Preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of pressure. Expectations are high and people come to the table HUNGRY. So when dishes don’t quite hit the mark, it can be disappointing. I’ll give you an example. Actually, I’ll give you three.
That Mushroom and Barley Pie that I snagged from Smitten Kitchen – everything about it said winner. Simple flavors, minimal ingredients, and make ahead preparation; these are all good things in the kitchen. When I pulled it from the oven, the puff pastry had risen to golden brown heights and the smell of mushrooms and bacon filled the kitchen. At least it looked good. The taste was not what I had hoped for. The filling was dry and overwhelmed by the shiitake broth that I used to cook the barley. Note to self, next time don’t use rehydrated dried shiitake in the mushroom mix. Stick with fresh portobello or crimini and use beef stock for cooking the barley. I think I’ll be much happier with those flavors. And what about the flavor of the red onions that I painstakingly caramelized for the better part of an hour? They completely disappeared. Terribly disappointing. Especially when the smell of buttery cooked onion lingers for days in the house. Ahhh, what could have been.
And what about the stuffing, you ask. It’s definitely got potential but I wouldn’t say it lived up to it yesterday. I have very fond memories of stuffing…moist but not gummy, firm but not dense. Mine wasn’t bad, but it’s got room for improvement. I’m going to have to quiz The Grandma this weekend on how she got hers just right. How do you know when you’ve added enough liquid to make it moist but not soggy? Clearly, I should have paid more attention to what went on in her kitchen.
Maybe most frustrating was the roasted butternut squash. I say maybe most frustrating because I KNOW how to make this. But I decided to get a little fancy and try Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics version. This one incorporates maple syrup. Yes, it should have occurred to me that maple syrup in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes may have a tendency to go beyond caramelized and straight to burnt. Nothing says Happy Thanksgiving like the wail of a smoke detector. Fortunately, we were able to salvage most of the squash and the grated parmasean cheese added at the table gave it a nice touch of flavor.
But the saving grace of the day was dessert. I won’t lie, the Caramelized Apple Crumb Cake is not a quick recipe. Don’t think you can leave this till last and just knock it out in a jiffy. It’s going to take you some time. Although you could probably make the cooked apples and topping a day or so in advance and then only have the batter and baking to do. Even then, it’s a needy recipe. Bake for 15 minutes, add apples and a portion of topping, bake 15 minutes more, reduce heat and add remaining topping, bake till done. Not exactly an Easy Bake Oven recipe. But I promise you this, it will be worth it. And yes, it may just remind you ever so slightly of a TastyKake Coffee Cake. But it will be way better than that.
Now if you will excuse me, there is some leftover stuffing that I need to take care of.