Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I will never forget the first time I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner. Our dear friend Engin and her family of four drove six hours from Philadelphia to our apartment in a Boston suburb that Thursday. They didn't come all the way to our place for dinner, but it was their first stop on their visit to Boston. Back in the late 80s, most businesses were closed on Thanksgiving, so these people were famished when they got to our apartment.

Weeks leading to the dinner, I had read and re-read that year's Better Homes and Garden's November issue and decided to create the same exact menu - spring salad with walnut and a lemon poppy-seed dressing, turkey stuffed with wild rice, mushroom and prosciutto ham (my first introduction to the Italian ham). For dessert, I decided to go with a Thai dessert - coconut custard baked in a pumpkin. The salad was a big hit, as was the stuffing. But the turkey and the dessert? A disaster with a capital D.

When our guests arrived mid-afternoon, the turkey was only halfway done, even though it was in the oven since early morning. We later learned that the oven was the culprit. We had recently moved to our apartment, and it was the first time I used the oven (BIG mistake). Chef Engin came to the rescue. We quickly removed the stuffing from the turkey and finished cooking it on the stovetop. Then, we went ahead and ate the salad, the stuffing, and whatever part of the turkey that was cooked. Good thing we all like dark meat. We didn't even bother with the dessert. The whole dinner was a total embarrassment. Fortunately, good friends don't mind. Embarrassing moments often create endearing memories. To this day, we still laugh about my infamous Thanksgiving dinner.

Fast forward two decades. I am older (yikes!) and much wiser (I hope). I never try a new recipe when I have people over. Since I live on a boat, I abide by the KISS (Keep It Simple, S...) principle, cooking simple things. As much as we like to entertain, a big feast like Thanksgiving is totally out of question. Looking back, I realized we've almost always celebrated Thanksgiving at friends'. I've made Thanksgiving dinner only a handful of times. Thanks to our dear friends David and Janice, we got invited, again, to their family gathering this year. All I need to bring is chocolate chocolate-chip cookies. Making 4 dozen of these delicious morsels is no easy task, given my small convection oven in a one butt U-shaped galley. I do this in 2 steps, first making the cookie dough and freezing it, then baking the cookies the day we're gonna eat them. Every time I've made these cookies, people have asked for the recipe, so I am including it here.

Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving!

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies
[Print Recipe]

Although these will keep well overnight, they are best eaten the day they are baked.
Makes about 6½ dozen

1 cup raisins
¼ cup amber (gold) rum or brandy or hot water
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
½ teaspoon baking soda
2½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
1½ cups pecan pieces (about 6 ounces), toasted

Combine raisins and rum in small bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature at least 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter heavy large cookie sheets. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light. Gradually add both sugars and beat until fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Add to butter mixture and stir just until blended. Drain raisins. Add to dough. Mix in semi-sweet chocolate chips and pecan pieces (dough will be very stiff).

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake until cookies appear dry, tops are lightly cracked and soft when pressed, about 10 minutes (do not overbake). Cook cookies 5 minutes on cookie sheets. Transfer to racks and cool. (Store in airtight container).

Cook’s notes: The above is the exact recipe from Bon Appetit magazine, circa October 1990. They are so good I never did have to make any change.

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hiking a new trail at Raccoon Mountain

We have hiked Raccoon Mountain many times over the years, but yesterday was our first time on the River Gorge/Laurel Point trail.

It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the leaves were quite beautiful, eventhough the foliage has probably peaked. We had seen a bald head eagle and several blue herons when we walked around the lake in early October, but no luck on the birds this time.
Yours truly saw no bird on this trail

Sophal, Julie, Debbie and Simba
A nice picnic area with BBQ grill
We were going to walk another 2.8 miles in the woods, but Simba, Debbie's cute Pomeranian, refused. We called it quits and moved on to the paved road back to our car. We were walking for about 10 minutes when all of a sudden, a majestic buck (8 to 9-point, according to Julie, hunter and taxidermist) emerged from the woods, and ran from one end of the park to the other. We were awed! It was like a show put on just for us. We fumbled for our cameras - to no avail. Alas, no pictures, but we'll never forget this encounter. At least I won't.

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