Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

I am thankful for my family, good food, good people, good music, and of course, a good cocktail now and then. I embarked on Thanksgiving 2010 using all that good stuff as my guide. The menu was a few weeks in the making, flipping through my trustee yellow steno pad "documents" the evolution of the meal. I was set on a modern version of the traditional American fare, until I came across the December issue of "Saveur" magazine, in it was a feature called the "Roots of the Deli" by David Sax. In the piece the writer traces the origins of Jewish deli food, of course, back to Eastern Europe. He writes about how the original pastrami's were made from smoked and cured duck and goose. He included recipes in the piece as a way of preserving this old style of cooking that in the article he laments is disappearing. "It hits me that it's nothing short of a miracle that these foods, these traditions, have survived".
Me being me, I was really taken by this article (as was Hub). It had me thinking about culture and tradition and then trying to figure out how to meld a really historied culture, heavy with tradition and customs with a culture that is all about new and fresh and forward moving energy. It had Hub hankering for goose and duck. Using a recipe for potato knishes that Sax included in his piece, I seasonized it by making a sweet potato filling whipped up with fried onions it was a savory version of the Thanksgiving Sweet Potato. Served as a Hors d'oeuvre with horseradish sauce, it was fairly recieved. The dough was a problem for me, I think in the next version I'll roll the dough out much thinner, and bake them longer and in a less crowded oven.
Continuing with the Sweet Potato Thanksgiving standard I made a sweet potato kugel with a pecan streusel topping. Well recieved, although maybe a bit too ginger-y for the blander palates in the dining room. At Hub's urging I made a couple of ducks, and I am still trying to process the experience. Next time I make duck, I need to concentrate on just those duckies, they deserve undivided attention. They were competing with the stuff-a-palooza that was going on at the same time. I made a sausage cornbread stuffing with homemade dairy-free corn bread, I found a great recipe that does not include dairy in the ingredients- but still yields a nice, moist crumb. I also made a classic type herb stuffing, with sourdough bread- without a doubt my favorite Thanksgiving dish. For the helluva it I made an aloo gobi style stuffing with cauliflower, carrots, celery, onions and a little garam masala. Next time I'll use na'an instead of the baguette the recipe called for, or maybe a dense nut bread cut into small croutons?
I have an article on slow cooker dishes due on Friday so I made a pot full of meatballs in cranberry barbecue sauce, very popular with the kids and the men. While still on the slow cooker bend I made spareribs (on special) in a plum hoisin sauce, and then for dessert a mocha pudding cake that was so simple for such fantastic results. I dumped all the ingredients in the pot, mixed, covered, set on low and then 3 hours- Voila! Something wonderfully similar to a warm fallen chocolate souffle. I of course had to give the Thanksgiving desserts a night of prep all their own (Tuesday). I made an apple tart with a homemade crust that needs work, but the apple layer was great. I cut the apples thin and arranged them in concentric circles, made a cider-bourbon sauce that I poured over the slices and baked to a beautiful glossy caramelized appearance and taste. I made a tray of cranberry layer bars that were the surprise of the night for me. I think that the bars are the favorite new recipe from Thanksgiving 2010- sweet and tart, with a homemade cranberry filling.
I really enjoyed working with cranberries (I also made a cranberry relish and a cran-apple chutney). They're tart and they're bright and hardy- but when you put them in a saucepan with a little cider or water they just burst into jam. I saluted the cranberry with a champagne cocktail in it's honor. I got it from December Bon Appetit, just in time. 1 measure cranberry juice concentrate to 3 parts champagne, and decorated with a single floating whole cranberry.
And then there was a very pleasing chocolate pecan pie spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon. I attemped a pear-almond crumble made with almond butter which was disappointing in flavor and texture, and I did not serve.
Our guests arrived, an assortment of family, relatives, friends and some their extended families. I rented 3 round tables and chairs and made our living room the dining hall- good thing we never furnished the largest room in our house, it's perfect for parties. The food was laid our buffet style in the dining room, and people rotated their seats with every helping. It was a friendly and thankful air that filled the room. We were lucky enough to have a newly arrived Canadian who was celebrating her first American Thanksgiving- a real life pilgrim! I don't think it will be her last.
I made a totally unrehearsed quasi toast/benediction? that came out a little jumbled and confusing. But I said we all had so much to be thankful because no matter how bad it feels there at least half a billion who have it worse. A little heavy- but I blame it on my eastern european half. In the back of my mind and at the bottom of my heart, throughout the meal and the preparation for the feast was the knowledge that the baby would be due on the monday after Thanksgiving. When I found out when he was due I remember being so excited about the possibility that this kid's birthday could fall smack onto Thanksgiving over several birthdays in his life. I guess I need to be thankful or at least accepting of whatever happened and remind myself that it was just how it was supposed to be, there's no other way that makes sense for me.

So that was Thanksgiving 2010; family , friends, good food and lots of it, football, and my Thanksgiving playlist. The night ended penultimately with a soak in the hot tub- before leftovers were packed up and dishes were washed. Good thing Hanukkah starts on wednesday night- no time for post-party depression.

The Final Thanksgiving Menu:

Hors d'oeuvres
* mini sweet potato knishes
*cranberry barbecue meatballs
*spicy maple chicken wings

The Main Event
* FIL's turkey and yummy potatoes
* hoisin plum spareribs
* crispy balsamic duck
* corned beef in a mustard glaze
*sweet potato kugel with pecan streusel topping
* classic herb sourdough stuffing
*sausage cornbread stuffing
*aloo gobi stuffing
*cranberry relish
*cran-apple chutney
* Lea's green beans
*Avra's salad


* Sandy's Apple Cake
*cranberry crumb bars
*chocolate pecan pie
*apple tart
*mocha pudding cake
*Lisa's cookies

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Raclette Rocks!

I feel like I've been on a tilt-a-whirl for the past few days. Donz and I got news from the publisher- they're going to do it! As the reality trickled in the whooping euphoria gave way to the usual roundabout of self defeating questions. But I am excited- in a terrified kind of way. Recipe thoughts and ideas are swirling around my head. I've been trying out some of these ideas on the Kiddles and Hub. My eezy-cheezy macaroni and cheese recipe experienced a whole new life once I added half a teaspoon of smoked paprika to it. And I think I have the beginning of something with the blueberry pancake muffins with a maple syrup glaze I baked yesterday.
My everyday life has continued, despite me being lost in a cookbook haze. I have a chocolate order due tomorrow. The 2 older Kiddles had Parent-Teacher conference last night. My parents are coming in tonight and staying for the weekend. We're going to have a large Shabbat event here the day after tomorrow at the house, and I volunteered to cook for it. I had a 1100 word article due on Monday, and I have another one on fried treats for Hanukkah due this Monday. I'm thinking about going totally over-the-top with crispy mac 'n cheese squares and fried ice cream (like at El Torito).
And then placed artfully in the middle of all this responsibility and commitment was Raclette Night at Noemi's. This dinner will definitely be shelved in my top ten. Noemi's apartment is on the Upper West Side, and it has a very single-citygirl-chic aesthetic to it. Her guests sat comfortably around a large dining table. In the center of that table was a Raclette set. Noemi is Swiss, so this was the real thing. It made my purist heart sing a song as clear as the alpine air. The cheese was melted on little trays and a whole array of accoutrements were laid out around the Raclette. There was a seasoned pepper that I took a shine to, cornichons or more accurately; gherkins, pickled pearl onions, grilled peppers and zucchini, and of course boiled new potatoes to slather the melted cheese on-mmmm.
Most of her guests are Raclette pro's, being Swiss or closely related to a Swiss person. Everyone had their own combinations. I settled on a 3 slice system, kicked up with a liberal amount of seasoned pepper- once melted, it covered my baby potatoes in a silky layer of cheesey bliss. Happy-Happy Joy-Joy!
Of course in order to be in the top-ten it must be about more than the food. It's also about the company. The crowd was definitely International in flavor as well as accent- friendly and funny too. Swiss Misster told a story about the Raclette gathering he hosted where his friend brought a friend who hated cheese. I could just imagine the look of nausea that crept across her face when she was assaulted full frontally by a very powerful fromage odor. The British Lass to my left had me sitting back in my chair and chuckling heartily as she told me about her baking misadventures. Noemi was the perfect hostess, the slices of raclette cheese were endless, and the peppermint tea she urged as a raclette companion went together as well as pizza and beer.

For dessert I brought a buttermilk pound cake that was as simple and as sweet as a fresh daisy. Raclette Night at Noemi's could not have happened at a better time for me. I had taken some disappointing news from a friend a few days earlier and it was refreshing to get out of my little world. At some point I took a Raclette break by the window that overlooked the West Side, with the mom of brand new twins. We chatted amiably about mom-stuff but in a different context that I'm used to. The night was a delicious reminder that there is so much more to discover and so many more people to meet.

Buttermilk Pound Cake
3 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soad
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, softened
2 1/2 c. sugar
6 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease a bundt pan or a tube pan. In a medium bowl mix together flour, baking soda, and salt- set aside. In a big bowl, beat butter with sugar. Mix in the eggs- one at a time- beating well after each addition. Fold in the vanilla extract. Mix in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 60-75 minutes. WHen the top of the cake is a warm golden color, and a toothpick inserted in it's center comes out clean- the cake is done.

* 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice/lemon rind?