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

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.

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.

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!