Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner Report Card

So here it is: the highlights and low points of our much maligned (by the cook) and yet much anticipated dinner.

Turkey: 24 pounds of bronzed beauty: C+. Nicely cooked, but lacking in flavor. This guy needed brining. Or something.

Gravy: A+. Arranging carrots, celery and onion under the bird’s metal rack and adding chicken broth to this as the bird cooked resulted in the darkest, most flavorful gravy I have ever made. I used the giblet broth made early in the day for the gravy liquid.

Cider glaze for roasted vegetables: D. Flavor was lost on the veg’s (carrots brussel sprouts, garden leeks), though it tasted good when I made it. Just did not stand up, I think more acid was needed. By the way, the Cook’s Illustrated carrot roasting method was superb: cut them so they are all even (or choose small carrots as I did ) painted with melted butter, cover with foil cooked at 425 for 15 minutes, remove foil continue roasting til done. The covered cooking helps develop the sugar. Really good.

And the star of this meal: the super wonderful horseradish gremolata Louise posted before Thanksgiving on this blog. Hot and lemony and fresh, it added EXACTLY the right zing to the dinner. Everyone loved it. And it was terrific in sandwiches.

This gremolata will be on my table at all future Thanksgivings.

Thanks sis, for this winner!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

another use for the under-appreciated quince

Ta-DA!!! Quince flavored vodka. Sublime. The quince imparts a slightly apple-y, floral but not sweet quality to the vodka. The vodka offsets the astringent quality of the quince. I gathered a few more today, as this test was a real success.
Tonight I made Quintinis :the dry vermouth smooths everything out perfectly.


Monday, November 15, 2010

getting past cranky

I’ve been more than a little cranky about Thanksgiving dinner these past few years. As much as I love to cook and eat, I’ve felt for some time that Thanksgiving is definitely not a dinner that I love: too mushy, too rich, no zip. And not colorful enough.

I know I could add southwestern flavors to shake things up: a bit of jalapeno in the cornbread dressing, some chilies here and there. But somehow this is not appealing to me. As a girl originally from Philadelphia, I like the concept of the traditional east coast Thanksgiving meal. I just haven’t been thrilled with the results of the considerable effort. I'd love to do a stuffed fish. But I'd have to make a turkey anyway, so that''s just adding work.

So, this year I am focusing on achieving some brighter flavors, and on color.

Sure, we’ll be having the succulent roasted bird and dressing made with cornbread, toasted pecans and sausage. There will be a velvety gravy and yeast rolls. But we’re also having an assortment of roasted vegetables including my garden leeks with a cider vinaigrette and maybe a pop of chopped jalapeno tossed in for fun.. And the mashed potatoes will have horseradish for pop, and the salad will be garden arugula, all peppery and fresh with a sharp mustard dressing.

I’ll ask my stepdaughter to make her fresh cranberry relish. And we’ll have a little bit of the jellied kind for the little kids and for anyone who wants it in sandwiches later. I might make Mark Bittman’s preserved lemons as a condiment along with my bourboned peaches.

I'm thinking about Martha Stewart’s awesome cranberry tart: it's pretty simple and lovely. I am definitely making chocolate pecan tart with vanilla gelato on the side for my family, they like a rich ending.

I’m considering a fresh fruit option: assorted grapes cut in half, sprinkled with lemon sugar in a stemmed glass? It could be pretty in the candlelight.

I’d love to hear how you brighten up your Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday, November 5, 2010


We have a quince tree in the far corner of our front yard. For several years in the fall a sad looking young woman would come by with her boyfriend in an old truck and would shyly ask me if she might gather the ones that had fallen on the ground. I was happy to give them to her. I’ve missed her these past few years and hope all is well with her.

I’ve fooled with these quinces a few times: they are as hard as rocks and difficult to peel and cut. Nonetheless, they are free food on my property. And, as Deb Duchon said in her terrific blog (culinaryhistoriansofatlanta.blogspot.com): there is nothing more locavore then eating stuff found in your yard.

I decided to roast them in the oven. As they cooked they smelled heavenly, a combination of apple and hibiscus. I skinned them, used a spoon to dig away the flesh from the sizable pit, and mashed them up. It was very sour, but promising. I poured several additions of Vermont maple syrup our friend, Woody, had given us, into the mashed fruit. Then added about a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger and a pinch of salt and whizzed it around with the stick blender.

And now I have a wonderful brightly flavored fruit pureé. What shall I do? Make a soufflé? Take this fruit gift as a cosmic message to get busy with a piecrust and make a nice tart? Add it to some mashed turban squash for a more savory dish?

Stay tuned. I think I'm leaning toward a tart.

Next day update: Made a tart. It's wonderful. The filling is simply our eggs, some melted butter the quince purée and I added about a half cup of brown sugar to further sweeten and also round out the flavor. The taste of this is amazing: there are hints of vanilla, a floral leaning and the citrussy snap of the quince. I will be continue my experiments with this interesting fruit.

Monday, November 1, 2010

very simple very good

Sometimes it just works out.

Those unripe black plum tomatoes I picked from the garden a week or so ago have turned to mahogany in the laundry room. Handing a bag of them over to my neighbor today made me think of using some for our dinner tonight. I had a good looking head of cauliflower and decided to roast them together. I like to mess around with cauliflower, it takes nicely to many seasonings.

But tonight was simple: cauliflower cut into medium florets, ‘maters cut in half and all tossed in olive oil, roasted in oven on 375 til the cauliflower turned gold. By then the tomatoes had collapsed and released their juices, almost glazing the cauliflower pieces.

Interestingly, the flavor of the cauliflower, which sweetens as it roasts, contrasted with the tomatoes (usually experienced as very sweet when roasted). The tomatoes served as surprising acidic counterpoint to the cauliflower.

It was great.

You could easily use those cherry tomatoes that you still have in your garden before the birds eat them. Or you could buy a basket of grape tomatoes. You could add whatever seasoning you feel like, though it stands up nicely unadorned.