Swimming in Muffins

As if I needed even more sweet, bready, browned lumps of dough, tonight I baked up a batch of apple coffee cake muffins. I actually do need them, though–to take with me to a party tomorrow. The professor for the drawing class I’ve been a TA (teaching assistant) for this semester likes to turn the final critiques for her classes into food parties. Since there’s a lot more space in the ceramics studio for a nice buffet spread, we really go all out in there with everything from appetizers to dessert all brought in by the students. However, the drawing studio has basically just one small stand we could put food on, plus it doesn’t get thoroughly scrubbed top to bottom like we do to the ceramics studio before the final crit, so bringing a lot of food isn’t really…safe.

So we’re just having a small breakfast party. One student is picking up bagels, another cream cheese and butter, Toby (the professor) is bringing orange juice and utensils, and I offered to bake muffins. ๐Ÿ™‚ Starting with a recipe from my now-beloved Martha Stewart Baking Handbook–no joke, I’ve been turning to this book whenever I’m looking to bake something because if she hasn’t included a recipe for what I want, she’s at least offered some tips on how to make it perfect–I modified it to use a fruit that is actually in season: apples. The result?

Bucket O' Muffins
Muffins everywhere, oh no–er–yay!
A nice big tub full of mini apple coffee cake muffins. ๐Ÿ˜€ One suffered severe decapitation during my attempt to remove it from the muffin pan, so in its beheaded, dual-part state, it succumbed to the wrath of my tummy. These muffins can be very well summed-up in one word: fantabulous. While not quite like a coffee cake, they definitely have the flavors of one, and they bake up with such a light, delicate, airy, and very moist crumb that I could’ve easily devoured more if it wasn’t for the fact that they are already spoken for. It’s sad that food has to have a designated purpose for me to not eat it. Like the two remaining Portuguese sweet muffins all wrapped up and metaphorically labelled “Robyn’s” for when I see her on Friday. Otherwise they’d be swimming in my tummy with more maple syrup. Mmm.

Apple Coffee Cake Muffins Close-Up
Tumbly bundles of goodness
So hopefully my students will like these tender little morsels as much as I do. Mostly because I really don’t need to be bringing home a ton of super-yummy muffins tomorrow that no longer have any kind of reservation placed on them… ;x

My 14-Hour Culinary Marathon

I had requested to do Thanksgiving dinner this year about a month ago. Starting after we returned from the diner on Wednesday night, I undertook making a complete meal from start to finish. On the menu was pumpkin bread for daytime nibbling, turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, mashed cauliflower, green beans, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. With an incredibly brief break for sleep in the wee hours of the morning, I was in the kitchen from about 10pm Wednesday until 4:20pm on Thanksgiving Day. I tend to do things a little on the slow side when it a) involves an unfamiliar recipe and b) involves any sort of cutting–my knife skills, while safe, are certainly not yet very efficient.

My preparation got underway with setting up the turkey to brine for several hours. I cooked up a nice brine in a huge stockpot, let it cool, put in the fresh turkey, and let it soak up all the flavors and get succulently moist. Once that was resting out in the garage, I put together the cranberry sauce because it had to chill overnight. After that was done cooking and set aside in the fridge to cool, it was time to prepare the crust for the pumpkin pie. That came together pretty quickly (as is necessary with pastry crusts), and next up was to bake some pumpkin bread for everyone to munch on for breakfast and throughout the day on Thursday while waiting for dinner.

Pumpkin Bread
A happy loaf of pumpkin bread
Pumpkin Bread Insides
I simply had to try a piece as soon as it was cool enough!
There was a recipe in my brand-new The Baking Handbook by Martha Stewart that looked fantastic, so I passed on baking my mom’s traditional recipe, which she does every year at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Clearly, Martha knows what she’s doing and sometimes it’s definitely worth it to fix something that isn’t broken. While my mom’s bread hasn’t been labelled as “bad” in my book, it’s totally been knocked way down on the list in the face of this new recipe.

Thanks to Martha, I’ve discovered the wondrousness and glory of a super-moist, super-tender, not-overly-sweet, very-pumpkiny-and-flavorful pumpkin bread. And I never considered my mom’s recipe terribly unhealthy until now–the Baking Handbook recipe uses one-sixth of the oil my mom’s does, and yet it’s still a bazillion times more moist. I’m going to attribute it to the buttermilk, because the red velvet caked I baked back in September had the same kind of moistness and also called for buttermilk. I have now decided that buttermilk is a Kitchen Essential and Makes Everything Better. Seriously, I think I’m going to be very critical of any cake-like recipe that doesn’t call for it from now on, and I’m going to continue experimenting with using it elsewhere (I’d tried it with oatmeal, and dude, does it make the best oatmeal EVER).

Consumption of that slice took place, the turkey was turned in the brine, and then I settled in to get some much-needed sleep for a couple of hours. After waking up a bit earlier than I had planned due to other people starting to make noise through the house, I got the turkey out of the brine and set up in the roasting pan to go in the oven later and put together the pie so it would be done and cooling all day and the oven could be devoted to the turkey.

Dinner is Served!
All of the food set out to be served
Green Beans with Pan-Roasted Red Onion
Mmm…crisp grean beans and sweet red onion
Sourdough Stuffing with Sausage and Pear
Fruity, meaty, flavorful stuffing
Brรปlรฉed Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Oh, the caramelized brown sugary goodness…
While the pie was baking, I cut up the bread for the stuffing. I have to say, it’s really ridiculous how difficult sourdough bread is to cut. Jesus. It took me an hour to cut it into pieces, and most of that time was spent just cutting the slices because it required so much effort! I actually had to take breaks to rest a couple of times!! While I loved the taste of the sourdough for stuffing, I don’t think I’ll be putting myself through all of that again. ;P The pie was done baking by the time the bread had succumbed to my will and sharp tool of doom, so I set that out to cool and toasted the bread cubes. Those were set aside until it was time to put the stuffing together, and I got to work chopping the aromatic veggies to stuff the turkey.

The turkey was stuffed and prepped for the oven and began cooking just about noon, right on time, woo! I set to work chopping up the seemingly massive amount of onions and celery and carrot for the stuffing, and then I started putting that together. I couldn’t help tasting after I browned the sausage, hee. Italian turkey sausage has been added near the top of the “Animal Proteins I Like” list. ;x Yum! :yum: The mountain of veggies were cooked down and stirred into the bread cubes, and that was set aside until the turkey came out of the oven and it could get finished.

Once I’d readied the stuffing, I took a brief sit-down break and then got working on the other side dishes. First was the green beans with pan-roasted red onions and balsamic glaze, then I cooked and mashed the sweet potatoes for the brûléed mashed sweet potatoes, and last was the beginnings of the prep work for my mashed cauliflower. All of the sides came together just in time for the turkey to come out at 3:30pm. It was set aside to rest while I gave the stuffing it’s final prep of pouring broth over it, putting it in some pans, and baking for 20 minutes. Around four, I started making the gravy, and by 4:30 we were sitting down to eat. Of course, not until I’d taken photos of everything…

Mashed Cauliflower
Smooth, creamy mashed cauliflower
Brined and Roasted Turkey
That turkey tasted just as good as it looked!
<Cran-Apple Relish
Perfectly sweet-tart cranberry sauce
My Plate of Food
Waiting for everyone to be ready was torture!
Everyone was getting impatient while I photographed everything. ๐Ÿ˜‰ As soon as I was done, my dad set to work carving the turkey, and soon we were all sitting around the table with our respective plates of food, ready to give thanks and dig in!

I got compliments throughout the meal on how good everything was. My dad said that it was absolutely the best turkey he’d had in his life, and considering how many turkeys he’s had to compare it to–and the fact that it was the first turkey I ever cooked–I’m quite proud of myself for it. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ It was a very delicious turkey: incredibly moist but not undercooked, very flavorful, and gorgeously browned on the outside. As for the side dishes, the green beans were perfectly crisp-tender and very well complimented by the sweet red onions and light balsamic-brown sugar glaze; we polished off an entire dish of the stuffing during dinner and very little was left by the time I came back to school last night–we usually have apples in it, but I definitely like the pear so much better, and I already raved about that Italian sausage; my dad said that the mashed cauliflower really could almost pass for mashed potatoes, and it came out really good with chicken bouillon and a little milk and butter; the mashed sweet potatoes were definitely a welcome variation from the dessert-like sweet potato casserole we’ve always had; and the cranberry sauce was fantastic, garnering much approval from my grandma–and everyone else. ;D

Overall, dinner was an absolute success, and I’ve already been named Christmas Dinner Chef this year. ๐Ÿ™‚ Considering it’s only a month away, I can’t believe I already have to keep it in mind to plan the meal! I’ve become quite settled on doing a standing rib roast for the main dish. A bit more complicated to get right than a turkey, I think, but I have confidence my dad will be raving about it just as much as yesterday’s turkey. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Pumpkin Pie
The crust was the best part
My mom, grandma, and myself cleaned up once everyone was done eating, and then we had dessert. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll use the same recipe for pumpkin pie again. While it had great texture, it wasn’t sweet enough. The crust was fantastic, though. The pecans were great, nuts make everything better. ;D My mom had also picked up a peach-praline pie from Stop and Shop, and that was quite good. It made up for the lack of sweetness in the pumpkin pie tenfold, heh. There was also some ice cream to have with the pie–Häagen-Dazs Light Dulce de Leche and Rum Raisin. Ohhh, boy. ๐Ÿ˜€

We all rolled away from the table after that meal. And no one was averse to having leftovers the next day, either, it was all so good. ๐Ÿ™‚