November 2010

Toque du chef 790 xxx

11.30.10 Tome After Tome

I'm going to go way out on a limb and assume that, if you're reading this blog, you like to cook; or at least you like reading about cooking. Or maybe you just know someone else who does. At any rate, in a continuation of yesterday's gifting post, I've pulled together some suggestions for wonderful cookbooks—some new, some long beloved—that would make wonderful presents to the accomplished and aspiring chefs in your life (including yourself). I like nothing better than sitting down with something delicious to eat and whatever cookbook I've randomly plucked from my shelf. There are always stacks of cookbooks by my bed. Reading them is vicarious pleasure, inspiration, armchair travel, fantasy and practical preparation. Here's a compendium of some of my favorites, all highly recommended.
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11.29.10 Present Perfect

As obnoxious a concept as is Black Friday—when all of America rushes into the mall, wallets clutched in chubby hands still sticky from the Thanksgiving feast—there is something to be said for getting a jump on your holiday gift shopping. We all know that once that turkey is gone, Christmas and Hanukkah are not far behind. For me, this means the annual frenzy of making caramels, then wrapping and packaging them by the hundreds. As far as other gifts for my nearest and dearest, I look for something personal, something that reflects my relationship with the recipients, that shows I've noticed what they need, what they covet. I try to buy things as I come across them during the year, or at least make a note to myself so I can remember to go back and pick up that perfect little something for my sister or goddaughter. But that doesn't always happen (and I know many of you think it's crazy to even dream of being so organized), so I often turn to online shopping. I can do it in the comfort of my own home, and I don't have to deal with the special hell that is the post office. The key is to start immediately, if you haven't already. Avoid paying extra for expedited shipping and banish the dread, the panic and the shame of sending something lame that arrives late. Because I love you, I'll share some of my secret sources for great gifts.
Pho 790 xxx
photo by Sarah Shatz for Food52

11.26.10 Turkey Hangover

It's the day after and I'm a woman of few words. But I can't leave you hanging with all that turkey on your hands. Hopefully you did not, in a fit of weary pique, discard the carcass. There's soup in there! How about a delicious, soothing and very clean take on pho, the Vietnamese soup usually made with beef. Here's a winning recipe made with leftover turkey from WinnieAb on Food52. It does a body good.Or, check out my guest post for turkey tamales on UK site debate your plate. It's a great project for all those lazy, whining people you have hanging around your house. And the results are delicious!And last, but never least, here's Martha's recipe for turkey banh mi, full of crisp, refreshing vegetables and tangy, spicy flavors. What's with the ethnic theme? Guess I've had it up to here with classic American for the moment. Enjoy your naps...

11.25.10 Muchas Gracias

Original 790 xxx
I am thankful for my loving husband, Titi, family, friendship, a cozy home, freedom, goat cheese, Bach, heirloom tomatoes, hammocks, squirrels, deer, blue jays, black bear, foxes, snakes, spiders, animals in general, ferns, our vegetable garden, walnuts, the 4 Agreements (don't make assumptions, be impeccable with your word, don't take things personally, always do your best), Philip Roth, Coetzee, Alice Munro, Patricia Highsmith, technology, craftsmanship, artists, Pablo Neruda, Joni Mitchell, Maria Callas, Nick Drake, Elvis Costello, Silvio Rodriguez, Irving Penn, Andy Goldsworthy, Velazquez, Goya, Frida Kahlo, traveling, India, Mexico, Venice, Morocco, Madrid, San Sebastian, Iceland, new challenges, old traditions, curiosity, my tastebuds, bourbon, brown sugar, cardamom, lavender, geranium, rosemary, herbs and flowers, fragrance, essential oils, frankincense, sandalwood, myrrh, grapefruit, lemon, yuzu, noodles, tempura, cork, leather, glass, wood, stone, slate, wool, cashmere, silk, sequins, embroidery, Marni, Prada, Jil Sander, Rick Owens, Comme des Garçons, gratins, raw milk, cows, grass, sunrise over the mountain, sunset over the lake, collaboration, allies, support, confidence, children, curiosity, humor, laughing, giggling, chortling, spices, curry, coconut, ice cream, sorbet, popsicles, sneezing, caramel, chocolate, nougat, youth, old age, middle age, grey hair, any hair at all, strength, resilience, courage, kale, quinoa, low cholesterol, high standards, movies, books, Momofuku, Thomas Keller, Wylie Dufresne, Alice Waters, Ferran Adria, Arzak, MFK Fisher, Laurie Colwin, Suzanne Goin, Los Angeles, AOC, Lucques, Campanile, La Brea Bakery, Fairway, Chelsea Market, Dickson's, Lucy's Whey, Eataly, Union Square farmers market, Chinatown, dim sum, Mitsuwa, tofu skin, fresh fish, pickled mussels, pickles in general, flamenco, tapas, molecular gastronomy, textiles, ikat, bargello, velvet, tie dye, street food, fresh potato chips, ethnic markets, theater, poetry, wine, sherry, port, ginger, fields, grains, purple rice, wild rice, risotto, forests, sequoias, silver birch, pine cones, orchids, peonies, ranunculus, naps, meditation, yoga, hiking, sweating, swearing, discipline, sex, romance, loyalty, long walks on the beach, margaritas, rainstorms, kidding!, driftwood, mobiles, driving, convertibles, OH MY GOD I COULD GO ON FOREVER!!! What I'm trying to say is that I am grateful for life and all the complexities and emotions and smells and tastes and people and things it delivers on a regular and generous basis. I am grateful for you, readers, who so kindly share it all with me. I wish you all the contentment that comes from wanting what you have.
Alternative 790 xxx
Radishes 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

11.24.10 Prelude to a Feast

I don't want to harsh your mellow, and I do know that Thanksgiving is a special day—a time to throw caution to the wind and loosen your belt—but I just read that "more than half of Americans will have diabetes or be prediabetic by 2020, at a cost to the US health care system of $3.35 trillion, if current trends continue unabated." Staggering, no? To what trends does this refer? Too much processed food, too much sugar, too much fat. So I'd like you to reconsider the cream-laden dips and greasy chips that seem to be so popular for snacking on before the big turkey feast. All those cheese plates and fistfuls of roasted nuts that go so well with the wine and cocktails you'll inevitably be knocking back. Look, I'm no killjoy. I want you to indulge! But I also want you alive and healthy and fitting into your skinny jeans. So ponder some of these options, starting with a plate of fresh, crunchy, spicy watermelon radishes—in season now!—irresistible when sprinkled with flaky Maldon sea salt and perhaps drizzled with a little green olive oil. It's the perfect way to really wake up your palate.
Ciabatta stuffing 790 xxx
photo by Sarah Shatz for Food52

11.23.10 The Right Stuff(ing)

Stuffing! What can I say? If you're not still eating at your mother's table, you just want to recreate her stuffing recipe and aren't really interested in anything different. Right? Well, on the off chance that there is someone out there willing to try something new, I'll offer you a few suggestions. There are so many schools of stuffing, from cornbread and sausage to sourdough and sage to sticky rice and water chestnuts. Stuffing reflects tradition and ethnicity perhaps even more than the turkey. And of course there is always the question of to stuff or not to stuff, not to mention m***t versus crispy. Above is the winning ciabatta and chorizo stuffing from Food52's contest last year. It features garlicky cubes of bread with chorizo, shiitakes and sweet potato. Another interesting option is this prune and apple stuffing posted by Amanda Hesser.
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photos by gluttonforlife

11.22.10 Big Bird (The Rest is Gravy)

It's time to talk turkey. Even the most experienced cooks can get a little flustered when it come to roasting such a large creature. Confusion starts with what kind of bird to buy and proceeds through whether or not to brine, to stuff or not, what temp, how long to rest, etc. It's all in pursuit of that deep brown, lacquered skin and meat that is not hideously dry. Some say the sole purpose of gravy is to restore moisture to that breast. There really is no definitive technique for roasting a turkey, although most professional chefs do recommend you cook it until the breast is done, and then cut off the legs and thighs to finish roasting separately while the breast rests. In a neat twist on that, this recipe has you brine the bird whole, then break it down and roast the legs and wings on top of the stuffing. Food for thought.

But most people simply can't abandon the Norman Rockwell image of that intact turkey perched on the carving board in all its golden glory. And for those of you who wish to hew to tradition (my dining companions included), I've gathered a few recipes for success. I've rarely actually been in charge of a turkey, depending as I do on the kindness of others for my Thanksgiving dinner. But some years ago I did make Martha's version with the breast draped in wine-&-butter-soaked cheesecloth, and I recall it being quite delicious. I didn't brine it first—I'm actually not sure that I've ever eaten a Thanksgiving turkey that's been brined! Not everyone is prepared to take that extra step, but I understand it makes an enormous difference. I love to eat the dark meat—and to gob mayonnaise and cranberry sauce on a leftover turkey sandwich—so dryness is not my particular bugaboo, but it looks like we're going the brining route this year.
Pie 790 xxx
photo from the new york times

11.19.10 The Value of Pie

Pie is having a renaissance, although I'm not sure it ever really went away. As discussed in this recent NY Times article, it's about to kick the cupcake off its frosted throne. Yea! As a country, we've got quite a lot invested in the notion of pie. Just like us damn Yankees, it runs the gamut from down-home (tamale pie) to drop-dead glamorous (Baked Alaska). The best pie I've ever eaten was at a tiny shack somewhere near Nashville during a random stop on a cross-country drive. I still remember the shatteringly flaky crust (thanks to lard, no question) and the tangy, juicy whole blackberries. My own sour cherry version is a princess among pies, a slice of summer on a plate, best eaten in July with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. My father had a weakness for pecan pie, that tooth-achingly sweet confection loaded with nuts and Karo syrup. And I have always looked forward to the pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. But when it really came down to it, I realized that all I truly crave is the custard. It's that smooth, silky consistency I adore, the delicate balance of spices and a subtle sweetness—not the soggy cardboard crust, made worse by everyone's insistence on keeping pie in the fridge. (Where we know baked goods don't improve!) Besides, in this gluten-free household, I have come to realize that eating all that flour is what leaves you feeling bloated and puffy and gross. Especially on Thanksgiving, when you know you are going to load your plate with stuffing and Parker house rolls, maybe dessert is the time to think outside the crust. Or maybe not. Either way, here are a few suggestions for next week's finale.
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photos by gluttonforlife

11.17.10 Lunch Lady

I work from home. Sometimes this is a bad thing as it can lead to an inordinate number of days spent in general dishabille, aka slovenliness. Not to mention the pancake-ass that develops from endless sitting in my writing chair, sheepskin cover or no. But there's also the delight of taking my laptop to the couch, in front of a crackling fire; the joy of never having to speak to another human (UPS man notwithstanding); and the mixed blessing of being able to make myself lunch. Every. Single. Day. Even when I don't feel like cooking (because we all know that cooking for one can be a real bore), I just rustle around in the fridge and the cupboards, scouring for whatever strikes my fancy. Canned salmon? Maybe. Quesadilla? Occasionally. Soba noodles. OK. But most often—especially these veg-centric days—some configuration of lettuces and seeds and pickles that is entirely dependent on appetite, availability and inspiration. So this post is less a recipe than an invitation to paint with a palette of greens, as I did with the plate of arugula, spiced pumpkin seeds and ricotta salata (left over from this carrot salad), simply tossed with lemon juice and olive oil (pictured above).
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photos by gluttonforlife

11.16.10 Taking Sides

Here come the holidays and, with them, your family. Bickering, sibling rivalry, old grudges and the rapid backslide into childhood habits are mitigated by unconditional love and unlimited quantities of sugar and fat. Both my parents are dead, so I have absolutely no chance of recreating that perfect Rockwellian moment. Because I went to college so far from home, I have been glomming onto other people's Thanksgiving celebrations since I was 17 anyway. Now I am a part of G's family, and this year, along with his chef-in-training sister, I am responsible for the turkey. His mother has passed the torch. It's a big responsibility, but not one that can totally distract from the issue of side dishes. I suppose there are some families out there who are wildly experimental with their Thanksgiving menu, trying that mole sauce with the turkey one year, stirring coconut milk and chiles into their sweet potatoes, maybe even passing a post-prandial doobie. But it seems that, for the most part, people really like to stick with TRADITION, even if it means that repellent green bean casserole topped with canned onions. Or having both sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. The root vegetable is really very popular at this meal, and rightly so. Its earthy sweetness is the essence of comfort food. Try making these sweet and spicy garnet yams (no marshmallows, please), cubed and blitzed in the oven along with some pancetta, while the turkey is being carved. And keep reading to discover the very best mashed potatoes ever. Trust me on this.