Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving Recap

Why does Thanksgiving always catch me off guard? Last year, Mr. G and I had a wedding that week, and this year it came earlier than usual. I'm never prepared. It's probably a good thing I don't have any fall decorations, because Thanksgiving always comes and goes faster than I can throw away my pumpkin and log into Pinterest for craft ideas.

The one thing I've managed to somehow prepare in time for Thanksgiving is the food. Even though I don't typically start thinking about it until the week before and cooking it the night or two before, it's miraculously worked out so far. I even (successfully) cooked my first turkey last year! We spent Thanksgiving with my in-laws this year, so everyone brought one dish. Since I love holiday cooking, I contributed a couple more. :) Here is what I made for this year's feast:
  • 11-lb Turkey (for Mr. G and me)
  • Apple & Goat Cheese Salad
  • My Mom's Sweet Potato Casserole
  • 44 Cupcakes -- 18 Pumpkin, 26 Chai :)


For my turkey directions, check out my Thanksgiving post from last year. I only did a couple things differently this year: I cooked the turkey in an oven bag (it keeps the pan clean and browns the skin), and I used the packet provided by Jenni-O for gravy instead of my mother-in-law's recipe (we didn't keep enough drippings to make the latter, but it was still really good!). And FYI, Jenni-O turkeys have a thermometer that pops out when the turkey is cooked, so it's super easy to tell when it's done. I made this for our "round two" of Thanksgiving at home, just for Mr. G and me. We had it with mashed potatoes and leftover sweet potato casserole (starches much?).

And in case you're wondering, I'm STILL eating turkey leftovers.

Apple & Goat Cheese Salad

This was inspired by the Apple Gorgonzola Salad at Buca di Beppo. I worked there for four years, and that salad was always my favorite. I posted this recipe once before and called it the "summer apple salad." Here's the link. Try it out -- it's a light, sweet salad that pairs well with a raspberry/cranberry/walnut vinaigrette and can be enjoyed as much in the fall or winter as in the summer. :)

Mom's Sweet Potato Casserole

My mom makes the best casseroles. Maybe it was her Southern roots, but holidays at my house were always delicious and abundant. This is one of her sweet potato casserole recipes. I've made this one three years in a row now, but this year was the first time I tried the crunchy topping (usually I just do marshmallows). For the record, the crunchy topping is way better! Here is her recipe:

  • 2 c sweet potatoes (canned is fine)
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Topping:
    • 3/4 c crushed corn flakes
    • 1/2 c chopped nuts (I chopped up honey glazed peanuts)
    • 1/2 c brown sugar
    • 6 tbsp melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bake sweet potatoes according to directions on can. Mash when they are cooked.
  3. Add eggs, melted butter and spices to mashed potatoes.
  4. Slowly add milk until mixture reaches pudding consistency.
  5. Pour mixture into greased 9x9 pan and bake for 20 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle topping on casserole when it comes out of the oven. Return casserole to the oven to bake 10 additional minutes.

Chai Cupakes

I've been wanting to make chai cupcakes for a long time. I have a slight major obsession with chai tea. I drink it every single morning while getting ready for work, and I usually order it whenever I go out for coffee. (For those who share my obsession: my favorite chai makers are Panera, Starbucks and Uncommon Grounds in Minneapolis.) Sadly, these cupcakes turned out to be much more challenging than I expected due to several issues I encountered with this recipe. I got it from Pinterest (naturally), and the blogger who posted it neglected a few details:
  1. I had no idea how many cupcakes the batter was supposed to make (I wanted 12 cupcakes and ended up with 26).
  2. The ingredients were very imbalanced -- the dry/wet ratio was off due to the pot of CHAI TEA I added. Even after adding several additional cups of flour/sugar and test baking three cupcakes, I still ended up with soupy batter and sad little cupcake craters.
  3. The frosting recipe (honey cinnamon swiss meringue) lacked directions entirely. Have you ever made swiss meringue? If so, you know that it requires VERY specific directions. With most frostings, if there are no special directions, you can pretty much throw all the ingredients in the KitchenAid and mix them up. Not so with swiss meringue! I eventually found these directions and was able to make a successful swiss meringue (after throwing out a batch), but Mr. G hated it. :( I liked it, but just in case I was the weird one, I made a double batch of my go-to buttercream -- Magnolia Bakery's vanilla buttercream. (Pro tip: use less butter or more confectioner's sugar if you want buttercream that doesn't melt; I've learned this the hard way. Multiple times.)
Thankfully, even though they looked pitiful, the cupcakes actually tasted amazing. I think they may be my new favorites.... In spite of how angry they made me!

Pumpkin Cupcakes

I made these cupcakes last year around Thanksgiving for the first time. Here's the link to my post with the recipe. This year, I substituted the vanilla buttercream for the cream cheese frosting and sprinkled cinnamon on top. I was going to make a salted caramel frosting, but after two (kinda) failed attempts at the swiss meringue, I just decided to make something that would work for both the chai and pumpkin cupcakes. Whatever, I was tired.

How was your Thanksgiving? Did you try any new recipes, or do you have classics that you always make? Feel free to share your recipes and your cooking/baking stories and screw-ups with me. :)

<3 Mrs. G

P.S. I may not have any Thanksgiving decorations, but Christmas I've got covered. Right now I'm working on a burlap ruffle tree skirt (Pinterest project, of course). I'll post it soon!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lactose-Free: Week One

As you may already know from my last post, Mr. G and I are abstaining from fast food throughout the entire month of November. I know it's not that long of a time to abstain from anything, but we needed to force quit this habit for a bit to give our bodies a break (and to make sure we could do it). We're 12 days in now and so far, so good: no McDonald's, no pizza, no takeout, not even Chipotle! We've been eating all whole foods, all the time. Ok fine, except Halloween candy. But overall, it's still been a success.

Ironically, I've also suddenly had to give up another (much larger) portion of my diet per doctor's orders -- dairy.

Here's the back story: I get these weird, sharp chest pains sometimes, but they happen so sparingly I never think much of them. However, in the last couple of months (and especially in the past few weeks), they've been happening MUCH more frequently. They used to happen once every few months; now, they happen several times a week and sometimes even twice a day. I finally gave in and decided to make an appointment, but naturally when I call the doctor to report "chest pains," I have to go in immediately. So, in the midst of an extremely busy work day last Friday, I went to the clinic to see pretty much the only doctor left on a Friday afternoon. She did a chest x-ray (normal) and took my blood (I didn't faint this time!), but since my pains are quick, inconsistent and all over the place, she couldn't really pinpoint a cause. I told her that I was always under the impression that these pains were caused by digestive troubles, and since I have a pretty sensitive stomach, I had been wondering if they were somehow related to my diet. She rattled off a laundry list of tests to try and then asked me questions about my lifestyle and diet:

Smoke? No. Drink? Very little. Fruits/veggies? Eat them. Water? Drink it, albeit not enough. Sleep? Yes, but not nearly enough. (who does, amiright?)

Then out of the blue, she made a suggestion: Try going 2 weeks lactose-free. Lactose intolerance is very common, and many people develop it as adults. If my pain is caused by digestive issues, this could potentially be the source. So, going 2 weeks cold turkey is the best way to test that theory.

My first thought was: Nope.

Here's why: I consume a LOT of dairy. If you are what you eat/drink, I would be a cow. Seriously. Cereal every morning, coffee with (homemade!) creamer at work, yogurt with every lunch, cheese at most lunches/dinners... And that's not even the good stuff: chocolate, Nutella, ice cream, baked goods (if you know me, you know I love cupcakes), and did I mention Nutella? Nor is it the little stuff: sour cream, ranch dressing, cheese sticks, pasta sauce, some breads, and the list goes on.

But, I knew she was right. So I sucked it up, bought a bunch of dairy substitutes, ate a (homemade!) pizza and Reese's cake on my last night of lactose, and I dove in last Sunday.

I also did some research of my own to learn what specific ingredients to watch out for and to find some common substitutes for these ingredients. In my research, I learned that lactose intolerance is actually supposed to be the norm among humans and all mammals; we stop producing lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose) at age TWO. Yet we have adapted a tolerance to lactose over time that allows most of us to keep processing it. Still, it is estimated that 75% of people worldwide are lactose intolerant, and I'm trying to find out if I'm one of them.

So far, I've been (almost) 100% faithful to my diet, and I'm impressed by some of the dairy alternatives I've tried (vanilla soy milk is amazing), but I don't feel that different. In fact, I've had more chest pains this past week than ever. I'm not sure what that means, but I'll see how this coming week goes. If nothing else, I've been forced to eat super healthy, which can't be a bad thing.

Wish me luck! And please feel free to recommend lactose-free dinner recipes or, more importantly, dessert ideas. I did try lactose-free ice cream, and it was pretty good. But I miss chocolate a LOT.

<3 Mrs. G


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