Food Friday: ‘Tis the Season!

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These are busy days in the world famous Spy Test Kitchen. We have been super busy baking and stirring and slow-cooking. If you had stopped by on Tuesday you would have been impressed by our relentless good cheer, and our frenetic demeanor. ’Tis the season to be very busy and multitask!

Our first task was preparing some slow-cooker beef short ribs that Mr. Friday was going to prepare over the weekend. His best laid plans went awry, and the dinner fell to me. The first thing I had to do was excavate for the slow-cooker, which I eventually found on the floor of the pantry, behind the dog food storage container, next to the stash of Diet Dr. Pepper.

Here is Mr. Friday’s recipe for Slow-Cooker Beef Short Ribs:

Ingredients:
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 1/2 pounds boneless beef short ribs (Mr. Friday bought bone-in, sigh)
1/4 cup butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup beef broth
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons catsup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon chili powder

Directions:
Put flour, salt and pepper in a bag. Add the ribs and shake to coat.
Brown the ribs in butter in a large frying pan.
Put the ribs in the slow cooker.
Add onions and garlic to the frying pan, stirring until fragrant and translucent. Then add the rest of the ingredients, and bring to a boil. Pour the liquid over the ribs. Cover and cook for 9 hours.

I got a little nervous about leaving the meat for 9 hours, so after 7 hours, at 4:00, in the middle of cookie frenzy, I turned the slow cooker off for a couple of hours. When Mr. Friday strolled in at 6:30 he was greeted by a large quantity of steaming, fragrant ribs. My work was done.

Our little family is a bit scattered this Christmas. So I am facing unexpected control issues, and have felt the need to send nostalgic boxes of home-baked cookies to folks. I have mentioned that we moved this year – what I haven’t confessed is that we still have boxes of books in a storage unit. And in one of those Citizen Kane boxes is my batter-splattered, grease-flecked, rolled-in-flour copy of The Joy of Cooking, stuffed with a handful of index cards scrawled with ancestral recipes. To my great relief, I did unearth a little Christmas cookie recipe book I put together for a Christmas gift many years ago. In it was the family recipe for gingersnaps. This was my grandmother’s recipe:

Grandmama’s Gingersnaps
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.
Sift together the dry ingredients above. This is crucial – follow the steps here.
Add the dry ingredients to:
3/4 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

Mix thoroughly. Roll mixture into small balls and then roll the balls in a bowl of granulated sugar.
Flatten the balls onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets with a small glass.
Bake for 12-15 minutes. Cool on racks, although they are quite delicious with a nice cold glass of milk.

These immediately transported me to Connecticut in the 1960s.

And then there was the Chex Mix, which should make the Tall One and the Pouting Princess think of the Florida kitchen in the 1990s and the aughts. We never really followed the recipe on the package, except as a guideline for the amount of butter and the oven temperature. We tended to toss in a lot of different ingredients over the years, doubling the amount of pretzels, and sometimes using Slap Yo’ Mama instead of Lawry’s Seasoning Salt. We like goldfish, and honey nut Cheerios, and adding M&Ms after the mixture has cooled. You can have fun with it, too.

The Original Chex ™ Party Mix

3 cups each Corn Chex, Rice Chex, Wheat Chex
1 cup mixed nuts
1 cup bite-size pretzels
1 cup garlic-flavor bite-size bagel chips or regular-size chip, broken into 1-inch pieces (I doubt that this is a historically accurate recipe – for surely there were no bagel chips when I was little)
6 tablespoons butter or margarine (oh, puhlease, margarine?)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt (here is my plug for Lawry’s Seasoning Salt)
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

(Don’t even think about using the microwave.)

Pre-heat oven to 250° F. Put cereal and seasoning mixture into ungreased roasting pan and bake for 1 hour stirring every 15 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool, about 15 minutes.

(What we do, and I type with years of experience, is first melt the butter in the turkey roasting pan [so it gets used more than twice a year], and then add the Worcestershire sauce, the Lawry’s seasoning salt, and the onion and the garlic powders. Then we stir in the cereals, goldfish, pretzels, nuts, Cheerios, bacon bits, taco seasoning, marshmallows, Cheese-its, dried fruit, coconut, chocolate chips, cinnamon, sprinkles, wasabi peas, chow mein noodles, Cocoa Puffs, Cheetos, pecans, popcorn, animal crackers. You name it. (Obviously, things that melt get added last.)

Tuesday was a busy day. And today I am baking more cookies to get the boxes off the kitchen table and down to the post office. ’Tis the season indeed.

“In my South, the most treasured things passed down from generation to generation are the family recipes.”
― Robert St. John

Food Friday: Holiday Latkes

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We love potatoes. I imagine most quasi-normal people do. It is my life’s goal to find the world’s best French fries. Long ago I read a Calvin Trillin book about his travels in Italy one summer with Alice, where they wandered from village to village and market to market, sampling many foods, but primarily experiencing pommes frites and gelato. What bliss. Then I spent months trying to create the perfect pommes frites, as idealized by reading an entertaining book about travel and eating. I don’t know if I choose the wrong potatoes, or lacked basic Fry-o-later skills, but nothing ever seemed to capture the delight in eating fresh, blazingly hot, crispy double-fried frites as described in the book.

I have also tried for years to re-create Buffalo Chips, the deep-fried, British-style, thick slices of potato, that we had years ago at the Spring Garden Bar and Grill in Greensboro, North Carolina. The chips were the perfect side dish with their incredibly memorable Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, which is another dish I have never been able to repeat at home. I use a mandoline now for slicing the potatoes, so they are thinner and a little more uniform, and pleasant to look at, but they are never quite crispy and plumped-up as the ones we had years ago. (I have just visited the website, and find the steak sandwich is still on the menu, but no mention of the Buffalo Chips. This could be tragic news. If any of our Gentle Readers venture to Greensboro, please stop by and do some vital research for us… http://springgardenbarandpizzeria.com/) Perhaps the Buffalo Chips will be my madeleines…

We prepared vats of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, because it is the American thing to do, and because they would be repurposed for a few more days: as a significant component of the legendary Pilgrim Sandwich, as potato pancakes for a nice, leisurely breakfast to have with the Sunday paper, and they make a nice pie crust topping for the inevitable turkey pot pie. We are actually planning ahead when we boil up a bunch of extra taters for the holidays.

With Hanukkah starting next week, we threw ourselves into exhaustive research for latkes, which are a more forgiving variation on crispy, fried potatoes. It is easy to fry up extras, and then freeze them for future use. That way, if you have company for a Hanukkah meal, you are not stuck in the kitchen, while everyone else is enjoying your light touch and handiwork. Or, you can keep a stack or two in a warm oven, if you want to prepare them ahead of time and serve them in one fell swoop. French fries would never stand for that.

I appreciated the extra hint this time around to wring the grated potatoes in a dish cloth, twice, before mixing them with the egg, onion and the flour. That step made for lighter latkes. And I do not have a food processor, which I think would have reduced the time spent preparing the potatoes – but I did have a willing assistant who manfully grated the potatoes on the box grater, and managed to do it without scraping his own knuckles. There is nothing like holiday ritual meal for bringing everyone into the kitchen.

https://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/crispy-panko-potato-latkes/

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2012/12/adam-and-maxines-famous-latkes

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Potato-Latkes-104406 This is a good recipe for the gluten-free folks.

Happy Hanukkah!

“Still ours the dance, the feast, the glorious psalm; the mystic lights of emblem, and the word.”
– Emma Lazarus

Food Friday: It’s Fruitcake Weather!

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“Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pineapple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and on, so much flour, butter, so many eggs, spices, flavorings.”
-Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory

Fruitcake weather! It is an ineffable moment when the air cools, the leaves are falling and the light changes from summer golds and yellows to winter whites and grays. The slant of the light is different; more oblique. Truman Capote’s cousin Sook could tell us for sure. Sunsets speed across the back yard. Their dark flat shadows race over the fallen leaves and the sad pumpkin I have tossed out near the birdbath, hoping to lure squirrels into Luke the wonder dog’s line of sight. Dark falls abruptly.

Earlier this year we moved into a little house that has 5 towering pecan trees in the back yard. Luke and I wander around, picking up windfall pecans. We toss the ones tested and deemed unworthy by the squirrels into the yard of the vacant house next door. And now we have collected a big old bucket o’pecans. And what exactly are we going to do with them?

It is time for the great fruitcake experiment. Though we have never been a fruitcake family. When I was small my mother kept a fruitcake on the dining room sideboard with the ancestral tea set, just in case someone came calling and asked for fruitcake. She might have been ahead of her time, and it might have been the same fruitcake, wrapped up with the Christmas ornaments, and hauled up to the attic every January, and brought down again the following December. I don’t know. It is a great mystery, lost to the ages.

We were a family who glommed onto other families’ traditions. Cinematic families, that is. I feel sure we didn’t decorate our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, because that was what the Bailey family did in It’s a Wonderful Life. Also, the Brougham family in The Bishop’s Wife. We did not have a business-suited angel who helped decorate, however. Instead, my mother employed child labor. Merrily I strung garlands and tinsel up the banisters, over the mantels and on windowsills waiting for a miraculous transformation of silvered ornaments and a Hollywood designer’s vision of domestic perfection to appear.

My introduction to Truman Capote’s family Christmas traditions came when we watched and (my mother wept through) A Christmas Memory, a filmed version of Truman Capote’s short story. And even though my mother had bravely attempted fancy cooking because of Julia Child’s benevolent television presence, she was not moved to try baking fruitcake. Instead we continued to bake sugar cookies and gingersnaps at Christmas.

This year I need to find some justification for the time that Luke and I spend out in the back yard, kicking up leaves and hunting for pecans, while we are really bird watching and taking a break from the drawing board. And maybe we will find a field for some kite flying.

Fruitcake Inspired by Truman Capote’s Cousin Sook

Ingredients
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped candied orange peel
½ cup chopped candied ginger
½ cup dark raisins
½ cup golden raisins
1 cup pecans that have been lightly roasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts that have been lightly roasted and coarsely chopped
1½ cups white sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon orange extract

Directions
Preheat oven to 325° F. Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan.
2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add orange peel, ginger, raisins, pecans and walnuts and toss to coat.
3. In electric mixer beat sugars and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add extracts.
4. Add dry ingredients and fold until just combined. The batter will resemble chocolate chip cookie dough.
5. Spoon batter into pan. Smooth the top. Bake until cake is golden and tester  —  I use a long, very thin wooden skewer  —  comes out clean. Start testing after 1½ hours. Cool cake on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pan and cool completely.

http://zesterdaily.com/cooking/capote-inspires-a-fresh-take-on-christmas-fruitcake/

“If you please, Mr. Haha, we’d like a quart of your finest whiskey.”
His eyes tilt more. Would you believe it? Haha is smiling! Laughing, too.
“Which one of you is a drinkin’ man?”
“It’s for making fruitcakes, Mr. Haha. Cooking.”
This sobers him. He frowns. “That’s no way to waste good whiskey.”
― Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory

A Christmas Memory: http://www.sailthouforth.com/2009/12/christmas-memory.html

The Bishop’s Wife: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039190/

It’s a Wonderful Life:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/?ref_=nv_sr_2

Food Friday: Love Those Leftovers!

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We have taken the Spy Test Kitchen on the road this year, so we are recycling a column that seems to run almost every Thanksgiving. NPR has Susan Stamberg’s mother-in-law’s cranberry relish, we at the Spy have The Tall One’s Pilgrim Sandwich. Gobble, gobble!

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish: https://food52.com/recipes/38994-mama-stamberg-s-cranberry-relish

I hold Calvin Trillin in very high esteem, as my friends who have often been buttonholed with me badly re-telling his witty food and family travel tales, can tell you. But I think he is way off the mark when he posits that the national dish for Thanksgiving should be spaghetti carbonara. Really? Where is the fun in that?

http://www.rlrubens.com/Thanksgiving.html

Thanksgiving at our house was an exclusive affair this year, as my Gentle Readers know. There were just the four of us, and a 23.59 pound turkey. And here we are, the day after Thanksgiving. Post-parade, post-football, post-feast. Also post-washing up. Heavens to Betsy, what a lot of cleaning up there was. And the fridge is packed with mysterious little bundles of leftovers. We continue to give thanks that one of our visiting college students is an incessant omnivore. He will plow systematically through Baggies of baked goods, tin foiled-turkey bits, Saran wrapped-celery, Tupperwared tomatoes and wax papered-walnuts. The Pesky Pescatarian dispatched her piece of swordfish with efficiency and aplomb, which is mysterious, since she had a tuna sandwich for lunch and the Tall One abstained from a mid-day meal…

It was not until the Tall One was in high school that his abilities were honed and polished with ambitious zeal. His healthy personal philosophy is, “Waste not, want not.” A sentiment I hope comes from generations of hardy New Englanders as they plowed their rocky fields, dreaming of candlelit feasts and the iPhone 8s of the future.

I have watched towering constructions of food rise from the plate as he constructs interesting arrangements of sweet, sour, crunchy and umami items with the same deliberation and concentration once directed toward Lego projects. And I am thankful that few of these will fall to the floor and get walked over in the dark. Of course, there is the dog, Luke, so nothing much makes it to the floor.

I read that swan might have been the main course at the first Thanksgiving. How very sad. I have no emotional commitment to turkeys, and I firmly belief that as beautiful as swans are, swans are mean and would probably peck my eyes out if I didn’t feed them every scrap of bread in the house. Which means The Tall One would go hungry. A veritable conundrum.

The Pilgrim Sandwich is the Tall One’s magnum opus. It is his turducken without the histrionics. It is a smorgasbord without the Swedish chef. It is truly why we celebrate Thanksgiving.
This is a pretty feeble Pilgrim Sandwich recipe. 
http://cbsop.com/recipes/the-pilgrim-sandwich/

This is way too fancy and cloying with fussy elements – olive oil for a turkey sandwich? Hardly. You have to use what is on hand from the most recent Thanksgiving meal – to go out to buy extra rolls is to break the unwritten rules of the universe. There are plenty of Parker House rolls in your bread box right this minute – go use them up!
 http://www.rachaelray.com/recipe.php?recipe_id=4202

And if you are grown up and sophisticated, here is the answer for you. Fancy Thanksgiving leftovers for a grown up brunch: http://www.saveur.com/article/Menu/A-Brunch-For-The-Day-After-Thanksgiving
Here are The Tall One’s ingredients for his signature Pilgrim Sandwich:
Toast (2 slices)
Turkey (2 slices)
Cranberry Sauce (2 teaspoons)
Gravy (2 tablespoons)
Mashed Potatoes (2 tablespoons)
Stuffing (2 tablespoons)
Barbecue Sauce (you can never have too much)
Bacon (if there is some hanging around)
Mayonnaise (if you must)
Lettuce (iceberg, for the crunch)
Celery stalk (more crunch)
Salt, pepper

And now I am taking the dog for a run before I consider making my own.

Dan Pashman, who hosts the highly amusing and informative podcast, The Sporkful, thought that the run-of-the-mill Pilgrim Sandwich was a little too bready, and he has a brilliant alternative notion: fry up some of the leftover stuffing, à la hash brown patties, to make a new vehicle for holding all the turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and gravy together. Brilliant! I do not believe that spaghetti carbonara would taste as good today, unless perhaps, it was enclosed in some fried stuffing patties…
http://www.sporkful.com/thanksgiving-is-for-eaters-with-amy-sedaris-2/

“The Indians were so disgusted that on the way back to their village after dinner one of them made a remark about the Pilgrims that was repeated down through the years and unfortunately caused confusion among historians about the first Thanksgiving meal. He said, ‘What a bunch of turkeys!’ ”
-Calvin Trillin

Food Friday: Thanksgiving Blast Off!

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Here we are, poised on the cusp of Thanksgiving planning, and the countdown is blithely ticking away. The grocery store is going to be nuts this weekend, so if you have been assigned a Thanksgiving task, you better get out there early on Saturday and stake your claim on the mixed nuts, the fancy crackers, the yams, or the organic, farm raised green beans. I hope to high heaven that you have reserved your bird! Otherwise you will be stuck with a frozen Butterball, which you will need to start thawing on Monday.

Are you hosting this year? I was poking around in a kitchen drawer the other day and found the still-wrapped-in-cellophane package of festive holiday cocktail napkins I had bought for last year’s Thanksgiving, and never remembered to use. At least I am still prepared on that level of middle class etiquette. Though no one noticed the lack of finger bowls last year, either. I must have raised a pack of wolves.

Have you thought about a centerpiece? I am always a big fan of using what is at hand, instead of getting fancy with flowers. I always think you can never have too many candles – which puts us in the camp of people who eat Thanksgiving as dinner, and not as a football halftime event. I use an apple corer to make hole in apples, pears, pumpkins,cabbages and squash. I like using low candles so we can see each other across the table. Candlelight can be so flattering. I know I look better in the golden glow, and the shadows mask all our wobbly bits. There is so much to be thankful for!

This year we are traveling, as our Gentle Readers may remember from last week. We have been assigned to pick the turkey up on Wednesday. We will be bringing wine and years of Thanksgiving cooking expertise. This is the first time our daughter has cooked Thanksgiving. I was telling a visiting carpenter about our plans earlier this week. His personal cautionary tale was not the usual rhubarb of turkey woe. For his first Thanksgiving as the chef, he conferred in the kitchen with his experienced grandmother, who inspected the turkey for offending giblet packages. She said that the bird was ready for stuffing. A few hours later, once the turkey had been roasted and basted and brought to the table to be carved, they found the turkey neck still inside the bird. Granny had not been as thorough as she thought. Let that be a lesson to you! It was a teachable, memorable moment and it was better than the textbook case of trying to cook a frozen turkey. I promise to be alert to potential disaster. I will check both ends of the bird.

Since it is my job in the venerable Spy Test Kitchen to keep up with cooking trends and Thanksgiving hints, I have been rooting around the internets looking for helpful ideas to pass on to you. I hope you have been paying attention:

1. Buy your crucial Thanksgiving ingredients this weekend – Thursday morning is no time to go shopping
2. Have your parents buy the fresh, organic, free-range turkey and a case of wine
3. Remove the giblets AND the turkey neck
4. Buy lots of flattering candles
5. Cocktail napkins and finger bowls are optional
6. Buy a keg of beer – it makes perfect sense
http://www.thekitchn.com/why-you-should-get-a-keg-for-thanksgiving-250994?

Have a fabulous Thanksgiving. Play nicely. Give sincere thanks. Blast off!

Here are a few Thanksgiving toasts.

“Here’s to alcohol, the rose-colored glasses of life.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” – Henry David Thoreau
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
– Marcel Proust

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
– John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” 
― Oscar Wilde

Food Friday: We Say Potatoes

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I’ve confessed before that my favorite part of Thanksgiving is the leftover turkey sandwich. After burning through all that cooking energy, and surviving peril-fraught gavotte with relatives and siblings and in-laws, I like walking into the kitchen alone, and making a nice turkey sandwich. It is a total WASP sandwich – with none of the embellishments that my son, the Tall One, enjoys. Give me two slices of Pepperidge Farm white bread, a small swipe of mayonnaise, and a scattering of salt and pepper. A little handful of Ruffles potato chips and the last dregs of the Beaujolais. Yumsters. It is as enjoyable to assemble and devour as any comfort food that someone else could lovingly prepare. It never disappoints. It is bland and consistent.

The Tall One trowels anything that been on the dining room table onto his leftovers sandwich. He has even been known to smush a crescent roll between the slices of bread, where it pads out the turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, pickles, limp lettuce leaves, a couple of green beans and a generous schmear of mashed potato. I don’t think he has ever added after-dinner mints or pumpkin pie slivers, but he is young and hungry and has a passion for out-doing himself every year. Excelsior, Tall One!

We have always been a mashed potato family at Thanksgiving. We have looked askance at sweet potatoes, except as pie ingredients. But this year our former nuclear family is scattered. The Tall One is spending the holiday with his new in-laws, where he is sure to astound and amaze with his capacity to consume Pilgrim Sandwiches. We are traveling to visit the Pouting Princess, who will be cooking her first Thanksgiving dinner. She is a former vegetarian and pescatarian, and now consumes many seeds. It will be a memorable meal.

We all lovingly remember her first Thanksgiving coming home from college. She was newly vegetarian – not yet vegan, so we tried to be sensitive. We did not use chicken broth when we made the mashed potatoes. I can’t recall all the restrictions, but I am pretty sure we were allowed to use milk and butter in the mashing process. Imagine our surprise, then, when we sat down at the table, crammed with heirloom silver and wine bottles and candles and extra elbows, as we gazed with amazement as she poured a steaming lake of turkey gravy into her Richard Dreyfuss-inspired mountain of mashed potatoes. Yes, Thanksgiving stories like that are golden memories that we love to recall year after year.

Mashed potatoes are good hot the first time around, lukewarm on sandwiches, and reheated as potato pancakes on Saturday morning.These mashed potatoes from Bon Appétit can be prepared the night before Thanksgiving. It is always a good bet to have one steaming hot dish squared away before plunging into the kitchen battlefield. Another thing these potatoes have going for them is that you do NOT have to peel them. If you have a potato ricer. Quick – get on line with Amazon right now! Though adding garlic is something we won’t do – we are purists, but you might be more open-minded than we are. Go for it. We are the Blandings. https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/ultra-creamy-mashed-potatoes

Another recipe calling for a ricer – yet insisting that you peel first – is from our friends at Food52. To them, the mashed potatoes are a canvas on which you can paint dreams of lusciousness. Surely those pipe dreams are better spent on dessert? https://food52.com/blog/11703-how-to-make-mashed-potatoes-without-a-recipe It is a good recipe to re-read in case you are separated from your smartphone and need to improvise making the potatoes to prove to your Aunt Regina that you are indeed a grown up, and know how to do more than order take out. As I said, Thanksgiving can be fraught.

If you have your own vegan coming home from college this year, try this recipe: https://minimalistbaker.com/the-best-damn-vegan-mashed-potatoes/

A long time ago, when my brother was the family mashed potato person, he peeled the potatoes, quartered them, and cooked them in boiling water until tender. The he dropped the cooked potatoes into a big yellow ware bowl, added several tablespoons of butter, and mashed them with the electric hand mixer. Once the biggest lumps were smashed he would pour in a dribble of fresh whole milk, a little at a time, mixing at a low speed until all the lumps disappeared. He was the mashed potato whisperer. Milk, butter, salt and pepper and potatoes. Simple, bland, delicious. No garlic. No potato ricer. Classic stuff.

“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
― A.A. Milne

Other potato ideas from Bon Appétit: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/thanksgiving-mashed-potatoes

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZ3fjQa5Hls

Food Friday: Portable Pears for Thanksgiving

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Countdown to Thanksgiving! 20 days!

Since there is a still a large bowl brimming with Halloween Baby Ruths, Butterfingers and Nestlé Crunch bars in our front hall, it might be a little early to start thinking about Thanksgiving. Or is it? Over at Martha’s, her cowering staff is probably tinkering with Easter jelly bean recipes. But in the venerated Spy Test Kitchens we are grappling with the weighty questions of dessert and wine for our contribution to Thanksgiving. These are two of our favorite problems to solve. Obviously.

We are taking a road trip with half of America for Thanksgiving this year. And since we will not have access to a kitchen en route, our dessert must be made ahead of time, and it must travel well. Desserts are pretty hardy, and remain delicious even if they get a little shopworn after spending six hours on I-95. I think it best not to count on bringing something with a beautiful glistening flawless surface, or towering and multi-layer. Admittedly you could reassemble your creation at the last minute just when the green beans beans are losing steam and the gravy is getting cold and the hosts are worn to a frazzle. Not good guest behavior, though.

Starting with the mundane – we could bring a traditional pumpkin pie. Or we could stop at Trader Joe’s and pick one up; they have a deft hand with pie crust, and I surely do not. But store-bought doesn’t scream love, or paying attention to detail. What I could do instead, is stop at Trader Joe’s for some heavy cream to whip up while the stuffing is being prepped. And then at the proper moment I can bring out the bowl of lovely sworling peaks of deliciousness, and apply generous lashings to plates of homemade dessert. There is almost nothing that whipped cream can’t improve.

I am thinking about pears this year. Pears always seem autumnal. They come in such a beautiful variety of colors. A few pears in an orderly line on the mantle piece, or up the middle of the dining room table, make a lovely simple decorations. And when the meal is finished, and the last coffee cup has been whisked away, a pear makes an effective palate cleaner. A light, juicy non-alcoholic digestif.

There are many kinds of pears: Green Anjou, Red Anjou, Bartlett, Red Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Concorde, Forelle, Seckel and Stark Crimson. Feel free to research the more obscure. https://www.thespruce.com/pear-varieties-2216839

Anjous, Bartletts, Boscs and Asian pears are deelish eaten raw. Bosc and Anjous are excellent for holding their shape when cooked. Bartlett pears are perfect for sauces, or butters. Vivian Howard, who never wastes the tiniest bit of food potential, has an excellent recipe for the otherwise unloved Keiffer pear: Kieffer Pear Preserves: http://www.pbs.org/food/features/a-chefs-life-season-5-episode-4-food-truck-pear-tree/

This is a delightful dessert that should travel well: https://www.marthastewart.com/1165261/pear-cranberry-tart It will echo the cranberry jelly already on the table, only without the Ocean Spray trademark of can ridges along the surface. It is elegant.

Depending on your relationship with your family, you can bring this version of flourless chocolate cake. It does not call for a shimmering skin of chocolate ganache, but it does require for cricket flour. Won’t you be a hit with the youngsters! http://usapears.org/recipe/chocolate-cricket-decadence-cake/ (There is not enough whipped cream in the world for me to eat this cake.)

The easiest-peasiest: pear-blueberry crumble. It is the most likely to shine with heaps of whipped cream and it has no delusions about holding its shape. https://www.thespruce.com/fresh-pear-cobbler-3053813

Here is the most labor intensive, but absolutely delicious pie that would be a hit at Thanksgiving. It also doesn’t have any hard-to-find ingredients, a major plus in my cooking book. I do not want to drive for 45 minutes to find an obscure (and expensive) spice. Gingered Cranberry-Pear Pie: https://food52.com/recipes/24820-gingered-cranberry-pear-pie It is fun to roll the pie dough out on the crumbled gingersnaps, though! Mostly because you need to test some of the smashed gingersnaps. Lots and lots of testing…

And what if your assignment and contribution to Thanksgiving should be a cocktail? Fabulous! Lucky you! Here is a pear nectar and tequila cocktail that should burnish your reputation for being a great guest: Pear Nectar and Reposado Tequila Cocktail

INGREDIENTS
1 ½ oz reposado tequila
3-4 ounces pear nectar
Tiny dash of cinnamon
One drop vanilla extract
Light drizzle of honey
Half of a lemon, juiced
Cinnamon stick, to garnish (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Fill a double old-fashioned or high ball glass with ice.
2. Pour in the tequila and pear nectar. Add the cinnamon, vanilla and honey to the glass. Squeeze in half a lemon’s worth of juice.
3. Mix by pouring into a cocktail shaker or another glass, give it a shake or stir well, then pour it back into the original glass. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.
https://cookieandkate.com/2011/holiday-cocktail-pear-and-resposado-tequila/

“A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do.”
– P.J. O’Rourke

Food Friday: DIY Mac & Cheese

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It is time to get a grip on our ridiculous expectations. Do not give into temptation. There are so many slippery slopes on which we can easily glide. You know me – I hate to set foot in the kitchen during the summer months, except on my way to the refrigerator. I encourage my over-worked partner in his grilling enthusiasm, because I am basically lazy. And I firmly believe that food prepared by other people inevitably tastes better.

When I read that Whole Foods is planning a new, self-service macaroni and cheese bar I had to stop and take a deep breath. I do not normally shop at Whole Foods, but I was visiting family recently, and stopped in to get a handful of flowers and some breakfast items. Already deeply ashamed that I had forgotten to bring my own reusable, organic, hand-made shopping bag, I stood in line, clutching my hydrangeas and a large plastic container of blueberry muffins. The mommy in front of me, clad in stylish yoga leggings, with an enviable balayage-streaked hairdo, swiped her sapphire credit card through the card reader for her triple-digit tab. I wasn’t that nosy that I was looking at the precious organic foods that she had hunted and gathered, but I was rather taken aback by her snarling at the store clerk. She demanded the credit for having schlepped in her own bags. At about 5¢ a bag I really couldn’t see her savings. Or see the spirituality guiding her after her yoga session. I wanted to hand her a quarter. But that would have called attention to my sleep-tousled hair and my rather shabby Old Navy leggings. I was a poseur at the fancy grocery store, but at least I was nice to the clerk when my time finally came to check out. $12 hydrangeas were looking fine to me.

Am I going to sashay into Whole Foods and buy enough pre-cooked macaroni and cheese to feed a family, just because they have gone and cooked it, and surrounded it with a variety of amuse bouche taste sensations? Never! I will, however, go in and steal all their ideas. Because, as Pete Seeger once said, “Plagiarism is basic to all culture.” You read it here!

The new mac and cheese bar is being installed at a new Whole Foods in Denver in November. With six varieties of macaroni and plenty of add-ons, including pulled pork BBQ and roasted tomatoes. http://www.sfgate.com/food/article/whole-foods-mac-n-cheese-bar-tower-denver-12299853.php#photo-14022231 At $9.99 a pound, about par for the Whole Paycheck scale, I say we can do this at home and save a little money, as well as our dignity. Comfort food is best eaten in your jimjams. And look – Whole Foods even has a recipe for our “nostalgia favorite”. https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/macaroni-and-cheese

Ingredients: 
8 ounces dried small whole wheat or spelt elbow macaroni
1 (12-ounce) jar red and yellow roasted peppers, drained
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic
2 cups low-fat (1%) milk
2 tablespoons wheat or spelt flour
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cook macaroni according to package directions and drain well. Meanwhile, cut peppers into quarters and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add mustard, cayenne, and garlic and process until smooth. 

Transfer mixture to a small pot and whisk in milk and flour. Cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened. Stir in cooked and drained macaroni and 3/4 cup of the cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer macaroni mixture to a 9×9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until browned and bubbly. Serve hot.

Now, you might be from the macaroni and cheese casserole side of the universe, and you like to have a little traditional crunch in your hot cheesiness: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/mac-and-cheese-cracker-crumble

To make your DIY Mac & Cheese shine, consider a couple of these add ons:
Bacon
Ham
More cheese – how about some freshly grated Parmesan?
Jalapeños
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Tomatoes
Scallions
Roasted red peppers
Fried onions (not just for Thanksgiving green bean casseroles!)
Shredded BBQ (steal from the best)
Chili
Lobster
Hot sauce
Truffle oil
Sour cream
Potato chips (just imagine the crunch!)
Crab
Sliced steak
Hot dog slices
Old Bay
Peas
Mushrooms
Artichoke hearts
Cilantro
(Don’t forget to rummage around the fridge and assess your leftovers.)

And now you will need to re-invest in draw string pants. Yumsters!

And if you live in New York City, you have a variety of mac & cheese restaurants from which to choose!
https://www.villagevoice.com/2013/10/30/the-10-best-macaroni-and-cheeses-in-nyc/

“‘You don’t make a friend,’ Jacob said with a scowl. ‘It’s not like they come with directions like you’d find on a box of macaroni and cheese.'”
-Jodi Picoult

Food Friday: Avoid the Pumpkin Pie Spices

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With falling leaves come clattering acorns and thumping pecans. Fall also heralds the marketing of all things pumpkin spice-y. It is much too early to consider the pumpkin, or the pumpkin pie spices, now a seasonal meme. Wait for November. As a matter of fact, wait for Thanksgiving. We’ve got another month before we have to bake pumpkin pies, pumpkin breads or anything vaguely related to that large orange gourd, except Halloween. Until then, lets just eat cake.

Once again the New York Times provided the temptation: Lemon Spice Visiting Cake
https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018963-lemon-spice-visiting-cake (recipe in full below)

I topped off our warm slices with a generous schmear of lemon curd, which should be a required condiment placed on every table, right next to the catsup bottle. Yumsters.

Our cake lasted through the work week, with slices for dessert for lunches and dinners. Toward the end I even had a nice slab toasted for breakfast one morning. It is the perfect cake for a week of fine dining, as well as being a good traveling cake, if you are inclined to bake one and bring it to share it with anyone.

Martha has a recipe for a lemon pound cake, which make two loaves. So you can keep one at home for those midnight snacks while chilling and watching Netflix, while still selflessly giving one away. If you are that kind of person. Martha’s recipe also doesn’t have the expensive spices found in the New York Times recipe. I was shocked, shocked at how expensive the cardamon was at my grocery store – and I was NOT shopping at Whole Paycheck. There were two from which to choose, and I picked the less pricey, $7.79 tiny, little bottle. I will have to find a lot of uses for cardamon this holiday baking season.

https://www.marthastewart.com/344409/glazed-lemon-pound-cake

Epicurious has a nice and easy recipe for Honey and Spice Loaf Cake – with spices we all have on hand, like cinnamon and ground ginger and ground cloves; perilously close to being pumpkin pie spices. If you are anything like me you will reconsider the wisdom of including raisins. (In our house we don’t bake healthy oatmeal raisin cookies, we prefer the much more palatable oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe. To each their own!)
https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/honey-and-spice-loaf-cake-102698

Consider what is really in your pumpkin pie spices. Not pumpkin. According to Wikipedia, pumpkin spice contains:

18 parts ground cinnamon
4 parts ground nutmeg
4 parts ground ginger
3 parts ground cloves
3 parts ground allspice

And now take a gander at this NPR story from 2014: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/11/19/365213805/just-what-is-in-pumpkin-spice-flavor-hint-not-pumpkin

My $7.79 bottle of cardamon is looking good!

Lemon Spice Visiting Cake

Butter and flour for the pan
1 ½ cups (204 grams) all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 ¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
1 large (or 2 small) lemons
4 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup (120 ml.) heavy cream, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 ½ tablespoons (77 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
⅓ cup marmalade (for optional glaze)
½ teaspoon water (for optional glaze)

1.Center a rack in the oven, and preheat it to 350. Butter an 8 1/2-inch loaf pan (Pyrex works well), dust with flour and tap out the excess. (For this cake, bakers’ spray isn’t as good as butter and flour.) Place on a baking sheet.

2.Whisk the 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, cardamom, ginger and salt together.

3.Put the sugar in a large bowl, and grate the zest of the lemon(s) over the sugar. Squeeze the lemon(s) to produce 3 tablespoons juice, and set this aside. Using your fingers, rub the sugar and zest together until the mixture is moist and aromatic. One at a time, add the eggs, whisking well after each. Whisk in the juice, followed by the heavy cream. Still using the whisk, gently stir the dry ingredients into the batter in two additions. Stir the vanilla into the melted butter, and then gradually blend the butter into the batter. The batter will be thick and have a beautiful sheen. Scrape it into the loaf pan.

4.Bake for 70 to 75 minutes (if the cake looks as if it’s getting too dark too quickly, tent it loosely with foil) or until a tester inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer to a rack, let rest for 5 minutes and then carefully run a blunt knife between the sides of the cake and the pan. Invert onto the rack, and turn over. Glaze now, or cool to room temperature.

5.For the glaze: Bring the marmalade and water to a boil. Brush the glaze over the top of the warm cake, and allow to it to set for 2 hours. The glaze will remain slightly tacky.

6.When the cake is completely cool, wrap in plastic to store. If it’s glazed, wrap loosely on top.

“Debbie had to get up and slice me a thick piece of cake before she could answer. And I do mean thick. Harry Potter volume seven thick. I could have knocked out a burglar with this piece of cake. Once I tasted it, though, it seemed just the right size.”
― Maureen Johnson