(And no, he’s not mine.)
Virginia is a pretty great place. And as much as I love Texas, I also love my home state and I am full of pride that I come from the state that made such significant contributions to the world as several presidents, me, Pocahontas, and bacon.
So naturally I’m feeling a bit homesick for the Commonwealth during the holidays. Thanksgiving has been rough the past 2 years because of my father’s death. To make it even harder, I’ve just moved 1300 miles away from my mom! Today also happens to be my big brother Hunter’s 24th birthday, but he’s in a far away place, serving our country as a soldier and stationed just below the North Korean border. (Yes, the country that is currently threatening war and has missiles in range of my brother’s barracks. I’m getting an ulcer.)
So this Thanksgiving had to be special. It just had to be. And thanks to huge amounts of butter, bacon, and FoodBuzz’s 24×24 feature, it was.
Cast of Characters:
Dessert (aka, breakfast on Friday):
It may not have been a typical Thanksgiving — we didn’t even have turkey! But it was amazing anyways. We ate on mismatched plates, most of the time we sat on the floor, I caught the oven on fire on Wednesday from an incident involving butter, there’s a cup of rendered bacon fat sitting in my fridge, we fell asleep on my living room floor before we got to the cheesecake, and we drank far too much.
But for me it was picture perfect. We had the food I grew up on and it reminded me of Virginia. We had my dad’s favorite side-dish: Bacon Cheddar Twice Baked Potatoes. We had my Uncle Bruno’s champagne, Hennequin Père et Fils, which makes me go weak at the knees and start telling dirty jokes every time. We had my brother’s birthday cake for breakfast Friday morning, Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust. We had laughs so hard my stomach hurt, great moments of family and friends, only a few moments of utter panic, and a wonderful day together. My tongue is a little burnt from the Creamy Oyster Stew, my head hurts from the wine, and my kitchen is a wreck. But I wouldn’t trade yesterday for any traditional Thanksgiving. Thank you for everyone who shared this day and this experience with me — who knew I’d be able to cook a 4 course Thanksgiving for 8 and not panic the whole time?
(If you’d like any of the recipes seen above, leave a comment below and I’ll feature them in the upcoming weeks!)
First of all, thank you all so much for the touching messages and support for me on Sunday. It was very heart-warming and I appreciate every single one of you.
But to move onto something happier and not at all related to Thanksgiving, I have a recipe! But speaking of Turkey Day, be sure to keep an eye out for my Foodbuzz 24×24 Thanksgiving post — my meal is being featured and sponsored by Foodbuzz!!
I have never successfully made chicken that was perfectly cooked, tender, juicy, and flavorful. It is usually cooked through, but dry. Or still tender, but flavorless and not cooked enough (yuck).
But I’ve been researching methods, practicing, and roasting a whole lot of chicken lately so that today I would be able to bring you what is, in my opinion, perfect roasted chicken. With just a bit of butter (okay, more than a bit) and some fresh flavors, you too can achieve chicken nirvana.
First we start by skinning some bone-in chicken thighs. Thighs are my favorite part of the chicken, I think dark meat is much more flavorful, especially when kept on the bone! You’ll want these as close to room temperature as you can get for easier skinning and best cooking results.
Melt some butter along with lemon juice, parsley, and a dash of season salt (way underrated, in my opinion). Once this is melted to perfection, you are going to dunk your chicken thighs in the butter on both sides and place in a roasting dish. You will have some extra of the butter mixture — keep it handy!
Roast these babies on 350* for 35-40 minutes until the internal temperature is 165* — when using a meat thermometer, stick it into the thickest part of the thigh NOT hitting bone. 15 minutes into cooking, pull the chicken out quickly and brush on any extra butter you might have left, then put them right back in the oven. Butter basting – the key to juicy chicken!
When fresh out of the oven, squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice on top and serve immediately!
I saved one thigh for myself and packed up the rest to take to my professor who is very, very ill. The whole department has a Meal Train going for him, how amazing?!
The chicken was tender, juicy, flavorful, AND fully cooked.
Lemon & Butter Roasted Chicken Thighs (makes 5-6 pieces)
5-6 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
1/2 stick butter
3 T lemon juice
2 T fresh, chopped parsley
2 tsp season salt
Using bone-in thighs that are close to room temperature, remove the skin and sprinkle lightly with some pepper and set aside. In a skillet, stir together butter, lemon juice, parsley, and season salt until butter is melted and just starting to bubble. Remove from heat. Dip your chicken pieces in the butter mixture, being sure to coat both sides, and place into a roasting pan. Reserve the remaining butter mixture. Place in an oven heated to 350* for 15 minutes. Remove roasting pan quickly and, using a pastry brush, brush the chicken pieces again with any remaining butter. Return to oven to cook for another 20-25 minutes (35-40 in total) or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh and not touching bone reads 165*. Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon on top, sprinkle on some some fresh parsley, and serve immediately! (Leftovers make amazing chicken salad!)
Today is November 21, 2010. On November 21, 2008, my life was irrevocably changed in a way that I never knew was possible.
I remember the day perfectly. It was a Friday and I was a junior in college. I was 20 years old and, up to that day, the most tragic occurrence in my life had been my parents’ divorce. After my last class, I met my friend Jessica and we hopped in her car and started the drive to my aunt and uncle’s house, a pit stop on our way to DC. We were going to visit with my aunt & uncle, sleep there, and make the short trip into the District the next morning to do shopping and visit a few museums. When we finally got on the road, Blue Raspberry Icees in tow, we battled through I-95 N traffic around Richmond and rolled up the mile-long drive way at Liberty Farms, where my Uncle Chuck and Aunt Josette live.
I knew something was off as soon as I walked through the door. The hugs I received from my aunt and uncle were different, they seemed to last longer and mean something deeper than just a welcome. I remember noticing that. After quick introductions to my friend Jessica, my aunt offered to take her on a tour of the historic house and my uncle said he needed to speak to me about something. He walked me into the alcove by my aunt’s office and sat me on a big wooden bench.
“Mere,” he started.
“What happened?” my thoughts immediately jumped to my mom or even my brother. Had he had a car accident?
“Now Mere,” he took my hand, sitting across from me, “You know your father loved you very much. But, he had a lot of problems…”
The truth started to sink in. Had my dad been in an accident? I remember asking that. And why hadn’t my thoughts immediately gone to him? And then I heard the most life-shattering sentence that I will ever know.
“Your dad,” a tear came to my uncle’s eye, “well, he took his own life, Mere. I’m so sorry.”
I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I couldn’t catch my breath. I let out huge, staggering sobs. My dad was gone. I heard my aunt in the kitchen. I knew she had just informed my friend Jessica, who was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. My Uncle Chuck, my dad’s only and older brother, tried to comfort me with hugs. My Aunt Josette brought over a box of tissues and both she and Jess hugged me. Everyone was lost for words. What else was there to say? My father was dead, by his own doing, and my world was left shattered.
In the minutes, hours, weeks, and months following this, my life was turned upside down and will never quite go back to how it was. I was 20 and my brother turned 22 just four days later. We were not at all prepared nor equipped to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude. I still don’t think that I’ve fully processed everything. I’m simply too young to have lost a parent.
Even though he is no longer physically with me, every day I know that he is still here; somehow and somewhere, he is present. Not only am I the spitting image of the man, but in the gestures I make, the look in my brother Hunter’s eyes, or the phrases that we all use — he’s here. Even when I’m afraid I’ll forget what he sounds like, I can hear his voice saying, “Hey, princess!” like every night when he got home from work. It doesn’t make the hurt any less or the tears any fewer, but just knowing he’s still at the core of my being makes it all a little bit easier to remember him.
I can’t believe it has been 2 years. Some days it feels like 2 seconds. Some days it feels like 2 centuries. What I hate most is knowing that every day past November 21, 2008 is one day more that I haven’t spent with him.
My dad wasn’t perfect, and I won’t pretend he was. But he was my daddy and I was — am — his little girl. Today, I’m shedding a few tears, looking at old pictures, wishing he were here, and continuing to put my life back together. Today is simply one more day I remember how much I truly love my father.
I love you and miss you Daddy. Rest in peace. 2/10/63 — 11/21/08
Instead of 8 pretzels, I made 16 smaller ones and they are delicious, almost like pretzel rolls. Chewy, salty… I highly recommend these hot out of the oven with mustard! I also reserved a few and dipped them in melted butter, cinnamon & sugar mixture, and baked them for another few minutes. Heaven.
Have a happy weekend!
Last night I had the pleasure of spending happy hour at El Arbol here in Austin, TX. Disclaimer: I was asked to review the restaurant and given a coupon for a happy hour appetizer. My opinions are 100% honest.
When the restaurant contacted me, I kept asking myself “Do they know that I study hispanic literature? Do they know I once lived in Argentina?!” The menu is full of food I used to eat while living in Argentina, from steak to gnocchi. And empanadas!! It was my personal goal in Argentina to eat empanadas at every restaurant that offered them on the menu (and I do believe I did). So Mary and I headed out, as she wanted to try the food and is now the unofficial co-photographer of An Epic Change!
The restaurant is beautiful. My pictures of the outside didn’t turn out well but still, they don’t do it justice. It feels very modern, yet still old-world. The namesake of the restaurant is a very old oak tree which is also what the restaurant is built around. It is a spectacular venue!
The staff were very welcoming and attentive. I think my water glass was refilled every few sips!! Our waiters were very nice and answered any question we had.
Since it was happy hour, there were great drink and appetizer specials. The prices of the restaurant reflect its quality, but don’t quite fit in with a graduate student’s budget. However, happy hour was VERY reasonable and I’d definitely go back for the full menu for a special occasion.
Mary and I started out with a round of mojitos — they were delicious.
We nibbled on the bread basket while waiting for the empanadas! How can you not like them? Meat, vegetables, and anything else imaginable baked inside pastry. I had the Empanada Cerdo (pulled pork, almonds, raisins) and Mary had the Empanada Carne Suave (sirloin and potatoes). They were very authentic, in my opinion, and tasted like many empanadas I ate in Argentina. And the chimichurri sauce was quite good.
Next up was our actual appetizer, the Bruschetta de Bife Ancho. You guys… I need to take a moment to myself before I can talk about this dish.
It was impeccable. Phenomenal. The ribeye was so rare it melted in my mouth like butter. The mushrooms were the perfect texture. The bread and the carmelized onions were buttery smooth. The aioli was creamy. Audible moans were heard by all waiters attending my table. Sonnets were composed. Birds sang. Rainbows shined.
It took Mary and I a few moments to compose ourselves. We literally had to stop talking to each other for a few seconds just to comprehend the food in our mouths. When food stops Mary and I from girl talk, you know it has to be good.
I mentioned how it would be cool to meet the chef but was too embarrassed to ask. Then Mary flagged down a waiter and asked and we were told he’d be right up to see us. I need to keep Mary around. Just as the waiter promised, the chef came right upstairs to talk to me. I was surprised he wasn’t actually South American, but a born and bred Texan, because his food was so incredibly legitimate. I told him that the food was impeccable and that I hadn’t had ribeye treated that way since I left Argentina (where I made a sizable dent in the cattle population). He stayed at the table and chatted for a few minutes, which was very nice of him, and I could do nothing but compliment his food. He’s doing something right — thank you for some wonderful food, Chad! I was also invited to go down into the kitchen and take a picture of their custom made 1700 lb. oak burning stove. Yes please.
I also spoke to the General Manager for a moment and he, too, was very welcoming. I made sure he knew how I felt about the dishes we tried and the restaurant because I was just very impressed all around.
For all those who live in Austin or are thinking of coming to Austin: go eat at El Arbol. It has a cozy yet upscale atmosphere, incredible food, and a great wine selection. Considering the restaurant probably didn’t realize I had lived in Argentina and consider myself well-versed in Argentine cuisine, I was really happy to find food similar to that which I feasted upon during my stint down in the Southern Hemisphere. I highly recommend El Arbol and plan to go back soon!
Thanks to those that submitted pictures to me!!! I got some amazing shots and below I’ve selected a few of my favorites! I hope you’re not too hungry…
1. My classmate, Becky, submitted this action shot of creme brulée! She submitted several other amazing ones, but as soon as I saw this I loved it.
2. This is Laura’s octopus tempura skewers, roasted eggplant and vegetables with Thai peanut sauce. You say “Thai peanut sauce” and I’m ready! The colors are fab, too!
3. An old friend of mine, Lauren, is living in Spain right now and she sent me some pictures of a tortilla española, a French tartiflette, and paella. Y’all know I love me some paella so I simply had to use this one. Divine.
4. This picture makes me salivate. These are Jane Deere’s Baja Style Beer-Battered Fish Tacos and I’m drooling again.
5. And to round it out, we have another winner from Spain. This one is especially cool because it was submitted by none other than my Grandma! (Hey, G’ma!!) She was recently in Spain and went to the oldest restaurant in the world, started in like 1725 or something crazy. I’ve seen it on TV loads of times and never got a chance to go when I was in Spain myself, but their suckling pig is world-reknowed. Apologies to vegetarians.
This was super fun, thanks to all who participated. Sorry I couldn’t use every single picture! They were wonderful. Keep eating!
I’m not going to claim to have the best photography. I barely know how to use my fancy, big-girl camera. I only have a standard lens. I don’t have a steady hand. I can’t compete with most food bloggers. But I think that with a bit of patience and good software, anyone can take good pictures regardless of the equipment!
After spending the day watching tutorials online for my Canon Rebel (which I should have done in May when I received it), I feel inspired to see amazing food photography.
Side note: If you aren’t aware of my favorite website, journey on over to Food Porn Daily.
After a cold shower, turn back to your photos and look through them. I want to see your best photography! I want you all to email me your favorite drool-worthy pictures! Send em on over to: anepicchange[at]gmail.com Depending on how many I get, I’ll pick my favorites and post them on here Tuesday. But if I can post them all, I will! If you write a blog, be sure to give me your link so I can link back to you
And what’s my personal favorite from my photo library? This baby was taken while visiting my family in France this past June!
Every once in a while, I like to pretend I live in an old, historic house in the country and I tie on my apron and flip through my cookbooks like I have an party to plan. This is totally normal, right?
Well this weekend when I was doing just that, I had the sudden urge to invite over a friend for tea and gossip. I guess that’s the Southern gal in me? But any good Southern girl knows that an afternoon tea with a friend is not complete without a baked good so I researched some ideas and got to work on some scones!
These are particularly easy for the baking-impaired as they require minimal measuring and ingredients. Also, they’re a very useful way to use up the giant box of pancake mix you purchased on a whim and then realized you’ll never finish by yourself… hypothetically…
You can make mini scones (like I did) or make 6 big ones. Once the dough is mixed, just form it into a disk on the baking sheet and cut it into triangle shapes like scones are known for. Super easy!
My friend Brett is a foodie, so I figured he was the best person to invite over for some catching up over tea and scones. I trust his food opinion and was humbled by his reaction to these scones — he was actually speechless for a few moments while taking the first bites! We concurred that they’re the love child of chocolate chip cookies, pancakes, and biscuits. What could be better??
Mini Mocha Scones (makes 12 mini or 6 regular scones)
3 1/2 cups baking mix (like Bisquick or similar)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup room temperature or cold coffee
2 T half-and-half or heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a small bowl, combine coffee, cream, egg, and vanilla and whisk together well. In a large bowl, combine the baking mix, sugar, and chocolate chips. Slowly whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. This will make a very lumpy batter and don’t fret if you think it is too dry! You can work in the dry spots with your hands but don’t over work it. If it is still too wet, add in a bit of extra coffee, a tablespoon at a time, until it is just wet enough to stick together loosely. Form into 2 discs on a baking sheet and cut each disc into 6 triangles). Bake at 350* for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Allow to cool a few minutes before separating. Serve warm or at room temperature with butter or jam!
Now go round up your girlfriends and invite them over for scones this weekend!
I would honestly give just about anything to hop on a plane to South Korea and find my brother to give him a hug today. I haven’t seen him since May and he won’t be back until this coming May. Why so far away, you ask? Well my amazing big brother is serving our country as an Army Soldier at Camp Hovey. He’ll be over there until May 2011 and is scheduled for his deployment to Afghanistan next fall.
Today is Veteran’s Day and I’m thankful for all men and women who have given themselves to this country to protect me and my way of life. I am happier than words can express that my brother is still alive, but we can’t forget all of those who have given their lives while serving. Take a moment to thank a service man or woman today and, if you can, give one a hug for me. I’d give anything to be able to hug my soldier today!