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The perfect Thanksgiving salad. November 16, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As every cook knows, Thanksgiving dinner is a rush. And not in a good way. You’re racing like a thoroughbred in the Derby, but while they only run for a couple of minutes, you’re zigging and zagging through the kitchen for hours. True, you can make some things ahead, like your cranberry sauce, roasted veggies, casseroles, and dressing. You can buy desserts and dinner rolls and hold them. But some things have to be made last-minute, and one of them is salad.

It takes me a good half-hour to make a yummy salad, combining greens and chopping all the veggies, adding nuts or pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) and shredded or crumbled cheese, dicing apples or pears and sprinkling on golden raisins if I go that route or mixed olives if I don’t, adding herbs, making a quick, delicious dressing. Normally, I don’t mind: I’ll make the salad while the pasta water comes to a boil or the veggies cook or whatever, while I’d be standing around in the kitchen anyway.

But that’s not the case on Thanksgiving. The last thing I have time for is spending a half-hour making a salad while I’m trying to pull Thanksgiving dinner together. But fortunately, there’s a can’t-miss salad that you can put together in less than five minutes, and it’s so luscious that it might be the dish your family and friends can’t stop talking about after the meal. It’s the Wedge.

The Wedge is a retro salad. It’s based on a wedge of—gasp!!!—iceberg lettuce. Its return to fame began in steakhouses and has spread like wildfire. Iceberg lettuce has been dissed by chefs, nutritionists and foodies for decades as the salad equivalent of white balloon bread (think squishy Wonder bread). And it’s certainly true that iceberg can’t compete for flavor with arugula, radicchio, frisee, mustard greens, kale, and the like. It also can’t compete for nutritive value with darker greens like spinach, Romaine, or, say, a mesclun mix. Nutritionists are correct when they note that iceberg is lacking in vitamins. But they always fail to point out that iceberg is high in fiber.

If you happen to be eating a Thanksgiving spread including broccoli or green beans, sweet potatoes, some form of corn, and cranberries, you’ll be getting plenty of vitamins. Fiber-rich iceberg lettuce is exactly what you need to top off your meal. And you’ll be getting the flavor and nutritional goodness of onions, tomatoes, and blue cheese on top of it.

Making a Wedge couldn’t be easier. Take a head of iceberg lettuce, wash it, dry it, and then cut it in wedges. I’ve been served whole fourths to thirds of a head of iceberg when ordering the Wedge at restaurants, far more than anyone could eat. I suggest that you cut a head in sixths. Put each iceberg wedge on a salad plate, add diced red onion, followed by sliced cherry and/or grape tomatoes (I like to mix yellow, orange and red tomatoes for drama and flavor).

To finish the salad, crumble blue cheese over the lettuce wedge. Grind on fresh-cracked black pepper. In every restaurant where I’ve ordered a Wedge, it’s come with blue cheese dressing over the crumbled blue cheese. I myself prefer extra-virgin olive oil and a little fresh-squeezed lemon juice over the crumbled cheese, but it’s your choice. Some restaurants add crumbled bacon as well; as a vegetarian, I obviously skip that part, but your guests might find it rave-worthy.

That’s all there is to it. You cut iceberg wedges, add onion, tomato, blue cheese, and (if you want) bacon, pour on some dressing, the end. Your guests get a luscious, crunchy, creamy, flavorful salad. Retro chic and super easy. Serve with hot, soft breadsticks and dipping sauce or hand around the hot dinner rolls and butter, and your Thanksgiving dinner will be the talk of the town.

                ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

The Thanksgiving menu. November 19, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Thanksgiving will be here before we know it, and it’s not a minute too soon to start thinking about the menu, making your shopping list, and creating a timeline so everything’s done in time and ready for the table.

I’m vegetarian, so our groaning board will be missing that traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece, the turkey. But after Christmas, Thanksgiving—the celebration of another bounteous year, a reminder to give thanks for our many blessings, the culmination of Harvest Home—is my favorite holiday, so I want to make sure we and our guests have plenty of good food to eat. Here’s what I plan to serve this year:

Appetizers

endive boats (stuffed with gorgonzola and feta cheese, cranberries, and pecans)

poblano poppers (cored, halved poblano chiles stuffed with cream cheese and shredded Mexican cheese blend)

Salads

hearty tossed salad (endive, radicchio, romaine, escarole, arugula, kale, mustard greens, tons of chopped veggies, Spanish onion and scallions, olives, and cheeses, choice of dressings)

coleslaw (shredded green and purple cabbage, shredded carrots, diced sweet onion, diced Granny Smith apples, crumbled blue cheese, caraway and/or cracked fennel seed, black mustardseed, cracked black pepper, vinaigrette)

Delilah’s lentil-apple salad

Soup

curried pumpkin soup

Main Course

cranberry sauce

summer squash casserole

cranberry dressing

potato and winter squash casserole with Gruyere cheese, or mashed potatoes

roasted sliced sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and sweet onion

green beans

corn pudding

Desserts

sour cherry pie

pumpkin cheesecake bars

pecan pie

Okay, even with guests, this is a ton of food. But the great thing about Thanksgiving food is that it keeps so well! Even after we send food home for guests, we’ll have plenty of leftovers to enjoy for at least a week. Hallelujah!

I’ll be sharing some recipes for this meal with you as we get closer to Thanksgiving. They’re too good not to try!

And please, share your Thanksgiving menu with us. We’d love to know what you’re having!

                   ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Is cranberry sauce supposed to be bitter? November 18, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. This reader query really struck a chord with me and our friend Ben, lovers of cranberry sauce that we are. Because, you see, we weren’t always devotees of homemade cranberry sauce. And that’s because most homemade cranberry sauces are too bitter.

Let me clarify: Cranberries are inherently bitter. That’s why we don’t eat them raw by the handful like, say, blueberries or cherries. You can still taste a hint of bitterness under the cups of sugar (or, gack, high-fructose corn syrup) in most cranberry juice. You can taste it in dried cranberries (aka craisins), sweet and delicious as they are. And yes, you can taste it in cranberry sauce. But it shouldn’t dominate the flavor of the sauce, any more than it dominates the juice or craisins. And too often it does.

The cranberry sauce OFB and I grew up with was pretty similar. Our mothers put bags of cranberries (just the berries, not the bags, mind you) in water, added orange sections, whole cloves, sugar, and cinnamon sticks, brought the mixture to a boil, and cooked it down. The result was beautiful, aromatic, and bitter. As children, we both passed on the homemade sauce and went for the canned cranberry “jelly,” and yes, we do still love that stuff, which somehow isn’t bitter.

We understand that, in the North, some families make a chopped raw cranberry relish for Thanksgiving. We can’t even begin to imagine how bitter that must be! But before fans of cranberry relish and traditional cranberry sauce take up their cudgels against us, let me clarify one point: I think that the whole original appeal of cranberry sauce was its bitterness.

This concept completely eluded me as a child, and almost escaped me as a vegetarian, but eventually my carnivorous roots came to my rescue and reminded me that a certain amount of bitterness can really enhance a rich meat. Roast turkey, duck, and pork are prime candidates for a bitter/tart cranberry sauce or relish served as an enhancement to the meat, a condiment, much like mint sauce with lamb. It’s only when you separate the meat and cranberries that you lose the connection and the bitterness becomes a drawback.

So, dear reader, cranberry sauce was indeed supposed to be bitter. But that doesn’t mean it has to be bitter! My cranberry sauce is sweet and delicious, and there’s not a cup of sugar or corn syrup in sight. (It’s adapted from a recipe by Dorie Greenspan that’s been given the “Silence treatment.” Thank you, Dorie!) If you’re looking for a sweet, succulent cranberry sauce, try this, you’ll love it:

                   Silence’s Supreme Cranberry Sauce

2 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries

1 12-ounce jar apricot preserves

16 ounces orange juice

1/2 cup dried diced apricots

1/4 cup Grand Marnier

2 cinnamon sticks

heaping 2 tablespoons ginger paste or 2 slices diced crystallized ginger or minced fresh ginger

Rinse and drain cranberries and put them in a large, heavy pot. Pour in orange juice and Grand Marnier. Add diced apricots, apricot preserves, cinnamon sticks, and ginger. Stir well to mix, then cook over low heat until cranberries “pop” and mixture thickens. Allow to cool (it will continue to thicken as it cools), then pour into containers and refrigerate until needed. Keeps very well. Serves up to 12 (fewer if you love cranberry sauce like we do).

Because this sauce is so bold and flavorful, we find that it makes a wonderful accompaniment long after Thanksgiving dinner is a memory. Try it with bland but rich dishes like Fettucine Alfredo or a simple creamy pasta. (Served with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts and mushrooms and a big, crunchy salad, this is a recipe for cold-weather bliss!) We find my fabulous cranberry dressing far too good to serve just once a year (don’t worry, I’ll be posting the recipe in plenty of time for Thanksgiving!), and it’s delicious served with mashed potatoes or roasted sweet potatoes and this cranberry sauce.

Getting back to the whole cranberry sauce/rich meat thing, let me leave you with a thought: If I were serving up cranberry sauce specifically to eat with a turkey or pork roast, I’d make it like this: Saute diced sweet onion in butter until it clarifies. Add curry powder, salt, and lots of cracked black pepper. Add fresh cranberries, maple syrup, and a splash of chicken stock. Cook down on low, adding more chicken stock as needed. You could sub chipotle powder for the curry powder if you’d like to heat things up, and/or cook bacon instead of melting butter, sauteeing the onion in the bacon drippings and removing the bacon and dicing it before adding it back to the pan. The sweet/savory/spicy cranberry sauce you’d get with this approach would perfectly balance fowl or pork.

OFB and I will stick with my own recipe, though. In addition to serving it as a side dish, we can use it as a topping on cheesecake or vanilla ice cream or pumpkin bread, or layer it in a vanilla or pumpkin or chocolate torte.

Bitter? Not my sauce!

             ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Thinking through Thanksgiving dinner. November 19, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s not a minute too soon to get your Thanksgiving menu in order, especially if, like me and our friend Ben, you have more than one Thanksgiving meal to prepare. Tomorrow, I’ll be making “early Thanksgiving” for friends, and then on Thanksgiving Day, OFB and I will have a quiet but festive celebration at home. Naturally, I don’t want to make the exact same menu both days. And naturally, there are way more Thanksgiving favorites than I can cook, even for two feasts.

So this year, I decided to get organized and write down all my options by category. Doubtless, most folks will start their list with turkey and gravy. But what then? Our friend Ben and I, like our parents, have our Thanksgiving dinner at suppertime, not lunchtime or in the afternoon. We love this arrangement, since it allows us to eat our main meal at the usual time and then, if we feel like keeling over, go to bed at actual bedtime without feeling weird or guilty. It also lets us enjoy a long, luxurious pre-meal cocktail hour, with an assortment of light appetizers that will hold us over until dinner without ruining our appetite for the meal. So I’m starting my list with appetizers. I like to make several, unlike the other courses, where I choose just one from every group.

One great thing about computerizing your list is that you can add the recipe and shopping list under every dish, then print it out and save it for future years. (Make copies for kids, friends and relatives!) Mine’s just in the scrawled-on-Xerox-paper stage so far, unfortunately, but it’s still a great leap forward in terms of seeing all the options at a glance and putting the menus together. Remember, you can use this list for Christmas dinner, too, with a few significant alterations in the dessert department.

So here’s my list (so far). Let me know what you think, and if you have favorite dishes I should add!

            Menu Options for Thanksgiving Dinner

Appetizers (choose two)

Baked Brie with Brown Sugar, White Wine, and Table Water Crackers 

Crostini with Tapenade or Artichoke Paste

Belgian Endive Leaves Filled with Blue Cheese or Gorgonzola, Pecans and Cranberries

Cranberry-Cream Cheese Rangoons

Salad Course (choose one)

Carrot Cabbage Confetti Slaw

Garlicky Caesar Salad

Delilah’s Lentil-Apple Salad

Pear and Frisee Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts

Bibb and Radish Salad with Buttermilk Dressing

Bread (choose one)

Cornbread

Yeast Rolls

Popovers

Orange Veg (choose one)

Silence’s Curried Pumpkin Soup  

Roasted Veggies (sweet potatoes, sweet onions, mushrooms, yellow bell peppers, beets)

Curried Carrots

Potato and Winter Squash Casserole with Gruyere Cheese

Dressing (choose one)

Silence’s Amazing Cranberry Dressing

Corn Stuffing Balls

Cranberries (choose one)

Silence’s Ultimate Cranberry Sauce 

Cranberry Jelly

Green Veg (choose one)

Broccoli

Broccoflower

Green Beans

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Sauteed Spinach and Garlic

Sauteed Escarole and Garlic

Starch (choose one)

Corn Pudding made with Cope’s Dried Sweet Corn

Mashed Potatoes

Rice

Summer Squash Casserole

Creamy Pasta

Ultimate Mac’n’Cheese

Dessert (choose one)

Pumpkin Roll

Pecan Pie

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Apple Crisp

Baked Apples

Well, that’s it for my list so far. Now I just have to get shopping—and cooking!

            ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

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