Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happiness is...

...opening the oven to bake pistachio biscotti and finding a whole pan of thick-cut white meat turkey slices left over from Thanksgiving dinner! Still delicious, yippee. Especially for those of us who got only dark meat leftovers that night - not that there's anything wrong with dark meat.

Thanksgiving is my favorite day/meal of the year. And while I do miss my family's Thanksgivings back in Brooklyn (now Long Island), my little "upcountry family" gathers at my house every year and every year, the day seems to get 1) easier to put together, 2) more pleasant, and 3) more delicious. I shopped on Monday. I made fresh cranberries with Mandarin oranges and walnuts on Monday night. I worked and went to the movies on Tuesday/Tuesday night. And on Wednesday, I made Spiced Pecans, Candied Espresso Walnuts, baked Pecan Pie Squares, prepped Spicy Crispy Garbanzo Beans with Pistachios and Fresh Thyme (I grew the thyme - can you believe that??!), did mise en place for Apple Pie (with 5 different varieties of apples - Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Pacific Rose, and gorgeous little tart green apples from a tree on Irene's property that she and Henry picked especially for this pie), and Apple-Onion-Almond Stuffing. I cleaned out the fridge, cleared off all the counters, took down the glassware and plates, re-arranged the furniture to make room for the long table and set it.

All the prep made Thursday a breeze - I even got to watch some of the Macy's Parade sitting down. And by the time 3:00 rolled around, T-Harry arrived to do his floral magic with the tropicals and foliage he gathered in his own yard. By 4:00, he and I were drinking the first of the white wine, waiting for the friends who began to arrive very shortly thereafter.

Gill with his magnificently browned, crispy-skinned, 20#-organic, fresh turkey, dry-brined and stuffed with citrus, Jane with her perfect (really) Green Bean Casserole - yes, the one with the cream of mushroom soup and onion crunchies on top that you gotta have in order for it to be a REAL Thanksgiving dinner. David with his famous mashed potatoes and Geri with her always luscious roasted red peppers and mushrooms and an extra treat, herbed, oven-roasted grape tomatoes - so good. Henry with his world-renowned sweet potatoes and a new addition this year, rice and sausage casserole - a family recipe from his native New Orleans - hot, spicy and oh, so delicious. He also brought the Roselani Hawaiian Vanilla Bean and Classic Mac Nut ice cream to top the pies. And finally, new members of the tribe, Rick with a platter of perfect asparagus with shaved fennel and Parmesan and Franscisco with the most stunning-looking and best-tasting pumpkin pie any of us had ever seen/tasted. He GREW the pumpkins and grated his own cinnamon from sticks. Now that's a serious baker.

We all commented during dinner how wonderful it is to gather with friends old and new and how interesting it was that every single person at the table is an excellent cook and/or baker. I hope things were as glorious at your house as they were at mine. And I hope you didn't forget the less fortunate in your community. We all brought donations for the Maui Food Bank which I'll deliver tomorrow morning on the way to work.

One last light note, the desserts were set on a table in the guest room awaiting their fate. Someone wandered in - I think it was T-Harry - and yelled "You two should have been on the TODAY show!" No greater compliment have two bakers ever received.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I know...

...the season of being especially thoughtful and thankful begins - officially and regardless of what the retail sector tries to make us believe - on Thursday. Which is not to say that we shouldn't be that way throughout the year. We just tend to be more conscious of being better human beings at this time of year. Human nature.

So there are a few, brief comments I need to make about some of the "news" of the last little while so that I can cook and bake and gather with good friends with a clean mind/heart slate, so to speak.

Oprah giving up her show almost TWO YEARS hence - buh-bye.
Sarah Palin and her magical mystery book tour - go away...NOW.
Adam Lambert (and ABC) trying to shock the world - not news, just trashy and boring.
The White House Exec Chef appearing on Iron Chef America in January - the line continues to blur.

What I hope for most as this bright season begins is that what is so obviously and truly important will actually become important in the hearts and minds of "important" people and that the rest of us do what we can to make that happen.

Enjoy your families, your friends, your lovingly prepared food. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Best meal of the year

Periodically, a group of friends - sometimes eight, sometimes 10 or 12 - gathers at one of the Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar locations on Maui for a custom dinner prepared by Executive Chef Ivan Pahk.
Last Saturday night was one of those occasions. Our friend Gill Brooks is the official documentarian.
Guaranteed to make your mouth water.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Autumn in New York

This is it. The last post about/from my trip. It is fall foliage photos. And what is there to say after you say "fall foliage?" Is there anything in nature more sublime? I think not. The first three were taken in Central Park on October 21st. The other seven were taken in Brooklyn on October 25th. The first two are from Park Slope. And the last five were taken along Ocean Parkway. It's a wide boulevard that runs almost from one end of Brooklyn to the other. I've heard it called the Champs Elysee of Brooklyn. I wouldn't go that far but it is gorgeous. Enjoy...and happy what's-left-of-fall.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More from NYC

I have two final posts from my NYC trip and I fear that if I don't just sit down and write them, they will disappear into the ozone. Okay then, get on with it.

Baked Goods. (one of my favorite subjects, okay, my favorite subject)
The photos are from Chinatown and I will get to them near the end of this post.

This is a subject about which I could go on for days. I'll be as brief as possible - I will not be THAT brief - about a tiny slice of what is available in this food category in NY. We start with bagels, bialys, onion rolls, challah These are all related. Because the dough is the thing with all of them. Therefore, the water used to make the dough is critical. In the case of the bagels, the water used to boil the bagels is also important. Oh, you didn't know bagels are boiled? Yes they are. The best ones. NYC has the best tap water in the world - look it up - and that's one of the reasons all the aforementioned "breads" are so good there. Also because New Yorkers are aficionados of these particular baked goods and they would never accept inferior product. What you put on these doughs is strictly a matter of taste. Whipped cream cheese -maybe a little lox and/or a slice of tomato - on the bagel, good, sweet butter on the bialy and/or the onion roll, farmer cheese - or cream cheese - on the challah or, of course, you could use a nice thick slice of challah to wipe up the brisket gravy. The pizza dough? Well, just go to Di Fara's or Totonno's or Keste or even Ray's or wherever and then please try to restrain yourself. Tomato sauce, mozzarrella, fresh basil, plenty of Parm. A little sausage or green bell pepper if you must but really, try to stick to the basics and let the dough speak for itself.

A pound of assorted Italian cookies - you know the ones, with lots of butter, some have jam on top or sandwiched in between two cookies, some are chocolate-dipped at one end, some are chocolate-dipped AND have sprinkles. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you need to go to an Italian bakery and there will be a glass showcase or shelves full of them.

A pound of assorted William J. Greenberg cookies. And a BIG black & white. And that is all you need to know. This NYC institution makes the best cookies in the city. Better to just go get some than to argue. I think you can order them online. They will be good but they will not be perfect as they are when you get them at the bakery.

Chinatown. There are a gazillion bakeries in Chinatown - okay, dozens. The photo of the cakes is from QQ Bakery. It has one of the biggest selections of all sorts of baked goods. I bought delicious nut-encrusted cookies there but couldn't really get a good photo because all the cookies are pre-packed in plastic containers.
The other photo is what we call manapua and they call steamed pork bun. It was huge and tasted amazing - the bun and the char siu were both melt-in-your-mouth light and sweet. I can't remember the name of the place where I got it. I do remember that it was 80 cents. I had a fabulous egg custard tart from yet another bakery - called, oddly enough, Natalie. It was warm, the custard consistency was perfect, the dough was flaky. And it was 90 cents.
I'm ending this here and now. I have got to get the Autumn in New York post and the foliage photos up...before the snow flies.