For Me to Know and You to Find Out

November 6th, 2012 · 35 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving

Last Thanksgiving, after much reply-all-ing — and many quality hours spent with Sam Sifton’s manuscript for Thanksgiving, How to Cook it Well – the menu my mom, dad, sister, brother, Andy, and I came up with for the big feast was the following:

Mom’s Classic Herb-Roasted Turkey
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots
Three-Pepper Sausage Cornbread Stuffing  (from Thanksgiving, by Sam Sifton)
Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy Breadcrumbs (ibid)
Butternut Squash with Sage Butter (ibid)
Mashed Potatoes (ibid)
Mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans and Mandarin Oranges
Chocolate Pudding Pie with Whipped Cream
Hominy Grill’s Buttermilk Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Maple-Bourbon Pecan Pie 

As usual, my brother would bring the snacks — some goodies from Zabar’s — and my father would be in charge of the wine.  I emailed the finalized line-up to everyone for official sign-off. Except I left out one very important word in the cauliflower dish.

I left out the word “anchovy.”

Why? I find there are two kinds of people in this world: People who understand the kind of umami blast an anchovy imparts to a dish, and people who see the word “anchovy” and think only of greasy, smelly, peel-back tins of castor-oil fishiness. (Put it this way: It’s the kind of ingredient my mother might call… interesting.) I sat squarely in camp two until about a decade ago when my friend and coworker Pilar pitched a three-page story to our editor about how anchovies are the secret to making everything taste better. (The response: “I think we better write the garlic story first.”)

In any event, I was happy to have Sifton validate my covert anchovy operation in the headnote of the cauliflower recipe. This is what he wrote:

“It is important to note that this dish does not have an anchovy flavor. Indeed, there is no reason ever to tell anyone who eats this dish that there are anchovies in it. The taste is merely salty and rich — and reflects beautifully off the sweet, creamy taste of the cauliflower beneath its slightly crunchy breadcrumb topping.”

To which I will add that the dish was a true showstopper…amidst a bounty of showstoppers. After one forkful I decided this was the recipe that was most deserving of side dish stomach real estate. My brother-in-law Nick — some day we will write about his great, if bizarre, love of cauliflower — looked up mid-bite and asked “What is in this?” (We didn’t answer.) At least four-sixths of the under-10 set around the table had a helping without a complaint. Yes, this one was destined to be a keeper. The only downside of no one being turned off by the anchovies was that no one was turned off by the anchovies…so I couldn’t go back for seconds.

Roasted Cauliflower with Breadcrumbs that May or May Not Contain Anchovies
From Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, by Sam Sifton

2 heads cauliflower
8 to 10 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
Zest of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

For the anchovy breadcrumbs:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Break cauliflower into florets and toss in a bowl with sage, lemon zest, sugar, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread out on a large baking sheet. Place in oven and cook until tender and golden, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare breadcrumbs. Heat olive oil in a saute pan set over medium heat. When oil shimmers add the anchovies, garlic, shallot, and breadcrumbs. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes until golden.

3. In a large bowl, toss together cauliflower and breadcrumbs and serve on a warmed platter.

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Thanksgiving Roll-Out: Starter Stuffing

November 17th, 2010 · 8 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner, Thanksgiving

Growing up, the stuffing of choice at our Thanksgiving table was always Stovetop. I remember looking at a forkful of it when I was in high school and wondering “What is stuffing? What is in there?” But it tasted so salty and herby, that I certainly didn’t question it for more than a second. (Plus, this is the 80s we’re talking about here, so in general no one was really questioning anything about the food they were putting in their mouths — at least not in my corner of the world.) But once I was a grown-up and responsible for things like mortgage payments and Thanksgiving side dishes, it occurred to me that stuffing was maybe something I could try to make from scratch, so I went in search of a recipe that could deliver on my (admittedly modest) Stovetop-ian expectations. I found it two Thanksgivings ago with this Martha Stewart recipe. It was the perfect Starter Stuffing. Basic, easy, nothing fancy, seemingly begging for personalizing and riffing. I am throwing apples and sausage in it this year and hoping for the best.

Sausage and Apple Stuffing
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat half a stick of butter in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add 2 small onions (chopped), 6 stalks celery (chopped), salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. Add 1 pound assorted mushrooms (quartered). Cover and cook until they release their liquid, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover and cook another 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. While it cools, cook 2 links sweet Italian sausage (casings removed) in the same skillet over medium heat, breaking up meat with a fork.

Once meat is cooked, add to the onion mixture in the bowl, along with 2 loaves of Italian bread (in pieces, about 12-16 cups total), a 15-ounce can of chicken or vegetable broth, 1 bunch parsely (chopped), 3 eggs (lightly beaten), and 1 apple (peeled, chopped into chunks). Add mixture to a baking dish, cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil; bake until golden, about 20 more minutes.

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Thanksgiving Two Ways

November 12th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving

Last Wednesday morning, I was on the 8:43 train reading Sam Sifton’s story Thanksgiving tips from NYC restaurant chefs, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the picture of Fatty Cue’s Brussels Sprouts. They were roasted and drizzled with a bright red sauce made from Thai bird chilis, crushed coriander seeds, and maple syrup, among other things. I showed the photo to Andy, who was busy reading about some new Yankees catching prospect.

“We should make these next time someone comes over to dinner,” I said.

He did a quick scan of the story. “Why not make them for Thanksgiving?” he replied. (more…)

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