Thanksgiving Celebration

Yesterday was a big day for me.  Of course, I was excited for Thanksgiving.  For chefs and food lovers, this is the biggest day of the year.  We are like small children at Christmas time with all the amazing food around.  I love making people happy with my food, and there is no better day of the year to do this.

However, it was also a huge day for me because this marks my 50th post AND my blog turned four months old yesterday.  I cannot think of a more fitting day for all this to happen.  I am so thankful that I found and pursued my passion, and I am especially thankful for all those who have supported me in this journey.  I have many exciting things planned for the future, both for my blog and my career, so I hope you will continue to follow along.

My mom always works really hard on Thanksgiving to put together a great meal.  As I have gotten order and have honed in on my cooking skills, I help out more for preparation.  This year I made a number of contributions to our Thanksgiving meal.


I started with making my aunt’s cranberry sauce, which I already posted on Wednesday.  I honestly don’t know why I was stressed out about how it tasted because I was the only one who was eating it at the meal.  I really just needed to make it for my taste.  My dad did try a small bit of it.  He said it has a bite to it.  I mean, it is cranberry sauce.  Isn’t it supposed to?

The most beautiful bowl of food on the table

We weren’t eating until 4:30 because my brother had to work most of the day.  We planned to keep people happy and fed by serving appetizers around 1:30.  I made traditional Mendoza-style picadillo empanadas with chimichurri dipping sauce.  These were a favorite of mine when I was studying abroad in Mendoza, Argentina.  Empanadas hold a special place in my heart, and my dad asked me to make some for Thanksgiving.  I don’t deny food requests from my dad.  My dad gets whatever he wants me to make, because he is my dad and he deserves it.

I have made empanadas completely from scratch before, and I don’t think they turned out as well as I had hoped.  The empanada dough is very hard to make, and it is time consuming.  I found some empanada wrappers from my local Latino market in Bethesda.  That way, I knew they would turn out well and could focus on making the filling.

I went full Mendoza style with these empanadas by adding a slice of hard boiled egg and green olive in each one.  I made up the filling on the stove and let it sit to cool before filling the empanada tapas.  This picadillo filling has a gorgeous reddish brown color from the smoked paprika.  That also brought out this beautiful aroma, as smoked paprika does, but it was making me so hungry.


We enjoyed our appetizers together.  I served my empanadas and homemade chimichurri.  My mom made bacon-wrapped parmesan crackers.  We also had a veggie tray and some shrimp cocktail.  Finally, my brother’s girlfriend made Champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate).

I really enjoyed the parmesan crackers. They were baked for two hours at a low heat and were nice a crispy when down.  The salt of the cracker, the parmesan and the bacon were a good combination especially with the flavor of the bacon fat.  I really enjoyed the champurrado.  I never had Mexican hot chocolate before, but I greatly enjoyed both the flavor and thickness.  It had a creamy body that is perfect for dipping cookies in it.

As for the empanadas, I really need to work on my presentation skills.  I rushed through the sealing and crimping the empanadas.  The edges were sloppy, and the empanadas did not turn the color I had hoped.  I had decided to use just an egg white wash because I had all my egg whites from making the custard for my pie.  A regular egg wash would have helped it get a brown color.  However, this is me being picky about how my food looks.  No one really cared about how they look.  They just wanted them to taste good…and boy did they taste good! The filling was delectable and full of flavor.  When you added the chimichurri, there was so much flavor going on.


Now, we had to move onto finishing preparations for the main meal.  The turkey had already been cooking in our roasting pan since about 9 or 10 this morning.  This freed up the oven for making our side dishes.


My mom made so many good dishes for us.  Most of these are family recipes that were passed down from my Italian grandmother (my dad’s mom).  Even though she is not Italian in the least bit, my mom has done such a great job at keeping these dishes alive after my grandmother died.  One of everyone’s favorites is the sausage cornbread stuffing.  My mom said she never had cornbread stuffing until she married my dad and then she could never go back.  It really is that good.  It combines cornbread, sausage, corn, celery, onions, chicken broth, a can of cream of chicken soup, and a can of cream of celery soup.  I don’t really think to cook with Campbell’s soup often, but my grandmother did grow up the generation that used Campbell’s soup in everything, so this recipe does make sense.

The Campbell’s soup in this recipe is what makes it so moist.  Cornbread can be very dry, and you almost might not recognize it reconstituted into this stuffing.  This will always be one of my favorite dishes at Thanksgiving.  I was actually surprised to find that my mom doesn’t cook the celery and onions before baking.  I would not have thought that they’d cook through, but they really do.  There is no crunch from any raw vegetables in this finished casserole.


We also do make regular stuffing, split between the bird and the oven.  My dad like the one in the oven because he wants it to get crunchy and almost burnt.  I like the stuffing from the bird because it is nice and moist.  This year we used all whole wheat bread, and I honestly didn’t find any difference in the taste.

We then make a mix veggie casserole.  It is a mix of frozen vegetables, mayonnaise, and cheese.  It is topped with french onions for a little crunch.  This casserole is a guilty pleasure of mine.  It really must be so terrible for you, but it tastes so good.  I also only eat it once a year, so I guess that isn’t terrible.


My mom also made mashed potatoes and gravy.  I have never been a huge mashed potato eater, but I will get a little serving on Thanksgiving.

Finally, I made roasted asparagus.  My dad specifically requested this one.  I had made roasted asparagus when I was home last month, and he really like it.  I basically just did the same thing.  I trimmed the edges and spread them out on a baking sheet.  I drizzled them with olive oil and seasoned with garlic powder, seasoned salt, and pepper.  I roasted them for 10 minutes at 425.  I then sprinkled them with grated parmesan and popped them back into the oven for another 2 minutes.


Of course our meal was rounded off the the big bird, the main dish for the Thanksgiving meal.  Our turkey was nice and juicy.  The first time my parents used the roaster for the turkey, they cooked it at too high of a temperature, and it ended up being very dry.  This year’s turkey, however, was perfectly moist, even the white meat.  People talk about how they don’t really like turkey that much, but I really do.  I love a juicy, well prepared turkey breast.  Sometimes I even buy turkey breast throughout the year to make in various dishes.


Our meal was lovely.  It was just my immediate family and Matt’s girlfriend Rebecca.  Matt is the elder of my two younger brothers.  He recently had his 21st birthday.  This was his first Thanksgiving together with Rebecca, since they have been dating since the springtime.  Her family lives in Los Angeles, and she wasn’t able to make it home.  We certainly enjoyed having her at our table.

Everything on the table was very delicious.  I have absolutely zero complaints about the meal.  I don’t think it could have been better if we had been at a four star restaurant.


Not to be outdone by the meal, the desserts came calling our names after dinner.  We had a beautiful display of desserts.  Rebecca brought an assortment of Mexican cookies she picked up when getting the ingredients for the hot chocolate.  These were particularly delicious dipped in my coffee.  My dad also picked up a pumpkin roll from a bakery in Pittsburgh.


My sister made an apple pie with a crust made out of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls.  The family had mixed reviews on the pie.  Some people (like myself) just wanted to eat the crust and others (like my mom) just wanted to eat the filling.  I guess we should have shared a plate.


My mom made our essential double layer pumpkin custard pie.  I only get to enjoy this once a year, and it may be one of my favorite bites of the year.  In a way, this recipe takes the best parts of a cheesecake and a pumpkin pie.  It is a no-bake dessert, so it is easy to put together.  My favorite part is the combination of the pumpkin, vanilla pudding, and pumpkin pie spices.  I could probably just eat that custard part, but together with the cream cheese layer, this pie is a dream come true for pumpkin cheesecake lovers.


For my contribution to dessert, I wanted to try something new.  I found a recipe by Martha Stewart for espresso cream pie.  It sounded like something my dad would enjoy, ad he is coffee obsessed.


I really wanted to make a good dessert, but unfortunately, the end result was a bit of a disaster.  My inexperience was showing, as my custard did not set at all.  I eventually figured out that I did not cook it for long enough.  Even though it had thickened in the cooking, it ended up thinning in the refrigerator over night.  It ended up looking like espresso soup pie.


My dad did say all the flavors were there, and I agree.  The soupy filling did taste good; it just wasn’t a custard.  I was disappointed in myself, because I hate when I fail.  My parents encouraged me and reminded me I am still learning (and not a professional chef).  I am trying to keep that in mind, but I so wanted to pull this off.  The part that turned out the best was the espresso whipped cream.  I dolloped some onto my coffee at dessert for a decadent cup of joe to end my Thanksgiving.

Today, I tried to reconstitute the pie filling into a custard.  I made a cornstarch slurry to thick up this custard while I re-cooked it.  I think I may have added too much cornstarch to the custard, because I ended up with just about the opposite problem.  The custard actually did set and thicken this time, but it ended up a little bit jelly instead of that smooth creamy pudding texture.  My dad still ate some because he is a good dad.  I tried to eat some, but the texture was just too jelly (and it was still warm when we dug into it).

What I learned from this experience is that it is okay to mess up.  I think family and close friends are the best people to try your mess ups, because they are understanding and are willing to let you experiment.  I definitely learned something about making custard this week, and hopefully I can do better next time.

I am starting to think that I am not meant to be a pie maker.  It is the one dessert that I just can’t seem to get right.  To be honest, pie is one of my least favorite dessert types.  Sure, I have a few pies that I really like, but in general, I’d rather eat so many different desserts before I choose pie.  I think this translates into my baking, because I’d rather make so many other desserts before I’d choose to make a pie.  This doesn’t mean I will stop trying to make pie.  I just need to lower my expectations on my results.

Finally, I want to briefly comment on Thanksgiving leftovers, which might actually be more satisfying than the actual Thanksgiving meal.  I love a good plate of Thanksgiving leftovers, and who doesn’t love a leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwich?  I wanted to try something new this year though.

When we were heating up leftovers tonight for dinner, I made another round of empanadas since I had half the wrappers left and a whole bowl of filling.  I mostly made the traditional empanadas, but I filled a couple of the wrappers with a little bit of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy.  They were like little Thanksgiving empanadas.  Funny enough, right after I made these, I saw that the Food Network posted a recipe for Thanksgiving leftovers hand pies (which are basically the same as an empanada, but that term is more popular in places like Jamaica and the UK).

My dad and I each tried a Thanksgiving empanada.  My dad said it kind of tasted like pot pie, and I would agree.  My topped mine with a little cranberry sauce for a little sweetness to the bite.  It was fun experimenting with Thanksgiving leftovers.

Well, that just about sums up my thoughts on this year’s Thanksgiving.  It was my first Thanksgiving while running my food blog, so there was some extra meaning in this meal.  This blog was the biggest blessing for me this year.  I really do think this blog came at the perfect time, and it might have just ended up saving my life.  There is still a lot of work to go to make that call, but if I had kept going on the track I was, I don’t know how long I would have made it.  This blog has brought back life to me, and while I am still struggling on a daily basis to be a functional human, I really am trying so hard to get on the right path.

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