Archive for November, 2012

The last Thanksgiving, for a while

29 November 2012

Thirteen years and a few months ago, Thomas and I moved to New York for two or three years. Thomas says one or two years. Apparently, we hadn’t discussed things in great detail. Actually, he went to DC while I settled in New York; it was clear that he would join me a year later. At least I think it was. (He did.) We had married in Berlin three weeks earlier.

Next summer we are moving to London. I know better than to give an estimated time-frame. I think it will be temporary. Thomas thinks it won’t. We still own our opinions.

So for me the holiday this year took on the slightly nostalgic sheen of our last Thanksgiving stateside, for a while. I pulled out a carefully folded, diligently preserved page from the Wednesday, November 17, 1999 New York Times: In a Berkeley Kitchen, A Celebration of Simplicity. I didn’t host Thanksgiving that first year, a friend had invited us to her huge, raw, self-renovated, artfully stage-managed Meatpacking district loft. She gave me the newspaper clipping and asked whether I might bake the cranberry upside-down cake. Of course I would.

The feast featured turkey and salmon, creamed leeks and lots of other sides that I can’t recall, though we helped prepare most of it that afternoon. There were probably thirty guests, in a grand space that could have accommodated sixty. We sat cross-legged on cushions around a long low candlelit table. I eavesdropped as a soul-searching dancer waxed existential with a timidly successful artist. New York! I had landed, incredibly, in the middle of a Woody Allen movie (I grew up in France, after all).

Now, when I pull out the yellowed, dried-out newspaper, that night comes rushing back. And those tentative beginnings in New York. Moving to a new city not knowing a soul (ok, two souls). The daunting search for work in a completely new world. It was scary and exciting and wonderful. Alice Waters’ Thanksgiving recipes remind me of all of it.

This year I didn’t prepare the cranberry upside-down cake because dessert is the one thing I don’t make on Thanksgiving nowadays, but I made her wild mushroom stuffing and the stewed fennel. For old times’ sake. And lots of other things. In the past I’ve stuck to a well orchestrated, carefully balanced mix of dishes and flavors that worked very well but kept bugging me as lacking the true spirit of American Thanksgiving, which, I know, is very much about the abundance of sides. Pushing aside this European restraint, I let go.

I would make mashed potatoes, of course, and a shaved Brussels sprouts salad I’ve been wanting to do for years. On the Monday before Thanksgiving I tried to make cranberry chutney. It wasn’t right. On Tuesday I cooked it again, with more sugar and some walnuts. I imagined something sweet and very thick, practically sticky. Wednesday evening Thomas baked his pumpkin pies, I made soup, and as I started a classic cranberry sauce I felt the chutney still needed more sugar, more cooking. It was getting late. But at 1:00 am I decided I must also make those pickled carrots I’d seen a few days before. And I had squash so I’d roast that with spices and a light touch of maple syrup. It was a lot of fun. The final menu looked something like this.

Celeriac and chestnut soup

Heritage turkey
Wild mushroom stuffing

Mashed potatoes
Stewed fennel
Spicy roasted squash
Brussels sprouts salad with pecorino
Pickled carrots
Cranberry sauce
Cranberry chutney

Desserts — pumpkin pies, pear and chocolate tarte, apple cake, tiramisu, chocolate soufflés …

The next day, elated from the party but also exhausted from it all, as we drove away to spend the rest of the weekend — traditionally — by the sea, and although our friends were already scheming to come to London to celebrate next year, I was practically ready to leave that holiday behind.

A new city, a new country, new traditions, surely. Of course I wouldn’t. I’ve taken Thanksgiving with me from Paris to Berlin and home to New York. London Thanksgiving will have to be, and forge its own traditions.

Spicy lentil and red kuri squash soup

17 November 2012

This is the soup you want to come home to if you’ve spent the afternoon outside and let dusk fall around you, the chill creeping until your cheeks are flushed and your fingertips frozen. If by any chance you’ve already cut the squash and prepared the cubes (undoubtedly the lengthier proposition in this recipe), the rest can be assembled fairly quickly.

The warmly spiced lentils and faintly sweet squash spring to life with a jolt of lemon, but what really makes the soup sing is the gremolata of parsley, lemon rind, and chili flakes. It is inspired by another incredible lentil soup I had at ABC Kitchen a couple of years ago. I kept note.

***

The soup

1 red kuri squash

1 cup French or Italian green lentils

3 small yellow onions

3 garlic cloves

A 2 x 1-inch piece of fresh ginger

Olive oil

Sea salt

Juice from 1 lemon

Peel and cut the squash into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Check lentils for small stones and wash in cold water. Peel and thinly slice the onions lengthwise (into half moons). Peel and finely chop the garlic and ginger.

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until they become golden, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and a good pinch of salt, and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often.

Now add the squash and cook for another few minutes, stirring often all the way to the bottom of the pan to mix everything well. Season with more salt.

Pour in the lentils, cover generously (by at least 1 inch or 2.5 cm) with water, and cook at a gentle simmer until the both the squash and lentils are just soft, approximately 25 minutes.

Pour in the lemon juice, starting with 1/2 lemon, testing for acidity, and add salt if needed.

Serve with a large spoonful of gremolata.

The gremolata

Handful parsley

Zest from 1 lemon

1/2 tsp Chili flakes

Excellent olive oil

Finely chop the parsley. Mix with the lemon zest, chili flakes, and just enough olive oil to coat.

Related posts

Lentil soup with cumin

Parsnip and butternut squash soup with sage

Pumpkin leek soup

A carrot cake for Halloween

9 November 2012

I felt so organized, I had it all planned out. I would not only make the cake but photograph it and publish it here on Halloween. My plans were thwarted by a storm which, uncharacteristically among New York weather forecasts, turned out to be stronger and much more damaging than anyone expected. Taking the warnings lightly at first we didn’t stock up on food, water, or candles. We didn’t try to locate our missing flashlight.

Subways stopped running on Sunday evening; on Monday schools and offices were closed. Homebound by this citywide shutdown, we huddled and played games all morning. The hurricane was on its way, barely perceptible but for the blustery weather, and we were waiting. Suddenly we felt we must go out. Now was the moment, while there was still time.

The impulse was to go toward the water, see the swollen river, perch on benches to watch the eerily high Hudson. It seems frivolous now. The city was already deserted. The empty park, the windswept streets. We decided perhaps we should make provisions, after all, and my thoughts were, stubbornly, on the Halloween cake.

Some stores that had been open were closing, sending us and a few forlorn tourists on their way. We finally found one, ransacked of chicken and ice cream but with plenty of carrots and walnuts. I forgot to look for candles. We stopped at a pharmacy, they were sold out. I bought two different sizes of batteries hoping one might fit the flashlight, if I could find it.

That night the hurricane came with howling winds and crashing trees, but in our corner of town the power didn’t go out, the lights barely flickered. The next morning I even made the cake. Then the news started getting worse. Those without power were soon without water. Stories of houses burned to the ground, scenes of complete devastation.

So we started checking up on friends, offering food, hot showers, and power outlets. And friends came. And it was Halloween. And though all was dark downtown and broken elsewhere we went trick or treating in Harlem, with neighbors. I even finished the cake, with icing and evil-looking spiders. Just in time.

The news kept getting worse. Within a few days some areas recovered electricity, water, and heat; others did not. Many have lost much more. We were unnaturally lucky, so close and so unscathed. My mind hasn’t been on cooking. Feeding friends and family, yes, but not cooking.

***

Carrot Cake

For the past three years I’ve made carrot cake for Halloween, adorned with what I think are pretty cool, mean-looking, edible prune and cranberry spiders. I’m not exactly sure how I got hung up on that particular type of cake but in my mind it presented itself as the natural choice. I was inspired by a few recipes to achieve this one, which comes quite close to my ideal version of a carrot cake. Dense but moist, not too sweet, with nuts.

1 cup (225 g) butter (and a little extra to butter the pan)

1 1/4 cup (200 g) brown sugar

4 eggs

1/2 (150 ml) cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup (75 ml) honey

2 cups (250 g) flour, half white half whole wheat

2 tsps baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsps salt

2 cups (250 g) finely grated carrots

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

1/2 (100 g) cup raisins

1 cup (250 ml) apple sauce

Take the butter out of the refrigerator to soften at room temperature for about 15-20 min.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and line the bottom of an 11-inch (28 cm) round cake pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan.

In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with the sugar until the mixture becomes light colored and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well to combine. Add the buttermilk, vanilla extract, and honey, mixing well.

In another bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add the flour to the sugar/butter/egg mixture, stirring just enough so the flour disappears.

Gently add the carrots, walnuts, raisins, and apple sauce.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 min. The cake is done when a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

*

Icing

8 Tbsps (110 g) unsalted butter

6 oz. (170 g) cream cheese

1 lb (500 g) mascarpone

1 1/2 cups (150 g) icing sugar

Zest and juice from 1 lemon

At room temperature, let the butter become very soft. In a medium bowl, beat it well with a spatula.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese well before mixing it with the butter. Once the cream cheese is incorporated with the butter, beat the mascarpone well before adding it to the butter and cream cheese.

Sift the icing sugar before mixing it into the butter/cream cheese/mascarpone mix.

Finish by stirring in the lemon zest and juice.

Refrigerate the icing about 1/2 hour before spreading it onto the cake.

*

Spiders

1 prune and 1 large sweetened cranberry per spider

Cut the prune into thin slivers lengthwise to create eight spider legs. Place the cranberry on the cake so as to make the body of the spider. Arrange the ‘legs’ around it.


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