artichoke heart flower

Chinese five spice

Thanksgiving, that means three things around this house. First, it’s a day for us to reflect and be thankful for everything we’ve been given, and not take anything for granted no matter how menial it may seem. Second, and this is very important, it means a long weekend for us. Hurrah!

But also, it means a day for us to get creative in the kitchen. We have surprisingly few days that allow us this luxury. And I’m sure many of you are probably in the same boat.

We wouldn’t be doing a typical Thanksgiving dinner this year. Instead of the typical turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy; we’d be trading it in for tri tip steak, Char Siu pork in bao dough, a French baguette, pistachio salad and a couple other random vegetable dishes. Possibly an appetizer of deep fried mushrooms. Like I said, it wasn’t going to be your typical Thanksgiving dinner.

To really get in the swing of things, Vanessa put the Macy’s day parade on the laptop so we could all watch. Then of course, Nathan wanted a picture with Pikachu flying in the background…and Scrat…

Macy's thanksgiving day parade

I don’t think normal people huddle up this close to the computer, but Nathan really wanted a picture of Pikachu.

So let’s see. Now that it was cooking time (we were done with our shopping), my first order of business would be to put the pork in the oven and let it slow cook at 250° F (120° C) for part of the day. We wanted the pork to get as tender as possible before cutting it up and mixing it with Char Siu. I’ll admit, we hadn’t planned ahead so we weren’t able to let it marinade for any length of time. Instead, we would simply stuff everything in the bao dough and call it good. Pretty fancy huh?

Naturally, we would need to get the bao dough going so it could have a sufficient rise time. We did a few things differently with the dough, but I’ll get back to that in a minute.


20161121_161759My first order of business was to get some wine mulling on the stove. Yup. First thing this morning, at a bright and early 8:45 am, I added cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, and ginger to a little pot of wine. There is a basic recipe on this page for you if you so desire on your next cold evening in. And yes! It is cold today! It was O when I stepped out on the porch first thing this morning for a breath of fresh air. But what do I care? I don’t have work out in it.

I decided earlier this week that I wanted to start creating what I might call Monday-Sunday Bread. The goal is to to introduce more naturally ‘brewed’ bread into our diet. I add flour and water to a jar on the back of the stove on Monday, with the plan to feed it for a couple days and be able to make some sort of loaf on Thursday afternoon or evening. I then start a new batch that should be ready for bread on Sunday. Today is the test round for this. Test.

Jelly filled Crepe

I made a really thin batter using just the start and water. It is filled with home made cranberry, rhubarb, raspberry jam and topped with a fresh made batch of whipped cream that I shook in a mason jar this morning. I think the mulled wine cranberry sauce would have been an far exceeding choice as filler. There was so much sugar in this meal that Nathan was pretty literally a flying monkey during our store visit after.

In a ‘normal’ life this probably wouldn’t work well, but since I can tinker away at something like this even on a day ‘at’ work I think it can be successful. After pulling off a cup or so of the stat to make my first attempt at crepes this morning I simply added flour to the start (all of this totally unmeasured) until it felt like I think dough should.

I’m not going to lie, my bread doesn’t seem to be leavening very well but I can let it rise several times through the whole day. As we mentioned before, the ‘plan’ is to have some baguette for butter, cheese, and some other spreads at some point today.

In the mean time the afternoon continues with the parade on YouTube replay, mulled wine, and the smell of pork roasting in the oven. I think Andrew is about to make the ‘salad.’


Yes. Now I’ll talk about one of the dishes I had really been looking forward too. Don’t get your expectations too high on this one though. It was just something I hadn’t eaten in years.

It dawned on me that I had never in my life made it before either. I’d certainly eaten it as a child, but never had it occurred to me to make it. It’s nuts (pun intended) to me how a brain can recognize so many flavors. It brought back all kinds of childhood memories after just the first bite.

Pistachio salad

I present to you…pistachio salad! It’s a salad, so that makes it healthy right?


There was a long period of time today where I felt I should be doing something toward getting this meal finished, but had to realize that it was still really early and the meat needed to cook for a while. So we watched the parade. Nathan watched with me for a while. Quite a long while actually. It was nice to fast forward through the commercials, (We don’t get many of those in our house since Netflix and Library rentals contribute almost entirely to our viewing consumption.) however, I was astonished at the number of medical ads! Is there seriously a pill to help take away your double chin?! That’s just weird. Did they design it just for that? Or was it an unexpected side effect for a medicine intended to cure something else? I’ll say it gain. That’s just weird.

Eventually Nathan got bored so I watched the rest of the parade myself, while tinkering around the kitchen. Yup. The whole thing. That happened. I walk away wondering why I did that. I guess you’re supposed to? It’s tradition, right? In all honesty, I wasn’t really doing anything else. In fact this whole day is a test of my anxiety levels. I just want to get finished with my ‘tasks’ for the meal, but it isn’t time yet. I feel like there are so many things to get done. I keep playing around with what needs to get done next and going through the list of each dish, trying to figure out how to organize them all… wait. I’m only really in charge of the bread and a couple vegetable dishes. Holy cow! I can let all those other parts go. Phew.


By the time I had finished making the pistachio salad and kneading the bao dough, it was about time to check up on the pork and see how it was faring. Knowing that I would be using it as part of a recipe, I didn’t season it in anyway prior to baking it.

But now that the pork loin (I know it’s usually made with pork shoulder but I don’t care) was out of the oven and cut in half, it looked just how I wanted. One half would be diced up to go in the Char Siu that was simmering on the stove, and the other half would get a quick dry rub applied to the top and returned to a much hotter oven for about 15 minutes. I wanted the pork to crisp up a bit on the top, and to be honest it turned out quite good. So that was cool.

Pork Dry Rub

The dry rub consisted of sugar, brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, and applewood smoked salt. I tossed all the ingredients together in a little container and then I packed it all on top of the pork. Perhaps I, dare I say it, knocked it outta the pork with this one? Get it?

Knocked it outta the…nevermind.

Anyway, that other half of the pork loin was liberally applied with honey right after it came out of the oven, and it had been cooling for about 20 minutes on a cutting board. It was about time for that pork to get mixed in with the Char Sui sauce. By the way, Vanessa ground up all the ingredients by hand for the Chinese five spice that would be going in the Char Sui.

We didn’t have any on hand that was premixed so we had to improvise. The good old mini mortar and pestle saved the day this time.


healthfood shopping

Shopping for Thanksgiving Treats

As Andrew said, I ground the spices for the pork buns. It was a funny little story really. (Well I think so. I think Laura will like it. Most of my ‘funny’ stories are usually more funny to me than anyone else.) Anyway, looking around the store for Chinese 5 Spice this morning, the only bit we could find was a cute little organic box but there was no way we were going to pay $3.29, when we could make it ourselves for pennies. Star Anise, pepper, cinnamon, clove, fennel seeds. We have all that, but I wasn’t sure about grinding the star anise so I took a different route. I remembered that there were a bunch of broken pieces of anise in the tub at the bulk spice counter, (where I practically live in this store) and sure enough there was a bunch of powder in there, too. We only needed 1 teaspoon total of the mixture, so it would work perfectly to collect the little spoon full of powder from the bottom of the tub. Yeah… except all those pesky whole stars are in the way, and the plastic spoons they have at the counter are not long enough to reach the bottom…. That’s okay. I’m innovative!

fresh ground chinese five spiceIt’s a good thing I am on  a first name basis with the health food department lead. When Marie came around the corner I had a gallon bag full of star anise on the counter, and the tub nearly upside-down, with my arm entirely inside. “It’s okay,” I tell her, “I didn’t touch any of them, and I will return them when I am done.” “Oh, I’m sure.” She wasn’t bothered, but I can tell that she could tell, as well as I could, that this was a ridiculous venture; way more work than I should have put into it. I do indeed end up with my teaspoon (yup one teaspoon) of powdered star anise, but it took me several more minutes to wriggle all those whole stars back into the container. Five minutes well spent, right? Andrew didn’t even want to be seen near me through it. So anyway, I made a beautiful hand ground Chinese 5 spice for our Thanksgiving dinner!

After that I went back to pretty much nothing. Waiting until it was the right time to cook the vegetables. Ah! But now would be a good time to do another ‘punch down’ of my baguette dough. Hmmmm. I don’t think it is needing any punching down. For the third long rise now, I am really not seeing any rise at all. I wonder how this is going to turn out.


Char Sui Pork

This is the Char Sui pork mixture that we would be stuffing the bao bread with. It’s kind of like an Asian barbecued pork you could say. Quite delicious.

Let’s see here, so far I had put the pistachio salad together and put it in the refrigerator to let the flavors mingle. I’d made the bao dough (but hadn’t rolled it out yet), and put together the Char Sui pork (with a little help from Vanessa). All that was left to do was broil the tri tip steak, and roll out and stuff the bao dough with the pork.

Vanessa helped me stuff the pork in the dough, and I’m glad because it would have taken me much longer than I really wanted to spend doing that.

Char Siu in bao dough

What’s going on here!? It looks like a bomb went off in this kitchen. Can someone please send in a clean up crew?

Now that the tri tip steak was broiled, and the Char Sui pork was done, I was about finished with my part of dinner. Vanessa had already baked her baguette (she’ll explain more about it below), which was delicious in my opinion. A little on the dense side, but that was totally okay. After all, we don’t have nearly as much experience as les boulangers français have.


Yes, finally it was T time. The kneed my dough and get it aligned into baguette shaped loafs. I know this dough is not going to rise. In fact it can’t even stand up under it’s own weight. Oh well, I know it will taste good. The worst that can happen is we’ll have to slice it down the length to get enough surface area to spread butter. It definitely has a nice sour dough smell though.

Bread in the oven. Pot of water boiled. In goes the artichoke. Back to waiting….

artichoke leaf dipped in the vinaigrette.

A photo Nathan took of an artichoke leaf dipped in the vinaigrette.

So I’m trying two new recipes (from The French Market Cook Book I’ve been raving about) for dipping the artichoke. One is a vinaigrette and the other is basically a type of mayo, but with cooked egg. The instructions say to bring all the ingredients to room temperature before mixing, so I’ve had an egg out on the counter for most of the day. Super. Time to mix my sauces. The first is pretty typical: olive oil, sherry wine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, and I added a healthy amount of the Fines Herbs I brought back from World Spice Merchants in Seattle. The tarragon in the blend brings an instant ‘Frenchness’ to the sauce. The other calls for boiled egg…. oh crap. (Did you catch it before me?) I brought my egg to room temp, but  I never boiled it. With all that time waiting around and I messed this up? Oh well, no time crunch today. I boil some eggs and continue.

The second one, called Sauce Gribiche is similar to the last, but calls for the cooked egg yolk to be whipped with oils, mustard again, salt, pepper, and capers. I use the Fines Herbs again. (I realize now that the optional ‘cornichons’ that I ignored are really just pickles, making this recipe very similar to my tartar sauce recipe from last summer.) I decided for my choice of oils one would be lemon grapeseed and the other obviously olive oil. (I really only have those two kinds to ‘choose’ from.) I use only a few drops of the lemon grapeseed oil because it is so very strong with lemon.

Sauce Gribiche

Enjoying the Sauce Gribiche

So as the bread and artichoke finish baking and boiling, my last obligation to dinner begins. Deep fried mushrooms.

So flashing back to this morning, it was very fun going to the store… besides the star anise powder ‘event’… because we pretty much ran around the produce section poking, sniffing, and grabbing whatever caught our fancy. “Ooh! Artichoke!” “Mommy, I want mushrooms!” “What was in duxelles again, Andrew? Maybe we could make that again and use it somehow?” The general consensus was that we have all the basic staples, and pretty much every herb and spice one could desire back at the house, (besides ground star anise!) so grab anything that sound interesting and we’ll figure out what to do with it when we get home. I also grab a daikon radish and a leek. We grabbed cheeses we liked, and even pickled green bean ‘just because.’ It was a little like the shopping part of the Guy’s Grocery Games or even that of Cutthroat Kitchen… but in no particular hurry. To quote one of my favorite phrases, “I want it all!” If we continue to have the large family gathering on Saturdays, I would love to make it a tradition for our little 3 person family to go to the ‘market’ on Thanksgiving and make it a fun day of creative cooking.

So, back to the mushrooms, we decided to deep fry them. I kept to my favorite technique for breading and frying by coating the mushrooms first in cornstarch, then dipping in an egg and milk bath, and finally rolled in a flour and panko mix. I added a spice mix from Penzeys, called Forward, that contains black pepper, onion, paprika, garlic, turmeric, and some other things, and it was a perfect choice.


In closing, I just want to say that instead of steaming (I was having a few problems) the Char Sui pork, I decided very quickly that I was going to bake them. The decision was based mostly on the fact that I didn’t have a good steaming system set up, and I was finding that not only were they sticking to the bottom of the steaming tray, but I could only cook about 4 at a time and that meant it would take me a good hour and a half to cook them all. Bad idea, that wasn’t going to happen.
But it turned out to be a great day, and an even better dinner. Vanessa will add some more details below which I haven’t covered. And who knows what we’ll decide on next Thanksgiving.
Char Siu pork

We are no experts at making Char Siu pork, as you can probably tell. But what they lacked in appearance, they more than made up for in taste.


So how did everything turn out?
The artichoke was cooked perfectly and Nathan absolutely loved eating it! (So happy for that successful new experience for him.) The dipping sauces were both very good and I will definitely use the boiled egg style for other types of sauce/dressings in future cooking ventures.

The mushrooms were crispy on the outside and just the right done-ness in the middle. Also great with the Sauce Gribiche!

deep fried mushrooms

My bread? Yeah that fell flat. Literally. Well I can’t say it ‘fell’ flat, since it never rose to begin with. Andrew says he likes it. It does taste good, but my mouth was tired after trying to chew my way through a couple pieces. I certainly enjoyed the Chevre (goat) cheese spread I picked out though. And, if nothing else, I know I can make knock-off crepes out of my start!

flat baguette

As I said before it was a great day. Going to the store was fun. Cooking new things was refreshing. Watching the parade happened. We enjoyed each others’ company and had a truly pleasant time relaxing. What else could anyone ask for? I am certainly very thankful.

artichoke heart flower

The beautiful center of our artichoke. It reminds me of a blooming lotus flower! Beautiful finish to a wonderful day.

 Here are a few more pictures of our Thanksgiving Dinner, all taken by Nathan:

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20161124_194105 20161124_193247

20161124_195142 20161124_195138

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