Our local bear has been having her Thanksgiving a little early. Maybe she’s just tired of soggy vegetation, preferring, as she seems to do, the ammonia-doused bag and bin alternative. Ever notice that while there are many advertisements for squirrel proof feeders, there’s nary a one that claims to discourage our neighbor the bear? Now that would be something to be thankful about.
Around here, checklists are being prepared, staples are being checked, chairs are being counted and tried and true recipes evaluated for replacement by something new that might perk things up. One can seek perfection repeatedly without being discouraged. Annually, I find a solution for one vexation, incorporate some useful and novel kitchen hack only to stumble over new dilemma. I would be most thankful if it is only one time.
In addition to getting stuffed ourselves, we serve stuffing. If there’s an opening or a cavity of any kind, cooks like to fill it up. Our old friends, the Romans, were especially fond of the process. Among the things that they stuffed for their tables, number a small furry-tailed rodent called a dormouse. I am grateful that this particular stuffed morsel did not get incorporated into our November festivities. Where there are cooks, there are debates. Some concerning the stuffing of turkeys. One consideration is that of cooking the stuffing thoroughly given its incarceration within the bird. Another is the limited amount of stuffing available if one uses the size of the turkey as the determinate. We’ve collected the recommendations and solutions of many celebrated chefs (to whom we are grateful) which are available on the website under Roast Turkey.
One of Johnny Carson’s funniest quips about these festivities was when he said “Thanksgiving was an emotional holiday in which people traveled thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. Then they discover that once a year was way too often”. What he didn’t say, was that no matter the differences or the difficulties, they would all do it again the following year. Ritual holidays are just that, rituals to be indulged in, rebelled against, added to and let slide into oblivion. What would you nominate for oblivion? I fully understand that it is heresy in some places, but marshmallows would be high on my list.
As you might expect, there are slews of recipes suitable fr a Thankgiving table on the market website. Give it a try and you’ll find the likes of: Roast Turkey (complete with a list of shortcuts, and hints to managing the big bird.), Maple Pumpkin Pie, Farro Stuffing, Vanilla Bean Whipped Sweet Potatoes and at least a dozen Cranberry Sauces. In hopes of adding to my list of things to be thankful for this year, we’re sharing a recipe for Green Beans with Lemon and Pine Nuts, one uncomplicated dish for this year’s table. Happy Thanksgiving.
The Shinshank Redemption
It’s that time again. Even those of us most capable of denial must face the fact that winter is near. Fireplaces are in use again for both heat and comfort. There may yet be one more major round up of fallen leaves. The holidays, their anticipation and their attendant frenzy, are right around the corner. Slowly, all things are being battened down for our annual period of quiescence. A time to indulge in long slow, enriching processes that might include finally reading Moby Dick, or a marathon re-watching of Brideshead Revisited. Perhaps because it’s a time for staying closer to home, many kitchens begin to give off deep rich aromas of long, slow-cooked dishes such as soups, stews and braises thet nourish and satisfy.
The phrase “tender at the bone” has long had a presence in the culture of our table. There are real scientific reasons behind the phrase. Meat cooked on the bone benefits from some unique properties. The bone’s presence during the cooking process changes both the flavor and texture of the meat. Bones contain a gelatin of albumen and collagen which creates substance and taste differences in the dish. The bone itself acts as a conductor of heat within the meat so that the meat is cooked from both the outside and the inside of the particular cut, which conveys the heat more evenly and it prevents the meat from drying out and avoids excessive shrinking. A generation or two ago, Italian-American grandmothers wouldn’t have dreamed of making chicken soup without the hens’ feet in the pot for these very reasons.
Nomenclature plays its own role in how we think about certain foods. Naturally, we all need a couple of dishes we can bring to the table without having spent too much time to do it. Yet for many the very term “fast food” is an oxymoron because it has become synonomous with big business’ quarterly profit goals rather than nutrition and taste. In some cases, one could truly question whether it qualifies as food at all. A more recent term that has appeared is “hack”. These days a hack is often a kitchen shortcut. For example: using a prepared blend of spices to sprinkle on chicken or fish; then roasting the seasoned pieces in an oven. Though you should always check for the amount of salt and non natural ingredients, it’s quick, effective and tasty meal that wasn’t mass produced in a factory.
Autumn seems to open some primal need for foods enhanced by a lanquid preparation. Which doesn’t necessary mean that it is a preparation that requires constant tending. One of the prime cooking methods that satisfies that desire is braising. We’ve talked here previously about braising and its riches. While it’s not a new process, the Italians were the first to bring in back to the forefront in the late 1980s with the advent of The Slow Food Movement. The elegant Italian Osso Buco is one such dish. There are stews of nearly every ethnicity. The French have given us cassoulets, fricassees, bouillabaisses and bourguignons. The North Africans contributed many tagines. The list includes Mexican chili, Brazilian feijoada, Belgium waterzooi, Russian stroganoff, Asian hot pots, Cajun gumbos, Hungarian goulashes, British jugged hare and Kentucky burgoo. The American favorite, pot roast, is a proud member of that same group.
As the winds pick up a chill and, assuming there is any water left in the skies after this last summer, as the snow looms, as the solstice draws closer, it is lovely to enjoy a few of those gratifying, frequently one pot meals. There are many braised dishes to be found on the market web site including: Stinco di Maiale, Braised Spiced Lamb Shanks, Braised Chicken and Fennel and Coq au Vin. This week we’ll add another recipe, Lamb Shanks Braised with Anise, Blood Oranges and Coconut Milk. It is easier than the name might sound as the cooking method does most of the work. Give it a try.
The Tart, Smart Cranberry
It would be hard not to be cheered by the brilliant cranberry. In these especially devisive days when we can use all the cheer we can find in our lives. That chipper berry, so often narrowly associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas, comes into the world white and slowly, as it matures, reddens. Surprisingly, it is one of only three fruits native to North America.
The Narragansetts, of what is now Rhode Island, were documented by the 1550s’ European immigrants as using the cranberry mixed with dried strips of meat and nuts in their pemmican which was the ancestral mother of all trail mixes. This is the form in which they introduced it to the Europeans who sent the cranberries back to England. By 1669, the cranberry had been acknowledged as a perfect accompaniment for another North American native, the wild turkey. Shortly, both berry and turkey were adopted into the British Christmas festivies with fervor and staying power. Ameila Simmons, our first celebrity chef, was teaching us how to make cranberry tarts in her cookbook, American Cookery, published in Hartford in 1796.
The name cranberry is a distortion of one of the English names: the craneberry. So called because the silhouette of its pink flower and stamen was reminiscent of another marshy inhabitant, the crane. Cranberries were also know as fenberries for the same reason; that is a fen is another English word for wetlands. Alternatively, some called them bearberries because those creatures seemed to have a particular fondness for the fruit. This, obviously, predates their attraction to birdfeeders and garbage.
Local northeastern natives also showed the incoming Europeans a thing or two about local natural dyes, among which was the prized cranberry. Knowledge is clearly a dangerous thing. Those somber, disapproving pilgrims unapparently had a trick or two hidden in their skirts. In 1633, the will of one Mary Ring instructed its executor to auction off several of her prized possessions, including a cranberry dyed petticoat which added the then considerable sum of 5 shillings to her estate. What else was concealed by all that grim dark clothing?
Contrary to popularly held convictions, the cranberry is not grown in water. It is instead a low evergreen bush, partial to low-lying terrain. Fields of cranberry bushes are flooded at harvest because the tiny air pockets inside the ripe berries make them float, and conseqently making the crop less labor intensive to gather. The cranberry is a superfruit with significant antioxidant properties. Cranberry tannins have provided laboratory evidence of anti-clotting properties and is thought to to play a role in preventing urinary tract infections. It also helps to prevent plaque build-up on teeth.
Slowly the cranberry is breaking out of its holiday model. Americans now consume 400 million pounds of cranberries per year, only 80 million of which are for Thanksgiving week. One of the most refreshing and festive (think 4th of July) drinks is half cranberry juice, half club soda with a slice of lime. The web site has many cranberry recipes including: Vanilla Bean and Cardamom Cranberry Sauce, Cranberry Lime Salsa and Cranberry Walnut Tart. It is true that the tart sweet taste of cranberries is a perfect foil for turkey, but try it with pork tenderloin, roast chicken or duck breast. Today’s recipe is for is for Cranberry-Blood Orange Glazed Ham, good for a crowd now and good for the holidays.