Posts tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

A Tart for the Holidays


This year I had two Thanksgivings – the formal one, on Turkey day, with my husband’s family, and a second one with my family over the following weekend.  As this is the first year RJ and I are going into the holidays as a married couple, there have been many discussions about how best to handle the division of our time and pay proper homage to each family.  Our solution involves a lot of shuttling around the greater Boston area, but we think we have found a good balance of time spent, meals shared, and presents exchanged. 

A colleague said to me last week that Thanksgiving is what Christmas should be – a day of fun feasting, collaborative cooking, and quality family time without the stress of holiday shopping and credit card debt.  RJ loves Thanksgiving but dreads Christmas for all the aforementioned schlepping to fit everything into the 2-day window of official Christmas.  It was nice to see that we could do a second (smaller) Thanksgiving on Saturday, November 29th without a loss of sincere holiday feeling.  Plus we had twice the turkey, twice the pies, and twice the family face time.  Perfect!  I think for once we made it through a holiday with everyone happy!

I had such a great time on (proper) Thanksgiving, cooking with my mother-in-law at her house.  When the boys went to sit in the freezing cold at a high school football game they were sure to lose, we basted the turkey, prepped the vegetables, and armed ourselves for the onslaught of relatives that would come through the door at 2.  Unfortunately, as I’ve already confessed, we did not take photos on that day, and I regret that.  Thankfully the internet has provided many of them for us, as you can see here.  On Saturday, however, I remembered to pull out the trusty Panasonic and snap away, bringing you the beauty that is the “Festive Cranberry-Pear Tart.”  I would very highly recommend this delicious tart for your next holiday meal or potluck party.  It was a huge hit, and tastes just as good at breakfast as it does for dessert.  Then again, I’m a pie-for-breakfast kind of girl.

Festive Cranberry-Pear Tart in a Walnut Shortbread Crust, from Fine Cooking Issue No. 74

For the Shortbread Crust:Shortbread tart crust

1 large egg yolk
1 Tbs. half and half
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 lb. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/3 c. walnuts, toasted and finely chopped 

For the Cranberry-Pear Filling:
3 large ripe pears, like Anjou or Bartlett
2 c. fresh cranberries, picked through and rinsedRaw Cranberry Pear Tart
1 Tbs. brandy
2/3 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground ginger 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. table salt

For the Buttery Brown Sugar Streusel:
1/3 c. plus 1 Tbs. unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp. table salt
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Make the crust: Position a rack near the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In a small bowl, mix the egg yolk, half and half, and vanilla.  Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor; pulse until combined.  Add the butter and pulse until the butter pieces are no longer visible.  With the processor running, add the yolk mixture in a steady stream and then pulse until the moisture is fairly evenly dispersed, 10 to 20 seconds.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl.  Using your hands, mix in the chopped walnuts to distribute them evenly.  The dough will be a mealy, crumbly mass.

Cranberry-Pear Tart

Pour the crumb mixture into a 9 1/2 in. round fluted tart pan with removable bottom.  Starting with the sides of the pan, firmly press the crumbs against the pan to create a crust about 1/4 inch thick.  Press the remaining crumbs evenly against the bottom of the pan.  Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork and freeze for 10 minutes.  Bake until the sides just begin to darken and the bottom is set, 15 min.  Transfer to a cooling rack.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Make the filling: Peel the pears, quarter them lengthwise, core, and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices.  In a food processor, coarsely chop the cranberries.  In a medium bowl, mix the pears, cranberries, and brandy.  In a small bowl, mix the sugar, flour, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and salt; add to the cranberry-pear mixture, tossing to combine.  Spoon the filling into the par-baked crust, leveling the filling and packing it down slightly with the back of a spoon.


Make the streusel and bake: In a small bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, and salt.  Add the melted butter and vanilla.  Combine with your fingers until the mixture begins to clump together in small pieces when pressed.  Sprinkle the streusel over the filling, breaking it into smaller pieces if necessary.  

Bake at 350 degrees F until the fruit is tender when pierced with a fork and the streusel and the edges of the crust are golden brown, about 50 minutes.  If the tart begins to get overly brown at the edges, cover with foil.  Let the tart cool on a rack until it’s just barely warm before serving.  The tart will keep, covered and at room temperature, for two to three days.

**The issue from which I pulled this recipe, the October/November 2005 issue, is a very strong one – it contains one of my favorite cookie recipes (white chocolate, cranberry and oatmeal), a great pot roast recipe, and a mushroom soup with sherry that I love!  You can buy back issues of Fine Cooking here.

Cranberry Pear Compote

Making this recipe I had plenty of leftover cranberries in the bag, as well as leftover spiced pear-cranberry mixture.  I put both of these, maybe 1 1/2 c. of fruit total, in a small saucepan and added about a 1/2 c. of water and 1/2 c. of ruby port.  I cooked the fruit over medium-low heat until all of the cranberries had popped and the pears were tender.  The final product was sweet and flavorful – I can see it would be good over ice cream, but we used it as a second cranberry sauce with our turkey.

Cranberry Pear compote


December 3, 2008 at 8:17 am 2 comments

Magazine Review: “Food & Wine” and Sweet Potato Gratin

Sweet Potato Gratin

This is the fifth (and final) installment of my series of Thanksgiving magazine reviews.  You can see my evaluative criteria here.  When I first decided what publications I wanted to review, I was going to keep FOOD & WINE off the list.  My reasoning was that half of Food & Wine is, well, wine and I didn’t think it would be fair to pit it against the other magazines, which were all food-centric.  However, I think it stacks up quite nicely, in fact.

  • 214 pages total : 95 pages of ads (44%)
  • 76 Recipes
  • News-stand price: $4.50
  • Price per recipe: $0.06
  • # of ads pretending to be articles: 5.
  • Recipe Index? Right after the table of contents, at the front of the magazine, Food & Wine offers two indexes – one listing the recipes in the issue, and another listing the wines.  The first groups recipes by category (Soups & Starters, Fish & Shellfish, Pasta & Rice, etc.) and supplies a color coded system to let readers know which are Fast, Healthy, Make Ahead, Vegetarian, and “Staff Favorites”.  The wine index lists all the wines
Photos: Food porn is not the reason to buy this magazine.  The pictures provided are nice but are often quite small (usually about a quarter of a page) as compared to those seen in the other magazines I’ve reviewed.  F&W also displays far fewer images than the others.

Best Sections:
• Equipment – This month the “Equipment” section tested skillets, comparing the pros and cons of cast iron, stainless steel, and nonstick versions.  I found this to be very helpful and interesting, including the brand recommendations.
• Master Cook – A great monthly column highlighting one master technique and how to use it in the home kitchen.  This month it is making your own ricotta cheese – brilliant!
• Wine-Tasting Room – A true advantage of this food magazine is the great wine advice.  This section highlights yummy wines with a focus on affordable and everyday ones.

Best Features:
• Each recipe clearly displays the active cooking time and the total cooking time.  Very helpful for those of us (ahem! me! ahem!) who tend to find themselves in the middle of preparation at 7:00 only to realize that the recipe requires 2 1/2 hours of braising time.
• Excellent layout and design.  I find this magazine to be one of the easiest to read and work with.
• Wine suggestions with many of the recipes, shedding light on the esoteric and impenetrable art of food and wine pairing.

Thanksgiving at the Food & Wine house:
The F&W “Thanksgiving Planner” is wonderfully organized and clear and the theme is “delicious and stress-free”.  Each recipe is marked with a symbol, letting the reader know if the dish can be made ahead, made way ahead, cooked on the grill or stovetop rather than the oven, or if you can finish it in the oven after the turkey comes out.  The dishes are grouped into three suggested menus with a wine pairing, but swapping is encouraged!  The ‘out-there’ factor is at mid range: goat cheese-edamame dip with spiced pepitas; creamed spinach and parsnips; grilled butterflied turkey; fennel, red onion and focaccia stuffing.   Ruling?  Choose wisely, my friend.

Particularly Unappetizing:
• Caraway-Ancho Chile Gravy
• Cream and Lemon Braised Pork Shoulders
• Giant Lima Beans with Stewed Tomatoes (sounds like images from my fifth grade nightmares…)

I’m looking forward to cooking:
• Cassoulet with Duck Confit
• Butternut Squash Turnovers
• *Sweet Potato Gratin with Chile-Spiced Pecans
• Cranberry-Pomegranate Sauce
• Creamed Spinach and Parsnips

*Sweet Potato Gratin with Chile-Spiced Pecans, from F&W November 2008.

5 lbs. sweet potatoespecans-4-web
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 c. pecans
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. chipotle chile powder
kosher salt
1/4 c. honey
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 c. heavy cream
freshly ground pepper
2 c. mini marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Roast the sweet potatoes on a large baking sheet for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, until tender.  Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt the butter.  Add the pecans, sugar, and chipotle powder and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar starts to caramelize and the pecans are well coated, 8 minutes.  Spread the pecans on a parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and let cool.  Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor; discard the skins.  Add the honey, cinnamon, allspice and cloves to the processor and puree.  Season with salt and pepper.Sweet Potato Puree

Scrape the potatoes into a 9×13 inch baking dish; scatter the marshmallows are golden.  Sprinkle with the pecans and serve.  MAKE AHEAD: The sweet potato puree can be refrigerated overnight.  Bring to room temperature and top with the marshmallows bfore baking.  The spiced nuts can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Makes 12 servings.

Results: So delicious!  We could really taste the warm spices in the puree, and the crunch of the pecans was a welcome addition to this traditional dish.  I would absolutely cook this for Thanksgiving or any fall meal.  The leftover pecans (of which there were many!) went into my spinach, pecorino, and prosciutto salad for lunch, and they were perfect!  Sweet Potatoes and MarshmallowsThey could also be a good accompaniment to a Thanksgiving cheese plate. I think that F&W does a wonderful job blending traditional recipes (cassoulet) and innovative techniques (homemade ricotta), not to mention providing great wine recommendations and pairing advice.  If I could spare the shelf space, I would certainly add this publication to my subscriptions!  I can’t end this post without pointing out that the recipe I tested is clearly NOT a gratin as I understand it – gratins have melted cheese or buttered and browned breadcrumbs on top, not kraft mini marshmallows.

November 25, 2008 at 8:10 pm 2 comments

Magazine Review: “Bon Appetit” and Shaved Brussels Sprouts

brussels-final This is the fourth installment of my series of Thanksgiving magazine reviews.  You can see my evaluative criteria here.  I have been holding off on looking at one of the most popular food magazines of all, BON APPETIT, until now.  Although I have already confessed that Fine Cooking is my favorite subscription, Bon Appetit is my longest running.  Besides my own collection, dating back to my first cooking experiences in 1998, I also have access to my mother’s Bon Appetits – the oldest of which is from 1980 or so.  Confession time: when I was in middle school, I would sneak into the closet where mom kept her magazines filed by title and date, and would cut out all of the Absolut Vodka ads.  She only noticed this, and punished me, when she caught me in the act one day – because, like me, her collection kept growing and the motivation to go back to “the archives” was low.

I digress.  My point is that I have a long relationship with Bon Appetit, and although I absolutely despise the redesign they recently introduced, the magazine has treated me well for many years – especially on Thanksgiving.  You may already have sensed that my family holidays are pretty traditional, and the menu fairly fixed.  However, each year I bring my Bon Appetit Thanksgiving issue up to the family house and make one supplementary fancy dish – once it was cheddar and sage mashed potatoes and one year we even mixed it up with a special turkey.  Below, I decide whether 2008 matches up.

  • 194 pages total : 98 pages of ads (51%) !!
  • 65 Recipes (though this would be much higher if I included the many recipes that were offered on advertising pages, such as “Land o Lakes TM Blue Ribbon Sugar Cookies” or “Ghirardelli TM Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies”)
  • News-stand price: $4.99
  • Price per recipe: $0.08
  • # of ads pretending to be articles: 14.  What I found even more disturbing, however, was the ubiquity of especially long, multi-page advertisement spreads – like 4 pages each for Dacor appliances and Circulon pans.
  • Recipe Index? One index at the end of the magazine lists the recipes by specific types (Potatoes, Sauces, Breakfast Dishes, etc) and within those sometimes breaks the list down further (under Main Courses: fish/seafood, poultry, meats, vegetarian).  Recipes are also labeled with nutritional advice (Low Calorie, Low fat, High fiber).  Somewhat hard to follow due to small and dense text.
(c) Bon Appetit, photo by Tim Morris

(c) Bon Appetit, Photo by Tim Morris

Photos: Generally, I find BA to have great food photography.  That being said, I alternated between annoyance and amusement when flipping through the shots in the Thanksgiving section of this issue.  There were way too many full-page location shots of the sides of barns and insides of Shaker classrooms (there is a Heritage theme here – and we are not to forget it!!), taking up space where we should be looking at the food.  Also – and I don’t know if I’m crazy or if anyone else was wigged out by this – there were pictures of platters set on the very edge of tables, seconds away from tipping over (see above), and other shots of pies sitting on the floor or on a side table parked directly in front of a chest of drawers obviously meant for a bedroom.  The artificiality of these set-ups made me laugh out loud.  I did like the fact that in the “Purely Pumpkin” section, they provided pictures of both the whole finished desserts and the individual portions, and the article on make-ahead side dishes was also well-illustrated.

Best Sections:
• R.S.V.P. – this section features readers’ requests for the recipes of their favorite restaurant dishes.  Aside from the fact that I have thrice submitted a request and never been answered, I love this section.
• Fast, Easy, Fresh – pretty self-explanatory here: quick recipes for the weeknight.  This section was so popular that many past entries have been compiled into a cookbook.
• Cooking Life – Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette fame, has her own section written in that same great voice from her blog (obviously) and features her own fun and beautiful photography.
• At the Market – Each month a different seasonal ingredient is highlighted, and several different ways to use it are provided.  This month – Pomegranate!

Best Features:
• Recipes with obscure ingredients provide a suggestion for where to buy them.
• All of the Thanksgiving recipes are grouped together at the end of the magazine where, like Gourmet, the pictures are kept separate from the Recipe section.  Photos are labeled so you can immediately go to the page for the recipe of the dish that caught your eye.

Thanksgiving at the Bon Appetit house:
The Thanksgiving section here is divided into five different “stories,” but all maintain the singular theme of a Heritage holiday, meaning authentic ingredients native (or at least traditional) to America.  The first is called “Menu” and as far as I can tell it is meant to be the basic traditional meal while the following sections are optional swap-ins.  It includes such recipes as Dungeness Crab and Heirloom Bean Brandade; Wild Rice with butternut, squash, leeks and corn; and Garnet Yams with Blis Maple Syrup and Maple-Sugar Streusel.  Next up is “The Turkey” providing an alternative to the previous article’s turkey (Roast Heritage Turkey with Bacon-Herb Butter and Cider Gravy) and suggesting three variations of Salted Roast Turkey.  Following the Turkeys is “One Recipe Four Ways” which outlines four flavors of stuffing and gives four separate recipes (rather than one master recipe which can be modified: slightly disappointing).  After stuffing comes the other side dishes in “Make Ahead Makes it Easy” with do-ahead recipes like “Cranberry Relish with Grapefruit and Mint”, “Creamy Corn and Chestnut Pudding” and “Green Beans with Pickled-Onion Relish.”  Finally, an exclusively pumpkin finale called “Purely Pumpkin” including “Pumpkin Butterscotch Pie”, “Pumpkin Praline Trifle” and “Pumpkin Ice Cream with Toffee Sauce.”  Ruling? I’m confused.

Particularly Unappetizing:
• Cumin-Scented Eggplant with Pomegranate and Cilantro

I’m looking forward to cooking:
• Buttermilk Biscuits with Green Onions, Black Pepper, and Sea Salt
• Chaussons aux Pommes
• Bacon, Apple, and Fennel Stuffing
• *Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Currants and Chestnuts
• Scalloped Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin with Fresh Herbs

I would like to explain why I am so confused.  The setup of the Thanksgiving section is heavy-handed, what with the puritain garb on the models, the Shaker furniture, and the old-fashioned barns and schoolroom blackboard.  This might be actually very interesting and beautiful if they had stuck with the “heritage” theme of authentic local New England foods the pilgrims might have served if they had been equipped with convection ovens and 6-burner stovetops.  However, mixed in with the corn-, cider- and maple-based dishes are recipes that stick out like so many sore Shaker thumbs: Green Goddess Dip (“created in the 1920s at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel”); Cranberry Relish with Grapefruit and Mint; Salted Roast Turkey with Chipotle Glaze; and Potato, Zucchini, and Tomato Gratin (“Thanksgiving goes Provencal”).  Why put all the recipes together and try to tie them all to a theme which simply cannot cover all of them?   Nevertheless, it says a lot that I couldn’t find more than one recipe of the whole bunch that I thought was unappetizing, and I must admit that my recipe file has grown since acquiring this issue.  ((Sigh)) I guess I can’t fault a magazine which has been reinventing itself and the recipes within for over 50 years.  If you are a cook with the same goal (reinvention, that is), this magazine is for you.  An interesting review of the The Bon Appetit Cookbook
(which I do own, by the way) gives a rundown of the advantages and fallbacks of BA’s philosophy.

*Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Currants and Chestnutsbrussels-mise

1/2 c. apple cider
1/2 c. dried currants
1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 7- to 8-oz. jar whole peeled chestnuts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 Tbs. butter
1 1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

Bring cider to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add currants; let soak 30 minutes. Using processor fitted with slicing disk, push brussels sprouts through feed tube and slice. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill currant mixture. Wrap brussels sprouts in paper towels, then enclose in resealable plastic bag and chill.

brussels-fruitHeat oil in large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add chestnuts; sauté 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to bowl. Add brussels sprouts to skillet; sauté until beginning to wilt, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and butter; sauté until most of liquid evaporates and brussels sprouts are tender but still bright green, adding more water by tablespoonfuls if mixture is dry, about 7 minutes. Stir in chestnuts, currant mixture, and vinegar; sauté until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

brussels-cookingResults:  This was very good.  The problems I had with the dish were of my own making: Instead of using the slicing disk of the food processor, I used the shredding disk, resulting in a not-too-pleasant flakey texture to about half of my sprouts (before I realized my mistake and swapped the disk out).  Second, I used dried cranberries and cherries rather than dried currants (which I couldn’t find in any of my three grocery stores), making the dish a bit too sweet for my taste.  All in all, however, the flavor was very good – especially the chestnuts which had a very subtle and earthy savor to them.  I reheated leftovers the second night, and while the color was nowhere near as vibrant, the taste was the same if not better.  Prepared properly, this would be a great addition to the holiday table.

November 22, 2008 at 9:27 am 2 comments

Magazine Review: “Gourmet” and Pumpkin Souffles

Pumpkin Souffle This is the third installment of my series of Thanksgiving magazine reviews.  You can see my evaluative criteria here.  Today’s review is of GOURMET — a venerable publication directed by non other than Ruth Reichl.  For years I have avoided Gourmet, thinking of it as the imperious matriarch lording over its more accessible and friendly sister magazine, Bon Appetit.  My impression was that the recipes were too esoteric for me, the ingredients too rarified.   Below, I take another look.

  • 180 pages total : 80 pages of ads (44%)
  • 73 Recipes (interesting that a misleading heading on the cover of the magazine claims: “212 recipes, wines, tips, complete menus, and techniques”)
  • News-stand price: $4.50
  • Price per recipe: $0.06
  • # of ads pretending to be articles: HA!    Hahahaha!  I found 13!  I think that Conde Nast, who publishes Gourmet and Bon Appetit, invented the concept.  One of these “special advertising sections” even carries the title “The Good Life”, adapted from (and in the same font as) a Gourmet regular section “Good Living”
  • Recipe Index? One index at the back of the magazine sorts the recipes by course (Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dishes) and separates out a list of Vegetarian and Quick recipes.  I did not find the index particularly helpful here, and I still don’t understand why the Cauliflower Risotto was listed under “Main Course: Vegetarian”, but not under “Vegetarian Dishes” when many other recipes were double-listed.

Photos: Right proper food porn, if you ask me.  In the special Thanksgiving section, the photos are in a group, followed by the recipes, so you can drool and then get down to business.  Definitely could benefit from more pictures, though.  Gimme more, I need my fix!

Best Sections:
• Good Living: Kitchen.  I am not sure if this is a regular section of the magazine (as I said, I don’t pick this one up often), but I love looking into gorgeous kitchens.  I have a major jones for a two-oven kitchen with a substantial butcher-block island in the middle.
• Cookbook Club — If you are like me and you have a serious cookbook addiction, this is just bad for you.
• In theory, “One or Two for Dinner” is perfect for me.  I’m always working to scale-down recipes to accommodate the fact that RJ and I are having dinner, just the two of us, 90% of the time.

Best Features:
• Many recipes include a “Cook’s Note” which refers readers to the web to find out how to make use of leftovers.  I, for one, don’t love having a half-head of cabbage rotting in my crisper drawer for weeks after making a special dish.  “Cook’s notes” also let readers know what aspects of a recipe, if any, can be made ahead.
• Each of the 4 (!!) Thanksgiving menu sections includes a “Game Plan” outlining the dishes, or aspects of dishes, that can be done ahead, and in what order they should be tackled.

Thanksgiving at the Gourmet house:
•Four separate versions of the Thanksgiving feast are provided.  “Over the Top” is just that, and very typical of most Gourmet issues: Foie Gras Toasts with Sauternes Gelee; Smoked-Sable Tartare with Beets and Watercress; Seckel Pear Tart with Poire William Cream.  “Come Together” gives a Latino version of Thanksgiving: Clementine Jicama Salad, Adobo Turkey with Red Chile Gravy; Sweet-Potato Coconut Puree.  “Four Hour Feast” attempts a ‘faster’ Thanksgiving (what’s the point of that?!?): Cranberry Tangerine Conserve; Roasted Potatoes and Shallots; Cider-Poached Apples with Candied Walnuts, Rum Cream, and Cider Syrup.  Finally, “Harvest’s Home” – a vegetarian version of the holiday: Mushroom and Farro Pie; Moscatel-Glazed Parsnips; Artichokes Braised in Lemon and Olive Oil.  Ruling?  Not your grandmother’s Thanksgiving.

Particularly Unappetizing:
• Celery Apple Granita (ew!)
• Pumpkin and Cod Fritters with Creole Sauce (double, nay, triple ew!)
• Sauteed Lemon Maple Frisee
• Mango Pomegranate Guacamole (I like all three separately, but together?)

I’m looking forward to cooking:
• Roast Pumpkin with Cheese Fondue (I’m not the only one!)
• Haricots Verts with Bacon and Chestnuts
• Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds with Garlic Oil and Fried Sage
• *Spiced-Pumpkin Souffles with Bourbon Molasses Sauce
• Parsnip Puree with Sauteed Brussels Sprouts Leaves

Gourmet is analogous, in a way, to Vanity Fair – it looks like an easy, fun read from the outside (who doesn’t like Nicole Kidman or roast turkey?) but ends up requiring a lot more brainpower than you expected.  I am not in any way against revving up the ol’ gray matter – I love spending a few hours with the New Yorker or the Times on a Sunday – but when I pick up a food magazine, or a fashion magazine for that matter, I am looking for instant satisfaction.  The articles in Gourmet are long and wordy, without many pictures.  I am constantly skimming and thinking “blah, blah, blah.”  This is a good magazine for those who want to bring a stand-out, crowd-awing dish to a Thanksgiving party, or for someone who has a pretty established and fixed family menu and wants to offer a fancy alternative to one of the ho-hum annual dishes.  Also good for vegetarians, obviously, or maybe a gourmande group cooking club.  I cannot, however, see how it would be possible for one, or even two cooks to pull together any of these elaborate menus on Thanksgiving day.

I also think that in most circles, if you tried to put on a ‘Latino Thanksgiving’ with hot spices and tropical fruits in every dish, you would experience mass revolt.  The realities of Thanksgiving, at least as I have experienced it, is that you have a lot of people, of all ages, gathered together for one meal after not having seen each other for some time.  That means varied diets, preoccupied moms and dads, family catch-up talks, and very busy kitchens.  Timing and assembling 8 or more individual pumpkin souffles for Thanksgiving dessert seems unlikely and unnecessarily difficult.  My past Thanksgivings have involved several aunts hocking their various pie specialties (or purchases) and me and my cousins trying to convince our parents that four 1-inch slices of different pies is equal to one normal-sized slice of a single pie.  However, I am well aware that Thanksgiving can go down any number of ways.  If you have the time for these elaborate and very Gourmet menus, I would like an invitation for next year.

*Spiced-Pumpkin Souffles with Bourbon Molasses Sauce  [
printable recipe]
1/2 c. whole milksouffle-in-ramekin
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
pinch of ground cloves
3/4 c. plus 1 Tbs. granulated sugar, divided, plus additional for coating ramekins
3/4 c. canned pure pumpkin (from a 15 oz. can, not pie filling)
10 large egg whites
1/4 tsp. salt

Whisk together milk, cornstarch, spices, and 1 Tbs. granulated sugar in a small heavy saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking, then simmer, whisking, 2 minutes. souffle-bitten Remove from heat and whisk in pumpkin.  Transfer to a large bowl and cool to room temperature.  (can be made ahead to this point and chilled for up to 1 day)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F with rack in lower third.  Butter ramekins and coat with granulated sugar, knocking out excess, then put in a large shallow baking pan.
Beat egg whites with salt in another large bowl using an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Add remaining 3/4 c. granulated sugar a little at a time, beating, then beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks, 1-2 minutes more.  Fold one third of the whites into cooled pumpkin mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.  Divide mixture among ramekins, mounding it.
Bake souffles until puffed and golden, 18-20 minutes.  Dust with confectioners sugar and serve immediately.

Bourbon Molasses Sauce (in case you are wondering, this is NOT OPTIONAL – it makes the dessert!)

3/4 c. sugarsouffle-caramel
1/4 c. plus 2 Tbs. water, divided
3 Tbs. bourbon
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 1/2 Tbs. molasses (not blackstrap or robust)
1/4 tsp. salt

Bring sugar and 2 Tbs. water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from the side of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.  Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until caramel is dark amber.  Remove from heat and stir in remaining 1/4 c. water, then stir in bourbon, butter, molasses, and salt.  Return to heat and simmer, stirring, to dissolve any hardened caramel if necessary.  Sauce can be made one day ahead and chilled.  Reheat in a microwave or double boiler until liquefied.

souffle-butter-sauceResults:  Oh, how I love Gourmet magazine.  To anyone who doubts the supremacy of this magazine, including whatever whack-job wrote the above review, please have a bite of this souffle.  This was absolutely divine.  The souffle was light and fluffy – perfect after a full meal.  It puffed up over the rim of the ramekin nearly doubling in size – a beautiful presentation.  Plus, the sauce was truly magical – I would drench ice cream or pumpkin pie or cheesecake with this.  I would take a bath in it.  As RJ says, “if they made it a toothpaste, I’d brush my teeth with it.”  I’m still not sure you could make a souffle on Thanksgiving day, despite the fact that the sauce and part of the pumpkin mixture can be done ahead of time, but please remember: the fall season lasts for three months!

November 16, 2008 at 8:26 am 4 comments

Roasting in all its Simplicity

Roasted Onions

So today marks my first official contribution to the “Barefoot Bloggers” – a group of people who share of love of Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa cookbooks and cook their way through them, assigning a new recipe every two weeks.  How kind of them to select a supremely un-intimidating recipe to ease my entry to the fold!  Actually, Kelly who chose this recipe most likely picked it because she likes onions.  And I hope she likes mustard, too, because whoo-eee this recipe has a strong mustard flavor to it.  The components here are extremely simple – some onions, a nice mustard-herb dressing, salt and pepper.  However, unlike many roasted veggie side dishes, you will not overlook this one!  As I said, the mustard flavor is pungent (and delicious) but more importantly, the final product is gorgeous.  By keeping the root intact, the onions stay in their wedges, but they tend to separate at the layers, fanning out into tender, aromatic petals which gather the dressing in their folds.

By necessity (I only had one red onion on hand) my final product has reversed the ratio of red onions to yellow, a mistake I won’t make again.  Something about the way a red onion deepens in color and develops its blackened crust, curling up a bit at the edges – they are just so festive!  Not to mention the fact that they make for much better photos.  I would also have cut my wedges a bit thinner.  Ina did not specify how many wedges to make out of an onion, but I would suggest 8-12, depending on the size of your onions.  If the wedges are too thick, they will need more cooking time – you want to get all of the raw out of those puppies!  Of course, you could add other vegetables to your pan here – peppers, potatoes, brussel sprouts, parsnips to name a few – but the power of the Barefoot Contessa recipe is really in the simplicity.

So give this dish a try as is, then adjust to your liking – it really is infinitely adaptable.  I’m thinking my next version will incorporate some tarragon in the dressing, or maybe a drizzle of a balsamic syrup right at the end.  This could definitely be a great addition to your Thanksgiving table as well, I might add.

Roasted Onions Roasted Onions
2 red onions
1 yellow onion
2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 Tbs. minced fresh thyme leaves
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c. good olive oil
1/2 Tbs. minced fresh parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Remove the stem end of each onion and carefully slice off the brown part of the root end, leaving the root intact. Peel the onion. Stand each onion root end up on a cutting board and cut the onion in wedges through the root. Place the wedges in a bowl.
Roasted onions and vinaigrette
For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the onions and toss well.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a sheet pan, reserving the vinaigrette that remains in the bowl. Bake the onions for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender and browned. Toss the onions once during cooking. Remove from the oven, and drizzle with the reserved dressing. Sprinkle with parsley, season to taste and serve warm or at room temperature. Roasted onions

November 13, 2008 at 7:51 am 4 comments

Magazine Review: “Saveur” and Roasted Cranberry Sauce

roasted cranberry sauceThis is the second installment of my series of Thanksgiving magazine reviews.  You can see my evaluative criteria here.  My second food magazine review is of SAVEUR — a publication I became aware of through the Orangette blog, where several great recipes from Saveur have been featured.

112 pages total : 37 pages of ads (33%)
32 Recipes
News-stand price: $5.00
Price per recipe: $0.16
# of ads pretending to be articles: only one, and it’s very hard to spot.  It has the heading “The Saveur Chef Series” and includes a recipe for cauliflower with pine nut and current bread crumbs.  But for the miniscule “Advertisement” written across the top of the page, I would not have known it was advertising anything.  Come to think of it, I still am not quite sure what it is an ad for, except perhaps Bill Telepan’s eponymous NYC restaurant.
Recipe Index? Two indexes are provided – one, at the beginning, lists the recipes by article; the second lists them by category.  Both are ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-em’ small.

Photos: Good, large pictures are scattered throughout the magazine, but are not labeled by recipe and are often separated by a page or two from the recipe they depict.  That’s fine for green beans with hazelnuts, but not so good when it comes to Kasespatzle.

Best Sections:
• The pantry – This section gives you resources to locate the esoteric ingredients used in some of the recipes.  Perfect for all of those “wait, where do I find Thai palm sugar?” moments.
• Source – a short feature story on a specific retailer or product.  This month it was Happy Girl Kitchen Co.’s pickled vegetables, including carrots, squash, and Italian beans – I am intrigued…
• In the Saveur Kitchen – “Discoveries and Techniques from our Favorite Room in the House”, including unusual uses of common ingredients and illustrated technique lessons.

Best Features:
• Within certain articles a little call-out box refers the reader to the web for more ways to use a specific ingredient or for similar or complementary recipes.
• This magazine’s content centers around articles on specific cuisines and their locales, always giving a list of “where to stay”, “where to eat” and “what to do” if you decide to follow in their footsteps.  This issue alone featured New Orleans, the Auvergne region of France, and Laos.
• Rather than always publishing in the traditional recipe format of serving size, ingredient list, then instructions, throughout the magazine you will find short blurbs called “Methods” which condense a recipe into a short prose paragraph – very much like your mom would relay Grandma’s Apple Pie to you over the phone.  The overall impression given is that you can adjust any of the methods to your own taste preference.

Thanksgiving at the Saveur house:
•Two separate sections deal with Thanksgiving – one about classic side dishes, and a second about how the holiday is celebrated in Louisiana.  Sweet Potato Casserole, Oyster Stuffing, Whipped Mashed Potatoes with Celery Root, Oyster stew, Leah Chase’s Roasted Turkey.  Ruling?  Very traditional.

Particularly Unappetizing:
• Traditional Mincemeat Pie (dried and fresh fruit plus rum and beef fat – shudder!!)
• Steamed Fish Mousse
• Pounti (Auvergne-style meatloaf with prunes)

I’m looking forward to cooking:
• *Roasted Cranberry Sauce
• Spinach and Artichoke Dip
• Brussel Sprouts Salad

In Summary, Saveur is a very interesting mixed bag.  The list of recipes, at least in this issue, ranged from a Chile con Queso dip made with Velveeta, canned Ro-Tel tomatoes and Corona beer, to Laap Moo (a Laotian minced pork salad) with chopped fresh galangal, toasted rice powder, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass.  I recommend this magazine for the adventurous and ambitious chefs of this world – those who want to experience unique flavors from around the world or who want to teach themselves the authentic techniques of food preparation before the advent of the microwave or ready-made pie dough.

Make cranberry sauce*Roasted Cranberry Sauce, cited from Saveur No. 115

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Using a peeler, remove peel from one orange, taking off as little of the white pith as possible.  Cut peel into very thin strips about 1 1/2 inches long.  Squeeze juice from orange; strain and reserve 1 Tbs. of the juice.  In a bowl, combine peel, 1 lb. fresh or thawed cranberries, 1 cup sugar, 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 4 smashed green cardamom pods, 4 whole cloves, 2 sticks cinnamon, and 1 small stemmed and thinly sliced jalapeno. Toss and transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Roast until cranberrries begin to burst and release their juices, 10-15 minutes.  Transfer cranberry mixture to a bowl; stir in reserved orange juice and 1 1/2 Tbs. of port.  Let sit for at least 1 hour so that hte flavors meld.  Remove and discard cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon before serving.  Makes 2 cups.

Plated cranberry sauceResults:  I don’t know about your feeling on this, but I found the prose-recipe method really frustrating.  I didn’t see that I needed a jalapeno until too late (so I left it out), and I had to keep rereading the whole recipe over and over to make sure that I only needed to save 1 Tbs. of the orange juice.  Though I know I’m supposed to follow these test recipes exactly, I used ground cardamom and ground cinnamon and omitted the jalapeno.  The results, however, were absolutely delicious.  The sauce was quite tart, which I liked, and the port gave it such a wonderful flavor without making it taste ‘alcoholic’ at all.  The texture was like a thick and chunky chutney, so if you like a more saucey version, this is not the recipe for you.  For me?  Yum yum yum!  This might become an annual feature of my holiday table!

November 10, 2008 at 8:09 am Leave a comment

Magazine Review: “Fine Cooking” and Delicata Squash

Food MagazinesI have taken on a new mission – you know, to keep things interesting here at “From My Table.”  Since I am a confessed food magazine addict and self-proclaimed connoisseur, I have decided to begin a series of reviews of popular cooking magazines.  To make it as fair a contest as possible, I will be comparing Thanksgiving issues – the one issue of the year where every food mag worth its weight in gravy will pull out all the stops.  In theory, the November issue of an epicurean publication (the issue with the highest sales for the year) will feature the best recipes, photos, and informational articles while showcasing any editorial biases in clear relief against rival periodicals.  When the basic building blocks are the same – turkey, cranberries, pumpkin, squash, and stuffing – one cannot help but notice if a particular magazine adheres to strict traditional techniques or, at the other extreme, commits blasphemy by defiling our American heritage (vanilla-cranberry foam?  Bread-less stuffing?  Come on, people!)

Here are my objective criteria:
• Ratio of the # of magazine pages (not including covers) to the # of full-page advertisements
• # of Recipes
• News-stand Price
• Price per Recipe
• # of “advertorials” – those ads that pose as articles or recipe sections to get you to buy their product.  Sometimes it is very difficult to tell they are not part of the magazine.
• Is a recipe index supplied?  How are the recipes sorted?

And here are my subjective criteria:
• How good is the photography?  How plentiful, mouthwatering, and informative is it?
• What are some of the unique or particularly good sections or features this magazine provides every issue?
• What is the take on the Thanksgiving classics: modern? drastic? traditional? boring?
• What recipes from this issue do I most look forward to trying?  What recipes look particularly unappetizing?

*I will also be making one recipe from my “Can’t wait to try” list exactly as directed, and will report on my results.  I hope this gets everybody into the November spirit – can you hear the Jingle Bells?

The first to contend is FINE COOKING – one of my favorite magazines of all time (no bias on the part of this judge):

• 98 pages total : 23 pages of ads (23%)
• 35 Recipes
• News-stand price: $6.95
• Price per recipe: $0.20
• # of ads pretending to be articles: 0
• Recipe Index?
Yes, sorted by type (i.e. side dish, dessert, poultry, fish/seafood, etc.) and labeled by special interest (i.e. quick, make-ahead, mostly make-ahead, and vegetarian).  Also includes a nutritional index in the back of the magazine, which is a great addition…if you like reading that sort of information…

Photos: absolutely excellent, often giving multiple viewpoints (cut pie/uncut pie; preparation/finished product) and most certainly mouthwatering!  Every recipe is photographed at least once, which is a huge bonus.

Best Sections:
• Cooking Without Recipes (one master recipe is featured each month and several pages explain the different steps of the method – in this issue, how to make a potato gratin – as well as the many ways it can be adapted to your taste – e.g. bacon, leek and Gruyere or artichoke and Comte)
• Quick and Delicious (self-explanatory, no?)
• Food Science (this section explains the “Whys” behind cooking results – how to fix a pie crust that isn’t flaky or that is too crumbly, for example)
• Menus – the editors mix and match the recipes from the issue into different menus, such as “Sunday Supper” or “Casual Dinner Party”

Best Features:
• Recipe Variations are provided with many of the sections, such as “try replacing red wine vinegar with balsamic for a sweeter flavor” or “try leftovers from this recipe cold in a pasta salad with green beans and feta”
• No advertisements are placed in the central recipe section of the magazine.

Thanksgiving at the Fine Cooking house:
• “Seven of the country’s best chefs share seven new takes on holiday classics” – Roasted Turkey with Juniper-Ginger Butter and Pan Gravy; Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots; Maple-Tangerine Cranberry Sauce; Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Cream.  Ruling?  Classic with a twist.

Particularly Unappetizing:
• Orange Crème Caramel
• Rosemary’s Pink Diamond Fizz
• Vietnamese Tilapia with Turmeric & Dill

I’m looking forward to cooking:Delicata Squash Recipe
• Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Pie with Brandied Ginger Cream
• *Delicata Squash with Caramelized Shallots and Sherry
• Cauliflower with Brown Butter, Pears, Sage, and Hazelnuts
• Steak au Poivre with Cognac Sauce

*Delicata Squash with Caramelized Shallots and Sherry
Serves four.  You can assemble this dish up to 2 hours before baking.

1 1/4 lb. delicata squash
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 c. dry sherry (such as fino)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 c. thinly sliced shallots (2 to 3 large)
4 tsp. finely chopped fresh sage

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Peel the squash, leaving the skin in the crevices (it’s tender enough to eat).  Trim the ends.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.  Slice the halves crosswise 1/2 inch thick.Saute of Delicata squash
Heat 1 Tbs. of the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Add half the squash in a single layer and cook without moving until the slices begin to brown, about 2 minutes.  Flip and cook until the second side begins to brown, 1 to 2 minutes.  Transfer to a 9×13 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with 2 Tbs. of the sherry, 1/2 tsp salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
Heat the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil and the butter in the skillet over medium heat.  Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots turn deep golden brown on the edges, 3-5 minutes.  Take the pan off the heat and immediately add the sage and the remaining 2 Tbs. sherry, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of pan.  Scatter the shallots over the squash.
Cover the pan with foil and bake until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork, 25-30 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The squash tasted excellent – the caramelized shallots were sweet, and the sherry gave a contrasting nutty flavor.  As you can see, it looked very beautiful and interesting too!  Though I said I would follow the instructions meticulously, I did use Amontillado sherry rather than the suggested Fino – I’m not sure what difference this made, but fino is lighter in both color and flavor.  I should have put the squash in the oven a bit longer – closer to 30 minutes than 25 – so that it melted a bit more in my mouth; with that change I would definitely make this again.  Delicata squash has a slightly less sweet and slightly more vegetal flavor than butternut – very close to yellow-fleshed acorn squash.  I bet that this recipe would work well with either of those two types as well.

Delicata squash recipe

November 5, 2008 at 6:39 pm 9 comments

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