try to grill something to make room in the oven. All very helpful, coming slowly to us from experience.

One thing we couldn't figure out how to do is keep everyone out of the kitchen. That is, until last year. We decided, give them soup. This way they are busy. This way they don't bother us. Well, it worked well enough last year. This year, being in our new home, with a smaller kitchen, we really wanted the soup strategy to work, but although everyone found it delicious, we still had to physically push people out of the kitchen.

Now I know you might be thinking, you made a Rachel Ray soup for Thanksgiving dinner? Yes. It sounded too interesting to pass up. And, I had a jar of roasted bell peppers in my fridge, just waiting to be used. Leeks and fennel were on sale. And I love orange soups. So hard to resist. It's like the world was telling me to make this soup. And I listened. Although the husband insisted I make it a day ahead so we can try it out and approve it. Needless to say, he approved it. So did everyone else.
Red-Pepper Fennel Soup
Serves 4, modified (only slightly) from Everyday with Rachel Ray

2 roasted red peppers, thinly sliced lengthwise
4 tablespoons butter
1 leek (white part only), thinly sliced crosswise
1 small bulb fennel with fronds, bulb finely chopped and fronds chopped for garnish
1 potato (1/2 pound)—peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream

1) In a medium pot, place 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the leek and chopped fennel bulb and cook until lightly golden, about 10 minutes.
2) Add the roasted red peppers, the potato, broth, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potato is tender, about 15 minutes.
3) Using an immersion or standing blender, working in batches if necessary, blend the soup until smooth. If desired, place a sieve over a large pot and strain the soup. Stir in the heavy cream and season with salt and pepper.
4) Dollop with sour cream, if desired, and top with the fennel fronds.

It's Pickle Time

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Anytime is a good time to pickle. But there's something about pickling when it's cold that feels so homey. Although quick pickling is about almost-instant gratification and not really about preserving for the winter ahead, it is still very satisfying.

Since becoming a housewife, I have determined there will be more pickling in my future. So stay tuned. This recipe has appeared on here before, but it's so good (got the thumbs up from my father, who dislikes everything!) and easy, that it's worth another mention.
In between pickling, I also organized my pantry/spice closet.
These are good with anything, and on their own. But during our Thanksgiving meal, my father demanded these to go with his vodka. You can't ask for a higher compliment.


Curried Carrot Soup with Ginger

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Before I do an overview of Thanksgiving side dishes (I was only able to document so much), I do have a few posts I need to cover.

I've made this carrot soup before, and the recipe is here. But this time I changed two things. First, I added ginger. Second, I added cream. Both of these additions made for a tastier soup and warranted another post. Our friend who enjoyed dinner with us that evening, said it was the best soup he's ever had. Now, I'm not sure if that means much, considering he lives on cheesy bread, but I still allowed myself to be flattered.


Fancy Turkey Burgers and Mustard Potatoes

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It seems like it's been forever since I've cooked burgers at home. And it's been even longer since I've roasted potatoes. When I picked up a package of ground turkey at Trader Joe's last week, a meal appeared before me. Although I'm not the biggest fan of turkey burgers, and have made them rarely, I had an idea that involved roasted peppers, celery and green onions. I'm not really sure where this idea came from, but it sounded good while I was shopping, and it turned out even better than I had imagined.
I combined my chopped vegetables with bread crumbs, cumin, paprika, garlic, salt and pepper. Then I mixed all the ingredients with the ground turkey. I formed my patties and kept them refrigerated until they were ready for use.
For my roasted potatoes, I used fresh rosemary, lots of mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. I scrubbed and cut my red potatoes into large wedges, smeared with with the above ingredients, and baked them for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. During the last 20 minutes, I added a chopped bell pepper, just for fun.
The burgers cooked pretty quickly, five or so minutes per side. I had some fancy condiments -- eggplant spread, followed by lettuce, feta cheese and mustard.
The burgers were juicy and delicious. I loved the roasted peppers in there. My strange combination somehow worked, with the celery adding a little crunch. I would definitely recreate these again, without changing a thing. The potatoes went well with the burgers. There's really nothing better than roasted potatoes on a cold night. And we also had homemade pickles on the side.

Then we sat in our living room and listened to music because we are near the mountains and get only three channels on the TV (and not any good ones). The husband says no cable until I get a job. My father says, this is the time I need cable. I agree with dad. I just need to find someone to sponsor my cable bill. I am horribly missing my PBS cooking shows.


Mussels (and Snapper)

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About a year ago, I was still not feeling mussels. I had come around to clams, was slowly making my way to oysters, and even enjoyed dipping my bread into a pot of mussel juices. But, something about the texture of mussels was holding me back. Then we went to Spain and I had the best steamed mussels. They were so good, I even managed to fracture a tooth on them (no, I didn't bite the shell), and it was totally worth it.

Since Spain, the husband and our friends, who always tried to convince me to join in on a pot of mussels (apparently not sincerely though), were no longer pleased to have another person to share with. I kept getting the "Oh, so you like mussels too now? Hmm."

We've of course had some delicious mussels since Spain, like when we tried the six-course pasta tasting at Mozza last year for my birthday, and the husband was not convinced we would have enough food (although by the end, we were really, painfully full) and ordered the steamed mussels appetizer. They came in a tomato broth, with lots of interesting herbs. But, even though I've sampled lots of mussels during the past year, I have not made them at home, until this past week.

The beauty of being unemployed is you have a lot of time to think about dinner. Plenty of time to shop, and try to find a good price. Because the not-so-beautiful part about being unemployed is that you're broke. When I came across nice-looking mussels and fresh red snapper at the King Fish Market in Glendale, for a great deal, I decided "today I will make mussels at home".
The asparagus actually took the longest to cook for my seafood feast, so I prepped it and popped it in the over first. Then, I got the butter going for my mussels.
I went for a simple mix of butter, wine, lots of garlic, lots of parsley, a little thyme and salt and pepper. It was a small pot of mussels, about a pound, so I didn't measure anything. They steamed for about 10 minutes, and came out tasty and succulent.

While the mussels were steaming, I pan-fried the snapper in a bit of butter and olive oil, after seasoning it with salt, pepper, lemon juice and garlic. It cooked up in no time, and was meaty and tender.
We had good bread to dip into the mussel broth, and were happy to discover that only one mussel did not open during the steaming, and had to be thrown out. One bad mussel, is not so bad.


Chorizo and Vegetable Pasta

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My friend came by the other night and helped me unpack the kitchen. The husband has spent his nights lounging on our couches, apparently too comfortable to be bothered with unpacking. And since we only get three channels on our TV, I have been occupying my time with unpacking, hanging art, and other boring household stuff.

So to reward my friend for her help, I decided to throw together a chorizo and vegetable pasta dish, with a side of roasted asparagus and garlic bread.
Since I've been out of my own kitchen for some time, I apparently forgot how long it takes to cook down eggplant. It takes a while. Also, I cut the eggplant into chunks that were too big, so that didn't help. But once everything cooked down, the sauce came together nicely and had a little kick due to the chorizo.
The asparagus was seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted for about 20 minutes.
I used leftover sourdough for garlic bread, throwing together olive oil, loads of garlic, and two different kinds of dry basil.
Chorizo and Vegetable Pasta
Serves 6

1 package of fancy thick pasta (you need something substantial for this type of sauce)
2 medium eggplants, cut into small chunks (I salted the eggplant and let it drain for about 30 minutes)
1 large zucchini, cut into small chunks

3 Mexican chorizo links
a handful of green olives, chopped roughly (these were a last minute addition)
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp of tomato paste
3, 8 oz cans of tomato sauce
a handful (a small handful) of dry basil (I dry my own and had purple and green)
a few dashes of other dried herbs (I have a mix of rosemary and thyme)
olive oil
salt and pepper

1) Add the chorizo to a nice big pan and cook until almost done. Then add the eggplant, a little bit of water,  and olive oil and cover. Cook for 10-15 minutes until eggplant begins to break down.
2) Add zucchini and garlic, and cook for an additional 5 or so minutes, you might need to add more olive oil.
3) Meanwhile, bring your water to boil and begin cooking the pasta.
4) Add the tomato paste and sauce, herbs, and seasoning. Cook for 10 or so minutes, until pasta is done.
5) Add the pasta to the sauce, mix thoroughly and if you have some cheese (which I sadly didn't), top with cheese.

Enjoy with a nice bottle of red wine.