This year’s mad dash towards Thanksgiving is in full swing. We've already done our major Idylwilde run, and perhaps moreso than in other years, I’m learning some new tricks. Here is a brief summary of my pre-TG thoughts.
First off, I have a new favorite cookbook: Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan, who has a great blog, too.
This is essentially a collection of accessible recipes based on traditional French cuisine, but aimed at American kitchens and ingredients. And, uh, attention spans. What I love about this cookbook is that many of the dishes are delicious and beyond the parameters of what I usually eat, but not too difficult to make. For cooks like me, more fearless than competent, this is about the right amount of trouble to get into, and the results have been fairly spectacular, so far. Her ridiculously crazy stuffed whole pumpkin is her free teaser recipe, and it is an amazing concoction.
Her chocolate mousse cake is another winner. The ingredients are very simple, and it’s not so much more difficult than making standard chocolate mousse. But I’ve made a lot of chocolate cakes in my day, and this is now the only chocolate cake recipe that I’m interested in. For the time being, chocolate cake recipes for me are finally a settled issue.
I also loved her bit about applesauce/compote, Normandy style, which essentially involves slow-cooking normal applesauce down to reduce it, and then adding some salted butter. It’s a simple, non-fussy variation of common practice, but it does add a new dimension to what can happen to apples. I like Empire apples for applesauce, among the ones most easily available, because of the spectacular red color they add. Not to digress, but for pies I generally use Cortland. Those are often available as “utility apples” from orchards such as Carlson and Westward, at $5 for a ginormous bag. Practically free.
Greenspan’s cookbook also led me to buy my first silicone baking mat, a $15 purchase. These take the place of parchment paper, which is used to line cookie sheets and replacing the need to butter them. I’m enjoying this very much, so far. It’s easy cleanup, and no waste, and doesn’t change the flavor. While I don’t like plastic on principle, I’m coming to terms with silicone in the kitchen.
I loved the consistency of the Normandy-style applesauce, but it made me admit that my old rusty Foley food mill that I bought for $8 on Ebay was imparting some off flavors, so I’ve ordered a stainless steel one. I should have done that years ago.
While I was at it, I decided to splurge for a new oven thermometer, in preparation for the upcoming baking frenzy. Our oven’s temperature dial doesn’t have much to do with reality, and our previous thermometer had become so caramelized, encased in something brown, that it was entirely unreadable, so this was a $6 splurge a long time coming.
Now, I’m experimenting with cranberries. My secret technique for cranberry sauce is to leave out everyone’s secret ingredients and focus on straight-up cranberries, with the simplest recipe possible—essentially cranberries and simple syrup. But I have some wild hairs about some cranberry offroading, and I’ll keep you apprised about this quest, if I have successes to share. I so love cranberries.
While we’re on the subject of cranberries, I need to make a rare critical comment about Trader Joe’s, which is perhaps my very favorite chain store. Their fresh cranberry sourcing drives me crazy. Here we are, in Massachusetts, the first state to farm cranberries, and the world’s second largest producer of them. But TJ’s imports their fresh cranberries from Wisconsin! They are grown in Wisconsin, shipped to a distributor on the West Coast, and then travel again all the way across the country to my local TJ’s.
Now, I have a soft spot for the great state of Wisconsin, producer of fine cheese and home of my co-employer Hal Leonard Corporation and some people I like an awful lot. And I’m happy for them to grow cranberries, out there. The thing is, though, just down the street from Harvard, Massachusetts farmers are producing our own local cranberries, except for the ones who have gone out of business and sold their bogs to real estate developers. End result: TJs is making Massachusetts look more like New Jersey. Not the nice parts, the nasty parts. I see this sort of thing as being the practice of non-descript supermarket chains, rather than TJs. Importing chocolate from Belgium to Massachusetts makes sense. Importing cranberries from the Midwest is just plain mean.
A last pre-TG thought (for the moment…) is that we’ve loved getting smoked turkeys from Greenberg. And they have one of the best URLs and Web sites ever: http://www.gobblegobble.com/.
Between Greenberg’s turkeys and Greenspan’s book, it’s pretty easy being green, this time of year.