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It has been a hectic couple of weeks between the NYC trip and Thanksgiving festivities, but I did want to report back on the pre-thanksgiving dinner I cooked in NYC (as described in Maria’s post, “A Trio of Thanksgiving Menus”).  I did indeed cook squabs, which I ordered fresh from Florence Meat Market on Jones St. in the West Village (thanks to advice on where to find them from Elizabeth Beier – my brother’s foodie editor friend at St. Martin’s Press). And for the noshes – we ended up going to Murray’s Cheese Shop, which has expanded since I’ve last been, but still has all the character of the old spot across the street (at one point one of the salespersons came up with cheese quote of the day – “Wisconsin – the Spain of America!”).  We bought way too much of the Chevrot (their most popular goat cheese, we were told), as well as the Brebis/Ossau Iraty (one of my all time faves – a french sheep’s milk cheese, from the Pyrenees – and this has to be one of the best I’ve tasted), and one I purchased just by sight, an Adrahan from County Cork, so  gooey and pungent that my friend Lizzy at first guessed was an Epoisse. It was awesome – if you love stinky cheese like me. Lenny actually brought some of each home in his backpack on the plane and every time he opened it the poor woman next to him made a face. Sorry lady!

For the first course Lizzie made the wonderful Michael Chiarella Panzanella (this is the remains after we served the 7 of us – the photo doesn’t do it justice). It was the perfect first course for this meal and I’d say a great addition to any holiday menu depending on what else you have going on. It is a salad of brussell sprouts, roasted squash, blooming red onion (really! but bloomed in Sherry vinegar) and croutons.

panzanella1

The squabs and purees were a challenge in the small Manhattan studio kitchen – but we did it. John made the celery root and turnip puree the night before. Then in the morning we made the vichy carrot puree together. We found we had oversalted both, but they were still pretty damn good. I made the chestnut puree before the guests arrived, but this time I was careful with the salt. We bought the canned chestnuts instead of the vacuum packed as they were $10 per 7 oz at Whole Foods and the canned were only (!) $7 per 10 oz.. But I have worked with the canned ones before, and they are soggy, so we roasted them in the oven instead of boiling them and they came out great. I liked them all but I think the chestnut puree definitely was the best of the 3.

As for the squab – I felt I had to “meet” them as I’d never cooked with them before, so before people came (invite was 7:30 but in good NYC form the first person didn’t arrive until 7:50 and most came after 8) (just as an aside, NYC was crazed the whole time we were there, so not surprisingly people were stuck in traffic, or there were no cabs to be found – and much to the chagrin of our friend arranging a surprise 50th birthday party for her husband at Tao the night before – that was an experience, to say the least).

I’m digressing. So, here are the squabs in all their glory.

meet the squabs

John’s boyfriend Brian was so excited he wanted to name them (like we did the lobsters he had flown in to Michigan from Maine last summer), but I nixed that. They were already freaking me out a little (plus people kept making jokes about them being caught yesterday in Central Park).

Then we/I got them ready to go (I chose this photo because it gives you a sense of the constraints of the NYC kitchen I was dealing with).

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Then – after a monumental feat of teamwork – we pan-seared and roasted the squabs, and my brother and I  got the purees all to the right temperature, cut the 7 birds in half plate and add the purees to each plate … TA DA! The final product!

plated squab w/3 purees

The apple tart never happened as Lizzie had to work on Saturday – but Brian brought a variety of desserts from WF and we ate those and played show tunes and drank wine until the not-too-wee-hours – all in all I think the whole night was a smashing success. I hope our guests did too!

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Thanksgiving

November, 1620

But here I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand-half amased at this poore peoples presente condition; and so I thinke will the reader too, when he well considers the same. Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembred by that which wente before), they now had not friends to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten bodys, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succoure. . . . And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that cuntrie know them to be sharp and violent, and subjecte to cruell and feirce stormes, deangerous to travill to known places, much more to serch an unknown coast. Besids, what could they see but a hidious and desolate wildernes, full of wild beasts and willd men? And what multituds ther might be of them they knew not. Nether could they, as it were, goe up to the tope of Pisgah, to vew from this willdernes a more goodly cuntrie to feed their hops; for-which way soever they turnd their eys (save upward to the heavens) they could have litle solace or content in respecte of any outward objects. For summer being done, all things stand upon them with a wetherbeaten face; and the whole countrie, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage heiw. (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation)

I wake up before dawn, which is not early these days, and l feel the solid warmth of the man I love, in quiet sleep beside me. I burrow down deeper under the duvet, watching the light turn from dark blue to gray to a pale blue tinged with gold and pink. A flock of sparrow streams across the sky; my house begins to stir. The dog, despairing of rousting me, climbs into bed, turns twice, curls into a ball, his snout resting on my hip.  A little later, the small boy crawls into the middle of us all and sings a half dozen variations on itsy-bitsy spider. I linger a little longer in this tangle of bones and hearts.

Winter 1621

In 2. or 3. moneths tune halfe of their company dyed, espetialy in Jan: and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvie and other diseases, which this long vioage and their inacomodate condition had brought upon them; so as ther dyed some times 2. or 3. of a day, in the fore- said tune; that of 100. and odd persons, scarce 50. remained. And of these in the time of most distres, ther was but 6. or 7. sound persons, who, to their great comendations be it spoken, spared no pains, night nor day, but with abundance of toyle and hazard of their owne health, fetched them woode, made them fires, drest them meat, made their beads, washed their lothsome cloaths, cloathed and uncloathed them; in a word, did all the homly and necessarie offices for them which dainty and quesie stomacks cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cherfully, without any grudging in the least, shewing herein their true love unto their freinds and bretheren. A rare example and worthy to be remembred. (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation)

There is enough sun today that we can go out to work on tidying the yard and garden, all the chores left undone after the last warm days of autumn. We are all happy to be outside, despite the chill in the air. When the wind drops entirely, I stop my raking and turn my face up toward the sun, marveling again, yet again, how Michigan has come to be my home.

November, 1621

Our harvest being gotten in our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie. (Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation)

Repetition and variation, the changing of ritual by small degrees, my forty-six Thanksgiving ranging back in a long line to a time before memory. The year we deconstructed the turkey before we cooked it. The year in my sister’s New York apartment when the turkey went bad and we dined on sides and sliced turkey from the corner deli. Thanksgivings abroad in expat apartments with too much bad red wine and the accidental camaraderie that comes of being strangers together. The Thanksgiving twenty-five years ago that was the last day I saw my grandfather alive.  The year my family switched from Parker House to crescent rolls.  The Thanksgiving I cooked for my then-husband’s extended family and whatever friends we could draw in. We must have been thirty people stretched across my small house.  Not so many less than what was left after that first hard winter in Massachusetts.  We are all strangers to each other now, but in memory I still hold that circle of love and friendship intact and entire.  The Thanksgiving we shared with my husband’s ex-wife and her new husband, our love of our shared child making common cause. The Thanksgiving my extended family passed around the Norwalk virus and a few days later I discovered that inside me fluttered that small mass of cells that would become Nick.

November, 1621

They begane now to- gather in the small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strenght, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, and bass, and other fish, of which they tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All the sommer ther was no wante. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, etc. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not famed, but true reports. (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation)

This year the change is to smoke the turkey. It’s cooking now. I’ve made cranberry sauce and homemade crackers and started the pear cobbler and sorted out the vegetables.  In a little while, Naomi will come over and Nick will wake up from his nap, and there will a walk (a long one, the dog hopes) and then, as it grows dark, we’ll sit down together to this year’s small gathering. But with us will be the great crowd of those who have shared our tables and our lives through all the years we’ve lived, and even as we breathe, John and I become the ghosts our children will always have with them.

Although it be not always so plentiful with us, we are so far from want.

We do not say grace, but some days we live in it.

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It’s Thanksgiving Eve and I’m back in my hometown. I walked in the door with armfuls of groceries, including big stalks of Brussels sprouts. My father screwed up his face in a “I hate those things” expression and my mom exclaimed “I’ve never seen how Brussels sprouts grow! How unusual!” So I’m dealing with some skeptics here. But you’ve asked for Brussels sprouts recipes and I won’t let you down.

I’m making Molly Orangette’s recipe this year. I’m thinking that the lemon and poppyseed flavors will contrast nicely with of the heavy meal. It was a toss up between this one and a recipe featuring currants and chestnuts. Claire suggests cutting the sprouts in half, lengthwise, and roasting in some olive oil, and tossing the lot with some blue cheese and some pine nuts. My friend Liz made the recipe below for the pre-Thanksgiving meal, with one modification: substituting chicken broth for water. For tomorrow, she’ll try caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar as substitutions.And Maria is making their household classic, braised with bacon, shallots and chestnuts.

That’s a whole lot of choice in good autumnal flavors for the Thanksgiving table. So defy the skeptics and break out the sprouts. They’ll win the hearts and minds of your dinner guests.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Bon Appétit, via Epicurious
November 2007
Molly Stevens

Brussels Sprout Hash with Caramelized Shallots
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, divided
1/2 pound shallots, thinly sliced
Coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup water

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and pepper. Sauté until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and sugar. Stir until brown and glazed, about 3 minutes.

Halve brussels sprouts lengthwise. Cut lengthwise into thin (1/8-inch) slices. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sprouts; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until brown at edges, 6 minutes. Add 1 cup water and 3 tablespoons butter. Sauté until most of water evaporates and sprouts are tender but still bright green, 3 minutes. Add shallots; season with salt and pepper.

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Thanksgiving is still a ways away, but my day was nonetheless occupied by the holiday. This morning had me vetting a “rough draft” of a menu I’m planning with my mom, and tonight saw us at the table of gracious hosts who prepared an amazing pre-Thanksgiving feast (because they will be traveling over the holiday). I offer a post in pictures, as a way to inspire your (and my) menu planning for this year’s holiday feast.

Bob & Liz’s Pre-Thanksgiving Feast Menu

Cocktail Hour:
Cranberry Mojitos
Goat Cheese, Spiced Hazelnut and Fig Preserves Crostini
Blue Cheese, Walnut and Cranberry Crostini
Orange-Pomegranate Salad with Chardonnay Vinaigrette
Grapefruit-Avocado Salad with Poppyseed Dressing
Kale Stuffed Mushrooms

Feast:
Roasted Michigan Turkey
Cubed Bread Dressing
Mashed Michigan Potatoes
Classic Green Peas
Brussels Sprout Hash with Carmelized Shallots
Sweet Potato Salad with Orange Maple Dressing
Buttermilk Biscuits
Tangerine Cranberry Sauce
Turkey Gravy
White Bordeaux Table Wine

Save Room for Dessert:
Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Sweet Potato Pie with Gingersnap Crust
Pecan Squares
Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream
Port, Dessert Wine and Liqeurs

Do they know how to put together a menu or what? A lovely blend of traditional and traditional-with-a-twist flavors.

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Cranberry Mojitos

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Crostini

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The Main Event

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An almost-full plate

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Stacked

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Choices, choices

How is your menu-planning coming? Are you going to try new recipes or stick to old favorites?

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Like everyone else in the food blog world this week, I greet you with tales of Thanksgiving dinner. Although mine is already cooked. You read that right: my turkey, gravy, stuffing, and all the usual suspects have already been prepared. No, I wasn’t trying out some new fad in holiday cooking–make everything 48 hours before you serve it. Rather, Michael and I offered to host a pre-Thanksgiving meal at his house for his Michigan family members since we’ll be with my folks for the holiday. When I agreed to the plan, I believe he thought I was just being the accommodating, food-obsessed girlfriend he’s come to know. My oh-so-secret agenda, however, was that I’d never headed up a Thanksgiving dinner before, so I jumped at the chance. In my family, there is an unwritten rule that Thanksgiving must be hosted by, like, married people who own their own homes. And, preferably, a set of china. Single girls–especially apartment-dwelling single girls–need not apply.

So we hopped to it, and the plans were proceeding beautifully–ahead of schedule, even!–thanks in no small part to the lovely and talented Anne, who helped me conceive a menu that would be relatively straightforward and would accommodate the range of palates of our guests.

Appetizers

    Assorted Cheddar Crisps
    Roasted Chestnuts
    Bacon-Wrapped Dates
    Salami and cheese plate

Dinner

With the addition of some store-bought Avalon Lafayette Baguette Rolls, some sides brought by the guests (mashed rutabaga, creamed onions–family favorite, both) and some pies (pumpkin, apple), it felt like all was under control.

So, armed with a plan

i mean business

A man (who is capable in the kitchen at things I’m wimpy at, like carving a turkey)

michael, carver

And a gorgeous, new roasting pan

aaaah, allclad

we were ready to Put on a Thanksgiving Dinner.

We were not ready, however, for the following, uh, complications. Here’s a list of our lessons learned, some kinks to work out the next time I wrangle my way into Thanksgiving dinner planning:

  • Lesson #1: A 17-pound turkey takes up lots of room in the oven. I mean, LOTS. So no room for the oyster stuffing to bake in its pan. This is why it is good to be friends with your next-door neighbor. (Thanks, Chris!)
  • Lesson #2: A 17-pound turkey is really freaking heavy. And it’s hard to speak kindly and not be kinda bitchy bossy when you’re cradling said 17-pound naked bird in your arms, trying to rinse it and pat it dry. (Sorry, Michael!)
  • Lesson #3: Children under 10 aren’t super keen on salami caliente and homemade cheddar crisps. They do, however, really dig sparkling apple cider.
  • Lesson #4: The timing of the last 30 minutes of the meal are crucial, people. Taking the turkey out of the oven, tenting it with foil, making the gravy, getting the mashed potatoes ready, carving the bird, placing the bird on the platter and plating up all the other dishes WITH serving utensils. And getting said platter and dishes on the table while the food’s still hot.
  • Lesson #5: The Thanksgiving meal, for me anyway, will always yield up a bit of disappointment. It’s a hell of a lot of heavy food, mostly of the same texture and consistency and color (the “tan group,” I like to call it). Eat a lot of salad.
  • Lesson #6: Remember that you wanted to do this in the first place. Appreciate your mothers and aunts and cousins who have worked at preparing Thanksgiving meals for your family forever. Be secretly glad that you aren’t yet grown up enough (according to them) to host Thanksgiving yourself.

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