Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Feast - 11/24/2011

The Gaidus family graciously welcomed me into their home for Thanksgiving vacation, and I eagerly awaited the prospect of contributing to the climactic dinner. Never before had I helped with the extensive cooking process, and as Andrew and I sat at the kitchen table and surveyed the recipes fanned before us, I recognized with excitement that the ultimate induction into a most sacred holiday ritual awaited us. Indeed, this was a highly anticipated event - weeks before, I'd received an email from Andrew that meticulously analyzed various recipes for stuffing and mashed potatoes, and we had braved the buzzing crowds at the grocery store the previous afternoon. After much debate and careful ingredient scrutiny, we had decided on sausage and apple stuffing, cheesy garlic mashed potatoes, and a winter salad.
And thus the cooking began - or rather, a chopping marathon launched our culinary endeavor. Since the stuffing purported a six person serving size, we chose to multiply the designated ingredients by a factor of one and a half. Given this formula, however, the recipe appeared gravely flawed - I filled two heaping bowls with coarsely chopped leeks, and was merely approaching the original call for six cups of the white-green stalks. Thus, Andrew and I modified the instructions slightly - we halved some of the amounts while simultaneously doubling others, and as we concluded the dish's preparation, much arbitrary addition of spices and vegetable stock took place. This chaos, nevertheless, was calculated - we derived our confidence in the finished product from the inevitable interaction of toothsome ingredients, regardless of exact proportions - how can you go wrong with a butter-infused combination of sauteed celery, onions, leeks, and tart green apples coupled with luscious italian sausage crumbles, sweet seasonal cranberries, and chopped walnuts, all mixed with vegetable-stock moistened breadcrumbs, fresh rosemary, sage, and parsley, and savory poultry seasoning? The rich aroma and multiple tiny samples of the "meat paste" ensured that the finished product would be a delicacy, and indeed, the gargantuan portion that emerged from the oven was of the utmost decadent flavor, possessing an intense umami taste that was simultaneously subtle and fundamentally, not too salty.

The garlic mashed potatoes did not require nearly as much labor, and the result accurately reflected what one would expect from such a divine junction of ingredients - the starchy potato flesh enthusiastically absorbed the garlic infused half and half, and the parmesan cheese joined instantaneously with the piping hot white mixture.
I know how to make one salad dressing, and that's my mom's famous mustard vinaigrette. I never tire of the way the champagne vinegar pickles the chopped red onions (or shallots), and how whisking this mixture with honey dijon mustard and olive oil creates a flavorful and light coating for any salad component - indeed, I initially though of this dressing as a taste of summer, yet it proved its seasonal versatility. Our wintry salad was comprised of a fresh baby spinach base coupled with long thin slices of fennel and red comice pears, and sprinkles of vibrant cranberries and chopped walnuts. Lorry's asparagus added another vegetable component to the meal - the green stalks were perfectly cooked so that they were tender yet retained some crunch, and the exterior surface was sprinkled simply and satisfyingly with parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

Lorry and Herb did a phenomenal job preparing the main attraction - the turkey flesh was succulent and tender, possessing the coveted moist quality that Thanksgiving cooks strive for each year. The carefully carved slabs were oozing with flavor, the exterior browned skin infusing the white flesh beneath with the taste of buttery paprika and other characteristic turkey seasonings. Layered with cranberry sauce and rich, thick gravy, each bite was indeed a luscious reminder of all we have to be thankful for.
The requisite pumpkin pie came from Auntie El's, a quaint, glorified farm stand that produces homemade baked goods. This final installment of our Thanksgiving feast indeed showcased the expertise of some unknown yet highly skilled baker - the crust was well-cooked and firm, providing a decadent shell for the smooth, moist pumpkin interior - adjacent to melting vanilla ice cream and topped with a squat tower of whipped cream, I truly believe there is no better way to conclude an entirely enjoyable and memorable Thanksgiving experience. The remarkable difference between our pre- and post-dinner weigh-in weights certainly speaks to our gluttonous enjoyment of the occasion.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sunday Morale Boost - 11/6/2011

Surprisingly, Sundays are my least favorite day of the week - time seems to drag on endlessly yet I fail to accomplish anything of note. I hypothesize that I cede some of my limited productivity to the unique eating schedule of this special day - brunch renders me hungry at about 4pm, and much time and effort is wasted as I countdown the minutes until it is socially acceptable to go to dinner. Although daylight savings time thoughtfully earned us an extra hour of sleep, the switch further exacerbated how incongruent my internal Sunday clock is with real time. Furthermore, Sunday night (or late afternoon) dinner in the dining hall always feels particularly institutional and depressing - I find that the absence of home-cooked eats and family dining is most noticeable at this time. Thus, a Sunday night dinner invitation from Elleree came as a most welcome treat. After a day of attempted work, I happily ventured to her apartment for an exquisite meal prepared using ingredients from Elleree's final CSA box of the season.
Dinner was simple yet toothsome, and both hearty and healthful. A vibrant wheat berry salad offered remarkable variety in both texture and flavor. I had never sampled wheat berries before - each unit an entire wheat germ, they are similar in appearance to brown rice yet possess a much tougher, chewy texture that I found immensely satisfying. Scattered throughout the crunchy brown kernels were luscious steamed beet chunks, which added both earthy flavor and rich magenta and deep gold color to the mixture. Uncooked sliced apples provided further crunchiness, and the salad's cinnamon seasoning interacted with the fruit chunks to create a flavor combination that singularly symbolizes autumn's bounty. Decadent pecan pieces were interspersed throughout the salad as well, and their dense, creamy texture and distinctive nutty flavor contributed a requisite rich quality to every bite. 
After plating a portion - believe me, multiple portions were the defining feature of our dinner experience - of the wheat berry salad, we topped our heaping mounds with chunks of goat cheese. Elleree studied abroad in France last spring, and noted that the goat cheese they serve there is much firmer than the variety to which we are accustomed. Taking a cue from the experts, Elleree purchases French-style goat cheese, and thus presented a beautiful white block to us, firm and snow white in the interior and creamy in both color and texture around the unit's exterior edge. Rainbow chard topped with roasted butternut squash chunks with garbanzo beans and cranberries comprised the accompanying dish. Roasted perfectly, the butternut squash pieces retained its raw crunch yet derived some sweet mushiness from the preparation process. Moreover, the garbanzo beans underwent a textural transformation, each small sphere becoming slightly browned and and pleasantly hard rather than mealy on the outside surface. The cranberries added seasonal ambience, a healthful reminder of the fast-approaching holidays. This dinner is wholly responsible for salvaging my Sunday evening, magically transforming a time of dismal prognosis into an hour spent immersed in pleasurable consumption and excellent company. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

November's First Log Lunch - 11/4/2011

My anticipatory spirit led me to the Log ten minutes early on this beautiful fall Friday - the warm rays of sunshine made last week's snowfall seem like a figment of my imagination - and thus I arrived at the food line before any of the food itself. My debut as an eyewitness of the "unveiling" process was a culinary treat in itself - the tantalizing aroma of the squash and fennel soup and the aesthetic experience of the baked apple and endive salad prepped my taste buds for the magic in store.
The vibrant color of the squash and fennel soup is analogous to the rich flavors present in the thick yet delicately pureed liquid - the distinctive licorice taste coupled with the earthy quality of the squash created a complex complementary combination that was both familiarly satisfying yet wholly unique. I garnished my portion with plain greek yogurt and freshly roasted pumpkin seeds - the former provided an integral tart creaminess, while the smoky flavor and crunchiness of the latter added welcome textural variation. The "blazin' raisin" rye bread was, per usual, the ideal dipping instrument - the crusts were pleasurably tough and remarkably hearty, while the interior dough was malleable and elastic, and the golden and brown raisins scattered throughout contributed mild bursts of sweetness to every bite. The salad embodied the wonders of winter - delectable fresh greens coupled with cranberries, sliced endive, and both baked and raw apple chunks. The baked variety were luscious and slightly mushy, seasoned delicately with cinnamon. The dressing was decadently creamy and unconventional - created with walnuts, almonds, apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup, its rich quality can be attributed solely to the nuts. Delicious globs clung enthusiastically to the fragrant apple chunks and wormed their way into the lettuce leaf crevices. Once again, the welcoming menu board recognized Mighty Food Farm and Peace Valley Farm for their provision of the meal's fresh ingredients.
The substantial lunch portion I enjoyed and the fast-approaching early afternoon workout deterred me from having a snickerdoodle right after the meal, and thus I squirreled one away to sample in the evening. Of course, that plan fell through - I got out of class and stopped at Tunnel City en route to practice, and could not resist the prospect of dipping the tender cinnamon-sugar coated yellow cookie mass into a steaming cup of coffee. After this extraordinary experience, there is no doubt in my mind that snickerdoodles are the best item to dip in coffee (not cappuccino though, mind you) - when the cookie flesh becomes saturated with the piping hot liquid, the texture changes completely from slightly hard and crumbly to gloriously soft and mushy, and each dipped tidbit disintegrated instantly upon contact with my eagerly waiting mouth. Moreover, the cinnamon and sugar mixture coupled with the strong, slightly bitter coffee taste makes for an ingenious flavor combination. The snickerdoodle leaves buttery residue on the coffee's surface, a nice lingering treat once the actual cookie matter ceases to exist. Although other commitments will take me away from Log Lunch next week, this delicious meal is sure to have long-lasting effects on my eating psyche.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Wednesday Standard - 11/2/2011

Despite the fact that my board plan only provides ten meals a week and thus swiping for breakfast is simply not economical, I have recently rediscovered the magic of Goodrich Coffee Bar and have been unable to resist the temptation of the bagel-cappuccino combination. Dance party locale by weekend night and student run coffee bar by weekday, Goodrich boasts an impressive variety of bagels and most remarkably, delicious flavored cream cheeses. It is also the only dining venue that serves espresso drinks, and I relish "The Goodrich" - an equivalency combination that includes a bagel and cream cheese of choice along with a latte, cappuccino, or chai. Every Wednesday after my morning swim, I stop at the church-like building and revel in the pleasant ambience - conveniently, The Williams Record, our student newspaper, comes out on this weekday, and I revel in consuming my delightfully simple breakfast while reading the latest campus news amidst the cheerful chatter of surrounding students.
While most bagels are defined by their impressive density - it is rumored that one bagel is equivalent to fives slice of bread - Goodrich Coffee Bar only serves delicate ovals of airy dough. Moreover, something with the toasting method renders the bagels perfectly browned, ever so slightly crunchy along all the exterior surfaces but lusciously moist and warm on the inside. Lately I have been ordering the wheat variety because I find it is most complementary to the main attraction - the honey-walnut cream cheese. This sweet, creamy topping is the most fundamental element of this breakfast combination - I use every last tidbit in the personal container, savoring the decadent taste of honey laced throughout the rich cheese and the sizable walnut chunks interspersed in the sparkling white solid. I tear pieces of bagel and coat the asymmetric pieces individually with the divine cream cheese, sometimes dipping this final product in my cappuccino - per usual, I order a 12oz double shot, and it arrives foamed to perfection. Although I am usually a proponent of slowly savoring one's food, I consume this breakfast faster than usual because the interaction between the warm wheat bagel and honey-walnut cream cheese is truly magical. 
Another integral part of my Wednesday eating tradition is a trip down to '82 Grill for lunch. Situated in the basement of student center Paresky, the '82 Grill offers personal pizzas or toasted subs - I always opt for the latter, and today I deviated from the standard turkey or ham and sampled the toasted eggplant parmesan. I am certainly happy with the switch, as this vegetarian option was wholly phenomenal - the interior was comprised of roasted eggplant and large chunks of roasted tomato coated delicately with tomato sauce and gouda and parmesan cheese. The vegetables were exceptionally well-prepared and flavorful, and my concern that the cheese would be gummy and overpowering was irrelevant. The bread, however, is the defining feature of '82 Grill subs - made fresh in the Williams Bakeshop, the "garlic and sun dried tomato artisan bread" is delicate and particularly toothsome. Like Goodrich, the '82 Grill has perfected the toasting process so that the outside is appropriately crunchy while the interior surfaces maintain an impressive moistness. Once again, the intersection between the bread and the sandwich's ingredients creates the layer I cherish most, as the various flavors and texture fuse together for a warm bite of utmost savory pleasure.