Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving! Mine was fabulous and tasty and indulgent–all of the things a good Thanksgiving should be!

I committed to remaining stress-free, a feat which was threatened as soon as I began preparing the big bird for the oven. It's like groundhog day every year; I can never remember how to cook a turkey. I think I just block it out, traumatized from the previous year's Thanksgiving and overwhelmed by the myriad of ways one can prepare the main dish. I'm too lazy to brine and too much of a purist to cook it in a plastic bag. I just want to stuff it and be done! I needed an old-school approach and decided that nothing could be better than just slathering the thing in butter. And so that's what I did.

After rubbing the turkey in a homemade herbed butter concoction (chopped sage, thyme and rosemary smeared under the skin and over the bird) I started on the stuffing. I bought peasant bread from the market to make my own stuffing, which was scrumptious and so simple to make! I cut the bread into 1 inch cubes and toasted them in the oven for about 5 minutes. I sauteed 2 onions and 5 celery stalks in a stick of butter (ah, the holidays) until soft (about 10 minutes). The breakfast sausage was also from the Farmers' Market–3 links (minus the casings) sauteed for 10 minutes. To create the stuffing I simply combined everything together with a cup of chicken stock. And yes, I stuffed the bird!

The mystery of last year's turkey debacle (hours and hours of cooking and the turkey just wasn't cooked) was solved with the help of an oven thermometer. Turns out my oven has been lying to me all these years! The temperature inside registered almost 100 degrees below the alleged number on the dial. I didn't have time to lament the past so I channeled my feelings of betrayal into hyper-vigilence, watching through the glass to read the thermometer and then frantically changing the temperature to maintain a constant 350 degrees!

The rest of the meal came together after the turkey was done. Everyone chipped in...Nick (my brother-in-law) made the mashed potatoes; my mother made the gravy; my dad carved the turkey ("This is the easiest turkey I've ever carved," he exclaimed...must've been the butter). My sister attended to her own little butterball, Alexa, my adorable niece! Kacey brought the pumpkin and pecan pies, which were both amazing. We all enjoyed seconds of everything!

This was probably the most relaxed Thanksgiving I can remember. Memory is captured through the lens of our experience and so it must've been that I, myself, was relaxed. I feel like we celebrated the essence of the holiday: gratitude, togetherness and contentment. I loved the simplicity of it all and I'll carry this Thanksgiving in my heart for years to come.

PS - A final word about the turkey. It was, by far, the best turkey any of us had ever eaten. So moist, so flavorful...all thanks to butter and a happily-raised bird.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Table

I just carried my fifteen pound turkey home from the big city, a logistical nightmare I hadn't really considered when I set out to attempt a Farmers' Market-only Thanksgiving. As I lugged the giant bird back to New Jersey I tried to cultivate feelings of delight in my own virtue (Sutra 1.33) but found myself cursing instead. Turns out my hips are well designed for transporting heavy merchandise; the beast positioned himself nicely on the top of my anterior iliac crest. He made it home safely (not so sure about me) and is now tucked in the fridge, awaiting the oven tomorrow!

I set the table yesterday so it would be one less thing to worry about whilst I'm basting the bird. My favorite part of any holiday is the decorating and this year I decided to use gourds, squash, and fresh fruit instead of flowers (inspired by my journeys to Balthazar and Bouley)! I love the rustic feel of the burlap tablecloth; it's a nice contrast to the silver. The turkey plates belonged to my grandmother and I absolutely cherish them. I'm going to use the small little bowls for salt and pepper ('tis the season for my brown transferware ironstone). Tomorrow night I'll put out some small candles on the table and all around the house to make everything feel festive. I can't wait for my family to come over and spend time together. Right now I'm going to go finalize my cooking schedule so I can enjoy the Thanksgiving Day Parade tomorrow morning!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cranberry Sauce

It was so much fun to buy cranberries at the farmers' market! Scooping them out of a huge bin made me feel like I was in a candy store.

After a good cleaning, add 2 cups of cranberries to a pot filled with 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar (heated through until the sugar has dissolved). 1 cinnamon stick, 3 whole cloves and the juice of 1 lemon give this sauce amazing flavor (be sure to fish out the spices at the end). The scent will fill up your entire home! Simmer the mixture between 10 and 15 minutes until the cranberries have popped and the juices start to thicken. Store it in the fridge and you're ready for Thanksgiving day!

Recipe courtesy of Maja's Viennese Kitchen

Friday, November 19, 2010

Brussel Sprouts Au Gratin

En fin, the recipe you've been waiting for: Brussel Sprouts Au Gratin! Yes, it's divine. Yes, it involves heavy cream, butter, and cheese. I justify these ingredients by practicing pratipaksha bhavanam (replacing a negative with a positive). For example, instead of saying "Oh boy, another doozie for my waistline" I flip it by saying something like "How fantastic for my waistline that Thanksgiving only comes but once a year." This dish was a crowd pleaser last year and I, for one, cherished the leftovers!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Grease an ovenproof dish with butter. Prepare an ice bath.

You'll need 2 pounds of brussel sprouts. Cook in boiling water for 5-8 minutes and then transfer them to an ice bath. Make sure to dry them once they're cool.

Slice 2 shallots and sauté them in a little white wine and butter until they're translucent and soft.

Now for the gratin. In a large bowl combine 2 T flour, 1 cup grated gruyere cheese, 2 T of parmesan cheese, 1 t of lemon zest, 2 t salt and 1/2 t pepper. Stir in 1 cup of heavy cream (remember, pratipaksha bhavanam)! Add your brussel sprouts and sautéed shallots.

For the topping you'll need 3 cups of bread crumbs (I'm a panko lover, but you can use fresh bread and make your own or simply use pre-made bread crumbs), 3 T unsalted room temperature butter, 1 1/2 t lemon zest, 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t pepper, and 2 T chopped parsley. Mix well.

Pour the gratin into your baking dish and sprinkle with the topping. Pop it into your oven and bake until it looks so heavenly and golden brown that you simply can't stand it anymore (about 35 minutes).


Recipe inspired by Williams Sonoma

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Farmers' Market Thanksgiving

Like everyone else, I'm too busy for my own good. In fact, just this morning it dawned on me that Thanksgiving isn't off somewhere in the friendly distance. Rather, it's right around the, next Thursday. Yikes. I'm cooking for my entire family....double yikes!

This year I've really outdone myself; I'm attempting to cook a mighty feast gathered entirely from the Union Square Farmers' Market. I decided that in honor of trying to live life consciously I'd like to know where all of my food grew up. Pulling off a locally-grown holiday is going to take gusto and courage.

The only way to enjoy a mildly stress-free holiday dinner is to plan ahead. I do most of the work in my mind–the location of all my strategizing and organizing and emotional breakdowns–so that the event can unfold with relative ease. (Now you know the subject of my meditation practice.)

Luckily I saved my menu from last Thanksgiving and have all of the recipes written down. Perusing the ingredients helped me to create my shopping list so I'm armed at the market. A timeline is helpful so I can squeeze my to-do list into my already hectic schedule.

First thing on the list? Order a turkey-lurkey! I asked the folks at DiPaola Turkey Farm a bunch of questions regarding how the birds are raised, what they eat and how they die, and I feel happy with my choice. You can order your turkey from DiPaola for $3.39/lb and pick it up the day before Thanksgiving.

Next thing on the list is to make a rough sketch of the menu, which includes some classics as well as a few special dishes (recipes coming soon)! I'm especially excited about the brussel sprouts au gratin! My mouth is watering already.

Homemade Stuffing
Cranberry Sauce
Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Carrots and Cauliflower
Roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Sugar
Brussel Sprouts Au Gratin
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pie

I know the upcoming week will be crazy but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I want nothing more than to savor and relish every moment of the craziness. I love the process just as much as the meal!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Embrace the Season

Every year I'm shocked to see Christmas trees adorning store windows while the rest of the world is dressed up for Halloween or ordering their turkeys. My reaction is always the same: surprise, disgust, distain, heartache. The Christmas season doesn't officially start until Santa rides in on his sleigh at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (everyone knows that). Christmas has invaded my present moment and threatens to subvert Thanksgiving from its rightful place on the holiday circuit. Team Christmas needs to just wait its turn.

I found solace in the windows at Balthazar–where I enjoy my ritual latte on the benches outside–whose displays are always simple, elegant and most importantly, seasonal.

I love the rustic berries and the earthy bread juxtaposed with the sophistication of this beloved Brasserie. It feels very personal and authentic to me and will be my inspiration for my Thanksgiving table!

What I love about decorating for the season is that you can use whatever nature offers you in that moment. A large glass vase or hurricane filled with tall branches would look beautiful on a Thanksgiving table and would allow guests to see each other under a canopy of colorful foliage. (In New York we have to pay top dollar for branches that some of you can just waltz right out into your own backyards and chop down, so get choppin'!) I enjoyed an amazing birthday dinner at Bouley where the tables were adorned with a few small gourds and a elegant. Fill an old bowl with pears and apples (an edible arrangement)! Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what we already have. Embrace the season!