Archives for category: cooking

I have spent very little time in the South, but I am a lover of Southern food, and am on a perpetual diet, so this book snagged me at the title. I am a huge fan of Pat Conroy’s cookbook of low country and related fare, so I was eager to see what this book contained. It hasn’t disappointed. From “Ten Tips for Lightening Things Up”—which has some surprises, to the sidebar notes, I gained a lot of good information. And Willis doesn’t talk down to the reader.

The Creamy Broccoli-Parmesan soup is terrific. The lightened turkey meatloaf is a winner—so often turkey meatloaf is dry as cardboard, this is not. I used Trader Joe’s broccoli slaw for the Broccoli Slaw with Buttermilk Dressing and it was delicious and just the right consistency—my earlier attempts have not been so successful. I can’t wait for corn to be in season to try the Georgia Shrimp and Corn Chowder even though I’ll be making them with imported free range shrimp from God knows where. Also on my “to-make-soon” list are Green Beans with New Potatoes and Candied Garlic (candied garlic?! That will be fun) and Slow-Cooked Barbecued Pulled Chicken.

There are really two things to recommend this book—the recipes are healthy and use real ingredients that you are likely to have on hand on a regular basis, and there are not too many ingredients! So often “diet” and “heathy” cookbooks include a lot of ingredients to bring in some flavor, and they don’t always deliver. Or they are ingredients the common kitchen doesn’t keep around. The flavor in these recipes comes from the combinations of the main ingredients. For that reason, the recipes don’t taste “light.” I don’t have enough experience of Southern food to compare these recipes to the heavier original versions, but I suspect that they stack up pretty high. I don’t care, this is a wonderful book with great recipes that I will turn to again and again.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Looking for a great holiday gift for the cozy mystery reader on your list? Don’t know what to buy, or what books have been read? Chances are they’ll find all of their favorite authors (including me!) in this cookbook, available in paperback and in Kindle.

http://www.amazon.com/Cozy-Food-Mystery-Writers-Favorite/dp/0983589178/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1415444352&sr=1-2

James Beard Foundation, 167 West 12th Street, exterior-byEileen-Miller

James Beard Foundation, 167 West 12th Street, exterior-byEileen-Miller

On Thursday night, October 30, at the James Beard Foundation in New York, Francesco Palmieri of the Orange Squirrel Restaurant prepared a dinner based on recipes from Mary and Vincent Price’s masterful cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes (1965).

Francesco Palmieri, The Orange Squirrel Restaurant

Francesco Palmieri, The Orange Squirrel Restaurant

vp cookbookIn this magnificently designed and photographed book the Prices offer recipes from some of the finest restaurants in the world. (I wrote about it at length, and the Orange Squirrel, in an earlier blog–scroll down to see “The Book,” below, 7/27/14.)

Victoria Price, Vincent’s daughter,  co-hosted the event and introduced the Vincent Price Signature Wine Collection. I planned to be there, and was looking forward to it. Instead I was home, sidelined by torn ligaments, eating soup for dinner. I am disappointed, but last Saturday night’s (Oct. 25) dinner at the Inn at Millrace Pond has softened the blow.

Entrance to Inn at Millrace Pond, Hope, NJ

Entrance to Inn at Millrace Pond, Hope, NJ

Pumpkins lit with candles graced the entrance path

Pumpkins lit with candles graced the entrance path

Jody Price, Vincent’s grandson, hosted the Inn’s third tribute dinner to Vincent Price. While we dined, he played inspired instrumental guitar. After dinner he talked about his memories of his grandfather, and gave an entertaining description of his father’s life in films, and as an art-lover and foodie. My favorite of his wonderful stories was the story of the time when his phone rang and a friend woke him up, shouting, “Hey, turn on your TV! You’re on the Simpsons!” It turned out that in the “Sunday, Cruddy Sunday” episode that was shown after the 1999 Super Bowl, the voice of Vincent Price tells Marge Simpson that his grandson, Jody, will bring her the missing feet from her celebrity craft kit.

Jody shows the crowd (my mother) Sally Murphy's first edition copy of the cookbook.

Jody shows the crowd (my mother) Sally Murphy’s first edition copy of the cookbook.

Diners

Diners

Jody was joined during the question and answer period by Victoria, who arrived late after a long day at the Chiller Theater Toy, Model, and Film Expo where she met her father’s horror fans and gave a talk about his life. Jody’s brother Keir Price was at the dinner too. Victoria spoke of how, on the 21st anniversary of the day of her father’s death, he would have been pleased that the three of them were together, since for so many years their family was in different parts of the country and didn’t see each other often enough.

Jody and Victoria share a story.

Jody and Victoria share a story.

The special prix fixe dinner ($49.) featured:

Choice of one appetizer, soup or salad:

Slow roasted butternut squash soup (an Inn specialty)

Crab stuffed avocado with wild mushrooms and almonds (page 360, from Hotel Hana-Maui, no prices given on the menu reproduced in the book—they must have supplied the ladies’ menu 🙂

Classic Caesar salad (page 185, from Harrods Food Hall, London)

Potato gnocchi with pancetta, shitake, oven-dried tomato and garlic spinach (page 394, from the Blue Fox, San Francisco, $2.00 on the menu reproduced in the book)

Choice of one entrée:

Pan seared scallop and shrimp risotto Milanese with sweet peas and roasted red peppers (shrimp risotto Milanese, page 103, from the Royal Daniele, Venice, $6.00 on the menu reproduced in the book)

Filet mignon au poivre with chive Yukon mash and baby carrots (an Inn specialty)

Chicken cordon bleu with wild mushroom supreme, chive Yukon mash and baby carrots (an Inn specialty)

Photo by Ian Horowitz

Photo by Ian Horowitz

Choice of one dessert:

White chocolate macadamia crème brulee (page 163, The Ivy, London, with additions of the Inn’s chef, $4.00 on the menu reproduced in the book)

Cheese cake with seasonal berries an Grand Marnier (page 317, Bookbinder’s, Philadelphia, with additions of the Inn’s chef. Not on the Bookbinder’s menu reproduced in the book, which is very strange because Price says, in his head-note, “This is one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever had anywhere. Its recipe has long been a secret at Bookbinder’s where it is their most popular dessert, and they were loath to divulge it. I’m glad they finally have…”)

Chocolate mousse cake with crème anglaise (an Inn specialty)

Apple lattice pie with bourbon glaze (an Inn specialty)

I savored the crab stuffed avocado with wild mushrooms and almonds. That is a recipe I will definitely try to emulate. For the entrée I had the filet mignon, potatoes and vegetables. I knew they wouldn’t be based on a recipe in the cookbook, but I knew I made the right choice when I tasted the melt-in-your-mouth filet. The Inn uses vegetables from nearby Tranquility Farm, and the carrots were among the tenderest I’ve tasted. For dessert I had the apple lattice pie. Since I am an avid apple pie baker, I couldn’t resist, and I was not disappointed. Those in my group who had the cheese cake said it was the best they ever tasted. Another recipe for me to take on! The rest of my family reported that every dish exceeded their expectations, especially the pan-seared scallop and shrimp risotto Milanese. We all found the quality of the meal and the lovely surroundings exceptional for the price. If it hadn’t been a special event, it still would have been well worth it.

My son, Ian Horowitz, at the entrance, next to the "Vincent Price Dinner, Tavern Full" sign.

My son, Ian Horowitz, at the entrance, next to the “Vincent Price Dinner, Tavern Full” sign.

The inn is simply lovely—we dined in the Grist Mill, built in 1769 by Moravian settlers and restored 20 years ago. Upstairs rooms have been decorated period style, 3 with canopy beds, all with beamed ceilings, and modern amenities including whirlpool tubs. The main floor holds the large dining room. We dined in the smaller tavern, downstairs, and the trip down the stairs was an adventure in itself!

Skeleton on stairs down to the tavern.

Skeleton on stairs down to the tavern.

 

Love this!

Love this!

The tavern also features beamed ceilings and a large stone fireplace.

During the dinner Price’s Edgar Allen Poe films were shown on two screens. “He once said that he might not have had the best career of all actors, but no one had as much fun as him,” Jody told us.

Wine cellar and grist mill wheel, outside the tavern entrance

Wine cellar and grist mill wheel, outside the tavern entrance

I think Vincent would have loved the spider web strewn over the wine collection, next to the giant grist mill wheel. He would have been delighted by the pumpkin with his face carved in it. The talented, creative staff outdid themselves in their decorations.

Vincent Price pumkin

Vincent Price pumpkin

Thank you, Jody, for hosting this event and sharing your family’s celebration. It was a pleasure, and a lot of fun, to honor Vincent Price’s life with you.

I was especially pleased that my mother, Sally Murphy, was able to meet the Price family, and that our family—two of my cousins (whose mother met Vincent Price in Bermuda with Mom), my husband, son and brother—were able to be there for this very special evening.

Victoria Price and Sally Murphy, holding the first editions Vincent Price inscribed in 1985 for Mom when she met him on a trip to Bermuda.

Victoria Price and Sally Murphy, holding the first editions Vincent Price inscribed in 1985 for Mom when she met him on a trip to Bermuda.

Victoria inscribes a copy of Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography, newly released in paperback, for Mom.

Victoria inscribes a copy of Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography, newly released in paperback, for Mom.

Although my family and I have been cooking from the cookbook since it was published, this was the first restaurant event we’ve attended that offered some of those recipes. Well done, chef!

For more information about the Inn at Millrace Pond, see http://www.innatmillracepond.com.

For more information about Vincent Price’s legacy, see http://www.vincentprice.com/

For news about all things related to the cookbook, and Victoria’s wonderful blog, see http://www.cookingvincent.com/

For information about the James Beard Foundation dinner, Vincent Price: legendary Gourmet, see http://www.jamesbeard.org/events/vincent-price-legendary-gourmet

The Vincent Price Collection II, a seven-film, four-disc Blu-ray set from Scream Factory, was released this month and includes House on Haunted Hill, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Raven (directed by Roger Corman, loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, stars Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff along with a young Jack Nicholson), The Comedy of Terrors, The Tomb of Ligeia, The Last Man on Earth and The Return of the Fly.

And of course, my book, Cinnamon Girl,a mystery set in a cookbook store,  inspired by the cookbook and containing recipes from it and other treasured cookbooks, is available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Cinnamon-Girl-Village-Cooks-Mystery/dp/0989911012/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1414864593&sr=8-1&keywords=cinnamon+girl+horowitz

vp cookbook

My mother got a copy of Mary and Vincent Price’s A Treasury of Great Recipes when it was published in 1965, and that book changed our lives. Seriously. My mother had a lot of cookbooks back then, but this was the one we cuddled up with in the afternoons after school. When I think of cozy, comforting moments from my childhood, that’s what comes to mind, Mom and me side by side on the couch, the book spread over our laps.

We studied every page carefully, and went back to our favorites over and over. We examined the menus of the restaurants, many famous, some not, that Mary and Vincent visited, and the recipes the restaurants shared with them. Indeed the book’s subtitle is Famous Specialties of the World’s Foremost Restaurants Adapted for the American Kitchen. Wonderful head-notes describe their visits to a given restaurant and their enjoyment of the food and company, as well as their later experiences making the recipes at home. Can’t you just picture Vincent Price clanging around with his copper pots, with that twinkle in his eyes and devilish grin, offering Mary a taste of New England Clam Chowder from Locke-Ober’s recipe?

This book was designed to be savored. It is such a beautiful book. The first printings featured a padded bronze-colored cover and matching ribbon bookmark. At the rear of the book there was a section for wine lists and personal recipes. I have seen this done in recent years, but the idea was new in 1965-era cookbooks. There may be equally artfully done cookbooks from that period or before, but I don’t recall any.  Mom and I especially loved the magnificent photos of Vincent and Mary Price’s home filled with art. I can close my eyes are bring up every detail of the copper pots and tiles in their kitchen, which appear opposite the introduction, “An Invitation and a Promise.”

This is not the page from the book, but it is a photo of the kitchen that is pictured on that page. I do not have permission to publish text pages from the book.

Before Mom got the book, my knowledge of Vincent Price consisted of House on Haunted Hill, the horror film that my brother loved and I pretended to be brave enough to watch with my eyes open. Little did I know that Price made those films to feed his passions for art collecting, world travel and good food. When my mother and step-father went to restaurants in the book and brought home the menus to save in the pages of the book, they were channeling the lifestyle example set by Mary and Vincent in their travels.

House on Haunted Hill movie poster

Mom bought copies of the book for every birthday and wedding shower in the family in those years. Later, when it was out-of-print and I worked in the book business in New York, I grabbed every copy I ever found in bookstores all over, just to have extras on hand for us to share with future converts. We each try to have a “good” copy and a “working” copy, but sometimes the “good” copy gets given away. Then the chase is on to replace it.

My mother was an equally big fan of Vincent Price’s autobiography, I Like What I Know, which describes his experiences as an art collector as well as his adventures as an actor.

Whenever Mom would take children in the family to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, she would first take them to visit her favorite painting, Vermeer’s A Girl Resting. When Vincent Price curated a selection of art reproductions for Sears, he included that painting, to her delight. Of course Mom bought it, and it held pride of place over the piano.

Mom had the pleasure of meeting Vincent Price on a mystery cruise to Bermuda in 1985.He was pleased that she brought several of his books, including  I Like What I Know—required reading in our art and food-loving family—for his autograph. Their meeting happened to occur on her birthday.

Sally Murphy and Vincent Price, October 2, 1985.

Sally Murphy and Vincent Price, October 2, 1985.

They discussed the well-known Native American art collection at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, where my mother volunteered for many years. That was a birthday Mom will never forget.

My mother usually had the book open on the kitchen table, and taught me to cook from it. It includes Sardi’s Meat Sauce (page 285), a natural for my New Yorker mother. I know no other, and it is my go-to sauce from scratch. When we were expecting a tornado to make land one time when I was in Florida, after we filled the tub with water and taped up the windows, I baked a cake and made a big batch of Sardi’s sauce and spaghetti to get us through the storm. We stayed up all night and feasted. One year when I didn’t return home from college for Thanksgiving, I made the French Chocolate Ice Cream (page 441) for a large group as we dined on old doors held up with cement blocks in a drafty loft. It wasn’t traditional apple pie for dessert, and we fancied ourselves rebels (it was the 70s), so we liked it more.

When I met my husband of course I showed him the book. He noticed that the Lasserre Restaurant was included, and through his eyes I was charmed anew by the menu which featured bare-bottomed cherubs in chef’s hats attending the Rotisseur and tripping and falling as one ran in carrying a duck twice his size, knocking over another cherubic chef carrying a platter of vegetables. My husband had lived in Paris as a child, and his parents had enjoyed dining at Lasserre. Soon after our honeymoon, as new brides are wont to do, I made Soupe À L’Oignon (page 46) for him, because I knew it to be a favorite. It was my only failed recipe from the book.

I could go on. But then there’s the banana nut bread. Mom and I tried it one wintry day after school and never looked back. I have been baking it for forever. One year I made a loaf as a Christmas gift for each person in my company’s editorial department. Many of us have our go-to recipes to bring places, and this is one of my favorites.

banana breasdMy son prefers it without the walnuts, and that’s okay. No matter how busy I am, if we have bananas in the house, I cannot refuse a request from him. As long as he smothers it with cream cheese as the head-note to the recipe prescribes, it is as Vincent says, “ambrosia”—and who can turn down that prospect.

Cinnamon Girl_Front Cover Crop_Lo-Res_Facebook-Twitter_72dpiWhen I decided to write a mystery novel, there was no question that I would set it in a cookbook shop. Inspired by the fact that Vincent and Mary collected recipes from beloved restaurants in the book, I included “Recipes from Treasured Cookbooks” in Cinnamon Girl: A Village Cooks Mystery as openers to many of the chapters. The characters discuss the book at dinner one night:

“The great part about it,” Sally joined in, excitedly, “is that Vincent and Mary went home and prepared the recipes themselves. It is not just a collection of recipes from landmark restaurants all over the world. Anyone could have done that. This is a collection of those recipes gathered on wonderful occasions and then later cooked at home, with Vincent’s anecdotes and stories included with each one. On the title page it says ‘Famous specialties of the world’s foremost restaurants adapted for the home kitchen.’”

Ian laughed. “How did you remember that?”
“Because I’ve looked at that page hundreds of times!”

Cinnamon Girl, pages 114-115

And two of them go on to make the banana nut bread.

When we held the book launch for Cinnamon Girl last October, I gave away a gift basket containing the book and the tools needed to make the banana nut bread,

vincent cookbookwhich we also served at the party.

banana bread sign

I was very happy when Victoria Price gave me permission to include the banana nut bread recipe in Cinnamon Girl. When I conceived the book I selected recipes from cookbooks I loved that connected with the activity in each chapter. It took months to get the permissions from all of the sources, but Victoria was wonderfully gracious in her response (so was Dorie Greenspan).

In March, when Victoria was passing through on a cross-country road trip, she invited me to lunch at the Orange Squirrel, a restaurant that features annual Vincent Price dinners on Halloween. When I walked in and saw a stack of cookbooks and other books piled on the end of the table, I knew I was with kindred spirits, folks like me who dined with books on the table and an interest in sharing them with each other. Victoria brought a copy of the book with her on her road trip for everyone to sign.

Elaine and Francesco Palimieri signing Victoria Price's copy of the book during our lunch.

Elaine and Francesco Palmieri signing Victoria Price’s copy of the book during our lunch.

We had one of those lunches where the conversation went to a level of intensity immediately, and stayed there. Those who know me would be surprised to know that for much of it I was at a loss for words.

Francesco, Victoria and me at the Orange Squirrel, his restaurant in Bloomfield, NJ.

Francesco, Victoria and me at the Orange Squirrel, his restaurant in Bloomfield, NJ.

Victoria wrote a blog about our get-together, “A Perfect Lunch.”

http://www.cookingvincent.com/blog/2014/3/11/a-perfect-lunch

She invited Francesco, his wife Elaine and me to a “Vincent Price Inspired Evening” which began with cocktails and a slide presentation of Vincent’s life by Victoria at the Viacom building, followed by a dinner party she was hosting at Sardi’s the next night.

Elaine, Francesco and me in front of Sardi's.

Elaine, Francesco and me in front of Sardi’s.

Victoria described the evening with great warmth and love, as a hostess her Dad would have been proud of:

http://www.cookingvincent.com/blog/2014/3/13/new-york-dinner-at-sardis

I have never made the dessert Sardi’s is famous for, Boccone Doce (Sweet Mouthful) (page 254). But that night I took one bite and thought it was the best dessert I’ve ever tasted.  The 1965 menu in the book lists it for 85 cents! I am trying to get up the nerve to make it, and will let you know when I do. Maybe for my birthday.

sardis vp dessert

 

Vincent Price Sardi's3For me, cookbooks represent an invitation to much more than good food and healthy eating. They are a promise of happy times, a challenge to create traditions. As a cookbook that does all that and much more, A Treasury of Great Recipes will always lead the pack. BookFinder.com lists it as the fifth most-sought-after hardest-to-find out-of-print book. If you find one somewhere, grab it. I eagerly await the 50th anniversary edition, and encourage you to reserve one here:

http://www.cookingvincent.com/

Because Edgar Allan Poe’s poems and short stories pervade pop culture and are taught in middle school they are considered by some to be among the lower rungs of the literary canon. That’s a shame. He was the first major American writer to attempt to make a living at writing, and he invented the detective story genre. Some of my favorite writers and thinkers dismissed Edgar Allan Poe. Yeats and Huxley both reportedly called him “vulgar” and upon reading “The Raven” Emerson said, “I see nothing in it.” But Arthur Conan Doyle got him. He said, “Each [of Poe’s detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed….Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?” Poe originated the detective genre in his short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” with the character C. Auguste Dupin who solved crimes in Paris before the word “detective” had been coined.

 Edgar Allan Poe invented some of the major characteristics we know and love in mysteries today—the bumbling police sergeant representing the by-the-book authority figure as opposed to the creative, eccentric but analytically brilliant detective, the first-person narrative by a friend (Watson to Holmes), and the gathering of the suspects together to announce the identity of the murderer that we love so much when Poirot calls everyone to the drawing room.

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I don’t advocate marrying one’s 13 year old cousin, but I have been deeply moved by Poe’s love poems to his wife Virginia, especially one written after her death, probably his most famous poem, Annabel Lee. I read this poem for the first time when I was a young romantic pre-teen. In fact, my mother brought me to visit Poe’s Cottage in the Bronx for my twelfth birthday.

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At that age the over-the-top portrayal of his love for her (“But we loved with a love that was more than love”) thrilled me. The idea that he missed her so deeply that “And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side/ Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,/ In her sepulchre there by the sea—/ In her tomb by the sounding sea.” Was her tomb really next to the sea? Did he really go and lie down next to it at night? Whether he did or not, this stirred my imagination, they were like Romeo and Juliet. Then, it seemed sweet and romantic, but in my youth I didn’t fully comprehend his suffering. As an adult I do, and I am slightly embarrassed by his angst displayed so openly. But I still love the poem.

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I saw the Annabel Lee original manuscript on display when my family visited the Edgar Allen Poe exhibit at the Morgan Library in New York a few months ago.

 As we stood before it, I tormented my teenage son by reading it aloud to him (I knew most of it from memory). Embarrassed, he eyed a man standing next to us within earshot. The man saw what was going on and said, to our surprise and my delight, “My mother used to recite that poem to me all the time when I was young. I loved it.”

In one of the displays at the Morgan I saw a sample of Poe’s signature. I had never examined it closely before, but this time I noticed the circular curls in the way he wrote the letter “E” and rejoiced at the realization that Peter Lo Ricco, who designed the cover for Cinnamon Girl, my mystery novel, unwittingly channeled Poe in his choice of font. I think we’ll keep that font for the Annabel Publishing logo. Yes, the company was named after the poem. And after a beloved cat who was named after the poem.

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Cinnamon Girl_Front Cover Crop_Lo-Res_72dpi - Copy

Every Christmas I buy myself a Christmas present, and it is always a cookbook. All fall I read the reviews of the new cookbooks and make a list of those that interest me. Then I go to a bookstore and make my survey. Very often those that sound the most wonderful in reviews are a disappointment in some way. Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food is one that didn’t wow me with its visual appeal when I saw it, but I bought it anyway. It’s a very good book, as one would expect from her. She is the queen of the whole foods movement, and I treasure the memory of the meal my husband and I had at Chez Panisse, her Berkeley, California restaurant. But the presentation, design and illustrations do not match the level of creativity of her recipes. While I use it as a workhorse for the recipes, it is not a book that I cuddle up with when I have a few minutes for a cup of tea and a whirl through inspirational pages.

This year winter started in early December where I live, in New Jersey. I never made it to a bookstore. I didn’t get my Christmas cookbook. The snowstorms have been relentless, about one a week, sometimes more. We still can’t get our back door open. It’s hard to turn corners because the snow piles cause poor visibility. But we endure; get out to work and the grocery store and not much else.

shed in snow 2

It’s hard to be creative when the main effort is spent on survival, and I have become bored with the usual weeknight dinners I make for my family. I tried a few new prepared dinners from Trader Joe’s, but we didn’t like them. We do love their barbecued pork, however, and that’s only ½ hour in the oven, and goes well with brown rice (Uncle Ben’s 10 minute family size rice-in-a-bag) and Trader Joe’s’ frozen green beans. http://www.cooktj.com/node/2903

One of the books I’d read about was Keepers, a cookbook by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion. Vicky Hyman reviewed it in the Star-Ledger: http://www.nj.com/food/index.ssf/2013/09/keepers_caroline_campion.html

keepers Because the idea of getting to a bookstore seemed like just too much work, I ordered the book from Amazon. It arrived the other day. And what a delight it is! No strange ingredients and no long daunting lists of ingredients. On the other hand, it’s not like some “simple easy weeknight dinner” cookbooks that offer recipes for “simple” dinners such as BLT sandwiches and describe how to make them. That I don’t need. I know how to make sandwiches. And my family won’t eat them for dinner anyway. They want a hot meal. And pasta no more than once a week. I need to know what to do when I have chicken breasts, broccoli and noodles on hand and want to combine them into something interesting. Keepers is that sort of cookbook. It’s got a recipe for green beans with sun-dried tomatoes. My family will eat that. And probably like it. Lasagna? I have made it twice in my life. Uggh, what an ordeal. I’m not Italian, my mother never made it, so it’s not in my blood. I’ve never even made baked ziti. But Keepers includes a recipe called “Skillet Lasagna” that I will definitely make. It says it takes less than an hour, and the ingredients include ½ cup of cream cheese, in addition to mozzarella cheese. That blows my mind, I can’t wait to try it. And aren’t we all trying to eat more kale? Their “Kale Carbonara” (with bacon) is high on my list. What’s more, Keepers is friendly. Appealing full page photos, clean design, lots of tips, entertaining head-notes. I’ll let you know how the recipes turn out after I make some of them, and review the book more thoroughly. Stay tuned.

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It is the day before Thanksgiving. Home cooks all over the United States are waking up this morning wondering if they should go ahead and make that new dish they are thinking of, or stick with the tried and true. It’s hard to break tradition on Thanksgiving. Turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, apple and pumpkin pie are the essentials. In some areas of the country, green been casserole is a must, although I have never eaten it and don’t know anyone who makes it. Given the number of television commercials for the ingredients, you’d think that it is as ubiquitous on the American Thanksgiving table as the turkey!

Other musts for many—sweet potato whatever (casserole with marshmallows? another never tried dish in my world), and something made from corn. I honor the corn tradition because of its historic connection to the pilgrims. Sometimes I serve corn (I heat up a can of corn- yikes, I admitted it!) but most years I make cornbread. I’ll be baking it today. Once I used Mary Steenbergen’s Corn Spoon Pudding recipe from the cookbook Potluck at Midnight Farm. It was tasty, but people didn’t like the corn kernels in it. Once, when we lived in a house with a double oven, I made cornbread in a cast iron skillet and served it right from the skillet. That was cool.

There is a recipe for Moroccan carrots that often graces our Thanksgiving table. I am not making it this year, but my sister and her boyfriend are making it, in Florida. I am glad they are. This year I am making plain carrots. I will be using the almonds found in the Moroccan carrots recipe in a new dish, Alton Brown’s green beans with almonds and pomegranate seeds. A colleague saw the recipe in a People magazine he read at the dentist’s office, and shared it with me. This will be a break from tradition this year — one new dish. The pomegranate seeds will be our homage to Jewish tradition, since this year Hannukah and Thanksgiving coincide.

I always serve hot and cold cider. Hot cider with cinnamon sticks to warm up  guests when they arrive. Sam Sifton, in his delightful little book Thanksgiving, says (pp. 8-9):

“Put plainly, we are going to cook Thanksgiving correctly.

And what exactly does that mean? It means there is going to be a turkey, and side dishes and dressing to go with it, and plenty of gravy as well. There is going to be a proper dinner table even if it turns out to be a slab of plywood over some milk crates, covered by a sheet. There are going to be proper place settings for each person and glasses for water and wine. There are going to be candles. There will be dessert.

            It means there will not be salad at meal’s end, or appetizers at its beginning. Please understand that from the very beginning. There can be a soup course at Thanksgiving if you wish, some delicate oyster bisque or creamy squash to guard against the chill of advancing winter. But you should not be filling a Thanksgiving guests’s stomach with onion tarts or nuts or corn chips or wee little amuses bouches in advance of a trencherman’s feast of turkey with four sides, the whole thing covered with gravy. Appetizers may promote the appetite of those who order and consume them in restaurants. At Thanksgiving, through, appetizers take up valuable stomach space. They are insulting to your own hard work.”

I agree with you, Sam, but I can’t quite bring myself to put NOTHING out. It’s usually an hour or so between the time guests arrive and dinner is served, and our guests travel 45 minutes or more to get to our house. So I put out nuts, carrots and hummus, crackers, sometimes chips. Chocolate covered cranberries in the silver candy dishes. And hot cider with cinnamon sticks of course. Since the publication of Cinnamon Girl, I have been noticing more and more foods and recipes involving cinnamon. I found a goat cheese log covered in apple and cinnamon at Trader Joe’s that we’re going to have. We taste-tested it when we had company last weekend, and found it delicious.

For me, the biggest break from tradition this year will be having flowers on the table. Usually I make a fruit centerpiece based on 18th century American tradition, using a mold I bought at a Williamsburg, Virginia  shop. Sometimes I use apples, sometimes oranges, sometimes both. Our house was built in the 1750s, so I do this to honor the colonial history of the house. This year I am a bit under the weather, and have decided to forgo this project to lighten my load a bit. I have the flowers ready to go, and they are lovely. But I’m already regretting the decision. I don’t know how important the centerpiece is to the others, but I know it is important to me. We’ll see how I feel the day after Thanksgiving.  

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