Monday, November 23, 2009

thanksgiving ideas 2009

little did i know of the dangers that lurked ahead...

We’re pretty much at the homestretch here – Thanksgiving is days (DAYS!) away and tensions are running high. Every year, I freak out that my turkey will be too dry, and every year, just like magic, it comes out perfect, so much so that there are barely any leftovers. And I, personally, love my turkey leftovers. I think I’m just anxious to get into the kitchen and get the actual dinner started. All in good time, I suppose. Until then, I am left to bite my knuckles in nervous anticipation.

escarole & pickled onion salad

Anxiety aside, I love hosting this holiday and cannot imagine not doing it. When we arrived to the US, it was the first real holiday I got to learn about, and I embraced it with a readiness and ardor only a freshly minted immigrant could procure. I wanted to learn everything that was quintessentially American, down to the most minute detail, and nothing screamed America to me more than a table displaying turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, pumpkin and apple pie. If my mother even so much as breathed a suggestion of serving a Russian salad alongside the traditional American dishes, I would shoot her a dirty look. I felt like she was sullying a holiday that was my instant passageway into assimilation and subsequent acceptance. When you’re a teenager and everything about you is awkward, being a foreigner with broken English and an accent is the last nail in the coffin of social suicide. I felt it keenly and perhaps was a bit overly concerned about it, but as we all remember when you’re 13, your issues feel like the weight of the world upon your shoulders. If I only knew then what I know now.

sweet potato salad

In my fervor and push to assimilate and prove my American-ness to everyone, but mostly, really, myself, I hijacked hosting it from the first year. Every year, I made my parents sit through a turkey dinner, tying this holiday upon their necks much a like a boulder-laden bib. Patiently, graciously, they complied with me. But somewhere along the way, we, somehow, grew into this holiday. It stopped being an exercise in trying to belong as the holiday finally grew to belong to us. And one year, and I’m not sure which year it was, the holiday was ours. Really, truly, wonderfully ours. And then we couldn’t remember what it felt like otherwise.

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

And perhaps, this is what I love the most about Thanksgiving – the part of belonging. No matter what religion or cultural background you are, Thanksgiving is for you. Unconcerned with gifts, it’s a holiday to gather with the people you love to celebrate the one thing we should perhaps do consciously every day – practice the act of gratitude. In a country full of immigrants and stories of wandering and arrival, this is a holiday to unite us all. Together, around a table, we partake in meal, share some laughs and hopefully give thanks for our lives. And there are so many things go be grateful for. Each one of us has his own list.

mushroom barley pie

This year, as pretty much every other year, I’m hosting Thanksgiving again (in other words, I am continuing hijacking the hosting duties, just try and pry it out of my hands!) and this time it’s for a party of 11 people (and my doorman!). For the first time since I moved to New York, nearly 9 years ago, my parents will be visiting me for the holiday, thus marking it our first Thanksgiving together in many years! Add to that, my practically next-door neighbor Sharon and her three cousins visiting New York, and my lovely friend Brita and her family and their dog, Oliver. And last, but not least Anna over at Very Small Anna needed someone to babysit her tortoise, Bowser, while she was out of town, and guess who volunteered? Full house, indeed! The heritage turkey’s been ordered months ago, and I can’t wait to pick it up on Wednesday.

sweet potato gnocchi

But, anxiety and dreams of assimilation aside, and many years that have passed, I wanted to share with you this year’s Thanksgiving menu because I’m very excited about it. Maybe it’ll give you a few ideas if you’re still searching for what to make. And if nothing on the menu calls to you, there are a few other suggestions below, which will, hopefully, strike a chord.

IMG_1198

And if nothing strikes a chord, then I want to thank you, my dear readers, for coming here and being my sounding board, my audience, my friends. I love this little space I’ve carved out and in the last 15 months or so it has grown even more dear to me than ever before. I am grateful for all of you and wish you all a lovely, warm, wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

2009 THANKSGIVING MENU
Porcini Mushroom Soup
Alton Brown’s (influenced) Turkey
Stuffing from Gourmet, Unbound (but will be vegetarian)
Olive Oil Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Pumpkin Bread Pudding Souffle
Escarole Salad with Pickled Onions (recipe coming soon!)
Cranberry Sauce (recipe coming soon!)
Julia Moskin’s Corn (as seen on The Wednesday Chef)
Roasted Acorn Squash with Cilantro Dressing
Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts
Cumin-Roasted Parsnips (recipe coming soon!)
Apple-Cranberry Pie with Honey-Bourbon Caramel
Pine Nut Tart with Rosemary (from Claudia Fleming – recipe coming soon!)

OTHER SOUP IDEAS:
curried carrot ginger soup

Chestnut Apple Soup
Curried Carrot Ginger Soup with Pepitas, Cilantro Oil and a Homemade Spicy Marshmallow
Roasted Pumpkin Soup
Red Pepper Soup

OTHER SALAD IDEAS:
fennel tangerine salad
Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Black Beans and Chili Dressing
Fennel Tangerine Salad
Apple Celery Salad with Candied Pecans

OTHER VEGETABLE DISHES:
roasted acorn squash stuffed with spiced couscous in a wine reduction sauce

Pomegranate Molasses Glazed Eggplant
Cream Braised Cabbage with Leeks
Glazed Pearl Onions in Port
Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Onions and Lemon Zest
Roasted Acorn Squash with a Wine Reduction Sauce
Spiced Glazed Carrots
Mushroom Farro Pie (at Gourmet, Unbound)
Sweet Potato Gnocchi

FOR THE DAY AFTER:
hazelnut chestnut cake

Hazelnut Chestnut Cake
Pumpkin Swirl Brownies
Turkey Salad (THE best salad for those turkey leftovers!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

escarole & pickled onion salad

escarole & pickled onion salad

I am willing to bet that while most of you are googling Thanksgiving recipes for Thursday, you’re not looking up salads. Am I right? Did call you out on shunning the greens? I guess there are plenty of other days in the year to eat salad, so maybe this is why it generally gets overlooked the last Thursday of each November. Who wants salad, when there’s turkey, and stuffing and soup and pie? Besides, November isn’t exactly a month when you wake up and think, “Salad! Now that’s an idea!” – salad’s more of a summer pastime. Stews and soups replace no-cook meals. Fall’s rule of thumb is more – if you can cook it slow and long, you’ve got yourself a winner.

escarole & pickled onion salad

However, this is where I have to say, “Yes, but…” and tell you that this salad here is – well, it is beyond what you’d expect. Simply put – you must make it. For this Thanksgiving, if you can. It’s my new favorite salad and will carry me through months of winter when my crunchy green vegetable consumption plummets. And if you think I’ve been waxing too poetic about too many a recipe, you don’t have to take my word for it. Deb of Smitten Kitchen and Kristin over at The Kitchen Sink have been swooning over this salad as well.

escarole & pickled onion salad

And this salad is definitely swoon-worthy. Hearty escarole, crunchy pickled onions, pungent pecorino. Oh, and did I mention hazelnuts? I did just write about them, but so what, can’t they get a nod twice in one month? There’s just something about this salad, and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’ve fallen for it line, hook and sinker. It’s great as the main event, or a side, or as the main event, or.. wait, I think I’m repeating myself because, well, as I type this to you, my belly full of red coconut curry (more on that after Thanksgiving!), all I want to eat, right now, right this minute, is this salad.

escarole & pickled onion salad

The above endorsements aside, it’s not often that people asks for salad seconds and then thirds, and when you tell them there isn’t any more, pout. And then bring up that salad a week later at another dinner. I mean, it’s salad; it’s health food. It isn’t the sort of thing that inspires a fervent following. Except, it does. Salad groupies, anyone? Sign me up!

Continue reading escarole & pickled onion salad.

Friday, November 20, 2009

apple cranberry pie with honey-bourbon caramel

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

Everyone has their favorite pie. The one they swear by. The one they are tempted to make every Thanksgiving. And this is mine. There are pumpkin pie lovers and pecan pie lovers and sweet potato pie lovers. But for my money, nothing beats a good apple pie at the end of a great meal.

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramelfriendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel
friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramelfriendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

This entry has been a week in the making. A full week of me staring at the computer screen trying to say something meaningful and eloquent and a propos Thanksgiving. But here’s the rub – I’m so beyond eloquence where this pie is concerned, I’ve rewritten this oh, maybe twelve times? I’m not even joking. So let’s try something here for a change.

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramelfriendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

Apples.
Butter.
Honey.
Bourbon.
Caramel.*

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramelfriendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

These should be your five reasons (like you need more) to make this pie this Thanksgiving**. I know what you’re about to say, “But Olga, I’ve never made this pie before, can I subject my guests to a first time experiment?” My answer is an unequivocal YES. And YES. And YES, AGAIN. You can. You should. You must. And here’s another thing for you to consider. I have SO much faith in you, that I’m absolutely positive you will be victorious and create a pie that your family and friends will talk about for years to come. You might even set a new bar in pie-making.

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

This pie is oh-ever-so-slightly more fussy than your regular apple pie in that you make the honey bourbon caramel before coating the apple slices. You will want, and I warn you here, to sit on your couch and lick the remaining caramel in the pot. For that, you make take five minutes because one must never let a good thing to go waste. In the time that you’re licking the caramel out of the pot, you also let the apples absorb the caramel a little more, so it works out fine. But then, you must waste no time, and put your pie together and bake it.

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel
friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

I suggest, while your pie is baking in the oven, that you sit down and have a filling snack. Perhaps a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or maybe some warmed up beans with toast and a runny egg. But eat something because the smell of this pie will render you incredibly hungry. And you don’t want to torture yourself because a hungry cook is an angry cook and we all know what happens when one cooks angry.

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

One other thing I forgot to tell you is the matter of decorating your pie. Because this is a holiday, a simple pie crust top with some vents won’t do. You should make dough leaves. Or use a cookie cutter with an autumnal theme. Or, if you have some other cookie shape, use that. The more random – the better! I remember when I made this pie last year, we spent a good portion of dinner laughing at my choice of decorative accent. And this time around, I’m tempted to do it again, eventhough I have leaf shapes, but where’s the fun in that?

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

*You might have seen this honey-bourbon caramel before. I simply decided to use it here again. I’m very happy I did.

**If anyone has any last minute Thanksgiving questions, I’ll be answering until Turkey Day itself, but on the very day I’ll be cooking all day, so I won’t be around. Shoot me an email or leave a comment below if you have any questions.

Continue reading apple cranberry pie with honey-bourbon caramel.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

hazelnut chestnut cake

hazelnut chestnut cake

If you had to describe the hazelnut, what words would come to mind? Small? Plain? Uncommon? Well, Gina DePalma, the pastry chef at the famed Babbo, calls the hazelnut “enigmatic” and I can’t disagree with her. Aside from Nutella and Fererro Rocher chocolates, it’s not exactly a popular nut (giggle)* you find on the shelves of many grocery stores.

The hazelnut, otherwise known as the filbert, has never won a popularity contest – having never grown to be as popular as a peanut or an almond, who are the mainstream nut darlings. If you think of Kristin Stewart as the It-Girl of the moment – the peanut, is its nut equivalent. The hazelnut, on the other hand, is more like Zooey Deschanel, with a cult following but not the kind of a blockbuster hit that invokes teen hysteria. You don’t find hazelnuts in many stores and I’ve yet to see a commercial exalting its virtues (unlike the pistachio, the commercials of which are now on every channel).

hazelnut chestnut cake

Aside from not winning any popularity contests, the hazelnut is wildly adaptable and makes friends with virtually everything from baked goods to wintry salads (more on that soon). I like having a bag on hand for snacking and keep a stash at work, lest I become tempted by the sugary cereal shelf.

hazelnut chestnut cake

Because, I’ve always had a soft spot for the humble hazelnut, I’m a bit biased towards recipes that allow it to be the star of the show. And when I saw this recipe and realized that it was created by my all time chef crushes – Gina DePalma, I pretty much changed my morning plans to bake this cake. That’s right, I skipped my Saturday morning spin to bake (those of you who know me, realize this is huge!). And before I keep you in suspense any longer, and with apologies to my all time favorite spin instructor (hi, Kristin!), I can tell you now – it was well worth it. Gina DePalma has never let me down – the woman practically walks on water as far as I’m concerned.

hazelnut chestnut cake

Speaking of chef crushes (and I’ve got a few) mine are almost exclusively pastry chefs and women (though a few men are sprinkled in the mix like the creator of those celestial meatballs). I don’t know if that says I gravitate towards a certain kind of cooking, but chefs like Gina DePalma, Karen DeMasco, Claudia Fleming (whom I met last summer when she signed my book and was speechless, no doubt, making a lasting impression as the mute who likes to bake), Gabrielle Hamilton and Anne Burrell all create the kind of food I want to eat and make for others. There something warm, honest and approachable about their cooking. It’s the kind of meal you have at the end of your day, and even if your day was the kind that makes you just want to crawl into bed, that first bite instantly brings a smile to your face and wraps you in comfort. And while I can’t eloquently describe or put my finger on it, it is, for me cooking always meant creating that warmth, memories and comfort. Bringing people together, making them smile, taste, feel loved. This cake is an embodiment of the kind of cooking I love – unfussy, simple, comforting, yet festive and celebratory. It’s both everyday and special occasion. And its sweet, nutty smell is perfect for the holiday season as it fills your house with its welcoming, warm fragrance.

hazelnut chestnut cake

I like this cake for the holiday season because in the next few weeks we will be inundated with overly sweet desserts, and it’s nice to have an option of something more restrained for the palate. Though I’m always up for dessert, I tend to steer clear of overly sugary things. I find that with dessert, as with people, the ones who are overly sweet are off-putting. I like a little bit of sarcasm, some edge, a bit of a dark side, if you will. And I like dessert that challenges my palate – gives me a bit of sweet but not overwhelmingly so. A dessert that holds back a little. World, meet this cake – it’s got some edge, all right.

hazelnut chestnut cake

This cake calls for hazelnut paste, which isn’t the easiest thing to procure, as I learned. But since I decided to make this cake on a whim at 8 o’clock in the morning, I wasn’t as well prepared ingredients-wise. Though I’m a bit sad that I couldn’t locate hazelnut paste anywhere in the vicinity of my house and had to settle for chestnut paste, I have to admit the results were anything but disappointing.

hazelnut chestnut cake

A perfect finish to a meal on a cold fall day, some friends and I had this over glasses of tawny port, but it’s the kind of dessert that goes well beautifully with a fresh pot of coffee or espresso. A dollop of unsweetened whipped cream not only makes for a festive presentation, but also lets the flavors sing even more. And though I didn’t think that chestnut and hazelnut would go well together – necessity (or desperation) is the mother of invention – because they do. With dessert like this, the hazelnut could very well be propelled from obscurity into the spotlight. Which would make it the It-Nut?

hazelnut chestnut cake

*Since I have a maturity level of a 5th grader I giggled every time I wrote the word “nut” and hope you do as well reading it. Because, this and also this, never get old.

I chose this dessert for the Bon Appetit 2009 blog envy bake-off because I love its simplicity, yet uncompromising taste and complexity of flavors. If you want to raise the ante, you can double the recipe and make a marron butter cream (please let me know if you wish for me to post the recipe for it). Otherwise, it’s a wonderfully comforting and clean holiday dessert that resists going into the extremely sugary zone. In the meantime, go over there and vote for your favorite dessert – I hope it’s mine, but there are lots of amazing entries!

Continue reading hazelnut chestnut cake.

Friday, November 13, 2009

pumpkin swirl brownies

pumpkin swirl brownies

There are two week until Thanksgiving. Two. Short. Weeks. And as tradition would have it, I’m hosting again. And though, it’s my favorite holiday, you know how much I’ve thought about the menu? As in, sat down, really thought about it, without getting distracted or bogged down by work? Um, let’s just say I’ve been way better prepared in the past years. As in months before my menu was finalized and set. And this time? Well, I’m still mulling it over. Two. Weeks. Before. Can you sense the slight panic in my voice? So tonight, I’m sitting down with a pad of paper, a stack of books and magazines and finalizing it all. I will be well-prepared this year. I just have to keep saying it to myself over and over until I’m fully organized for the holiday.

pumpkin swirl browniespumpkin swirl brownies

Every year, I bring back a few dishes that have gathered a loyal following: the porcini mushroom soup – my favorite soup as a child; and the pumpkin bread pudding souffle (please ignore ugly pictures, this is an amazing dish!), inspired by the incredible Charlie Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco. Part souffle, part bread pudding, it wins new fans every Thanksgiving at my table. And this time of year I’m a little pumpkin obsessed – I’ve even snuck them into cupcakes. And seeing pumpkins at farmers’ markets makes my heart sing – the beautiful spread of orange cheers me up on a cold, gray autumn morning. I can’t help but smile to myself when I see them – so bright and cheery! And when I take walks in my neighborhood, coffee in hand, my camera dangling at my side, looking at all the brownstones with their pumpkins and harvest wreaths – I think it’s moments like these that I fall in love with the Northeast, and New York, in particular, a little more every time, realizing that despite the cold winters, short daylight hours and more layers of clothing than sounds reasonable, this is my home. This chilly, rainy, short-on-parking-space city is my home. The thought of living elsewhere makes my heart ache.

pumpkin swirl brownies

This is the season where I tend to do a lot of walking in my neighborhood. Every Saturday, in fact, before I head over to the farmers’ market, I take a walk around the brownstones, sipping coffee, taking pictures, watching dogs chase pigeons. And after my walk and market visit, I come home, my bags overflowing with produce. Lately, there have been lots of squash, apples and pears in my bag. And pumpkin. I cannot resist pumpkin, try as I might. Just putting it as my dining table centerpiece cheers up my whole apartment.

pumpkin swirl brownies

Roasting pumpkins is incredibly easy and rewarding. And while, it’s easy enough to pop open a can of it at home (when you didn’t plan ahead, which often happens to me), if you have a little extra time on hand, and want to fill your home with the most comforting, delicious smell – you should give it a go. An hour at 400 Farhenheit or so (check online as I tend to just sort of eye my roasting time) and you have fantastic, soft, freshly-roasted pumpkin. I have to restrain myself from eating it right away armed with a spoon, a little butter and some fleur de sel.

pumpkin swirl brownies

But I’m not here to tell you about eating roasted pumpkins, delicious though they may be. I’m here about these swirly, pretty brownies here. More like a pumpkin chocolate coffee cake (since when do we complain chocolate?) they are tremendous. I mean, tremendous. Moderately sweet, moist, and chocolatey, they are really perfect to have on hand the morning after Thanksgiving. When the turkey somnolence has not worn off and you can barely even put a pot of coffee on, these will revive you back to normalcy. In fact, I have visions of myself, dirty dishes in the sink (because I am not washing them the same night, no way no how) coffee in one hand, this brownie in another sitting on my couch in pajamas while my father has an argument with himself about politics and my mother tries to get me to start cleaning. In fact, the prospect of eating these the morning after turkey day, takes all the anxiety away about not being adequately prepared. In fact, I’m even looking forward to it. And it makes two weeks seem like a very long time away, indeed.

pumpkin swirl brownies

Continue reading pumpkin swirl brownies.

See more: Cookies and Scones,
Sunday, November 8, 2009

veal ricotta meatballs

veal ricotta meatballs - take 2

This is a very important post, dear readers. One that’s taken me many hours to put together, because I cannot implore you enough that whatever it is you’re doing right now – you need to stop and rush to your kitchens to make these. I know – you’re thinking, meatballs, big deal, what’s the rush. But because I’m what you’d call, a meatballs skeptic, this is doubly important. I wouldn’t just sigh over any meatballs, right? They would have to be really, truly magnificent. And they are.

veal ricotta meatballs - take 2

These are the meatballs I’ve dreamed about for over a year. A year, people – do you know how long that is in food obsession terms? That’s twelve long months of fantasizing about these orbs made seemingly out of meat clouds and so delicious and light, they practically melt in your mouth. You barely even have to chew them. And until very recently, they weren’t a staple in my kitchen. But that’s all changed now.

veal ricotta meatballs - take 2

About a year ago, a good friend of mine took me to a little wine bar in the East Village called Terroir, run by the same lovely folks behind a thoughtfully run restaurant “Hearth” where Marco Canora, the chef behind this recipe, makes his amazing dishes. She had mentioned, on our way there, that aside from an excellent wine list, there are some worthwhile nibbles we should order, namely, the veal ricotta meatballs, which we promptly ordered upon arrival and that order changed everything I knew about the dish. These weren’t regular meatballs of my past: heavy and dense and bland; instead they were light, delicate and perfectly seasoned. I tasted a bite of Parmiggiano, a gentle hint of ricotta, a tang of tomato sauce. Instantly smitten, I knew, at that exact moment, that these were the meatballs I’ve been searching for (if one does indeed go on a search for the perfect meatball, which you know I would, because that’s the kind of girl I am).

veal ricotta meatballs - take 2

Since then, I’ve sent dozen of my friends to the bar, always instructing them to order the meatballs and have tried to recreate the magic at home. Until two nights ago, I’ve been using the Mario Batali recipe, but after Deb alerted me to Marco Canora’s recipe, I switched over. The ingredient list and proportions are very similar, if not identical. But a few additional steps, and helpful hints below, I think, make this recipe more useful. These meatballs are a process and take over a day to make, which, I know, is a bit belabored for something as rustic as a meatball. However, asking your butcher to triple-grind your meat (which is recommended below) ensures a delicate, light texture. Starting on your ricotta cheese the night before, is a necessary step because store bought ricotta just won’t cut it, and you see in the previous recipe just how easy it is to make ricotta at home. Moreover, I read somewhere, in relation to this recipe that you need to have your ricotta cheese need to be the texture/density of tofu (super helpful, right?), really helps you in determining how much draining of ricotta you have to do. And there’s also chilling the meatballs before frying them. I’m not sure what chilling your meatballs before frying does, but I dutifully followed directions and can tell you, it’s worth the trouble because the results are that good.

veal ricotta meatballs - take 2

And while normally meatballs are an accessory to spaghetti, I urge you to resist having them play second fiddle. These are in their own category of excellence and deserve to be first violin at your dinner with a solo performance. Serve them alongside a simple salad, as it’ll only highlight the rustic simplicity of the dish. Spaghetti and meatballs, just might become a thing of the past.

Continue reading veal ricotta meatballs.