Saturday, November 21, 2015


Decades of cooking Thanksgiving dinner convinced me, the occasion is best used as an exploration of New World food--what we're all truly thankful for.  After all, Columbus didn't discover gold and almost lost his life for the failure, but he did discover foods more valuable than gold. Native American eats: turkeys, beans, corn, squashes, chilies, bell peppers, avocados, potatoes, tomatoes, quinoa, cranberries, wild blueberries, lobster, cod, and ta da! Vanilla and chocolate. Try to imagine your life without those ingredients and you immediately know what you should be thankful for.

So Thanksgiving's a great time for an All-American menu. Land and sea, root and tree. Start with local oysters or lobster bisque or my personal favorite: salt cod with potatoes prepared the French way as Brandade.
Serves 8-10 as a first course 
1 lb skinless, boneless salt cod 
1c milk 
1 thyme sprig or 1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves 
2 bay leaves 
5-6 peppercorns 
1/2 tsp ground allspice or 2 allspice berries 
2 whole cloves 
1 lb boiling potatoes, cut in 1” cubes 
6 lg garlic cloves, peeled 
salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1/3-1/2 c olive oil 
Pinch cayenne or red pepper flakes (1/4 tsp if you like this tangy) 
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg 
1 tsp grated lemon zest 
1/2 c crème fraiche plus another 3 tbsp 
3 tbsp butter 
1/2 c bread crumbs (coarse is preferred but fine works) 
Rinse salt cod carefully, rubbing off any noticeable salt. Soak in a large bowl of 
water at least 8 hours, changing the water every four hours or leaving it 
overnight.  Drain and rinse again when ready to use. 
In a medium/lg saucepan, heat milk with 1 c water. Add salt cod, thyme, bay leaf, 
peppercorns, allspice and cloves. As soon as the pot wants to boil, reduce heat 
to simmer and cook until the fish falls apart and flakes, about 15-20 minutes. 
Remove fish from the pot. 
While the cod is cooking, put cut potatoes in another pot with a good pinch of salt 
and cover with water. ring to a boil. Add the garlic cloves.  As soon as the 
potatoes are soft enough to mash, remove from heat and drain. Keep both the 
garlic and cooking liquid; you’ll need them. 
Put the garlic in a small saucepan and crush or smash it lightly. Add the olive oil 
and over medium heat, warm the garlic. Don’t fry, just warm it. 
In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked potatoes and flaked salt cod. Use a 
potato masher to blend them. Drizzle in the warm garlic and oil and keep 
mashing toward the look of mashed potatoes. Add the cayenne, nutmeg and 
lemon zest, thoroughly blending. Stir in 1/2 c crème fraiche and mash to blend. 
Now using an immersion blender or hand mixer or your masher, add about 1/2 
cup potato cooking liquid to thin the brandade into a soft mash. Add salt and 
freshly ground black pepper to your taste.   
Grease a shallow 1 qt baking dish or pie plate with 1 tbsp butter. Fill the dish with 
the brandade, leveling it with a spatula. At this point, you can refrigerate the mix 
overnight if you need to. 
Heat oven to 400º. ring the brandade to room temperature if you refrigerated it. 
Paint the top with those 3 tbsp crème fraiche and sprinkle on the breadcrumbs. 
Dot the surface with bits of the remaining 2 tbsp butter. ake until golden on top 
and bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes. 
Serve immediately with toast. 

If you want to be more vegetarian, here's Ottolenghi's recipe for Jerusalem Artichoke soup, those being another All-American find.

I've 1 tbsp olive oil
30g unsalted butter
2 banana shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium leek, trimmed and washed, cut in half lengthways, then thinly sliced, white part only
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1.2kg erusalem artichokes, peeled and thinly sliced 1-2mm thick
250ml dry white wine
500ml full-fat milk
700ml vegetable stock
10g chives, finely chopped, to serve
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
For the hazelnut and spinach pesto
50g blanched hazelnuts
1 tbsp hazelnut oil
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve 
30g baby spinach
10g tarragon
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon 
1 tsp white-wine vinegar
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1-2 green bird’s eye chillies, deseeded
First make the pesto. Heat the oven to 160C (140C fan)/gas mark 3. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking tray,
roast for 15 minutes, then remove and, once cool, roughly chop. Set aside 30g and put the remaining 20g in
the small bowl of a food processor with the remaining pesto ingredients and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Add
two and a half tablespoons of water, blitz to a smooth, runny paste and set aside.
Put the oil and butter in a large saucepan on a medium-high heat. Add the shallots and saute for three
minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the leek, garlic, a teaspoon and a half of salt and a good grind of black
pepper, and cook for three to four minutes, until soft but gaining no colour. Add the artichokes and cook for
12 minutes, stirring from time to time, until beginning to soften and caramelise. Pour over the wine, bring
to a simmer and cook on medium heat for three to four minutes, until reduced by a quarter. Add the milk
and stock, and bring to a boil. Skim the surface of any impurities, then reduce the heat to medium and
simmer for 50 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the artichokes are cooked through and soft.
Remove from the heat and blitz in a blender until smooth; add a bit more stock if you need to thin it down.
To serve, spoon the soup into bowls and drizzle over the pesto. Sprinkle with the chives and remaining
hazelnuts, and serve at once with a final drizzle of oil.

I've cooked turkeys every which way and my preferred, which is now everybody else's favorite too, is an All-American BBQ version. This is to say, the night before I slather the bird under its skin and in its cavities with my own barbeque sauce. I set the oven to 450º, slather the bird all over its skin and let it high roast for 20 minutes. Then I lower the heat and cook it, basting with BBQ sauce until the meat wants to fall off its bones. I'm talking seriously tasty turkey!

Turkey BBQ Sauce
14-16 lb turkey 
This is flexible. Combine everything into a thick sauce. 
4” fresh ginger peeled and minced or mashed 
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or mashed 
(you can put the two together in a mini processor) 
1 tbsp + 2 tsp ground cumin 
1 tbsp ground coriander 
2 tsp ground chipotle chili powder 
1 tsp ground arbol chili powder or cayenne 
2 tsp dried rosemary leaves 
2 tsp dried oregano 
1 tsp cracked or freshly ground black pepper 
½ tsp ground cloves 
2 tsp dried sage leaves 
2/3 cup ketchup 
1/3 c Chinese black bean garlic sauce 
2 cups corn oil 
1 +f1 tsp tbsp soy sauce 
1 tbsp vinegar 
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup (molasses is too strong)

Now you need the perky yellow of corn, best used in its cornmeal form either as cornbread you make and then turn into a stuffing for the BBQ big bird or make into corn cakes (pancakes) you can top with guacamole. For the stuffing, I usually make one loaf of cornbread, then break it into pieces and throw in the bowl 1/2 c corn kernels, 1 poblano chili roasted and diced, 1 roasted red pepper diced, 1 green bell pepper diced, 1 can kidney or pinto beans drained rinsed and dried, 1 tbsp oregano, 1 tsp sage leaves, 1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder and whatever else on hand makes this a scrumptious fiesta.

Quinoa is the makings of an alternative stuffing. You cook it til its soft. Meanwhile in a skillet lubed with corn oil, you sauté a diced purple onion, a diced poblano pepper, 1 cup corn kernels, 2 diced celery stalks, 1/4 c dried cranberries, 1 sm jar pimentos, and 4-5 chopped button mushrooms until the onion is soft. Blend in the quinoa, season with salt and pepper, a pinch of allspice, 1 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves, and 1/4 cup fresh minced cilantro leaves.

You can stuff the quinoa into acorn squashes and bake, then halve to serve. Or you can stuff a large sugar pumpkin or red kuri squash for a more imposing and eye dazzling dish.

Corn pudding, this time with a handful of wild blueberries thrown in, is a festive and fitting sidedish along with mashed butternut sqauash seasoned with coconut milk and cinnamon. Skip the green beans/onion casserole. Skip the sweet potatoes buried under marshmallows.  How about yam biscuits instead? 
makes 9

1 1/4 c all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp raw sugar or light brown sugar
1/4 c vegetable shortening
1 c mashed cooked yams or one 16 oz can
1/4 tsp finely grated orange zest
1'4 tsp orange flower water if you have it
2 tbsp heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400º. Butter or line with parchment two large cookie sheets.
In a mixer or processor bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and zest. Add shortening and yams and process just long enough to blend into a soft dough. 
Roll dough out to 1/2 " thick. Cut biscuits with a 2 1/2" round cutter and arrange on the cookie sheets with 2" between each one.  Form scraps into another ball, and roll it out to 1/2" thick, cut biscuits and keep on until no dough is left. 
Using a pastry brush or piece of wax paper, coat the top of each biscuit with the cream.
Bake at 400º 10-13 minutes or until biscuits start to brown and crisp.  Serve warm with butter.

And of course, saving the best for last: chocolate bread pudding or chocolate torte, either with vanilla sauce or whipped cream. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. 

Friday, November 20, 2015


I have been traveling for the last three and a half weeks, so not home on the range. But I've visited some glorious farmers' markets and even more glorious city markets, including Europe's biggest and most famed, Barcelona's Boqueria where you have to fight your way down the aisles.

European markets are far more sophisticated than ours. For starters, every village and town you enter not only has the standard sign announcing its population but one announcing its market days. Loche: Wednesday and Saturday. Beaulieu-de-Loche: Sunday.  These are not just a collection of tables under tents. Fishmongers have huge 18 wheeler refrigerated cases packed with fish on ice, cheese merchants have the same long long refrigerated case displaying dozens of varieties. Butchers bring the same set-up. So you can go home with fresh eggs, chickens, meat, cheese, butter, yogurts and milk, fish, fruits, herbs, dried fruits, olives and other pickled vegetables and all the produce of the season. Even fresh broth. You never need a supermarket.

Here are some photos of the Wednesday market in the medieval French village of Sarlet-le-Caneda, including a whole foie grasse section set up in an unused period church, redesigned by a world renowned architect just for that purpose.

Barcelona's Boqueria is not only a seemingly endless bazaar of charcuterie, cheeses, fruits, nuts, meats and fish, but tiny tapas bars are studded in between the extensive stalls so you can grab a bite and beverage while you shop. The smaller Santa Caterina market a half mile away in a more residential neighborhood has its own market restaurant attached, serving up seasonal fare of the day. With a glass of cava, Spanish prosecco, I had a casserole of fresh artichokes with bits of Spanish ham and clams still in their shell. I also saw in that market Maine lobster for sale, although technically it was,the fishmonger   said, from Canada. They're quicker on the mental draw than Maine, alas.

I am writing this in Nashville, Tennessee where tonight was a special Night Farmers' Market with music, baking demonstrations and a bar so city folks could gather their Thanksgiving ingredients. another one will happen just before Christmas.