Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

Mash Note

Look y'all! It's Spoon Bread!

Look y’all! It’s Spoon Bread!

For me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides.  It’s kind of like being taken to a concert of a huge star, and only watching the backup singers: “…the turkey is fine, but those potatoes are like a little bit of heaven.”

Every time I turn on the TV someone is talking about how to make perfect mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving.  Sadly, this is lost on me.  I was never a big mashed potato fan.  Give me my potatoes (and my cookies) with a little crunch, please.  I’m a roasted potato fan, which is a good thing, because they take much less effort.  While I agree that mashed potatoes fall well within the dowdy (a good thing), homey, Thanksgiving aesthetic, they are, in truth, very sneaky.  It can be difficult to get mashed potatoes just right.

This year Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving, so I’m hoping Mr. Piddleyboo (my Pop’s version of a Hanukkah Santa Claus) drops some latkes on my Thanksgiving plate.  That’s all the potato I need.

If you need a Thanksgiving starch that is soft and supple might I recommend a grand old Southern tradition?  Spoon bread. Or is it one word: Spoonbread?

Spoon bread is a pudding made with slow-cooked corn meal.  Some recipes involve whipping egg whites before they are introduced into the batter, but I insist that if you’re going to all that trouble just go ahead and make a Corn Soufflé.  Please note that the presentation of either item on my Thanksgiving table will make me happy in equal amounts.

Don’t let the word soufflé or the concept of making one daunt you.  If you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, soufflé is well within reach, and can even be made partially or fully in advance. Yes, it will collapse if made in advance, but yes, it will taste better than if you had served it piping hot, straight from the oven.  (Use technology to crow about your achievement: take a picture of your soufflé straight from the oven in its fully puffed glory and email or tweet to your friends and family. “Wait until you taste this!”)

Shall we discuss our table manners?  As idealized as this big meal has become, we all know the potential family minefield that the usual Thanksgiving Dinner presents.  Keep in mind that however tempting, or however deserving the potential target may be, it is poor etiquette to fling spoons full of mashed potato at your table mates.

Stick with the dinner rolls.

A Child’s Thanksgiving in wails

Pumpkin Chocolate Cloverleaf Rolls

Pumpkin Chocolate Cloverleaf Rolls…boom

My sister Fran is a poopie-head. That is my honest, adult, unvarnished, truthful, insightful, well thought out appraisal of this thoroughly disappointing woman. Think George C. Scott as General Patton crossed with Glen Close as Cruella de Vil. Add maybe a sneeze or two of Susan Hayward in “I Want to Live!” There ya go.


In true American tradition I will be sitting at Frau Fran’s table this holiday eating her Turkey. She, in turn, will throw that in my and my other siblings’ faces forever. This is a delicate game of checks and balances. Yet, as dreadful as I have made the day sound, it is not without its rewards. I do love the meal. I have offered to host the meal myself many times but La Reina (another of my nicknames for Fran) insists—INSISTS—on hosting it. As with so many other things we have to do as a family, she bullies, coddles, bribes, threatens, and pouts until she gets her way. There have been years when I have been tempted to “call in sick” but my Mother won’t hear of it.

It is hard for Fran. Life hasn’t been easy. She married a man who was born without a brain, so she has had to think for two for nigh onto thirty years. (My Aunt Polly insists that Fran’s husband was also born without a spine, but that’s a whole other slice of pie.)

Clearly the parsnips won’t be the only bitter thing at the table this holiday. Yet, if you think about it, is there a better day for families to gather around their collective grievances than one on which they can drown said grievances in a big meal and a fat tanker-sized glass of moderately priced wine? I think not. You can keep your one hundred fifty dollars an hour family therapists. Bury your heartache under a pile of Ritz cracker stuffing, that’s what I say.

And speaking of football…

Over the years we lesser siblings who orbit Planet Fran like so many Moons have developed our own quiet rebellion—strictly sub-rosa but nonetheless well organized and quite virulent. The red wine stains on Fran’s favorite damask tablecloth? An accident, I assure you. The fact that every year Molly, Fran’s Cocker Spaniel, has an “accident” on the white living room rug? Chalk it up to the excitement of the day. (Hint: In those long-ago TV commercials Andy Griffin used to say, “Everything sits good on a Ritz.” Unfortunately Ritz don’t sit so good on Molly’s tummy. Good GIRL!)

No, Fran for All Seasons doesn’t stand in her kitchen for days on end cooking the big meal. She buys all of it pre-cooked, including the turkey, which she reanimates in her Magic Chef. What she fails to realize is that this reduces her martyrdom by a large factor. She doles out the money to Larry (that’s Mr. Fran) who then gets to pretend that he is the hunter / gatherer / breadwinner / head of the family by schlepping around town gathering the catered items in The Mercedes That Time Forgot.

Fran of a thousand faces has a knack for ordering good food—I’ll give her that—which is a surprise considering her sustenance is usually derived from a freezer full of Lean Cuisine. There was one disastrous year when she decided that she would start a new family tradition and serve a Honeybaked ham. This was met with howls of dissent, so equilibrium (or Librium) and roast turkey was restored the following year. But here’s my truth: as much as I love turkey, if you cut into it and found that it was made of bread I’d probably love it even more. The Thanksgiving bread basket? That’s my jam, yo.

It was my well-known love of the bread basket that sparked what has always been the most overt example of rebellion against Generalissimo Fran. It started as a dreadful act of violence directed at yours truly. I simply asked for the bread basket to be passed. Innocent as a lamb. Okay, there may have been the merest touch of an edge in my voice…and I may have labeled the bread basket with an adjective that I cannot print in a family blog. But really, just in good fun.

Anyway, before I could even slam the table with my fist and shout, “NOW!” it seemed like every roll ever baked since the beginning of time was being thrown at me. Thank goodness we’d already polished off the Parker House rolls I had baked, for their buttery goodness would surely have stained my handsome shirt.

As one good turn deserves another I was left only with the option of returning the salvo as best I could, after all it was eleven against one (my Mother had also lobbed a Pillsbury Crescent roll at me but you can’t return fire when it’s your Mother. I found out the hard way that that’s true in Paintball too.) (She’s fine.) (Now.)

When winging bread at folks it helps to first judge the distance of your target, the weight of the object being thrown, and the age and relative health of your target. Example: those hearty whole wheat raisin rolls are great for that sourpuss, bratty teenage niece with the big mouth, but for Granny stick with sliced bread thrown with a gentle Frisbee motion. However, please be advised that you should check with the bratty teenage niece’s parents prior to the meal to make sure she hasn’t already had her Sweet Sixteen Rhinoplasty. Either way it gets her out of the room.

Naturally one can game the system a bit by insisting on bringing home-baked rolls. This technique presents two advantages. The first is that you can make practice batches and sharpen your accuracy. The second is that it gives you complete control over the weight of each projectile dinner roll, therefore letting you adjust for age, height, and health of target.

I have gleaned from years of experience that the common Cloverleaf roll makes ideal cannon fodder for a Thanksgiving dinner. While they have a bit of heft, they don’t have the volume or mass of the whole grain raisin roll. They are also vaguely ball-shaped. This makes them safe for a wider range of targets: even Granny can survive being dinged by one, although it may hasten that day’s nap time.

I have been known to bake yearly commemorative varietal batches and give them as gifts. The saffron version was quite delicious, although the resulting orange splotches on the walls required that Fran-tasy Island have her dining room repainted. But these are mere trifles taken in the context of the larger picture.

This year I decided it might be fun to add a touch of sugar, pumpkin, and chocolate to them. This lightly sweetened treat was inspired by Nancy Reagan’s well publicized Monkey Bread recipe. What better model of familial dysfunction has there ever been than the White House Reagans? These will make a calming respite with a cup of morning coffee.

And the chocolate should make some lovely stains on Fran-tastic’s dining-room walls.


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It’s nice to be the King…

Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread

Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread

I hear this all the time: “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it is not all about the gifts.”

I agree, except for the gift part. Wait! Don’t judge me. In the case of Thanksgiving, the meal is the gift we all give each other. If it is better to give than to receive, then on Thanksgiving we happily have both sides of that equation amply covered. If food is love, then the last Thursday in November finds us all swaddled in a pumkiny, sagey, sugary hug.

Still, the other side of the coin is that for the folks preparing and serving the meal the day can be an absolute test of endurance, skill, organization, and patience. For some of those folks the best thing about Thanksgiving is…the day after. “Fiddle-dee-dee.” (For the incredibly young, the latter is Scarlett O’Hara’s punctuation to the exhortation that tomorrow is another day. Google “Gone With The Wind.”)

My Thanksgiving is actually all about the Macy’s Parade. Even though I am a New Yorker and can easily walk just a few blocks to watch in person, I subscribe to a parade watching technique that I like to call “Warm/Hot”. Here’s how it works: I sit in my warm living room with a cup of hot coffee. There is also usually a restrained combination of toast/pancakes/waffles/eggs in the mix—diet be damned, but still not an oink-fest; there’s a big dinner coming up in just a few hours.

Thanksgiving must be pretty darned great for it to be my favorite holiday because it has one glaring omission: chocolate. Turkey is great and all, but I nominate chocolate as the national bird…uh, I mean, Thanksgiving meal. I look at it this way: your family sits down to a Turkey dinner and after every single American has finished the communal thought, “Mmmm. It’s good. For turkey…” the squabbling and bickering begins, the kids start running in circles, and your Dad falls asleep.

Now picture the same scene, except everyone is served a plate full of chocolate. Yes, the kids will be running in even faster circles, but after you’ve eaten a plate of chocolate, who cares? And the caffeine in the chocolate will keep your Dad awake. Squabbling? Bickering? After chocolate? No way. (And clean up would be a breeze.)

However, until I am King of the World and can unilaterally enact this change, I will respect the current traditions. But that doesn’t mean that I will have Thanksgiving sans chocolate. And because I am subversive I shall sneak it in.

Case in point: dessert. Yes, I realize that Milton Hershey did not arrive at Plymouth Rock before the Pilgrims, and therefore was not waiting to greet them with a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, and therefore Thanksgiving has forever been the provenance of pumpkins and cinnamon. All of this has been carried down through the years in the service of “seasonal flavors”. Is there a season when chocolate is inappropriate? Not when I am King of the World and living in the Cocoa Castle.

I’m not reinventing the wheel here. Folks have been peddling Chocolate Pecan Pie for eons. My recipe for Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie has been heroically adding chocolate to Thanksgiving tables for hundreds of days. Why stop there? If I am to be King of the World I expect to have to earn the title through (easily attainable, moderately) good deeds. Let’s use a recent request for Gingerbread (the cake, not the cookie) as an example.

A friend asked if I would bake Gingerbread for her to take to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. She explained that her Mother has a fondness for gingerbread, but because my friend lacked a full kitchen (ahhh, New York apartments…) she didn’t think this was attainable. Oh and one more itsy bitsy little thing; her Mother hates molasses. The latter makes no sense to me because molasses is intrinsic to Gingerbread. But my friend insisted that her Mother always made hers without the stuff.

That’s when everything fell into place for me. My friend has just a tiny kitchen. Her “stove” is a couple of burners and a countertop oven. But that countertop oven is really good. It’s a Breville convection oven and is probably better than the stove in my kitchen, just smaller. My friend has no excuses; she can bake the cake herself. She doesn’t have a Kitchen Aid mixer, so I’ll be giving her a Bowl & Spoon recipe. It’s quick, which makes it perfect for last minute holiday baking.

Gingerbread really is just a spice cake with molasses which adds the well-known darkness and smoke to the sugar. Without molasses you really just have spice cake, but let’s dispense with names for now, shall we?

Molasses is frustrating to me because you may use a tablespoon or two during the holiday baking season, and then you’re stuck with an almost-full bottle staring at you from its shelf for the rest of the year. If you ask me we’re well rid of it. The question is, what can we use to replace the robustness of its flavor? Chocolate. (You saw that coming.)

There are a couple of ways you can use the chocolate. The first is for a subtle addition of dark notes—a kinder, gentler molasses. The other way is to let the chocolate do what it does best: be chocolate. It really depends on your audience. Are they traditionalists? Or are they in line with me, the King of The World? (In line waiting for our chocolate, that is.)

If it’s subtlety you’re after, then grate a half cup of dark chocolate with a microplane and swirl this powdery black snow through the batter just before baking. It will disappear into the batter, leaving behind only the dark, “caramelly” flavor.

If you want your chocolate to scream its presence, then add a half cup of chocolate chips, and swirl them through the batter. You’ll get little pops of chocolate with each bite, and you’ll find the synergy between the ginger and the chocolate to be a happy surprise.

(Yes, I know the microplane is a piece of equipment someone with a limited kitchen may not have, but they are cheap and can be used for everything from chocolate to shaved ice. You’ll get more mileage from a microplane than from a bottle of molasses.)

You can see from the photo that I finished my cake with a bit of powdered sugar, and a few grains of autumn-colored sanding sugar. But plain ‘ole whipped cream will be a hit, especially if you used the chocolate chips. If you happen to use whipped cream from the can, just don’t tell me. And for heaven’s sake don’t start a whipped cream fight or tell anyone you got the idea to do so from me. Unless you bring a can for everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving. Eat well, and be thankful for your bounty.


Here’s the recipe for Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread.


Keep these other Thanksgiving recipes in mind:

Maple Walnut Sticky Buns

Cranberry Sauce

Parker House Rolls

Anadama Bread

Baked Indian Pudding

Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie


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Yes, das ist eine bread basket

Maple Walnut Sticky Buns

I need your help. The title of this post, Yes, das ist eine bread basket, is ripped straight from the fractured memories of my childhood. I think it was one of the lyrics of a “list” song I learned as a tot, but that single line is all I remember. That, and when you sang the words “bread basket” you pointed to your stomach. If you know the song please refresh my memory. (Or titter at my lack thereof.)

Can you tell that Thanksgiving makes me a sloppy nostalgic sap? Why not? It’s a big family holiday, so my thoughts always go to my Pop.

I always thought my Pop had the strangest tastes. When we’d go to the deli counter he’d order Three Bean Salad. He just loved it. I used to think, “Who eats Three Bean Salad? Yech.”

When we’d go for ice cream I’d order chocolate chip with jimmies; he’d order maple walnut. I’d think, “Who orders maple walnut ice cream? Yech.”

On Thanksgiving he always ended his meal with Baked Indian Pudding, and I’d think, “Really? But there’s pie!”

Granted, I’m still not a fan of Three Bean Salad, but that has more to do with a general aversion to the whole cole slaw / potato salad / macaroni salad niche of cold salads. But make maple walnut anything and I’m in. When did that happen?

Naturally my Pop was special because he was mine. But in reality he was a fairly typical guy of his time: first generation American, very solicitous of his Mother, World War Two army vet. During times when I was youthfully undisciplined, his strongest remonstration to me was, “A little time in the service would straighten you out but good.” The latter was a show of exasperation: he would no more have wanted me to join the service than he would have wanted me to run away with the circus.

When I was a kid, I had a voracious sweet tooth. My Pop had a sweet tooth too, but his was more measured. I never saw him eat candy. He was a cake and ice cream guy. It’s odd that I have sort of grown into that same type of sweet tooth and ironic that while I consider myself to still have a sweet tooth, I often complain about things being too sweet. How do I reconcile those contradictory claims?

Easy. I’m here to confirm the sad truth that, yes, we do become our parents, hair (or lack thereof) and all.

When I was a kid the first thing I’d grab out of the Thanksgiving bread basket was one of the sticky buns. Don’t confuse these with the lumbering, Sta-Puff Marshmallow Man-sized, mall-sourced Cinnabons. The little ones I’m recalling were designed to fit into a breadbasket, and seemed to always appear on Thanksgiving. Was this a New England tradition? Dunno.

As an adult my bread basket tastes have veered away from the sticky sweet and towards the savory: biscuits studded with cranberries, Anadama bread, and toasty, puffy white rolls—like Parker House Rolls. Even Northern-style cornbread—sweet—seems like a sugar rush. The sticky buns seem unredeemable and icky now, and the sticky fingered charm of my seven year-old alter ego fits my adult persona about as well as my old Cub Scout uniform. That is: not at all.

Yet people request them, and truthfully, who am I to deny today’s seven year olds the same fun I had getting everything and everyone sticky? And who am I to deny their Mothers the fun and frivolity of commanding them to, “… wash those filthy hands right this minute!”?

So here’s my version, ready for Thanksgiving.

To shake things up a bit I decided to not make the typical pecan sticky buns. To add a bit of flavor complexity, pay tribute to my Pop, and make preparation a bit easier, I reached deep down into my soul and got in touch with my Kitchen Wonk.

So, these are Maple Walnut Sticky Buns.  I recognize that these are a “project” and that if you are preparing an entire Thanksgiving dinner, you may want to farm out this “project” to a willing patsy collaborator. The good news is that I have built the recipe on the bricks of the Parker House roll recipe, so depending on the size of your expected crowd you can make the basic dough and make half of it into sticky buns, and the other half into toasty, white Parker House rolls. You can also double the recipe and…well you know what to do.

Besides being a wink and a nod towards Pop, using maple syrup makes prep a little bit faster because the filling and the topping are easier to mix together as opposed to using just brown sugar. I like to think it is healthier than the dark corn syrup called for in some recipes. (Yeah, I know, this aint health food.)

Because we are making really small buns—one or two bites—I recommend that you bake them in pie plates or round cake pans. This way you’ll end up with fewer of the dreaded “middle buns”, the ones that are baked inside the pan and therefore brown less than the outies.

The recipe also instructs you to carefully turn the buns out when they are fresh from the oven to let the syrup and nuts drizzle down. After careful tasting and consideration (a sticky job but someone had to do it) I am ready to declare that I think I like them upside down—with the topping left on the bottom. That way you won’t miss the toasty crust which remains barely kissed with the syrup.

You can make these a day ahead, but you will want to gently warm them prior to serving in case the sugar in the syrup has crystallized.

Phew! I think holiday baking season has arrived. I’m pooped already. Time for a nap.

But first I’d better go wash my sticky hands.


Here’s the recipe for Maple Walnut Sticky Buns.


Keep these other Thanksgiving recipes in mind:

Cranberry Sauce

Parker House Rolls

Anadama Bread

Baked Indian Pudding

Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to


So many tweets, so little time

All the best turkeys are wearing it

Cranberry Sauce (in a few minutes)

Cranberry Sauce (in a few minutes)

I forgot how fragrant cranberries are. I opened the bag in the picture above and was struck by a sweet but refreshing smell. It is a sweetness that belies reality, for the irony is that you can’t eat cranberries out of the bag unless you enjoy being convulsed into a teeth-grinding wince. Nature made them very tart.

But there they sit, every Thanksgiving, front and center, playing Ringo Starr to the turkey’s John Lennon. I, for one, have other things on my mind whilst gnawing on my drumstick, but folks’ expectations being what they are, you simply can’t serve turkey without cranberry sauce. It simply isn’t done (he sniffed haughtily.)

I’m not sure how many people bother to make their own cranberry sauce for the holiday, but if you’re just buying any ol’ pre-made cranberry sauce, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity to be creative and to bring some individuality to your Thanksgiving table. Have I made the sale yet? No? Then, let me add that cranberry sauce is simple to make and you can—and should—make it a day or two ahead. (Sold!)

Here’s a related story with a tragic ending. (Have that box of Kleenex close at hand.) I have a friend who comes from a large family. Their default Thanksgiving dinner is a collaborative effort where people are assigned a portion of the meal to prepare.

A couple of years ago my friend was assigned cranberry sauce and decided to be creative. He carefully researched recipes, and asked advice from his friends who have logged kitchen time. The resulting recipe was a simple whole berry sauce sweetened with orange juice and perfumed with orange zest. His family’s reaction? Grab that Kleenex: they hated it. To be fair, they were used to the jelly-from-a-can sauce, and found my friend’s creation a bit overpowering.

So I’ll make a deal with you: I’ll get creative, but I will also include directions to make something close to jelly-from-a-can sauce, but with a touch of complexity. (No ridges from the can though, sorry. Someone’s bound to miss those. Tough noogies.)

The Ocean Spray cranberries I bought have a basic recipe printed on the back of the bag; that will be my launching pad. Hint: this is a bit subversive, for you will shortly be receiving a lesson in basic jam-making. Don’t worry, there will not a final exam.

My first addition to the bag recipe will be a cup of chopped apple. The apple is a big ally here because it adds sugar to counter the cranberries’ tartness, and pectin which will help the cooked berries jell a bit. (No one likes runny cranberry sauce.) Dice the apple into fairly small chunks, but don’t worry about technique because the apple will cook down and disappear.

Addition number two is the seeds from half of a vanilla bean. Vanilla extract really won’t work here; we’re going for that custardy-floral note that only the seeds can lend the sauce. The apple gives the sauce body, but the vanilla with its round tones gives body to the flavor of the sauce.

Addition numbers three and four are a tribute to my friend’s attempt at cranberry sauce for his family meal: orange zest, and a tablespoon of frozen concentrated orange juice. These will give the sauce the citrusy zing that counteracts the hammered-down gaminess of the average turkey.

Now if you want to get really silly here, we can add two cloves and or a half stick of cinnamon. Be stingy with these ingredients; we just want a note or two, not the whole concerto. Keep your audience in mind.

Speaking of audience: if your turkey dinner will be an adults only affair, consider adding a thimbleful (let’s say a tablespoon) of brandy or calvados. The alcohol will (mostly) cook off, and you be left with some rather earthy, smoky tones that will work well with your Turkey’s lean roasted flavors—not to mention the sage that is likely in the stuffing.

This year I’ll be adding about a half cup of chopped walnuts just before I remove the berries from the heat. The walnuts will absorb some of the sweetness of the sugars while adding their own meaty, crunchy character.

If you’ve got your heart set on adding some of these flavors but remain a fan of the jelly-in-a can, then omit the orange zest and juice, cook the berries as directed, then strain the whole thing through a sieve before allowing it to cool and set.

If you really miss the ridges from the can you can always pour your home-made jelly into a clean can and let it set there.

Honestly who’s gonna do that?


Here’s the basic cranberry sauce recipe. I recommend reducing the sugar to no more than one half cup if you’re using the apple and orange juice.

Ocean Spray Whole Berry Recipe – Makes 1 cup

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 x 12 oz bag of cranberries

Bring water and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add cranberries and return to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour sauce into a bowl, cover and cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until serving time.


1 cup chopped apple

Seeds from one half a vanilla bean

Zest of one half an orange

1 tbsp frozen concentrated orange juice

1 or 2 cloves

Half stick of cinnamon

1 tbsp brandy or calvados

½ cup chopped walnuts (add just before removing from heat.)


Keep these other Thanksgiving recipes in mind:

Parker House Rolls

Anadama Bread

Baked Indian Pudding

Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to


Did you turn your Tweets back one hour?

Mild Thanksgiving

Smell the turkey?

Smell the turkey?

Life has become so contentious. Turn on the TV or read a newspaper and it seems like someone is always butting heads with an opponent. I feel like I am constantly being asked to choose sides. We just got through another election, and I don’t care which side of the aisle you’re on, if you’re like me I’m sure at one point during those endless strings of campaign commercials you stood in front of your TV and yelled, “Enough!”

I thought that when I became an adult (yes, a debatable fact) that I would be released from the “Nyah-nyah!” childhood playground dynamic. It just lacked subtlety.

That’s why I like Thanksgiving so much. Thanksgiving’s biggest debate is whether to cook the stuffing inside the bird or outside the bird. I’m not ashamed to say that I am an “outie”, but am sincerely delighted if you are an “innie.” Really! The fact is: I just don’t care. Happily, this is a debate right up there with whether the toilet paper should hang under or over the roll. (Don’t go there. We’re having a happy holiday, remember?)

Thanksgiving reminds me of my Nana: she always referred to herself as “mild.” It occurs to me that we don’t have enough “mild” in our lives anymore. What’s the best way to explain mild? You know how we had that little dustup between Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno? Think back to Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin. Ever see them fight? No. They were mild. That is why this year I am wishing you a Mild Thanksgiving –and meaning it as the best wish you could ever get. Slow down. Take a deep breath. Put away your BlackBerry. Take a moment alone with your thoughts. (Sounds very “Zen”, yes?)

I know, I know: there’s a lot of pressure on people around the holidays, but at least Thanksgiving spares us the whole gift “thing.” This year, if Thursday’s holiday meal finds us lucky enough to be seated in front of a plate of hot food then we can count ourselves lucky indeed.

Okay, you’ve taken your deep breath. You’ve slowed down. You’ve even put away your BlackBerry—or at least put it down— but now you’re alone with the thought, “What was that malarkey about cooking the stuffing outside the bird? Is he crazy?”

Clearly you haven’t relaxed yet.

That’s okay. Yes, I cook my stuffing outside the bird because I like it crunchy. That is my only reason. I’m not concerned with cooking temperatures or health. I just like the crunchy part. I understand that I am missing out on all the turkey drippings marinating the stuffing. I understand that it is called stuffing and should be used as such. (Well, I’m usually stuffed after the meal. That doesn’t count.) Of course there’s a happy compromise: cook some stuffing in the bird and some outside. Phew. Negotiations are exhausting.

On to the stuffing itself. It is safe to say that there are as many kinds of stuffing as there are birds on Thanksgiving. A good stuffing doesn’t require much skill, and is easily made to suit individual tastes. Texture is easily controlled by the choice of bread (crusty or not, whole grain or not, cornbread or not) and the size of the cubes you cut. I’m a loose texture, crusty, big cube guy. What do you like?

I grew up in New England, and have eaten many Thanksgiving dinners at a country Inn. It is usually simple, traditional Thanksgiving fare. But what I’ve learned over the years is that the hearty, old fashioned Yankee stuffing can be savory or savory with a touch of sweet.

With that in mind I proudly present the 2010 Butter Flour Eggs savory, slightly sweet, Yankee Thanksgiving Stuffing for “outies”. I use the label Yankee very loosely because I don’t think the Pilgrims used Ciabatta bread to stuff their turkey. But this is a question of style over substance. As with any cooking, I made a list of my preferences, and chose the ingredients from there. So my Yankee Stuffing contains Italian-style bread, dried figs from Greece, and chestnuts from China. The end result is very Yankee: a little starchy, only faintly sweet (except for the sweet snap crackle pop of the bits of dried fig), and almost florid in its traditional poultry herbs like sage, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. A little bit of diced pear is sautéed along with the celery and onion to add a bit of mellow sugar that helps the onions to caramelize. And “innies” shouldn’t worry: you can still stuff the bird with this stuffing.

Chefs, I’m sure would take great exception to the source of the herbs in my stuffing: Bells Seasoning. These little yellow boxes (produced in East Weymouth, Mass.) are ubiquitous in the supermarket at this time of year. Actually, you’ll find this venerable product handy all through the year whenever you cook poultry. (Pearl of wisdom: Mix it with a little kosher salt and butter or margarine and slip it under the skin of your chicken or turkey.) Yes, Chefs, I know it is not the same as using fresh herbs, but Bells adds a wonderful fragrance to poultry and stuffing that is traditional and welcoming. It is kind of like the poultry version of apple pie spice, and in its own way makes your house smell just as good (although I doubt there will ever be a Butter Flour Eggs Bells Seasoning scented candle.)

I am proud and thankful that you spent a few minutes with me during this busy holiday week. I hope you and your family have a happy—mild—and delicious Thanksgiving.


Click here for the recipe for Yankee Thanksgiving Stuffing.

Need some Thanksgiving inspiration? Read my previous Thanksgiving recipe ideas:

Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

Anadama Bread

Apple Pan Dowdy with “Baked Indian Pudding” Crust

Roasted Corn Soufflé


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to


Thanksgiving Abracadabra

Roasted Corn Soufflé

Roasted Corn Soufflé

I just went through the box of Thanksgiving props we store here in the Butter Flour Eggs prop warehouse. As I was unfolding the big cardboard turkey with the waffle-cut tissue paper tail, I thought back a few years to a conversation with friend who was living in London at the time.

She informed me—with a great deal of panicked surprise—that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving over there. (Hmmm…what was it about the whole pilgrim “thing” that eluded her?) Worse, I think, was that the panic in her voice was actually centered on the fact that she couldn’t find the Durkee French Fried Onions she needed for her green bean casserole. (She had them shipped from home, a/k/a “The Year That DHL Saved Thanksgiving.”)

You can’t pick up a newspaper (or pick up an iPad to read a newspaper) without reading about the twenty-first century global economy. Yet, it seems that nothing has remained as truly American as our Thanksgiving holiday. When it comes to food “truly American” means “anything goes” – the culinary equivalent of a global economy.

Last year I wrote about the pleasure my family (of Eastern European descent) takes in eating our turkey at an old Yankee country Inn on Thanksgiving. But I know a woman, an American citizen born in China, who cannot fathom why Turkey is the anointed bird-of-the-day. “Too stringy!” says she, and truly, depending upon who does the cooking, she may have a point. Her family Thanksgiving meal is a big juicy duck. Another woman I know whose childhood was split between the Caribbean and the UK cannot imagine anything but ham on Thanksgiving, for without ham there would be no ham-on-homemade-biscuit sandwiches the next day. (Funny: throw in the homemade biscuits and her logic seems perfectly sound to me. I’m easily swayed by a good biscuit.)

I have no doubt that the real reflection of our global diversity is in the food we serve alongside our Thanksgiving main course. I am referring to the sub-group of food we lovingly call the “sides.” As iconic images go, the big roast Turkey is straight out of Norman Rockwell, but for me Thanksgiving is all about the sides. And the good news is that you’d be hard pressed to find sides I don’t like.

A couple of days after Thanksgiving we sometimes have a very informal family dinner—you could call it “Thanksgiving, the Sequel.” This is a small, very low pressure affair. Sometimes there’s a turkey, or sometimes there’s a chicken. It is more an excuse for yours truly to road test his favorite sides, and whatever turkey or chicken is there is due to my being self conscious about making a dinner comprised solely of sides –which I could very easily do if it were just me eating.

So, in the tradition of “anything goes” being typically American, I proudly present my favorite side (this year): Roasted Corn Soufflé. On paper a soufflé seems typically French, and mysteriously difficult to prepare. In practice? Not so much.

I’ll tackle its supposed French identity first. Yes it’s French, but really not so far afield from our American Spoon Bread, which is also a supple pudding and is often served as a Thanksgiving side.

More important is the reputation soufflés have for requiring advanced technique, pinpoint timing, and / or that they must be rushed from oven to table. It’s just not true. Yes, they deflate a bit if allowed to sit, but frankly soufflés sweet or savory taste better when not eaten burning hot straight from the oven. You can even reheat leftovers (if there are any) the next day. My only prerequisite for making soufflé is a Kitchen Aid (or similar) stand mixer—and that’s only because I am too lazy to whip egg whites any other way. (Go ahead, call this “lazy man’s soufflé”; I don’t care, I’ll be too busy eating the soufflé.)

By the way, just because soufflés are easy doesn’t make them seem any less magical to the folks waiting at your table. The best magicians know that magic takes a little technique, a little planning, and a whole lot of show biz. I once worked with a sleight-of-hand artist. He was so amazing that my reaction was always, “How’d you do that?” to which he would always answer, “It’s magic.” So it’s your choice whether you want to tell folks the technique behind the soufflé magic.

Roasted corn lends itself beautifully to soufflé: the roasting makes the kernels a little chewy, breaking up the flabby airiness of the soufflé.  What represents the harvest and the Indians helping the pilgrims better than roasted corn on Thanksgiving? While most sides fall into the categories of vegetable or starch, soufflé is really neither or both. It’s an egg dish with a little bit of flour added.

Soufflé ingredients are cheap kitchen basics: butter, flour, eggs, milk. For this recipe you should make sure to buy the best parmesan cheese you can find, which admittedly may bump up the price a bit.

The Butter Flour Eggs technique is that you don’t have to make a soufflé all at once, or even the same day you plan to serve it. First, you make the (lightly) labor-intense part of the recipe, then turn out the lights, go to sleep, wake up Thanksgiving morning, fire up the Kitchen Aid to whip a few egg whites and you’ve got soufflé…and yes, it’s real soufflé, not a shortcut version. (PS: this technique will serve you well next Valentine’s Day when you present your sweetheart with Chocolate Soufflé hot from the oven.)

If you decide to make the soufflé a couple of suggestions will serve you well. First, read the entire recipe all the way through beforehand, twice. Second, have all ingredients measured and all equipment ready before you start. This will help you with suggestion number three: have confidence. Soufflés smell fear. (You’ll smell cheese and corn.)

And if folks “”Oooo!” and “Ahhh!” over your big, puffy Roasted Corn Soufflé, shrug your shoulders and say, “You think this is cool? Wait until I saw my mother-in-law in half…”


Click here for the recipe for Roasted Corn Soufflé.

Need some Thanksgiving inspiration? Read my previous Thanksgiving recipe ideas:

Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

Anadama Bread

Apple Pan Dowdy with “Baked Indian Pudding” Crust


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to


The Apples, The TV, and Me

Apple Pan Dowdy with

This past weekend I was the recipient of a large bag of apples. This was a gift from a friend who had ventured “upstate”, a term many Manhattan-ites use to describe anything outside of the five boroughs.

The generosity of the gift aside — and who wouldn’t appreciate a bag of orchard-fresh apples– I was left a little bit like the kid in the proverbial candy store. I ate one and saved a few more for the same purpose, but then realized that I needed to kick inspiration into high gear to figure out what to do with the rest.

While I was sitting (okay, lying) on my sofa munching on the apples, I started channel surfing and came upon four females who, for varying reasons led me down the path to my apple solution.

The first was a filly named Zenyatta. I’m not using a diminutive term for women here: Zenyatta really is a filly, a six year old race horse that, up until this past weekend, has raced undefeated. While much of the news coverage of this beautiful animal showed her lapping up a bowl of Guinness Stout, there was also footage of her being fed an apple by one of the reporters. I happened to see the latter just as I was eating the first of my apples. Something about the purity of the scene touched me. There she was, an unassuming female champ in a man’s sport, enjoying some of the basic “finer things in life:” a good, sweet, crunchy apple. A pint of stout. If a horse could kick back and say, “ahhhhh” I’m sure she would have.

Next I came upon a baker named Rachel Allen whose UK-produced program is aired here on the Cooking Network. There’s something serene and peaceful about watching the glamorous yet earthy Ms. Allen baking and teaching. With her soothing, soft-as-linen Irish accent, she coaxes baking peace from a chaotic class of lucky amateurs. Anything seems possible in her kitchen. You can keep 3-D TV; I’ll take “Rachel Allen Bakes!” in Smell-O-Vision HD, please.

This past weekend she made a reliably perfect apple Tart Tatin. It seemed like providence to witness her effortless Tatin as I sat munching my gift o’apples knowing that my large bag o’ apples was waiting.

And yet…as much as I love Tart Tatin, and as much as I think it is an easy way to make a really great, dramatic dessert, I always feel that there is something missing: spice. The star of Tart Tatin is caramel, gooey, sticky, and even a bit crunchy, but the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and ginger Americans crave in apple pie-style desserts are missing.

By this time my legs were up on the sofa, and I was in full Saturday couch potato mode. This made me the perfect sucker for repeats of “Two Fat Ladies.” While the two self-described fat ladies, the standards-singing, chain-smoking Jennifer Paterson (who departed for a more heavenly kitchen some years ago), and the über-serious Clarissa Dickson-Wright, would seem like the perfect fodder for a Saturday Night Live sketch, I found myself strangely drawn to their aesthetic. There’s something substantial about their cooking. Surprisingly, in spite of how they billed themselves their brand of cookery is never an exercise in gluttony; rather, there is something worldly, yet straightforward about what they serve in their formidable crockery. Food as a sort of truth. Clearly these were two women who’d been around the block—and who had found all the good meals along the way.

So, from my prone perch, considering my bag of apples, I thought that my mission had become clear: bring the delicacy of Rachel Allen’s Tart Tatin and the starchy, straightforward, authenticity of two fat ladies to my kitchen. Oh, and Zenyatta’s appreciation of simple pleasures. And use up the apples.

“Easy, peasy” to quote the late Ms. Paterson.

The weather has cooled off in my neck of the woods. After almost hitting eighty degrees a couple of weeks ago, we’re getting down into the thirties some nights. My mind is already on Thanksgiving. Last Thanksgiving I wrote about a classic, old dessert, “Baked Indian Pudding.” While I never make any claims that “Baked Indian Pudding” will have a renaissance, I like the basic flavors this somewhat austere dessert holds: cornmeal, maple, and molasses. It’s kind of a Plymouth Rock trifecta. Surely I can reference the flavors in a dessert that is a bit more accessible?

One of my favorite hot desserts is Apple Pan Dowdy. Named for its plain –dowdy—appearance, it belongs to the same family as crisp, cobbler, buckle, and brown betty. The Pan Dowdy version is baked in a shallow baking dish with a biscuit crust. This is my candidate for the Indian pudding treatment.

The obvious place to start was with my favorite part: the crust. Normally I would have used a Pâte Sucrè – a sweetened pie crust—on top of the apples. But by fiddling around (a bit of cornmeal here, a dash of molasses there…) I was able to bring the dark notes of Indian pudding to the brightness of baked apples.

The result is a hot dessert perfect for a cold night, or at least to counter the scoop of ice cream you will invariably plop on top.

The pilgrims never had it so good.


Click here for the recipe for Apple Pan Dowdy with “Baked Indian Pudding” Crust.


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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Thanksgiving Parade

But my GPS said around the river and through the wood...

But my GPS said around the river and through the wood...

I would have been a lousy pilgrim. I don’t think they had chocolate. Thanks to their Native American hosts they had plenty of corn, yes, but somehow I doubt that John Alden was able to drown his sorrows in a Hershey bar.

Never mind: I’m here to give thanks.          

I love the time I spend in the kitchen. Even my tiny apartment kitchen can keep me fed for several days, including cookies—and I don’t have to load a musket for a hunt to keep it stocked. A few taps of my computer keys and food magically shows up at my doorstep. Sometimes I take it for granted, but when I walk the aisles of my supermarket and really pay attention to what is on the shelves it blows my mind. I’m thankful for that.

I am also thankful for family and friends who challenge, cajole, nag, amuse, indulge, include, and, best of all, feed me—you know who you are and which of the above applies you. (Yes, YOU.)

I am thankful for parents who infuriated, pushed, prodded, nagged, paid attention, worried (sometimes to excess), ignored me when appropriate (a/k/a “gave me my space”), and otherwise put their collective foot down—and continue to do so.

While we are on the subject of parents, I’d like to single out my mother for the moment of clarity she had many years ago that saved Thanksgiving. I recognize that this sounds like hyperbole, but for our family it is true: she saved Thanksgiving.  The moment of clarity happened when she realized that poultry cooking skills eluded her. “My turkeys were turkeys” is how she continues to describe those efforts. I prefer, “Bird 1, Mom 0.”

For several years she was saved from ruining cooking turkeys by the insistent Thanksgiving invitations of her formidable sister-in-law. Unfortunately the hospitality was extended to a rather dowdy, dusty, country club. The best way to describe the country club’s food is that every year when the invitation was extended, it included the news that there was “…a new chef this year.” To which we always silently replied, “New chef, same crappy food.”

Then one year came a flash of my mother’s inspiration and we found ourselves celebrating Thanksgiving at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

The Wayside Inn is the oldest continually operating inn in the country. When you’ve finished reading these pearls of wisdom, follow the link to the Inn’s website. Be warned: that simple act will put you in the mood for their fragrant, juicy roast turkey and their soul-satisfying dressing. The inn was our Thanksgiving home for many years.

Okay, let’s step back for a moment. You’re thinking, “You write a blog about cooking and food, yet on Thanksgiving YOU EAT OUT?”

I understand that you may take exception to this, so let’s consider the average Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, cranberry sauce, dressing, and your preferred sides. Along with the fact that we pause each year to gather together, what are these items but an array of rituals? Yes, the players, the table, and the menu may change slightly from year to year, but the whole stays the same in spite of any varying parts.

My family’s ritual just happens to be slightly more codified than others’. This continues to delight us. Contrary to the rather jaded modern Thanksgiving image of a squabbling family choking down an unsatisfying meal, we are perhaps more content on Thanksgiving than at other times. My mother called me the other night to make sure that one of our yearly Thanksgiving activities is still on the itinerary—more, I think, because she was enjoying the anticipation than because of any particular worry.

By the way, if you think eating out is peculiar to my family, you should know that the Thanksgiving reservation book at the Wayside Inn opens every year on the Tuesday morning after Labor Day weekend, and is usually sold out within an hour or two.

As time has passed, our Thanksgiving ritual has undergone some changes. My dad has been gone many years, and our annual family picture standing in front of the inn’s fireplace serves as the photographic equivalent of pencil lines on a door post measuring my Baby Niece’s march to adulthood. The rest of us have not changed even one little bit.

As my brother and I made lives elsewhere and my mother moved south, we found a wonderful alternative to the Wayside Inn at The Elms in Ridgefield, Connecticut. An intimate, home-like setting, we have had so many Thanksgivings at the Elms, that each year it is like visiting family.

The ritual even allows me to invoke the memory of my Dad each year. He loved Baked Indian Pudding, having originally discovered it at Boston’s famous old Durgin Park restaurant. When it is placed in front of me for Thanksgiving dessert, my Pop is again seated at the head of the table where he belongs.

I am not going to advocate that you must include Baked Indian Pudding on your Turkey Day dessert roster. I think it’s delicious, however I recognize that compared to the other pies, cakes, jello molds, and sweets available, this milky cornmeal molasses mush is a bit plain. In fact, straight from the oven it is just a hop, skip, and a half teaspoon of salt away from being a side dish, like some supple spoon bread. For dessert you must dress it up with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of warm maple syrup. It reaches its full potential as a humble team player.

I don’t cook on Thanksgiving. I have no (pardon the pun) sage advice on roasting the best turkey ever, or whether you should smear butter under or over the bird’s skin.

I just know that I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Click here for my Baked Indian Pudding recipe.

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