Sunday, March 13, 2011

Our First Thanksgiving in Colorado

For Thanksgiving this year, it became obvious pretty quickly that we wouldn't be able to travel home.  Joe had just started his new job, I was temping (and any time off was unpaid), tickets were exorbitantly priced, and who really wants to spend the majority of a four day weekend in an airport??  So instead of flying home, we had our first Colorado Thanksgiving.

I do most of the cooking for me and Joe, and was overwhelmed with the thought of cooking an entire Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us.  I knew that my only "cooking day" would have to be Thanksgiving day itself, and I wasn't sure if I could get everything done in 8 hours or less.  But, once we decided flying home wasn't an option, we invited my mom to fly out and join us, and she accepted.  The prospect of a Thanksgiving dinner suddenly became a lot less scary when I knew that I'd have her here to help do the shopping and the prep work while I was at work.

Thanksgiving ended up being a beautiful day (I'm pretty sure we hadn't had snow yet by that time of year, even though upon moving here we were promised that our first snow would be before the end of October).  Our friends from Denver, D and K were also able to come, so instead of a Thanksgiving for 2, we had a Thanksgiving for 5!  Somehow, all the prep happened so quickly and painlessly that it was a relaxing day of alternately cooking and sitting with our feet up.

The menu:
Mom and the bird
We bought a fresh, local turkey and made Alton Brown's Roast Turkey.  I don't think we use cinnamon or apple in the aromatics, I think we use lemon instead (possibly an earlier iteration of the recipe).  The most important part of the recipe though is brining the turkey to make it moist and tender with natural ingredients, rather than a whole bunch of salt and chemicals (like a lot of the "fluid added" frozen turkeys).  Our family has made this turkey recipe for years, and Mom has been known to have a brining turkey travelling with them in the car when she and Dad would come down to W'Burg for Thanksgiving.
Carved turkey and the rest of the "buffet."
Sweet  potatoes!  We pre-bake them and then squeeze them out of their skins, add brown sugar, cayenne, butter and half & half then bake them as a casserole.
Bobby Flay's Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranates and Vanilla-Pecan Butter.  My dad always loved having Brussels sprouts on Thanksgiving, so I wanted to make sure to have some on the menu (Joe and I both also love Brussels sprouts, so it was an easy addition).  This recipe was from Bobby Flay's Thanksgiving Throwdown, and it must have been a popular thing to make, because we had to go to two stores to get enough Brussels sprouts!
D made green bean casserole - one of Joe's favorite side dishes!
And or course stuffing!
Missing from the pictures are the gravy, the mashed potatoes, and the homemade pumpkin and apple pies that Mom made.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Consumer Review: Buitoni Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli with Garlic Butter Sauce

As you may have guessed, I love cooking.  But, love of cooking doesn't mean that I always have the time or energy to prepare a home-cooked meal.  What makes matters difficult is that I am also very sodium-sensitive and find most packaged foods too salty, too boring, too greasy, too yuck.  Even with my frozen food skepticism, I've been intrigued by the Buitoni "restaurant quality" frozen meals that are perpetually splashed across my television screen and decided to give one of them a try.

Buying the meal was no small feat for me.  I have a strange dilemma when it comes to grocery store prices.  If I'm at a restaurant and see something simple like a soup/sandwich combo for $7, I think to myself, "Wow!  Great price!"  But, if I'm at a grocery store and something is $7 I'm outraged - even if it will probably feed more than one person.  This was my biggest barriers with the Buitoni meal.  I had a box in my cart two months ago, but ended up putting it back because I couldn't bring myself to spend $10 on a frozen meal - even though it would feed two people for dinner!  I finally convinced myself to buy a box when I saw it at Target for about $8.  Grocery store anxiety still kicked in, but I convinced myself that if I saw ravioli at a Happy Hour for $4/person, we'd be there every night.

The Appeal:
Once your water comes to a boil, it takes 5 minutes to cook the meal.  They claim it will taste like a restaurant meal.  The commercials and box make it look good (but come on, Big Macs look good on TV).  I love pasta (and so does Joe)!

Dinner is served!
 The Verdict:

The ravioli cooked quickly and was al dente (not slimy/mushy/gummy like many frozen raviolis).  Both the shrimp and the lobster flavors were noticeable in the filling.  The filling was mostly smooth, but has actual chunks of shrimp and lobster in it.  However, its not overflowing with chunks like the box implied.  The garlic butter sauce was creamy, smooth, and rich (not oily/greasy/watery) and had a hint of garlic but was not overpowering.  I could taste the salt in it, but it didn't overwhelm me.  It actually complimented the ravioli very well and went perfectly with the lemon-pepper roasted asparagus that I made on the side (come-on!  you didn't expect me to serve an entirely packaged meal, did you?).  With a little presentation effort, it looked good too!  The meal was very satisfying, and extremely quick and easy to make.  Will I buy it again?  Yes.  If I hadn't roasted the asparagus, the meal would have taken about 12 minutes, including boiling the water.  Also, it tasted good.  Did it taste like a restaurant meal?  It wasn't a 5-star restaurant meal, but it was as good as you could get at a chain Italian restaurant.  And for a third of the price.  Will I make it every week?  No.  Calorie, cholesteral, sodium, and fat wise, it was more of a "splurge" than I'd want to serve weekly.  Looking at the sodium content, I'm still shocked that it didn't taste heavily salted to me.

Overall, good job Buitoni!  You made a frozen/prepared food skeptic enjoy your product!

End note:
Lemon Pepper Asparagus is really easy!  Trim the bottoms off a bunch of asparagus, drizzle with olive oil, pepper to taste, roast on a foil covered pan in a 400 degree oven until asparagus is crisp-tender, top with fresh squeezed lemon juice and more pepper to taste.

End note 2:
Buitoni did not pay me or compensate me in any way to write this review.  But if you work for Buitoni and want to send me coupons for free stuff, YES PLEASE!!