Posts Tagged ‘thanksgiving’

Cranberry lemon squares for a singular Thanksgiving

26 November 2020

This year I wasn’t sure about Thanksgiving. Many things felt uncertain just a few weeks ago, and wouldn’t a celebration without friends bring more acutely to the fore the limitations of these times? Better perhaps to stick our heads into the soggy English soil and push on to Christmas. All around us decorations are already going up.

Impossible. Not with children in the house who have never known a year without turkey, they were appalled. And, things started to look up. First in the news, then on a more personal note. The arc had begun to shift. And who am I to deprive my children of Thanksgiving, especially if they start baking pumpkin pie?

In this singular predicament where less time was needed preparing today, I suddenly had time to bake things, to give to friends. So I made pecan bars, which are probably my favourite and will endure some more tweaking before I’m entirely satisfied. And also these ridiculously delicious Cranberry Lemon Bars. The season will undoubtedly be different, but it stubbornly refuses to be swept under the carpet.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry lemon squares adapted from the NY Times Genevieve Ko’s Cranberry Lemon Bars
I have slightly modified each component. The shortbread comes from Alice Medrich’s book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, it has a little bit less butter which, shocking as it may seems, works better here I find. I have increased the quantity of lemon curd, which in the original seemed just barely enough to cover the whole surface. You can find the original recipe here.

Note about the pan size: The quantity fits a 34 x 23cm (13 x 9 in) pan, but any rectangular cake pans or loaf tins can be used — once the shortbread is pressed (as thinly as possible, about 1/2 cm or 1/4 inch thick), if it doesn’t cover the whole surface of the pan just create a ‘rim’ by folding the aluminium foil where the dough ends.

First, make the cranberry sauce

340g cranberries
150g sugar
150ml (2/3 cup) water
Zest from 2 lemons

Wash and pick through the cranberries to remove any soft or discoloured ones. In a medium saucepan, mix the cranberries, sugar, water, and lemon zest and bring to a boil. Cook over a medium flame for about 10 minutes, until the cranberries burst and take on the consistency of jam. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Now prepare the shortbread
(Note: this shortbread is different to the one in the original recipe)

250g butter (+ plus a small knob for buttering the pan)
100g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
310g flour

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and position the rack in the lower third of the oven.

Melt all the butter and let it cool slightly.

Meanwhile, line a high rim 34 x 23cm (13 x 9 in) pan with aluminum foil and brush it generously with some of the melted butter, making sure to go up the sides.

In a medium bowl, mix the warm butter with the sugar, vanilla, and salt until the melted butter has been completely incorporated. Add the flour and mix just enough to combine into a smooth dough (it will be quite soft and oily).

Press the dough into the prepared pan to achieve a smooth, even layer as thin as possible, about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick.

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until the sides barely start to turn golden.

Meanwhile, prepare the lemon layer

260g caster sugar
30g flour
Pinch of sea salt
4 eggs
200ml lemon juice (using the zested lemons plus 1 or 2 besides)
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt. Add the eggs and stir gently to combine without over-whisking. Finally, gently whisk in the lemon juice until smooth.

Let the shortbread cool for about 5 minutes and spread the cranberry sauce over it in an even layer. Carefully pour the lemon mixture over the cranberries. Return to the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the top layer is set (it shouldn’t jiggle).

Let cool completely then place the tray in the refrigerator for at least two hours until cold and set. Slice into bite-size squares and, if desired, dust with icing sugar before serving.

Cranberry lime sauce for a European Thanksgiving

2 December 2014

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Perhaps I am feeling sentimental. Certainly I am feeling sentimental — it happens once a year, on Thanksgiving.

Moved by bonds tightened over many years, touched by new ties strengthened over the course of a meal. Each one is a little different, and a little bit the same. The food varies only slightly; we are with old friends, and new friends. Some guests come from halfway across Europe, some cannot come at all. Some are cooking turkey with apple chestnut stuffing on the other side of the Atlantic. Thanksgiving is messy, and loud, and funny, and, basically, happy.

Thanksgiving is the time when we feel most strongly all the invisible strings.

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Barely different cranberry lime sauce
This version uses lime rather than lemon (or orange). I think it’s the best.

680 g fresh cranberries
300 g (1 1/2 cups) sugar
2 cups water
1  lime

Wash the cranberries, check through them, and chuck any discolored or soft ones.

In a saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a lively simmer.

Add the cranberries and cook for about 15 minutes, until they’ve all popped. Stir in the zest and juice of one lime and cook for another minute or so.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a jar or bowl.

Brussels sprouts and pecorino salad

6 December 2013

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I nearly didn’t make this salad for Thanksgiving.

With Sam Sifton’s peremptory Thanksgiving book still ringing in my ears, I did, in fact, briefly debate the pros and cons of his strict no-salad rule. Might it diminish the lusciousness of the meal? Is it the last thing anyone wants to see on a festive table? On the other hand, this barely counts as salad. Surely by salad, Sifton means lettuce?

As it turned out, this deceptively simple dish of raw Brussels sprouts and fresh pecorino, both finely shaved and tossed with a simple dressing, was — again — undoubtedly one of the favorites of the table. On the contrary, what a welcome bounce on the palate between forkfuls of turkey and chestnut stuffing.

This dish wasn’t born as a Thanksgiving side, and shouldn’t die as one. It is a salad for any occasion. I first encountered something similar quite some years ago in the lunch bar up the block from our office in Soho. That version had walnuts, and though adding nuts would be overkill on Thanksgiving, they marry perfectly.

This is barely a recipe, just a few very good ingredients tossed together. It must be made a few hours ahead, so the dressing has time to soften the Brussels sprouts. There should be enough pecorino for a shaving or two in each mouthful.

Very fresh Brussels sprouts, preferably still on the stem because snapping them off is a fun occupation for children on Thanksgiving morning

Pecorino, not too aged

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Sherry or good wine vinegar

Best olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly hulled walnuts (optional)

Trim and remove one or two outer leaves of each Brussels sprout, then shave them finely with a mandolin or a sharp knife and lots of patience.

Cut the pecorino into paper thin shavings.

The salad is very thirsty and will soak up the dressing, so plan generously, but the proportions are roughly: 5 lemon juice plus 1 vinegar to 8 olive oil.

Season with salt and pepper. Taste the salad and adjust dressing/seasoning as necessary.

Sunday reading | 17.11.2013

17 November 2013

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Living in London hasn’t changed some things: Thanksgiving is approaching and, like every year, I am at once hugely looking forward and also dreading it a little. For many years we’ve hosted large parties for Thanksgiving, it is our favorite holiday. It’s also, of course, a lot of work. Being as I am, I like to cook the meal fully, I am not one for potlucks. But there invariably comes a time when everything seems to come crashing together — too many things, too little time. Thomas might tell you this happens every single time we have friends over for dinner, whether it is just one guest, or twenty five. He has a point. But that doesn’t help.

Having read many great reviews of Sam Sifton’s clever book Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, I was anxious to soak in some of its wisdom, suffer a little hand-holding that might make this year’s preparations slightly more — um — relaxed. I enjoyed the book tremendously. It is fun and well written, full of good insights about the holiday. What to eat, what not to eat, how to set the table (and how not to), how to serve the food. Sifton’s style is at once light and unapologetically authoritative.

‘Thanksgiving is no place for irony. […] We are going to cook Thanksgiving correctly. […] It means there is going to be turkey […]. There is going to be a proper dinner table […]. There are going to be proper place settings for each person and glasses for water and wine. There are going to be candles. There will be dessert.’

But I didn’t find what I was looking for. I wanted, I realized, a timetable. What should I prepare in advance, when can I make the mashed celeriac? Will it sit for a while without becoming pasty and dry? I tend to leave everything to the very last minute, for fear of losing flavor. On Thanksgiving it’s a hard bargain. So Thanksgiving wasn’t all that helpful for actual logistics. I guess that would have been too practical; it would have tarnished its flavor.

On the other side of the Thanksgiving-reading spectrum lies Edward Behr’s minimalist column for Food52. It’s palate-cleansing like a shot of aquavit.

Somewhat related but not exactly are Yotam Ottolenghi’s celery recipes published in last week’s Guardian. I am firmly in Ottolenghi’s camp. Celery deserves to be treated as a proper vegetable and score the starring role. The recipes sound incredible and would sit very well on a Thanksgiving spread. Or would Sam Sifton approve?

Finally, for those unconcerned by Thanksgiving or in need of an escape from cranberries and pumpkin pie, this fascinating article about Venice caught my attention recently, as I perused the internet for interesting eating suggestions in view of a short weekend trip to La Serenissima next Friday to catch the tail end of the Biennale (!!!). Some things do change when you live in London…

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.

Thanksgiving Menu

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.


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