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Cook's challenge

Second helping: Hosting Thanksgiving dinner again

Wednesday, November 20, 2013
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Cook's challenge


Bena Zeng prepares Pan-roasted Broccoli with Asian Peanut Butter Sauce, a dish she will serve on Thanksgiving Day.
Bena Zeng prepares Pan-roasted Broccoli with Asian Peanut Butter Sauce, a dish she will serve on Thanksgiving Day.

Cooking your first bird — it’s just a rite of passage. You can probably remember the first Thanksgiving turkey you ever had to cook yourself, and you might even have a story or two to tell about it.

Last year was the first time for Bena Zeng of Niskayuna. Between work schedules and sisters spread out along the East Coast, from North Carolina to the Capital Region, preparing the dinner fell on her plate.

“I was nervous and excited about doing it,” she said, even though she loves to cook. She hadn’t, however, ever cooked for six people at once.

She started out by reading about how to cook the turkey and then planned her cooking times around it. Zeng spent some time looking through the magazine “Cook’s Illustrated,” one of her favorites, and chose her entire menu from there.

Assisted by her then-fiancé, she prepared some of the food the night before. Prepping the day before is key, she said, so that you can find out early if you’re missing anything. The two also worked out a timetable for the next day. “By using a schedule, we were able to time when things go in or out–what goes in first or together, and it went pretty smoothly,” she said.


Pictured is Bena Zeng's Thanksgiving Day table a year ago. (photo provided)

Zeng baked the pies in the morning to free up the oven for the turkey in the afternoon. The couple used the gas grill as well as the stovetop. “Use any appliance that you may have and be creative with it,” she said. “If you have a slow cooker, use it. Use the Kitchen Aid mixer to mash your potatoes.”

Between the two cooks, working with and around each other, they pulled off the Thanksgiving feast. “We actually were able to put everything onto the table at the same time so no food went cold!” Zeng said.

It was such a success that the Zengs, who married last month, will be hosting Thanksgiving dinner again this year.

If you get stuck, Butterball’s Turkey Talk Line (1-800-BUTTERBALL) is available on Thanksgiving Day, when staffers answer about 12,000 calls.

Recipes are courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine

Cranberry Chutney with Apple and Crystallized Ginger

Published Nov. 1, 2011.

A note from Bena Zeng: “I used this instead of the traditional cranberry sauce... and it was FANTASTIC!  It is a great new twist to the old.”

Makes about 3 cups.

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 shallot, minced

2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

2⁄3 cup water

1⁄4 cup cider vinegar

1 cup packed brown sugar

12 ounces (3 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1⁄4-inch pieces

1⁄3 cup minced crystalized ginger

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until just shimmering. Add shallot, fresh ginger, and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until shallot has softened, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add water, vinegar and sugar. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add 11⁄2 cups cranberries and apples; return to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have almost completely broken down and mixture has thickened, about 15 minutes.

Add remaining 11⁄2 cups cranberries and crystallized ginger; continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to burst, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl and cool for at least 1 hour before serving. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Pan-roasted Broccoli with Spicy Southeast Asian Flavors

Published March 1, 2006.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

For sauce:

1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

2 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)

1 teaspoon packed brown sugar (light or dark)

3⁄4 teaspoon Asian chili sauce

For broccoli:

3 tablespoons water

1⁄4 teaspoon table salt

1⁄8 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

13⁄4 pounds broccoli , florets cut into 11⁄2-inch pieces, stems trimmed, peeled, and cut on bias into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices about 11⁄2 inches long (about 5 cups florets and 3⁄4 cup stems)

1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

2 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts

Stir together peanut butter, hoisin sauce, lime juice, garlic, brown sugar and chili sauce in medium bowl until combined; set aside.

Stir water, salt and pepper together in small bowl until salt dissolves; set aside. In 12-inch nonstick skillet with tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add broccoli stems in even layer and cook, without stirring, until browned on bottoms, about 2 minutes. Add florets to skillet and toss to combine; cook, without stirring, until bottoms of florets just begin to brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Add water mixture and cover skillet; cook until broccoli is bright green but still crisp, about 2 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook until water has almost evaporated, broccoli stems are tender, and florets are tender-crisp, about 1 minute more. Add basil and cook, stirring, until leaves wilt, about 30 seconds. Add peanut butter mixture and toss until broccoli is evenly coated and heated through, about 30 seconds. Transfer to serving dish, top with chopped peanuts and serve immediately.

 
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