Articles in Cooking
Corn has gotten a bad rap over the past 50 years, especially since it was genetically modified to resist enormous applications of herbicide, and then used primarily for ethanol and animal feed. That No. 2 Yellow Dent corn is a far cry from the delicious and nutritious staple of the Native Americans, who deserve to own the intellectual property of corn genetics for the simple reason that all corn is Indian corn, painstakingly developed by Native Americans from wild teosinte grass.
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Cultivation of maize began more than 8,000 years ago in the Balsas River Valley in what is present-day Mexico, and the plant was considered a sacred gift from the gods. Over the years, thousands of varieties were developed by native peoples throughout Meso-America, and then throughout North and South America, until there were varieties for every altitude and climate, and for every culinary and ceremonial purpose. The Indians categorized their corn by intended use: for flour, for hominy and porridge, for popping, and so on. Of the many edible gifts native peoples have given us, the most important is, arguably, corn.
This Thanksgiving, you can give thanks to Native Americans and recapture some of the rich heritage and rich tastes of corn by seeking out heirloom varieties such as Mandan Bride, and serving them as a side dish or as a gluten-free stuffing for your bird.
My first experience with true polenta was not in Italy, but in my own kitchen using my brother Henry’s freshly ground Mandan Bride cornmeal, water, salt and pepper. Until that silky, creamy, revelatory moment, I thought all cornmeal came in a yellow and blue canister blessed with a smiling Quaker. And I thought it tasted pretty much like the cardboard it came in.
The steaming bowl in front of me was something else entirely — complex, nutty, mildly sweet and altogether comforting. And it got me wondering who and what Mandan Bride was, and why I had lived for 50 years before tasting the earthy essence of corn.
It turns out the Mandan Indians lived in parts of what we now know as Minnesota and North Dakota, and they developed this corn specifically for grinding into meal and making into porridge. They bred it for flavor and nutrition, and quite possibly for beauty as well.
Every ear of Mandan Bride is different, the variegated colors ranging from deep burgundy to hazy purple to smoky white, with some kernels a uniform color and others striped. The ears are so beautiful that you may find it being sold as an ornamental. But after enjoying its beauty, you should do as the Indians intended, and make yourself the most amazing polenta you’ve ever had.
Searching for Mandan Bride
Mandan Bride and other heirloom cornmeals are hard to find from anyone but a small-scale, biodiverse local farmer. The plant’s relatively weak stalks and soft cobs make it nearly impossible to harvest mechanically, so farmers must pick the ears by hand, then hand shuck them, dry them to just the right point and then stone grind them in small batches. Because the whole kernel is ground, heirloom cornmeal is much more flavorful and nutritious than commercial cornmeal for which the outer hulls and inner germ (the protein- and fat-rich center of each kernel) are removed. But freshly ground whole kernels are perishable, and should be kept in the refrigerator or freezer.
If you can’t find Mandan Bride, look for Hopi Blue or Bloody Butcher. Or resolve to grow your own next year. Seeds are available from a number of purveyors who specialize in old varieties, and Mandan Bride is listed as one of RAFT’s (Renewing America’s Food Traditions) “culinary mainstays of the last three millennia.”
Perfect Thanksgiving polenta
Many polenta recipes call for butter, cream or cheese, but if you have freshly ground heirloom cornmeal, there’s no need for anything but water, salt and pepper.
Polenta can be made and served at a loose, custardy consistency using a 5-1 ratio of water to cornmeal, or it can be made with less water (a 4-1 ratio) so that it’s firm and easily shaped into squares or triangles, and then pan-fried or broiled, giving you great crunch on the outside and creaminess on the inside. Either way, polenta pairs perfectly with bold autumn greens like Brussels sprouts or broccoli rabe.
For a less stressful Thanksgiving meal, make this polenta a day or two ahead of time, then broil it just before serving.
Broiled Polenta With Heirloom Cornmeal
4 cups water
1 cup Mandan Bride or other heirloom cornmeal (if unavailable, get the best organic cornmeal you can find)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1. Bring salted water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Turn the heat down to medium, and add the cornmeal gradually in a steady stream, whisking constantly until it’s all incorporated.
2. Turn the heat to low and continue whisking for about 5 minutes to prevent any lumps from forming.
3. Continue stirring often for the next 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Reduce heat to low and continue stirring until polenta turns creamy and pulls away from the sides of the pot. Taste and add sea salt and freshly ground pepper if desired.
4. Generously coat a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with olive oil. Pour the polenta into the pan and let cool. Cover and refrigerate.
5. Take out an hour or so before you plan to serve it to let it come to room temperature. Set your broiler on high and grease a rimmed cookie sheet.
6. Slice the firm polenta into diamonds, wedges, or squares — or use your favorite cookie cutter. Place polenta slices on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on the top rack of the oven and broil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until polenta is crisp and brown on top.
Top photo: Mandan Bride corn. Credit: Terra Brockman
Leftover turkey from the Thanksgiving feast can be dreadfully dry and dull.
Here’s a great idea for bringing it back to life: a Mexican layered pie of corn tortillas, shredded turkey (the leg meat is particularly good for this), poblanos fried with onions (called “rajas“), spicy tomato sauce, corn, sour cream and cheese. The whole thing can be assembled ahead of time and ready to go in the oven. Serve with a sharply dressed salad of mixed greens (lettuce, arugula, corn salad, etc.), endive and radicchio.
Serves 6 to 8
15 freshly made corn tortillas, 6 inches (15 centimeters) in diameter
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For the rajas:
6 canned, roasted and peeled chiles poblanos to equal 1-pound drained weight
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, finely sliced
Salt to taste
For the tomato sauce:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, mashed
2 jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped
1 large can (¾ pound or 800 grams) peeled tomatoes
For the fillings and toppings:
1 pound (about 4 cups) cooked turkey meat, shredded
10 ounces (300 grams) corn kernels, fresh, frozen or canned
2 cups (1 pound or 500 grams) sour cream or fresh curd cheese (fromage blanc)
3 ounces (75 grams) grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack
1. Lay the tortillas out on a working surface for a few hours to get a little stale. If they’re too fresh, they will absorb too much sauce and will disintegrate to a mush when the pie is baked.
2. For the rajas, rinse the poblanos to get rid of any burnt bits. Then remove the stalks and seeds and cut the flesh into thin strips.
3. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy skillet and fry the onions fairly briskly for about 10 minutes, stirring, until lightly golden.
4. Reduce the heat, stir in the poblano strips and cook for a few minutes more.
5. Season with salt and set aside.
6. For the sauce, put the onions in a food processor and chop finely. Add tomatoes, crushed garlic, chopped jalapeños and salt to taste and process till smooth.
7. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy saucepan — keep a lid handy to prevent the sauce splattering.
8. Pour in the tomato mixture, clamp on the lid, reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes until well-flavored and somewhat thickened, stirring from time to time.
9. Check the seasoning, adding more salt if needed.
10. Spread a little sauce in the bottom of a large, ovenproof dish about 12 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep (30 by 6 centimeters).
11. Lay 3 tortillas in the bottom like the petals of a flower, overlapping them slightly to cover the bottom.
12. Add one quarter of the rajas, turkey and corn, daub with blobs of sour cream or fresh curd cheese and sprinkle with a little more sauce.
13. Repeat with three more layers of tortillas, sauce and fillings.
14. Top with the last 3 tortillas, a final daub of sauce, blobs of sour cream or curd cheese and the grated cheese.
15. The pie can be prepared ahead up to this point. Cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and refrigerate till ready to go into the oven.
16. Heat the pie in an oven warmed to 350 F (180 C) for 30 to 35 minutes or until thoroughly hot. Stick a skewer in the middle to test the temperature, and if necessary, prolong the cooking time.
Top photo: Aztec Pie ready for the oven. Credit: Sue Style
Have you ever reflected on who you really are? Not from a psychological perspective, but from an ethnic and ancestral one. I believe that food is among the first elements that connects us to our past and defines us.
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Thanksgiving is a perfect time to truly ponder our connection to our ancestral foods. We are a nation of immigrants. While we embrace and give thanks as a nation, many of us also give a nod to our roots with our family Thanksgiving recipes.
I can relate to this firsthand. I grew up in a three-generation household with my Italian grandparents and my parents. Food was the centerpiece of our existence. My Nana and Baba were always referring to their parents and grandparents.
The discussion often centered on food and recipes. Or, what it was like back “then,” when the family had come over “on the boat” and settled in the Bronx. They described the hardships they faced. But somehow I know they also romanticized it a bit. It seemed that “back then” always was better than “here, now.” What they were really saying was they cherished those memories. Their stories of food and meals were how they defined themselves.
Italian specialties to appreciate a new life in America
As a child, I heard stories of how the relatives all pitched in to make the Thanksgiving feast, which was really an Italian-American feast. I’ll never forget my grandmother’s mantra, “Many hands make for light work.” Turkey, by the way, was an optional. All the foods came from recipes and techniques handed down through generations.
A typical menu consisted of an antipasto, a soup course, some pasta with meatballs and gravy or my favorite, manicotti, a roast of some sort with vegetables, nuts and fruit for dessert along with Italian pastries from a nearby bakery.
My mom, to this day eschews the turkey. It just isn’t her idea of Thanksgiving. For my ancestors, Thanksgiving was a time to reflect on how grateful they were to be here in the United States. However, they clung to their ancestral roots like a worn, cozy baby blanket by serving their time-tested heritage foods.
Family Thanksgiving recipes that connect to our roots
My story is not unique. I’ve interviewed scores of people who bring their ethnic foods to their Thanksgiving table to honor their ancestral traditions. A family recipe brings a wonderful sense of nostalgia, love, belonging, connection and roots that cannot be denied.
Take Brazilian-born Ellie Markovitch, for instance who now lives in Troy, N.Y. She makes her Brazilian cheese bread, pão de queijo, on Thanksgiving to keep her food roots alive.
“We celebrate the Thanksgiving meal with recipes and stories from around the world,” she said. “That is because all the members in our family were born in a different country. I was born in Brazil; Dmitri in Estonia; Lina, who is 5, was born in France; and Lara, 2, was born in the U.S.”
There’s also Loring Barnes, a 10th direct descendent of William Bradford, the Plymouth Colony governor at the first Thanksgiving, makes her family’s acorn squash recipe and the Barnes family’s baked chocolate pudding — both recipes can be linked to her pilgrim ancestors.
So, in preparation for Thanksgiving, I beckon you to walk down food memory lane with your relatives and discover, if you haven’t already, those foods that connect you to your past. Perhaps adding an ethnic dish to the menu and the story behind it will become the bridge to your past and future. These foods will help define who you are.
Barnes Family Baked Chocolate Pudding and ‘Ice Cream’ Sauce Topping
This cake was elicited from Loring Barnes, “I am having a food memory.” This is the essence of Heirloom Meals — making and eating food that transports us to a great memory! I confess, this may be my favorite recipe and it’s a keeper. This dessert will please chocolate lovers and then some. It is the perfect combination of textures and is worth the indulgence.
For the chocolate pudding:
3 squares melted baking chocolate
½ cup sugar
1½ cups milk, divided
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature/softened
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the ‘‘Ice Cream” sauce:
1½ cups sugar
⅔ cup melted unsalted butter (warm not blazing hot so it won’t “cook” the egg)
2 eggs, beaten
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups fresh cream, whipped
Optional: ½ shot of Gran Marnier
For the chocolate pudding:
1. Heat oven to 325 F.
2. Grease and flour a Bundt or tube pan. (A Bundt with flutes is the prettiest and defines your slices).
3. In top of double boiler combine chocolate, sugar and ½ cup of the milk. Mix and stir until it thickens, remove top from heat, allow to cool.
4. In large mixing bowl or stand mixer combine butter, eggs, flour, baking soda and water mixture, salt, the remaining 1 cup of the milk, and vanilla.
5. Add the chocolate mixture to above, combine until completely mixed but don’t over beat.
6. Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan, bake 1 hour on the middle rack. Cool and remove from pan.
7. The pudding should be kept moist, so keep the pudding covered with foil or plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out. Be careful not wrap so tight so that you the baked pudding sticks to your wrap. A Tupperware cake container is fine, but I still wrap it a bit within that storage.
Tip: I like wraparound soaked baking strips for even baking. This is also a way to create moisture without a water bath.
For the “Ice Cream” sauce:
In large mixing bowl or standing mixer blend ingredients together, pouring in sugar and butter so that the warm (not hot) butter will somewhat dissolve the sugar during the blending. Refrigerate until serving. Add the Gran Marnier, if you’re using it.
Serve baked pudding gently warmed in low-temperature oven. I dust with confectioners’ sugar on the plate, but this is optional. Slice, generously dollop with the hard sauce.
“Pão de Queijo” (Cheese Bread), courtesy of Ellie Markovitch
Known as the national treasure of Brazil, this cheese bread recipe is amazingly simple. Ellie adapted it from her mother’s recipe because in the U.S. we don’t have the same ingredients that are available in Brazil. It has just three ingredients. Made with yucca flour, aka tapioca flour, they are gluten-free. Ellie shared three tips with me: Once they are in the oven, you cannot peek for 30 minutes, or the rolls will collapse, so no peeking. Also, they are best eaten hot out of the oven. And last, double or triple the recipe because one batch will get eaten before it reaches the table.
1 cup of sour cream
1 cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of yucca flour
1. Heat the oven to 350 F.
2. Combine the sour cream, cheese and 1 cup of yucca flour.
3. Roll the dough into small balls in the palm of your hand, using about 1 heaping tablespoon of dough for each. Use the extra 2 tablespoons of yucca flour to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands.
4. Place the dough balls on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes Remove from oven and serve immediately piping hot.
Top photo: Pão de Queijo Brazilian cheese bread. Credit: Carole Murko
I have never been a “decorate for the holiday” kind of gal. As I was looking for a pan to bake this pie, I found my mom’s pumpkin pie pan, which I had not seen in years. I was reminded of what a fantastic hostess she was.
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Every holiday meant some kind of décor change signifying the importance of said holiday. Acorn door hangings for Thanksgiving, Easter baskets with colorful eggs and Christmas joy everywhere! Christmas hand towels for the guests, Christmas wreaths, Christmas candies placed into crystal candy dishes. Crystal candy dishes shaped like Christmas trees, naturally.
If there is such a thing as an anti-hostess, that would be me. As a chef I can fill a table with amazing foods, but that’s as far as it goes. I put out plates, napkins and cutlery. Then I turn to my guests and say, “Bon Appetit and help yourself!” And I am often barefoot, because I like to be.
In my mother’s day, if someone stopped by, they were immediately asked whether they were hungry. Then she went in the kitchen and emerged a few moments later in a frilly apron with a fully loaded hors d’oeuvre tray and cocktails. How did she do that?
Being an anti-hostess, if you are a good friend, I will generally wave dismissively toward the kitchen and say, “You know where everything is.” My attire tends to run toward yoga pants and a T-shirt. And no shoes.
Finding the pumpkin pie pan, I knew it was time to turn over a new leaf, or new squash, if you must. I knew that this pan was the one to make my pumpkin pie in this year. It’s a baby step toward embracing the holidays and learning to be a good hostess, but it is still a step. I may even find that acorn door hanger and proudly display it on my front door. Maybe.
Spiced Pumpkin Pie With Coconut Milk
1¼ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cold butter
2 tablespoons cold shortening
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
½ cup turbinado or raw sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1 can (15 ounce) pumpkin
1 cup light coconut milk
1. Heat oven to 375 F.
2. Mix the flour and salt in medium bowl.
3. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut butter and shortening into flour mixture, until mixture forms small crumbs.
4. Slowly add water 1 tablespoon at a time until dough forms.
5. Wrap dough in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 1 hour.
6. Roll chilled dough out large enough to fit a 9-inch pie pan. Line pan with dough, fold excess under and crimp edges.
7. Line crust with foil, then add enough dried beans or rice to act as a weight.
8. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and remove pie weights. Let the crust cool.
9. Turn oven temperature down to 350 F.
10. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, ginger and allspice. Whisk together the mixture, until well incorporated.
11. Add the pumpkin, whisk until incorporated then stir in the coconut milk.
12. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the cooled pie shell, then bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the filling is set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
13. Cool the pie on a rack.
Top photo: Pumpkin pie in a family heirloom holiday dish. Credit: Cheryl Lee
At 8 p.m. on the Saturday before the first snowfall, organic grower Patrick Thiel harvested the last of his 50,000 pounds of potatoes in eastern Oregon. His crew — an itinerant chef, some furloughed firefighters and day laborers — unearthed the haul by hand. Alby’s Gold, Corolle and La Ratte Fingerlings were among the heirloom varieties Portland’s top chefs demanded of Thiel’s tiny Prairie Creek Farm.
When Gabriel Rucker, Naomi Pomeroy, Vitaly Paley and Portland’s other culinary all-stars create a potato side dish or make French fries, they don’t accept any old spud. That got me thinking about Thanksgiving.
Next to turkey, mashed potatoes play the best supporting role. They are essential. You may mess around with a vegetable side dish, invent a salad or even mix in a new pie, but mashers are on the menu each and every year.
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How, I wondered, could this year’s mashed potatoes be their very best?
Storage and starch
Snow flurries scattered on the silver roof of a makeshift potato shed in Prairie Creek Farm’s fields. My feet were cold within moments, but I’d come to learn what I could from the most renowned potato grower in Oregon. Gene Thiel, the farm’s founder known as “Potato Man,” died in July at 77 and left the legacy to his son, Patrick. They’d worked side by side on their leased patch of glaciated soils making their root crops — beets, carrots and potatoes — memorable highlights of many menus.
Looking like a miner with a helmet and headlamp, Thiel led me inside his potato shed. The earthy air was noticeably warmer and dark as night. Hills of soil-caked potatoes reached head height — 50,000 pounds, Thiel estimated with undisguised disappointment.
“It should be 100,000,” he said. But he couldn’t get enough organic seed potato for a full crop. Shaking his head, he noted that meant rationing the smaller yield to his 50 chefs to fulfill deliveries from now to spring.
Bent over a bulwark of 50-pound bagged potatoes, Thiel commented offhandedly, “Cooking potatoes is a question of sugar content and temperature.”
I realized my lesson had begun. He explained that in cool storage (within 40 to 45 F), the potatoes retain their sugars. So, you want to store your potatoes, whether from the store, farmers market or your own garden, as cool as you can for long keeping.
When they’re warmed up, the potato’s sugars convert to starches. Because the best mashed potatoes require a starchy potato, Thiel’s key advice was simple: Warm your potatoes before boiling.
“If your sugars are high, you’ll get glue,” Thiel said. Then, he added, “My dad could tell the good chefs who set their bag of potatoes by the stove.” Their French fries had the best color and their mashed potatoes the best texture. Flavor is another story.
Not your ordinary Russets
Thiel is a soft-spoken father of four with a brown cap of hair who harbors fervent opinions on potatoes. I asked him outright, What is the best potato for mashing?
“If you like light and fluffy, use Russets,” he replied. “If you like flavor, use better varieties.”
He was speaking, of course, of heirloom potato varieties. Not the Idaho potato, the Burbank Russet, grown for uniformity in size, starch, color and flavor. Commercial potato growers are paid to produce to specifications and penalized if their tubers don’t make the cut. Thiel and his dad left behind commercial-scale potato growing many years ago and became committed to producing diverse breeds, including Alby’s Gold, a yellow variety that is the farm’s mainstay.
On this topic, Thiel is passionate. “No potato has better color, flavor and texture than Alby’s,” he said. “They come alive like no other potato.”
More brightly colored than Yukon Gold, Alby’s is the only potato that can hold an astonishing amount of butter when mashed, according to longtime Chef Pascal Sauton. Just 1 pound of Alby’s potatoes can absorb 1½ sticks of butter.
“Put that much butter in anything, it’s incredible,” Thiel conceded. He also recommended blending them with good quality olive oil, duck fat, bacon fat or truffle oil.
Prairie Creek Farm grows roughly eight potato varieties, including Ranger Russet, best adapted to the growing conditions in Oregon’s alpine region. Throughout the country, small farms offer their own favorite heirloom breeds. (Find the one closest to you at LocalHarvest.com.)
“When you’re using different potatoes,” Thiel advised, “you need to know your potato.” On his weekly delivery runs, he informs chefs about the storage conditions, but stops short of the direct instructions his father shot off for cooking them. “I don’t have the courage to argue with them like my dad,” he said with a shy smile. He does confide in me that when he wants an extra fluffy mash, he’ll mix a few of his Russets in with his favored Alby’s.
As I stepped gingerly between piles of potatoes to exit the shed, Thiel shined his headlamp to the roof to show me droplets suspended there. Entombed, the potatoes make their own moisture, respiring and living in a state of waiting until we claim them for our own Thanksgiving Day feast.
Top photo: Patrick Thiel. Credit: Lynne Curry
by: Caroline J. Beck
Toying with Thanksgiving tradition is tricky – I might disappoint my guests. From prior experience, they will arrive expecting to see the iconic farm table setting of Norman Rockwell’s wonderful mid-20th century painting. They have imagined aromas of a succulent bird with a crackling crust; rich side dishes piled high; and platters of homemade pies. They will not expect a fished, foraged and farmed one-plate meal.
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I will blame it on a recent cross-country trip where the trend toward local foraging was in full force. It caused me to rethink what I am thankful for during this holiday season and what to celebrate.
First stop, a small-town gas station on Minnesota’s river-etched border promoting true wild rice for sale from a local purveyor. Second stop, Santa Fe, New Mexico’s lively farmers market offering fiery chili powder roasted in an horno, or adobe oven, and seasonal wild mushrooms in all their delicate tenderness. Third stop, Sedona, Arizona’s hidden Oak Creek apple orchards heavy with fruit amid the blaze of red rock landscape.
As I wound my way through the countryside, it struck me that the best way to truly celebrate Thanksgiving is to pay homage to all the farmers and foragers who supply this bounty with one dish that explodes with fall season flavor. Wild salmon, foraged chanterelles, true Minnesota wild rice and California winter greens, all dressed with the season’s freshest olio nuovo and true balsamic vinegar. All that and a mountain-high apple pie might just make them forget about Norman Rockwell.
Thanksgiving Salmon Salad
I sheepishly admit that this one-plate dinner also offers a new stress-free approach to Thanksgiving. One that employs one hour of advanced preparation, not two or three days. One that leaves very few dishes to tidy up. And one that won’t have me wrestling over what to do with nonexistent leftovers.
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups wild rice
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Extra virgin olive oil, preferably olio nuovo, as needed
1 cup dried tart cherries
True cask balsamic vinegar (see note), as needed
Salt, preferably medium coarse
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound wild mushrooms, preferably Chanterelles
6 wild salmon filets, 6 ounces each
Amarillo chili powder (or any medium hot chili powder)
For the garnish:
2 green onions, chopped
bunch flat-leafed Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup toasted pine nuts
6 lemon wedges
1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. On stovetop, bring chicken stock to boil, reduce heat to low simmer and add wild rice, bay leaves, thyme and nutmeg. Cook for 40 to 50 minutes until grains have bloomed and broth is absorbed. Remove bay leaves and stir in dried tart cherries. Let rest while plating the dish and grilling salmon.
3. While rice is cooking, thoroughly clean mushrooms, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, distribute on parchment-lined cookie sheet and place in preheated oven. After 10 minutes, stir and return to oven for additional 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
4. Place washed greens on individual plates and dress with a hearty drizzle of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, medium coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.
5. Brush salmon fillets with generous coating of olive oil, season lightly with chili powder, salt and pepper. Grill over medium high heat for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until skin side is crisp and center is still red.
6. Mound rice in center of greens, top with salmon filet and roasted mushrooms, garnish with onions, parsley, pine nuts and a wedge of lemon.
As with any dish, the best ingredients are the keys to successful, robust flavor. Look for the season’s freshest olive oil, known commonly as olio nuovo and rich, syrupy, true balsamic vinegar. While expensive, a little of this elixir goes a long way. I’m partial to The Olive Oil Source’s True Cask 25 from Modeno, Italy, available online.
Top photo: Wild salmon salad. Credit: Caroline J. Beck
Long before the turkey comes out of the oven golden and glistening, our family has gathered, preparing all the myriad dishes, drinking, laughing and nibbling on Thanksgiving appetizers since the morning.
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We start about 10 a.m. and have Thanksgiving dinner around 4 p.m., so it’s important to have appetizers that are traditional, tasty and do not require us to sit down since we want to be hungry but not starving for the main meal.
We prepare a number of Thanksgiving appetizers but one favorite that needs to be guarded for any late-arriving guests (countering the family motto, you snooze you lose) are Vermont cheddar cheese twists. This is a dish that made it up to the majors from the minor leagues in our family about 10 years ago, and it’s a perennial hit.
Cheddar Cheese Twists
You can use frozen puff pastry but make sure your cheddar cheese is the best and not aged; it should be less than a year old. We double this recipe if there are more than nine people.
Makes about 36 twists
3½ cups (about ½ pound) finely grated sharp white Vermont cheddar cheese
1½ teaspoons dried thyme
1½ teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound frozen puff pastry, defrosted according to package instructions
1. In a bowl, mix together the cheese, thyme, sage and pepper.
2. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the puff pastry until it is 18 by 10 inches. Sprinkle one-third of the cheese mixture over half of the pastry. Fold the plain half over the cheese half and press with a rolling pin so it adheres. Roll out again to 18 by 10 inches and sprinkle the next third of the cheese and repeat the process a third time with the remaining cheese, rolling it out to a final shape of 18 by 10 inches. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
4. Line two large 10-by-14-inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the pastry in half crosswise to form two 10-by-9-inch rectangles. Trim off the uneven pieces of pastry. Cut each rectangle crosswise into ½-inch wide strips. Twist each strip a few times and place on the baking sheet about ¾-inch apart, dampening the ends with water and pressing them to adhere to the parchment.
5. Bake until golden brown, reversing the position of the sheets halfway through baking, about 10 minutes in all. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet. Serve warm or room temperature.
Top photo: Cheese twists for a Thanksgiving appetizer. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
That Thanksgiving belongs to New England goes without saying. Although there had been feasts giving thanks for the bounty of the land in the Virginia colony, in Spanish Florida and in British Canada, the federal holiday of Thanksgiving declared by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 traces its lineage to the 1621 harvest celebration of Wampanoag Indians and English settlers in Plymouth, Mass.
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Edward Winslow, one of the governing leaders on the Mayflower, left an account of that thanksgiving feast that lasted three days with 90 Wampanoag and 53 settlers. The Wampanoag brought five deer for the feast. Although there is no surviving menu from this thanksgiving we know that most of the food was brought by the Wampanoag including various waterfowl, the deer, and corn.
It’s likely that the feast was held outdoors as there was no house large enough to hold all these people. Although migrating waterfowl and turkey were plentiful at this time of year, there’s no record that turkey was on the table. There probably were no cranberries, no sweet potatoes, and no pumpkin pie, although there was squash of some kind. One of the dishes they may have eaten was sobaheg, a Wampanoag stew of corn, roots, beans, squash and various meats, perhaps a precursor to succotash.
A New England Thanksgiving of today is somewhat codified, at least in folklore. One must have a perfectly cooked turkey, or at least an understanding of how to cook the turkey if you are a first-timer. Of course you need an excellent turkey gravy. Root vegetables are typical, as is succotash, boiled creamed onions, buttered squash, cider and cranberry juice to drink. You will have at least three pies because in colonial times hosts thought it appeared stingy to offer company fewer than three pies. Probably you would serve a pumpkin pie, a mincemeat pie and a Marlborough pie, which is a glorified apple pie.
Colonial evolution of a Native American tradition
Succotash became a traditional Thanksgiving dish thanks to the Old Colony Club, created in Plymouth, Mass., in 1769. The group favored this dish as part of their annual Forefather’s Day dinner, which was celebrated in early winter.
The original succotash is a descendant of a local Native American meal based on a corn soup made with beans, unripe corn, and various meats, especially bear or fish. Over time it has evolved into a kind of boiled dinner with corned beef, chicken, salt pork, white Cape Cod turnips, potato, hulled corn and boiled beans with some salt pork. Originally, the beans used were actually dried peas, but over time lima beans have become popular.
The word succotash derives from Narragansett, a branch of the Algonquin language, the word being msiquatash. Hominy are kernels of corn that have been treated in a special way, usually soaked in a caustic solution and then washed to remove the hulls. There are different kinds of hominy with different tastes.
½ cup dried split peas
2 cups whole grain hominy
1 Cornish game hen (about 1½ pounds), cut in half or 2 chicken thighs and leg
1 pound beef brisket in one piece
2 ounces salt pork in one piece
1 cup water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 boiling potato (about ½ pound), such as Yukon gold, red or white potatoes, boiled and diced
1 small turnip, boiled and diced
1. Place the peas in a pot with cold water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil and cook until very tender, about 3 hours. Drain, and pass through a food mill or mash until it looks like mashed potatoes. Set aside until needed.
2. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan filled with water to a boil and add the hominy. Cook until it is half cooked, about 3 hours. Drain and set aside, saving 2¼ cups of the liquid.
3. Place the game hen or chicken, beef, salt pork and hominy in a large flameproof casserole or Dutch oven and cover with the reserved broth and the water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to just below a boil and let simmer, uncovered, until very tender, about 4 hours, adding small amounts of water if it looks like it’s drying out. The water should never reach a boil, though.
4. Add the pea purée to the meats and stir so all the fat is absorbed. Add the potato and turnip, stir and cook until the potato is soft and the hominy fully cooked, about 1 hour. Serve hot. Do not boil at any time.
Note: A modern vegetable succotash can be made by combining 2 cups of reheated frozen lima beans, 2 cups of freshly cooked corn scraped from the cob, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, a dash of paprika, freshly ground black pepper and ½ cup of cream in a saucepan. Cook until bubbling hot, about 5 minutes, and serve.
Top photo: Hominy is one of the ingredients in the original succotash recipe. Credit: Glane23 / Wikimedia Commons