Seven adults, an almost three-year-old, an almost two-year-old, and a baby born just six days ago are descending on my 600-square-foot apartment this afternoon. I spent the past week gathering ingredients from far and wide. I take a certain amount of pride in noting that nothing on today’s Thanksgiving table was sourced from a large grocery chain. I take a little less pride in the fact that I bought cheese in three different stores because I failed to actually make any sort of shopping list.
Our 17-pound turkey hails from Vermont and was procured through my CSA. It has been soaking up its dry brine since Tuesday night.
Last night was time for more prep work. I transformed a loaf of bread into rustic croutons. I made a slow-simmered turkey stock using the neck and a few other odds and ends, along with a little pancetta. I baked sweet and spicy candied pecans. I cooked up a batch of cranberry, apple and caramelized onion chutney. I did my best to tidy up the apartment.
Over the years, I have developed a system for helping myself stay on track when preparing an elaborate meal. Today’s game plan will continue to evolve throughout the day, but this is the general direction.
I inexplicably awoke at 7:00am, leaving me with more time than anticipated. It was too early to pull the bird out of the fridge. And, until I remove the bird, there’s pretty much no room for anything else I manage to prep ahead of schedule.
I pondered this dilemma over a cup of coffee until I remembered that turkey liver I had shoved in a bowl and stuck next to the mushrooms for the ciabatta, sausage, fennel and cremini stuffing. Suddenly I had a vision of the amazing chopped liver made by Maison David’s Michel Kailfa that I had the chance to sample during June’s study trip to Paris. Frenchmen don’t get much more charming that Michel. And chopped liver doesn’t get tastier than his.
But I would do my best.
Chopped Turkey Liver with Cremini Mushrooms
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 turkey liver
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves stripped
- 1 small pinch red pepper flakes
- 4 cremini mushrooms
- 3 tablespoons madeira
- 1 small handful flat leaf Italian parsley
- salt and pepper
- Bring half the oil up to medium heat in a small pan. Add the liver and sear, rotating as it browns, for approximately five minutes.) You’re aiming for something like a medium-rare steak.) Remove the liver to a small bowl and add the rest of the oil.
- Add the onion and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until they are nicely browned and limp. (I have a hunch that Michel takes his onions past this point, which may make all the difference.) Add the mushrooms, thyme leaves and red pepper. Continue cooking, stirring frequently. The mushrooms will soak up the remaining fat and then gradually release liquid. Once they have done so, add the madeira and cook stirring continuously and scraping the bottom of the pan until mostly evaporated.
- Dump the liver, onions and mushrooms, and parsley into the small bowl of your food processor and purée for a few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Liver is packed full of good nutrients, including iron–which is good for those of us that tend towards the anemic. A smear of this on a cracker is a great way to get your strength up for a long day of cooking.
Last night’s dinner was bay scallops atop a fennel, arugula, Golden Delicious and red onion salad dressed with a sesame oil and rice wine vinaigrette.
The peppery arugula and the bite of the red onion helped to offset all that sweet. But something was missing. Were I a fancy chef, one of my kitchen crew would have arrived early that morning to prepare some puffed rice to add a dry, crispy element and my sommelier would have paired it with a crisp, lemony Sancerre. Alas, I am not a fancy chef. And so I ate my salad as is, standing at the kitchen counter, with a glass of the Pinot Noir that was already open. You could do worse for a Tuesday.
I arrived home tonight bearing king oyster mushrooms that one of my coworkers grew in quart jars full of coffee grounds in his apartment.
Jorge left the mushrooms in the office fridge, inviting us to help ourselves, provided we cooked them up and reported back on how they tasted. Um, they were good. Really good.
The king oyster mushroom’s unique shape–coupled with memories of last night’s good but not great dinner–inspired me to prepare them as though they were scallops. I’d be willing to bet that this technique would work well with all manners of fancy mushrooms. But it will lack a certain surreality.
Pappardelle with King Oyster Mushrooms & Arugula (a.k.a. This Is Not a Scallop)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small leek (or shallot), minced
- 8 oyster mushrooms, sliced into 1/2″ disks
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped from the stems
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 6 ounces dried pappardelle (or other flat egg pasta)
- 2 tablespoons dry vermouth (or leftover white wine)
- 2 heaping tablespoons crème fraîche
- 3 ounces arugula (or however much you’ve got)
- zest of 1 lemon
- salt and pepper
- Set a large pot of water to boil with plenty of salt. Bring the butter and oil up to medium heat in a large pan. Add you leeks and sauté, stirring continuously, for a couple of minutes. Add the mushrooms, red pepper, garlic and thyme. Cook, flipping the mushrooms occasionally, until they are golden. Deglaze the pan with the vermouth and allow to evaporate.
- Once the water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Scoop the pappardelle directly into your pan, allowing some of the cooking water to transfer. Mix the pasta into the mushrooms and then turn off the heat. Add the crème fraîche, arugula, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the arugula is wilted but still bright green, adding additional pasta water as needed to keep it loose but not soupy.
This should make enough for your dinner tonight and Jorge’s lunch tomorrow. Alternately, we could all agree not to tell Jorge and keep both servings for ourselves.
This was a very, very long week. I left the office late on Friday and met up with a friend for dinner, drinks and some mutual commiseration. I was feeling a bit better after shrimp-stuffed bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers and a couple of mezcal, Campari and red vermouth concoctions. We headed down to Film Forum for the late showing of Vertigo. The theater was mysteriously empty, so I did not feel compelled to jab Louis when he started to snore softly next to me. Like I said, it was a rough week.
We emerged a couple of hours later into what felt alarmingly like winter. Louis walked me to the subway station. Two hours, three trains and a walk across Lower Manhattan later (I do not recommend taking the 2/3 this weekend), I arrived home, filled the humidifier and burrowed under the covers. I should be catching up on work emails. I should be completing the work from my summer course. I should be hauling the compost to the farmers’ market. I should be cleaning my apartment.
Instead, I made breakfast.
Kale & Leek Croque-Madame
- 1/2 tablespoon butter plus enough to fry an egg
- 2 heaping tablespoons minced leek
- 1/2 tablespoon flour
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 1/2 cup finely chopped kale (You could blanch this first, but I like my greens toothsome and a bit bitter.)
- 2 pieces bread (I went with a nice, hearty whole grain.)
- 1 egg
- salt and pepper
- Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the flour and whisk continuously for a minute or two. Add the milk, mustard and nutmeg and bring to a simmer, whisking frequently. Gradually add the kale and keep whisking. Let cook for five minutes or so until the mixture thickens to a paste and the kale has wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Toast the bread under the broiler. Divide your kale-leek béchamel (that’s right, you just made a béchamel!) evenly between the two pieces of bread and pop under the broiler for a couple of minutes while you fry an egg. Place the egg on top of your béchamel-slathered toast and you’re good to go.
If I accomplish nothing else, I will still consider today a success.
A couple of Fridays ago I met a friend for some grownup (read: stiff) cocktails followed by some of the best Indian food I have ever had. In between, we stopped off at Kalustyan’s, where I once again failed to exercise any restraint. This is where I picked up those Jamaican Jerk Bitters that went into last weekend’s cocktail. I also purchased an excessive quantity of legumes.
Fortunately, soup season is upon us. We’re having a brilliant autumn here in New York City. The days are crisp, cool and noticeably shorter, making the bright amber sunlight all the more precious. Yesterday found me traversing Prospect Park bundled into my new emerald green Paddington Bear coat, listening (and likely singing aloud) to Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3. ‘Twas autumnal perfection.
Today I am hunkered down at home trying to catch up on work–the perfect time for a little soup making (and a little more Dylan).
Split Pea Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 ounces slab bacon, diced
- 2 medium yellow onions, diced
- 5 carrots, diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large sprig fresh thyme
- 1 large pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 small pinch ground cloves
- salt and pepper
Bring a large, heavy-bottomed pot up to medium-low heat with the olive oil. Add your bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until mostly rendered but not crispy. Add the onions and continue to stir and cook until they are soft. Add the carrots and cook for a few more minutes. Dump in the split peas, bay leaves, thyme, red pepper and cloves along with 7 cups of water. Raise heat, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Let cook, stirring more frequently as the mixture thickens, for two hours. Fish out the thyme and bay leaves and add salt and pepper to taste. (A little smoked salt will amp up the bacon flavor.)
This is nice finished with a little sherry vinegar. If you’re entertaining, you might throw in some frozen peas at the end, which will provide a lovely counterpoint to your delicious mush, and serve with a garnish of pumpernickel croutons. If you just polished off a large bowl of miso-poached eggs with bok choy and tatsoi and already have dinner plans, just pack the cooled soup into small containers and accept that this is what you will be eating for lunch all week. It reheats brilliantly.
The squash situation has gotten a little out of hand. This week’s CSA share, the last of the season (sniffle), brought the count up to a dozen–six delicata, one butternut, one acorn, one turban, one pumpkin and three kabocha squash to be specific.
I also had some fresh sage that was threatening to turn to dust after three weeks in the crisper. (It’s been a busy month.) The sage was grown at La Finca del Sur and purchased at the South Bronx Farmers Market, which Lily Kesselman and her neighbors started this year to bring farm fresh fruits and vegetables to their corner of New York City. I spent a delightfully sunny fall afternoon learning what it takes to start a community-led farmers’ market and chatting with Freddy in between sales of his collards, fresh herbs and late season tomatoes.
Kabocha Squash & Sage Bread
- 1 medium kabocha squash
- 10 tablespoons butter (plus a little extra for greasing your pan)
- 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves
- 2 cups flour (plus a little for dusting your pan)
- 2 teaspoons apple pie spice (or, if you didn’t happen to just get a free bottle of this in the mail because you inadvertently ordered a totally insane quantity of bay leaves and coriander seeds, you can use 1 teaspoon cinnamon plus a little nutmeg and whatever other baking spices you have on hand)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- Preheat the oven to 400 (or 205 if, two years on, you still haven’t figured out how to switch your oven back to Fahrenheit). Cut the squash in half and scoop the innards into a bowl. Cut the halves into quarters and place in a roasting pan. Cook for 40 minutes or so, until the squash is lightly browned and fork tender.
- BONUS RECIPE: While your squash cooks, remove the squash seeds from the guts as best you can. Rinse the seeds in a colander, which will help remove a bit more of the guts, but don’t sweat it if you don’t get them perfectly clean. Toss the seeds with a heaping tablespoon of coconut oil, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, a little cinnamon and cayenne, and a healthy pinch of salt. Spread the seeds onto a baking sheet (lined with foil if you’re lazy like me) and pop into the oven along with your squash. Make sure to check on these regularly, as they’ll go from toasted to burnt pretty quickly. (One suspects that a lower oven temperature would help, but we’re trying to be efficient here!)
- Meanwhile, melt 10 tablespoons of butter in a very small saucepan over low heat. Roughly chop the sage and add it to your melted butter. Let cook for five minutes or so and then remove from heat. You want the butter to get golden and give off of a sage aroma, but avoid burning the leaves.
- Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices in a small bowl.
- When the squash is done, drop the oven to 350 (175 Celsius, which you think I would have memorized by now) and remove the pan. Peel the skin from your roasted squash. (This will be infinitely easier if you let it cool first. But, if you made the ill-advised choice to start a baking project at 10:00pm on a school night, a large spoon should help get the job done with only minimal damage to your fingertips.) Drop the squash into the food processor and purée until smooth.
- Stir the squash, sugar, eggs and sage butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add the flour mixture in batches and stir until incorporated.
- Use the butter you failed to return to the fridge to grease a loaf pan. Swipe some of the flour spilled across the kitchen counter into your pan and shake to coat. Scoop your batter into the pan and pop it in the oven. Let bake for 45-50 minutes, until the loaf is nicely browned and a butter knife stuck inside comes out reasonably clean. (Another 5 minutes probably wouldn’t hurt, but damn, it’s getting late!)
In the interest of time, you’ll want to take care of the dishes while your bread bakes. I recommend starting with the spatula you used to scoop the batter out of the bowl.
By the time you finish cleaning up and write your blog post, the bread should be done. Let it cool for a bit and then gently pop it out of the pan. Not being much of a baker, I have no idea why there is a raised platform in the center of the loaf. I’d be ever so curious if yours comes out the same.
Odd protuberance or not, this bread will be very good–so much so that there will only be a small slice left on the office snack table by the time you get out of your morning meetings. Fortunately, this will be enough to ward off starvation during your next meeting.
My train was late getting into Baltimore. The trick or treating was in full effect by the time we made it back to Beth and Don’s house. Fortunately, Beth had laid in a serious stockpile of candy. Folks took turns distributing all manners of sugary goodness from the stoop while I set about crafting a more adult treat.
The Tell-Tale Heart
- 1.5 ounces bourbon (Buffalo Trace is nice)
- 2 ounces ginger ale (Blenheim if you can get it)
- 2 small cubes frozen lemon juice (heart shaped is ideal)
- 6 dashes Jamaican Jerk Bitters
Add the above ingredients, in that order, to a rocks glass. Enjoy.