This is woefully long over due. I wrote this two weeks ago and never got around to putting in pictures, because I’m lazy and apparently when the weather hits below freezing I prefer to hibernate whenever I’m not working.

Beijing had it’s first snow of the year. Hurray acid snow. It was kind of pretty, but didn’t stick very long. Sunday night the pollution was well over 500 on the AQI scale (aka hazardous to health, crazy bad). I had trouble seeing the tops of buildings I was standing under, and except for a few lit up windows, buildings not 100 yards away from me might as well not exist. Pollution was still well over 400 on Monday and still very unhealthy several days later.

We celebrated Thanksgiving a week late this year. With Ginny back in America, and everyone else in Manila, for the actual Thanksgiving Thursday I had a lovely meal with Sawyer and a whole bunch of people I didn’t know. It was nice, but this week after was my real Thanksgiving.

The night before, we had dinner with the lovely couple who just got married. I made my go-to trying-to-impress-dish, pan seared duck, accompanied by risotto and candied sweet potatoes. (Wash, peel and slice sweet potatoes. Dry in oven on a baking sheet at about 160F for an hour or so. Simmer in sugar and water til chewy and soft). I also made a simple orange cake, moist and dense with a light icing.

3 cups flour
Baking soda and baking powder
3 eggs
1 1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla
Zest of two oranges
1/4 cup of orange juice

Sift the flour and baking powder and soda together. Blend the butter and sugar together until soft. Then incorporate the eggs one at a time, along with the vanilla, zest, and juice. Add in the flour and yogurt in separate turns until well mixed. Butter and flour a baking pan and preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Bake for 50 minutes.
Mix 1/2 cup of icing sugar with 2-3 Tbs of orange juice and whisk briskly, adding sugar or juice as the consistency needs. Pour over the cake. It was delicious for dessert after dinner, and plenty of slices left to enjoy with tea at work.

After a late fundraising event on Thursday night, I got a late start Friday, only making it to Sanyuanli market around 2 in the afternoon. I picked up some things for Bambi as well as everything I needed for dinner Friday and Thanksgiving Saturday. I was pleased to find the duck breast that I get at Jenny Lou even more affordable–only 18 kuai for four! Sawyer’s landlord came over early while I was in the midst of baking, my hands covered in flour and butter. An awkward 40 minutes waiting for Sawyer to get home while I cooked and he sat and poked at the heaters.

Saturday after a long kindergarten class I ran home and started cooking immediately. I put Sawyer to work chopping onions, fennel, pumpkin, celery, tomato, pepper and garlic. I made a quick vegetable stock with sweet potato, onion, garlic, celery, the top of a fennel bulb, and some old carrots we had in the fridge. Then I got started on the macaroni and cheese, and pumpkin-apple-sausage stuffing.

Stuffing Ingredients: 1/2 onion, diced. Fennel bulb, diced. Two ribs celery, diced. 2 cloves garlic, minced. 1 pound of pumpkin (or butternut squash) in 1/2 inch cubes. 2 granny smith apples. Bacon (at least 1/2 to 2/3 of a pack), cooked in the oven until crisp and crumbled. Italian sweet sausage. Cranberries. 1 loaf crusty bread, cut into 1-inch cubes and left out/toasted stale. 1 egg. 1 cup broth (and or white wine).

Macaroni and Cheese Ingredients: 1 packet elbow macaroni. 12 ounces grated cheddar and parmesan cheese. 15 ounces milk. Three Tbs butter. Two Tbs. flour 1/2 onion. Bay leaf, paprika, salt and pepper. 1 egg. 1 can of diced tomato or 1 tomato chopped up small. 1 bell pepper, diced. Panko bread crumbs. Bacon.

Pumpkin about to go into the oven

I started out by baking the bacon and the cubed pumpkin at 350F for about 45 minutes. Once the bacon was crispy and drained of fat, I crumbled it into little pieces and set aside. Macaroni first. I made two trays, one with bacon, and one without for the stinky vegetarians. (I love vegetarians, as long as they don’t try to proselytize to me. More meat for me!). Boiled the pasta, tossed with olive oil, and set aside in the baking trays, one mixed generously with bacon and one plain. Melted the butter in a pan, and once frothy, whisked in the flour, being sure to coat it all and not let it get clumpy and gross. Once that started to turn a bit golden, I whisked in the milk, the onion, paprika and bay leaf. That simmered for a few minutes, I retrieved the bay leaf, and added the tomato and bell pepper. Let it simmer, and whisked in a beaten egg. Then I added the cheese, handful by handful, stirring until it was melted completely. Folded this into the pasta, making sure to mix it thoroughly, then topped the pans with a nice even layer of panko crumbs and grated parmesan. Popped these in the oven for 30 minutes at 180C (350F).

Pre-assembled Stuffing Ingredients

Then I started with the stuffing. So, I’m sure there are places in Beijing where you can buy good, actually tasty Italian sausage but those places tend to be prohibitively expensive, so while I was at Sanyuanli market I went to a pork vendor and had her grind up about a pound of pork belly, also known as wuhuarou. Nice and fatty. To this I added a splash of white wine (not having any vinegar or sherry on hand), salt, pepper, whole toasted fennel seeds, some minced garlic, and a sprinkling of herbs (whatever is included in those jars of “Italian Herbs”). Mixed this up well.

I heated some olive oil in a pan and softened the onion, celery and fennel bulb as a bit of a mirepoix. I removed about 2/3 of the vegetables from the pan and added in the ground pork mixture, browning it thoroughly. Once totally cooked, I mixed it with all the vegetables, the pumpkin, and bacon in a big glass baking dish. I waited until then to chop up two small Granny Smith apples (I didn’t have any lemon to prevent browning), which I mixed into it with a generous helping of dried cranberries. Then I mixed in the bread cubes. I beat an egg into about 3/4 cup vegetable stock and 1/4 cup white wine, poured it over the whole thing, and mixed thoroughly. This baked at 350F for an hour. I started cooking at 1:15 and finished up just around 4. We headed over to the party.

Food was great. Mashed potatoes, twice baked sweet potatoes, other stuffing, green bean casserole, cornbread, vinegar dressed cucumber salad, and of course, turkey. Everything was amazing. My dishes were a hit–not a bite left over of any of it.

Pumpkin Sausage Apple Cranberry Stuffing, Bacon Tomato Mac and Cheese

We didn’t want to go out Sunday night because of the smog, but I wasn’t feeling particularly like cooking. I dug around in the freezer and came up with a container of sauce, although since Sawyer had a friend staying with him, wasn’t quite enough for three. I threw together a quick scratch sauce for me. Heated some olive oil and butter in a pan, softened a minced shallot and 4 cloves of minced garlic, then added a finely chopped tomato we still had kicking around the fridge, a handful of torn basil leaves, with salt, pepper, 1/4 cup of vegetable stock and a splash of red wine. I let this simmer for about 15 minutes and served over pasta. Xinjiang pears (a gift from my students) and cake for dessert.

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