Food for Thought

I know. This is supposed to be Iceland Part II. Stay tuned. More Iceland will appear very soon. But, since this blog is about more than travel, namely food, and since that topic has been hot recently (think Thanksgiving), this is a blog post on cuisine. Non foodies can tune out.

I celebrated the turkey day twice – before the actual holiday in northern Italy with friends Carol and Noel, then again last weekend with friends here.

Noel and Carol
Noel and Carol

Carol’s feast was excellent, the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner: Turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, two different sweet potato dishes, Waldorf salad, broccoli casserole and peas. For dessert, pumpkin pie (a Thanksgiving must) and an apple/pear pie.

Waldorf salad, a mixture of apples, celery and walnuts, was one of my mother’s specials. I had forgotten how tasty it is. All loved Carol’s version, which, I learned, she is often asked to bring to pot luck dinners. Her turkey was terrific, so moist and flavorful. I copied her roasting method (read on) with a winning result.

Carol's spread
Carol’s spread

Carol and Noel entertained 13 (Italians and Americans), all seated at a long table in their living room. The table décor was fit for a decorator magazine:

Carol's table
Carol’s table

Strands of fall leaves, colorful gourds, flower arrangements, plus a party “favor” for each guest to take home (a pilgrim figure with a small candle).

The afternoon of the evening event, the hostess was calm, relaxed and even had time to sit and chat. I was in awe as I am usually a total wreck, madly dashing to and fro with lots of last minute prep before guests arrive. Carol had prepared much in advance.

I tried to emulate her for my Thanksgiving dinner, from the turkey to the décor to her calm, cool demeanor. (I failed in the latter category.)

“The United States of Thanksgiving,” a New York Times (NYT) food feature with recipes from all 50 states was my inspiration. I pored over all the recipes and chose several, some a bit challenging.

I also relied on a few of my recipes from past years. First, Cranberry Chutney. I was never a fan of the obligatory cranberry relish (Ocean Spray from a

Go for the real berry.
Go for the real berry.

can) served with the holiday bird. Some years ago I came across a Cranberry Chutney recipe in a newspaper. “A pleasant relief from the standard, cloyingly sweet cranberry sauce usually served at Thanksgiving.” Indeed, and my preferred take on the cranberry.

Sweet potatoes, another Thanksgiving requisite and yet another I never liked, with the possible exception of my mother’s Brandied Sweet Potatoes, no doubt thanks to the brandy. (See Helen’s Brandied Sweet Potatoes in Recipe column at right). Instead of the sacred potato I made Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Apples, colorful, festive and delicious. I followed an old recipe for mashed potatoes with cheddar and scallions. Good, but too runny. I always seem to have this problem with mashed potatoes. Must stop adding so much milk.

My spread.
My spread.

Then, the NYT recipes. The Minnesota Grape Salad caught my eye. My mother (family traditions are a big part of this American meal) always served a fresh fruit salad at Thanksgiving. I was going to copy Carol and do a Waldorf salad, but why not grapes? The recipe calls for seedless grapes. I went to four different stores before finding them, but the hunt paid off. This was the easiest of all, and the favorite of my guests. “You could serve it as a dessert,” one commented. The recipe is featured in Today’s Taste, upper right.

I like to begin the meal with a soup. My recipe repertoire includes several that are appropriate for the holiday, mainly different versions of squash or pumpkin soup. Time for something new: Illinois Pumpkin Soup with Ancho Chile.

Canned pumpkin and dried ancho chile are not found on supermarket shelves in France. Thanks to Carol and Noel, I had these key ingredients. Noel is a retired Air Force colonel with base privileges at Aviano Air Force Base, Italy. He purchased both for me at the base commissary.pumpkin

Alas, this was an experiment that failed. I found nothing exceptional about this concoction and regret not having served one of my tried and true standbys.

Connecticut Quince with Cipollini Onions and Bacon. I had to try this and conquer the daunting quince. Back during my years in Germany, it seemed most of my German friends made quince jelly every fall. I love to cook, but don’t do jams, jellies, nor do I can. Yet, I felt the need to somehow incorporate this fruit in my cooking.

Quince is not for sissies, I learned. Peeling this rock-hard fruit was tough enough. Cutting it into chunks required a cleaver and the muscles of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I let VR attack the stubborn quince, but all those tiny onions had to be peeled.

Nasty quince
Nasty quince

“Cipollini” in Italian means small onion. The NYT title for this recipe is thus redundant. I felt triumphant at discovering an error made by those gods of journalism at the NYT.

Verdict: Good, but definitely not worth all the intensive labor. The Germans and those cooks in Connecticut can have their quince.

North Carolina Sweet Potato Cornbread. This was easy and good. Since French bread is tops, I never bake bread here. But cornbread is so American; I decided it would be a nice addition to my meal for British and French guests

Tennessee Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Peanut Vinaigrette. I like most all veggies, with the exception of peas – and Brussels Sprouts. So, why did I prepare this? Because sprouts always seem to be included in those magazine

My table, festive thanks to decorative elements provided by Carol. elkements Carol sent me home with the decor
My table, festive thanks to decorative elements provided by Carol.

features with Thanksgiving menus. I have tried so many versions over the years – with maple syrup, bacon, apples, walnuts, pecans, dill, lemon. I hated them all. I decided to give the B.S. one last chance due to the peanut (actually peanut butter) in this recipe. A new twist. I have always found recipes with peanut butter to my liking. Forget it! Even yummy peanut butter could not save the horrible sprout. A Brussels Spout is a Brussels Sprout is a Brussels Sprout. Never again will a sprout be found in my kitchen.

Arkansas Roast Heritage Turkey and Gravy. Perhaps the best turkey I have ever prepared. The recipe calls for brining. My friend Lynne, a cook extraordinaire, turned me onto brining the bird several years ago. It definitely makes for a moister turkey. This recipe goes one step further.

Carol's handsome turkey,
Carol’s handsome turkey,

It basically utilizes the same cooking method Carol follows. Her turkey was an American Butterball from the commissary and she did not brine. But, she enveloped the bird in layers of heavy duty foil with a cup of water added to the bottom of the turkey foil package. No basting. The turkey is essentially steamed. Her method specifies a higher temperature than the Arkansas recipe. I followed the latter, tightly covering the turkey in two layers of foil.

The only disappointment with this method is the appearance of the cooked turkey. Not a beautiful golden brown bird to present to guests, but instead a very sickly, pale, almost white fowl. I kept it hidden in the kitchen as VR carved it. Carol’s bird, since it had cooked at a higher temp, was presentable. Perhaps I should have removed the foil for the last half hour to allow for browning? But, wouldn’t it dry out the turkey?  It’s the taste and texture that count. “Succulent” proclaimed Lynne. I will definitely prepare future turkeys this way. Thank you Arkansas – and Carol!

Pumpkin Pie and Apple Cranberry Pie – my desserts, but most guests had no room for them. VR is enjoying the leftovers. The filling for my pumpkin pie includes a healthy dose of brandy. I love those recipes with a bit of alcoholic content.fblog.5

For your holiday cooking, you may want to try these and other NYT Thanksgiving recipes. http://cooking.nytimes.com/68861692-nyt-cooking/603426-the-united-states-of-thanksgiving

If you’d like some of my recipes not found in the column at right (Cranberry Chutney, Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Apples, Pumpkin Pie with Brandy), let me know. I will be glad to supply. The Grape Salad recipe is Today’s Taste (upper right).

Casa Parks (left) with the Domolmites.

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13 thoughts on “Food for Thought”

  1. I got lucky for Thanksgiving this year, because I was at Leah and Bob’s table for this amazing feast. It was such fun tasting so many different, yet harmonious dishes, each with a slight twist on the traditional. The table and our plates were full of lovely colors, as our palates were stimulated by all the bright tastes. Impossible to single out the stars, but among my favorites were the grape salad, the butternut, the quince & cippolini and, yes, the Brussel sprouts! I had seconds of absolutely everything-foolish and reckless, but I cast reason aside and just tucked in. Et, non, je ne regrette rien….except for not saving room to truly appreciate your beautiful pies. Un très grand merci-you are a wonderful cook and hostess!

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    1. You are the wonderful cook and hostess, Lynne. I have fond memories of many fantastic meals chez toi. I cherish your comments and am glad you enjoyed my United States of Thanksgiving. Thank you.

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  2. Wish I’d been there to eat all the yummy Brussels sprouts you left on plates! How terrific that you incorporated recipe favorites from different states. Your meal was more adventurous than mine, yet the family yearns for the traditional dishes they expect to see —and that’s what they got. Thanks for sharing all of this and making me wish I’d been at your table with dear Lynne, Claude, VR and you. Happy Holidays! Gloria in So. Calif.

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  3. Oh noooo, Leah, the end of Brussel sprouts?? Well, you’re cooking, so you can decide what to serve…but I have just recently discovered how much I like them…and with bacon? mamma mia, delicious! We had a non-traditional meal, so your description was my vicarious traditional Thanksgiving. Thank you! Maybe we can have Thanksgiving in July when we’re there next??

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  4. GRAPE SALAD -THE REST OF THE STORY,
    I received this in an email from friend Warren in the US:
    “Really enjoyed your Thanksgiving blog but perhaps you hadn’t heard the rest of the story.:
    The NYT Minnesota Grape Salad recipe created such a fire storm response on Facebook and all social media that it was a featured item on the NBC Evening News with Brian Williams. Minnesotans vehemently claimed they had never ever eaten or even heard of grape salad. NBC crews went around Minnesota interviewing residents who laughed at the NYT article. The end result was that the NYT printed a retraction and an apology. Apparently, they had been taken in by someone and hadn’t vetted the recipe. It’s not often that a recipe make national news. ”

    So, the sacred NYT screwed up again (cipollini). Love it.. And who cares where the salad recipe originated — it is fabulous..

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  5. Hi Leah,
    Hip hip horray for Butterballs! We also enjoyed one–up in Wiesbaden with our American friends who got one at their commissary–cooked all day in a big smoker on the terrace. Labor intensive but fantastic. Call me crazy but I swear by those “magic bags”–the bird comes out moist, golden brown on top, and in a fraction of the time. But, it all starts with Mr. B.
    All your other “fixins” sound oh-so-yummy. OK, maybe not the BSs. I haven’t ever been a fan either, but not so long ago I did make some with blue cheese, bacon and I think some sort of nut like pecans and it was kinda good. I’ll look for that recipe. Maybe you’ll be converted. Or not. But hey, lots of other need veggies out there.
    Glad you had such a grand T-day celebration. Twice. All the better:)
    Gayle

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  6. I know that you promised to prepare a turkey dinner when I visit you in
    Provence and it will be a meal to savor.
    By the way I have recently tasted a brussel sprout and apple salad. Good flavor combination.
    Bon Appetit !

    Like

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