Monday, December 17, 2012

This Bird Has Flown

This Thanksgiving we gave thanks for having a whole day to wreck and re-wreck the kitchen. It ended up just the two of us, so that took the clock away, plus that old problem of how do you entertain guests and prepare to feed them simultaneously, assuming they don't want to watch a live cooking show. (Remember, cooking shows now tend to cut the cooking itself out or insist on an Alton Brown for play-by-play.) Nope, the day was just us having at a wide range of recipes in a dishwasherless, microwave-absent kitchen.

Along with a works-well but is of its era Wedgewood stove/oven. That partially led to us eschewing a big bird, not to mention Chryss is a pescatarian to boot (to fin?), so a Cornish hen seemed plenty for me. Othwerwsie it was about sides, for if you serve enough, they take up the center of the plate anyway. Especially when one is a potato and mushroom goat cheese gratin en croute, since potatoes need some flaky crust atop to be complete (especially when laden with cheese-daubed bechamel). This was a recipe from Hatfield's in the LA Times, one of those dishes that ends up looking simple but is multi-stepped, and turned out even better with a few dashes of hot sauce that all that carb-starch-creaminess just devoured.

For a hint of heat never hurt any dish, just ask the long-cooked green beans (recipe by Suzanne Tracht of Jar; secret theme of the day--let us give thanks for great chefs 90 miles to our south). These cook slow in a soupy-stock but you still flash blanch them, and then they get onioned and chili-ed and bay leafed and balsamiced up. Never give thanks for a green been casserole when you can do this to them instead.

Do give thanks, however, for Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi's brilliant non-vegetarian vegetable cookbook (that's a crucial, no brown rice has been steamed to bland your meal, distinction). His dish was our yam substitute, not that I don't like sweet potatoes, and I know the two are different things even if they're collated-confused in our culture. I'm not so sold, however, on the super-sizing of the sweetness of sweet potatoes. Who wants marshmallows on that? Why bronze the orchid? I prefer sneaking some savory in, and that's where Ottolenghi's recipe was brilliant. You slice the squash thinninsh (and any winter squash will do, even if he asks for pumpkin--we used both butternut and kabocha), at about a quarter inch, and then coat that with a zippy mix of olive oil, Parmesan, breadcrumbs, parsley, thyme, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper. Roast. They get soft enough you can even eat the skin. On that you dollop sour cream stirred with dill.

Fresh herbs, what a wild idea, at it would be if I were transported back to my childhood, when I believed basil and thyme all had the last name McCormick and came from jars that grew a bit dusty in my mom's pantry. Now, rosemary always grows in my yard, the chopping of it brown-greening the cutting board as it was prepared for the Cornish hen. Again, growing up my mom would have stuffed the hens with Rice-a-Roni (I was surprised to learn what a different treat San Francisco would be when I finally got there as an adult), that ersatz saffron something I once actually craved (or was that the MSG?). Now I know better, and stuff the hens with dried cranberries plumped in Grand Marnier, chopped toasted walnuts, and sauteed kale. The hen gets rubbed with butter (a word I often typo as better, a true Freudian kitchen slip), sprinkled with orange zest, liberally seasoned. Roasted. To be honest, the bird was delish, but I sort of liked the stuffing best. Just like any more traditional Thanksgiving, I guess.

There's a Turley White Coat, as you can't have too much Roussanne. I mean too much great Roussanne.

And then we do have the neighbors and their friend over and Cattie back for dessert. There's a lot of after dinner stuff to drink in this house, so we did. And had a bourbon pecan pie from John Besh's My New Orleans (and why, of all foods, is he eating ice cream on the cover? that's clearly not a Cajun-Creole food, as it so rarely has pig in it). After all, one of the trips we had to give thanks for this year was to New Orleans. The recipe opts for 3/4 cup molasses to a 1/2 cup corn syrup, which for Chryss's taste made it too shoo-fly, but I liked its deep dark sweet--we didn't sweeten our whipped cream and that worked perfectly (to my palate). It could have been pecan-ier, perhaps, but can't we all.

Overall, the message was this--there's always something new for which to be thankful, so don't get caught in ruts.

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