Success!


Eugene came home this afternoon with a dozen roses for me. "Is this for our month-aversary?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "It's to celebrate your successful completion of NaBloPoMo."

"Ooooh!" I squealed. "That's even better!" At which point he frowned slightly, but I think he knew what I meant.

The point is that with this post I've officially completed my 30 days of NaBloPoMo! I'm beyond giddy with excited and--I'm just going to say it--pretty darn proud of myself for getting through it despite all the other stuff I took on this month (Book Proposal writing class, Fake Thanksgiving shopping and planning and cooking, Real Thanksgiving shopping and baking).

Loosening the restrictions and allowing myself to just write without any rules unleashed my creativity and is absolutely what made this all possible. And even despite that, I just counted and realized that I posted 25 new original recipes on the site this month. I guess like most things, the good comes along when you stop trying so hard and just let it happen.

I hope to keep up the momentum (though perhaps not *quite* as copiously). Especially now that Christmas is coming since that means a whole bunch of party and holiday recipes (many with a retro twist). I hope you'll stick around!

Retro Cocktail Party Planning Continues


Today, Eugene and I got ourselves out of bed at a reasonable hour and headed off to the Housing Works Thrift store on the Upper West Side. It was a two-fold plan. First, I wanted to drop off a couple bags of clothing and a box of books that I've been meaning to donate for a while. It was actually really easy. I just walked the stuff to the back of the store (well, Eugene carried the box of books) and dropped it off. I filled out a quick form for my tax receipt and then I was free to proceed with the second part of my plan: shopping!

I have a very particular list of things that I want to get for the party. I'm all set on glasses (thanks to my own collection plus a little help from the Crate & Barrel Outlet store) and serving trays (from eBay, Sur La Table, Crate & Barrel). I ordered a few old fashioned molds from Sur La Table for my gelatin and fish mousse creations; I admit I was only going to buy one, but somehow I ended up with one of each kind in my shopping cart. Whoops! I justified it by convincing myself that they serve two purposes: practical and decorative. I plan to hang them on the wall above my stove a la Goldie Hawn in Cactus Flower (more about that later...).

Today I was able to find one of the other key pieces: a punch bowl! It's glass with a grape-pattern decoration along the sides. I love it because it has a nice full belly with a slightly narrower rim, which will help avoid spills. I can't wait to fill it up with something boozy and (probably) pink. I also found a set of very quirky coasters with mod Asian ladies on them for just two dollars. They're like little works of art and will look perfect underneath all those martinis and whiskey sours I plan on serving.



I'm still on the hunt for a nice big ice bucket (something shiny and chrome), a big cocktail shaker so that Matt Looney (my appointed bartender) can pour them out a few at a time, and MOST importantly: my fabulous dress. If you have any great recommendations for vintage stores in NYC that carry a nice and moderately priced 60s cocktail and evening gown selection, please send them my way!

In the meantime, I'm keeping busy with those vintage cookbooks I already told you about, and doing a little bit of film research courtesy of the Netflix "Instant Play" options. Recent 60s movie picks have included Cactus Flour (starring Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman, and introducing the gorgeous Goldie Hawn who won an Oscar for her role as a 20-something free spirit), The Courtship of Eddie's Father (Glenn Ford and a tiny Ron Howard!), and How To Steal a Million (with the lovely Audrey Hepburn). They're fabulous for great 60s style and decorating inspiration.

An Old Fashioned Cocktail Party

Eugene just pointed out the fact that I'm just a few days short of the finish line with this whole NaBloPoMo thing. I'm actually pretty amazed that I was able to make it this far considering my performance (or lack of) last year.

The irony is that during these past several busy weeks, I had less trouble thinking of things to write about than these past couple lazy days. It's the inertia of the holidays, I suppose!

The truth is that I've actually spent the past couple days planning for the next big holiday...Christmas! I usually throw a big cocktail party each December and all my friends make the trip up to our apartment where we go through dozens of bottles of wine and champagne and stay upright thanks to the various platters of canapes.

This year I decided to give in to my obsession for all things retro, and will be hosting a classic 60s era cocktail party...complete with a full bar, classy glasses, and an array of early-60s recipes culled from my collection of used bookstore finds. I'm talking rumaki and molded jiggly things here!


I've been busy shopping for vintage trays on eBay, practicing my bouffant hairstyle, and leafing through these wonderful vintage cookbooks. Like one book called "Thoughts for Buffets" which is filled with hundreds of party recipes, cocktails, and fabulous table decorating ideas. Occasionally I'll look up from the book and read out one of the recipe combinations to Eugene who grimaces and flinches and asks me if I expect people to actually eat this food.

That one is actually a bit wackier than my long-time favorite, a book called "Cosmo Cookery," which I picked up a couple years before I actually started working with the magazine. It's written by the fantastic (Still!!!) Helen Gurley Brown and offers up menu after menu for the Cosmo girl who wants to entertain her "beaus." (Plural!!!) Think breakfast for the morning after or a late night supper after a romp in bed. Not *quite* as useful for the party, but entertaining nonetheless. (Plus each menu comes with matching cocktails and table decorations in a way that makes me think Semi-Homemade Sandra Lee and Ina Garten must have both been gifted this book back in their youth.)


And then there is the Betty Crocker Hostess Cookbook, which I was determined to get my hands on the minute I spotted it propped up on a stand on Betty Draper's kitchen counter. It took me a couple On Demand "rewind and pauses," before I was able to figure out the title, but after that, it wasn't long before I located a first edition in fantastic condition.

A funny thing is the book was actually published in 1967 for the first time. And yet it somehow managed to show up in several episodes of Mad Men dated 1962 and 1963 (as evidenced by last years New Year's party and Kennedy's recent death). It's unusual since the set dressers for the show tend to be pretty fantastically accurate.


I'm happy to ignore the anachronism though because the recipes in it are just priceless. As it promises on the cover, it's filled with "a wealth of ideas for today's entertaining." And (even better) they're illustrated with absolutely awful photos. The kind of photos that would totally get rejected from Tastespotting for "unflattering composition," "lighting," and "not sharp."

The recipes and photos are accompanied with wonderful tips for the hostess, and delightful suggestions like "Salad is enough when it's just the girls, but if men will be joining you at lunch, be sure to serve a real man's meat."

Ahh...the sixties!

I'm ridiculously excited about this party, and as you can see, am diving into the preparation like it's my job. I thought I should warn you since it's inevitable that my "research" will soon start appearing here on the blog.

Molded salmon mousse, anyone?




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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me.

A Tiny Request


I'm absolutely lazy about posting today, but I promise I'll be back tomorrow with more. In the meantime, can I shamelessly ask you for your vote for the Bon Appetit Bake-Off? I made the Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake you see in this photo. You can get the recipe and read all about it here, or simply vote for me here in the "cakes" category.

Thank you!

5 Last-Minute Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

Are you still looking for last-minute Thanksgiving recipe ideas? Seriously!? Well, it's OK. I'm not going to judge. Lord knows I am a fan of last-minute everything...

And I have a few ideas that you might like...

Star Anise & Vanilla Bean Poached Pears


One night about 4 or 5 years ago, my friend Matt and I went to see a movie at the wonderful little independent movie theater in Dupont Circle just a few blocks from my then-apartment. I think the movie was Capote.

After the movie, we wandered out onto the sidewalk and spent a few minutes trying to figure out where to go to dinner, when, just over Matthew's shoulder, I spotted one of my journalism professors, a cranky veteran reporter with a slightly jaundiced pallor, standing intimately close to a much younger girl with long thick hair and Asian features.

This thrilled me the way that catching a professor living a real life outside of the classroom can thrill any student, and so we took off giggling and hiding and conjecturing having stumbled upon an illicit affair on that weekday evening. We passed the entrance to an Italian tratoria on Jefferson Place (a nobby little street I've always loved) that I'd been long-obsessed with because it was underground and had stone steps and a charmingly cliche Chianti bottle hanging above the doorway. And because Matt was usually game for a nice dinner on an average evening, we went in and were seated right away under a brick wall covered in photos of Giovanni, the owner, with random celebrities. (Of course, this was DC, so the celebrities were people like Sam Donaldson and the Ambassador of Kuwait and the ever-rapacious Helen Thomas.)


The dinner was good; I ordered costolleta alla milanese, which was the most expensive entree on the menu, and Matt some kind of pasta, which I recall him describing in a very Matt-like way as being "great but not memorable." But really, it was the dessert that somehow buried itself into my brain as one of the most perfect things I've ever tasted: a white wine poached pear served with vanilla ice cream and an ethereal coat of caramel sugar. I spent the next 15 or so minutes in absolute rapture as I ate and exclaimed and forced spoonfuls of my dessert at Matt who was (I'm absolutely sure) nursing some kind of coffee beverage.

The funny thing that I'm realizing as I write this, is the way that magnificent pear seems to have frozen all the details of that night in my brain. It was the first poached pear I'd ever eaten, which I suppose explains some of the fascination, but to be honest there was something magical in the blend of flavors that really captured my imagination, and which (I suspect) I've been trying to recreate with every single vanilla bean I've split and scraped ever since.


These pears...the ones I'm offering you today, I'm sorry to say, are not as perfect as the one I had that night. But they are wonderful and taste the way I suppose the word "gold" would taste if you were to lick it one quiet afternoon. It's the anise and the vanilla, which infuse the syrup, and (of course) the fat little pears which sit solidly on the plate, swollen and brimming with vanilla speckled nectar. And because when things are good I just like to keep on pushing, I served these with warm chocolate ganache and a spoon for drizzling.

Serve these on Thanksgiving as your dessert, along with kiwi sorbet and some kind of boozy cake. They're actually perfect for a crowd since they can be made ahead and can be served cold or at room temperature or even hot, if you prefer. And the leftovers can be sliced and heaped over a pile of pancakes or baked into a clafouti then served to the family member who still happen to be hanging around the morning after.




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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me.






Star Anise & Vanilla Bean Poached Pears


1 bottle white wine (I used a buttery Chardonnay)
1 cup apple cider or water
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 whole vanilla bean, split
6 star anise pods
2 cloves
6 firm pears (such as Bartlett or Bosc)

1. Peel the pears, leaving the stems in place. Core from the bottom. Use a paring knife to slice off a tiny bit of the bottom in order to create a flat base.

2. In a 4 or 5 quart saucepan or dutch oven, combine the wine, water, sugar, honey, vanilla, anise, and cloves. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure all the sugar and honey is dissolved.

3. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and place the pears in the liquid. If the liquid doesn't rise high enough to cover them while upright, place on their sides, but rotate every 10 minutes so that they are poached evenly on all sides. Continue to cook for 25-30 minutes until the pears are tender but not mushy (use a thin knife gently inserted in the side of the smallest pear to test).

4. Remove the pairs to a large air-tight container and cover with the liquid. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and place in the refrigerator to chill (up to 24 hours).

5. The day you are ready to serve, remove the pears to a serving dish and pour the liquid back in a saucepan. Reduce the syrup over medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes until slightly thick. Let cool to room temperature before pouring over the pears. Serve alone, with whipped cream, or with a drizzle of chocolate ganache.

Kitchen Tip: Homemade Almond Paste

A few readers have e-mailed to say that they can't find almond paste where they live and have asked for alternatives. I'm going to share a really simple recipe showing you how to make homemade almond paste. The ingredients are almonds, sugar, egg whites, and vanilla, so you should all be able to make this easily at home.

This homemade almond paste can be used in my recipe for Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake, as a filling for danish or cakes, or for any other recipe that calls for almond paste. (Note that this is different than marzipan.)


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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me.



Homemade Almond Paste


Ingredients
3 cups blanched almonds
3 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pure almond extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

To Make:

Pour almonds into the food processor and process until finely ground.

Add the confectioner's sugar, egg whites, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt and continue to blend until smooth and well combined. Use paste immediately, or place in a an air-tight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Kiwi Sorbet


The desserts on my fake-Thanksgiving table were a bit more colorful than the usual shades of orange and um...pecan that usually fill the holiday table. But as someone who has little interest in pumpkin pie or corn syrup pie (which, let's face it, is actually what pecan pie is), I decided to try a few new things for my menu.

I went to the market with vague ideas and a desire to let the seasonal produce inspire me. It was a the towering display of plump, in-season kiwis that first got me excited.

I grabbed a handful and held them up to Eugene. "Did you know that it's kiwi season now? I'm going to make kiwi sorbet for the party."


Kiwi, like citrus, is a winter fruit that's often mistakenly appropriated for summer. But mid-to-late November is really when the gorgeous green fruits start to come into their own. Usually eaten raw, a sorbet is a simple way to highlight the natural flavor of the in-season fruit while still making it exciting enough to serve at the end of a festive meal. When I was making this, I casually tossed a whole vanilla bean and a few star anise pods into the simple syrup as it cooled. It infused the syrup with just a hint of flavor that really played quite nicely with the natural honey-like flavor of the kiwi fruit.

Sorbet is a simple frozen treat to make. Though I recommend using an ice cream maker for sorbet, there are ways of doing it without one and I recommend Anna's tutorial for advice. At home, I use a small ice cream maker that my brother gave me for Christmas a few years ago, and which can easily be purchased online very inexpensively (I've seen it for less than 30 dollars at times) or possibly even on Craigslist. These machines are wonderfully versatile and don't take up that much space (even in my tiny kitchen) so if you're interested, keep an eye out for a good deal.


I served this sorbet along with white wine and anise poached pears, a rich chocolate ganache sauce, and my Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake. The sorbet is particularly lovely when drizzled with the chocolate sauce. Kiwi, I've discovered, is wonderful when paired with bittersweet chocolate.

At my party, a few of the guests noted that I must have gone to a lot of trouble to prepare the sorbet since I had to peel all those kiwis. I told them about the great "spoon trick" I use to peel the kiwi, which cuts the time down to a few seconds per fruit. I decided to film a quick video to show you all how simple it really is. If you plan to make this recipe, I definitely suggest checking it out first as it will save a lot of time.

A few notes to keep in mind when making sorbet:

1. Sugar and alcohol are what keep the sorbet soft and scoop-able. You can skip the alcohol in this recipe, but note that the sorbet will probably freeze a bit harder so you'll have to remove it from the freezer 10 minutes or so before serving.

2. The sweetness of the sorbet mix will be much weaker once you freeze it. It's good to keep this in mind when testing the recipe. You want it to be a little sweeter than your final product so don't be too scared about adding sugar. Of course, do keep the natural sweetness of the fruit in mind when preparing the recipe. You can also add a hint of honey, or more lemon juice to balance the flavor.

Kiwi Sorbet
Hints of vanilla, rum, and star anise help to highlight the wonderful natural flavor of the kiwi.

Ingredients
10 kiwi fruits
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean (optional)
3 star anise pods (optional)
2 tablespoons rum (I used a coconut flavored rum, you can also substitute vodka)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

To make:
In a medium size saucepan, combine the water and sugar, and bring to a boil until all the sugar is dissolved. Lower the heat and let simmer for 2-4 minutes or until the water reduces slightly. Turn off the heat and add the anise pods and vanilla bean, cover and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, remove the anise pods and vanilla bean and reserve the syrup.

Peel the kiwis and cut each one in half. (Check out my tutorial on How to Peel a Kiwi for a great trick to do this quickly.) Use a blender or food processor to puree the fruit until smooth.

Combine the kiwi puree with the cooled syrup, rum, and lemon juice. Pour into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Pour the frozen sorbet into an air-tight container and store in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

How to Peel a Kiwi (A Video Tutorial)

One of my many plans for the upcoming year, is to incorporate video tutorials and podcasts here on the blog. I'm starting this today with my very first video tutorial.

It's a quick, two-minute video where I show you my favorite technique for peeling a kiwi fruit. You don't need any special equipment and it's a great way to perfectly peel a whole bowl of kiwis for use in a salad, a fruit plate, or in a recipe like my Kiwi Sorbet.

I hope you enjoy my first video, and please let me know what you think! Also, if you have any special requests for similar tutorials, please let me know in the comments.

Black Pepper & Parmesan Puff Pastry Cheese Straws


These cheese straws smelled so good when they came out of the oven that I had a hard time controlling myself long enough to take a photo. Once I got a decent enough shot, Eugene and I dove right in and devoured them alongside a bowl of egg salad. An odd meal, but also oddly perfect.

The straws are a great mix salty, chewy, and crisp with just a hint of heat from the cracked black pepper. When Eugene took his first bite, he turned to me and said, "These are so good they make me angry! I'm mad that I had to wait 26 years to taste this!" Needless to say, we didn't have any leftovers.

Normal people (i.e. not us) might prefer to serve these when company comes over. They go quickly though, so I would highly,
highly recommend doubling the recipe. This way you won't get stuck wishing you'd made more.

These cheese straws also lend themselves well to adaptation. Experiment using a blend of cheeses and added spices. Think Asiago or cheddar, or perhaps a dash of cayenne or rosemary. You can also cut the puff pastry into 1" pieces for a fun and "pop-able" snack.


Black Pepper & Parmesan Puff Pastry Cheese Straws

2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
All purpose flour for dusting
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1.5 cups finely grated Parmeggiano Reggiano
Freshly Grated Black Pepper
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Lightly flour you work surface then roll out both sheets of puff pastry. Go over them both with a rolling pin just to smooth them out slightly.

Brush the surface of both sheets lightly with the beaten egg. Sprinkle both sheets liberally and evenly with the grated cheese and then generously sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper. Run over the sheets with your rolling pin to press the seasonings and cheese into the pastry. Sprinkle lightly with Kosher salt.

Used a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut each sheet legnthwise into 10-12 strips each. Twist the strips and arrange on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, about 1" apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until they begin to turn golden and puff slightly. Turn each twist over and let bake for an additional 3-5 minutes or until golden and puffed. Be sure to keep an eye on them at the end since the cheese can easily burn.

Let cool and serve at room temperature.

More Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

I noticed that a lot of readers are coming here for Thanksgiving recipe ideas, so I've decided to collect and highlight a few recipes from the archives that can really work well for your dinner this year. I've noted on each entry if it's something that can be made ahead or if it can be served at room temperature or cold. Also check out the Recipe Index for more ideas or my suggestions for Quick & Easy Thanksgiving Sides that can be prepared in 15 minutes or less of active time.

If you have any specific questions or need help with any recipe (even if it's not one of mine!) send me an email and I'll be happy to help. Think of me as your Thanksgiving cooking hotline! ;)


Breads
Pumpkin Spice Challah--This sweet pumpkin challah with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg would be incredible on your Thanksgiving table. It can be made the day before and the leftover are lovely toasted with butter or made into French toast. You can also make them into small rolls by reducing the cooking time to about 20-25 minutes.

Rosemary & Garlic Focaccia Rolls--The dough for these rolls can be made 24 hours in advance and then simply prepared and baked the day of. The rosemary and garlic would pair well with the warm autumn flavors on your table.


Appetizers

Savory Rosemary & Chevre Mini Muffins--These savory muffins can be made up to 8 hours in advance and can be served warm or room temperature. They can be an easy appetizer along with your cheese plate, or can be served along with the meal as a bread.

Homemade Membrillo
--This is my tutorial on making membrillo, a sweet quince paste that is often served along with cheese as an appetizer or during a cheese course. This recipe can be made several weeks in advance and can be served cold or room temperature. (Oh and because I hate peeling, I show you how to do it without having to peel the quince!)

Mini Crabcakes with Cilantro & Lime Aioli--These are a perfect appetizer because they can be prepared and assembled well in advance and are baked, not fried (!!). The aioli can be made from scratch, or by simply adding the herbs and spices to prepared mayonnaise. Easy!

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds--This is a great little snack to keep in bowls on the coffee table for guests to snack on while enjoying their cocktails. This can be made in advance and should be served at room temperature.


Soups

Chestnut, Bacon, and Green Apple Soup--if you'd like to start your meal off with a soup course, this is definitely the way to go. This soup can be prepared in about 30 minutes total, and can be prepared in advance then quickly reheated just before serving.

Potage Parmentier (Potato Leek Soup)--This is an easy classic that can also be prepared in advance and can actually be served either hot or cold.


Salads
Roasted Potato Salad w/ Red Pepper & Smoked Paprika Dressing--The smoky dressing on this salad makes it perfect for Fall. It can be prepared ahead of time and served cold.

Mixed Green Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette --This is great homemade dressing that you can blitz up 24-hours in advance and serve with any packaged or freshly cut salad greens.


Desserts

Classic Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta--This creamy and cool dessert can be made up to 2 days in advance.

Vanilla Bean & Anise Poached Quince
--This easy preparation for quince, which are in season right now, can be served with ice cream or over a basic pound cake.

Carrot Cake with Maple Orange Cream Cheese
--This is my favorite carrot cake recipe and it can be made with shredded fresh carrots or leftover pulp from a juicer.

Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Torte--A completely flourless chocolate cake made with ground hazelnut meal (you can also substitute ground almond meal or ground macadamia nuts). This is one of the easiest cakes ever. Simply dump all the ingredients in a bowl, mix, and bake. It's always a favorite with chocolate fans.

Apple Cake--Another easy cake that highlights the flavors of the season. Use a mix of your favorite apples and serve with freshly whipped cream.

5 Quick & Easy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Anyone who has ever prepared Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd will understand what I mean when I say that time has a way of disappearing that day. One minute you are popping out of bed with a list of things to do, and then next you're rushing to get dressed while the first guests are already ringing the doorbell.

That’s why I’ve come up with five incredible Thanksgiving side dishes that each take only 15 minutes or less of active time to prepare. Whether you're looking for something traditional or craving a dish that's a little spicy and exciting, I'm sure you'll find something in this list that you like. Just a few quick minutes in the kitchen and you can let the oven or stove take over while you go and try to find those last two missing napkin rings.


1. Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon & Walnuts


Eugene and I are a little bit obsessed with this dish and it’s a regular on our weekday dinner menu. Sometimes, we don’t even put it on a plate; we just plop the baking sheet right on the coffee table and go to town with our forks while watching The Office.

It’s also one of my favorite side dishes to serve when I have company over. The sprouts crisp up on the outside while staying nice and tender inside. Add the salty/smoky bacon and a few handfuls of toasted walnuts and you are golden! It’s easy and an almost guaranteed crowd pleaser. It’s totally one of those dishes that people who claim to hate Brussels sprouts eat and then say “wow! These are good!”

You can prep these ahead of time on Thanksgiving. Simply trim and quarter the sprouts, toss with some olive oil, walnuts, and diced bacon then spread out on a big baking sheet. When the turkey comes out of the oven, crank up the heat to 400, then pop these in while the turkey rests. Both will be ready to serve at the same time.


2. Creamed Kale



This is a wonderful and unexpected twist on the usual creamed spinach. Unlike the latter, which can sometimes be mushy or soggy, Creamed Kale offers a bit more bite and substance for a lush side dish that will stand up quite nicely to any kind of turkey. A rich cream sauce of butter, cream, and just a hint of nutmeg play wonderfully against the natural nutty taste of the kale. (And yes, you MUST use the nutmeg. It makes the dish.)

You can use any kind of kale, but for a quick shortcut, grab a package of (fresh! NOT frozen) pre-washed and pre-cut kale. I've seen these at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, BJs, and pretty much every major supermarket (look for it near the "salad in a bag"). If you can’t find it, you can use whole kale, but you’ll have to tack on an extra 3 minutes to your prep time while you quickly rinse and shred the leafy green. (scroll down for the complete recipe)


3. Chipotle & Cola Braised Sweet Potatoes

Anyone who loves Southwestern flavors or a little spice will fall madly for these sweet and spicy sweet potatoes. I save time by skipping the peeling. The peel on the sweet potato is completely edible and actually packs a great nutrient punch.

To prepare, just scrub them well and slice into thick one-inch rounds. Layer these into a baking dish then drizzle with olive oil and pour in the braising liquid: a blend of cola (Coke, Pepsi, or Malta), chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, plus a few pats of butter. Cover tightly with foil then pop in the oven alongside your turkey for 35 minutes.

The potatoes will come out of the oven tender and flavorful. (Scroll down for the complete recipe.)


4. Roasted Plum Tomatoes with Garlic & Shallots

It's very late in the season, but in most places you can still find some lovely plum tomatoes. Drizzled with olive oil, crushed coriander, garlic, and whole shallots, and roasted in the oven for an hour, the tomatoes come out sweet and dripping with rich and flavorful juices.

Serve the roasted tomatoes at room temperature along with your dinner, or use them to top slices of toasted baguette that have been spread with cream cheese or chevre for a easy appetizer your guests can enjoy along with their first glass of champagne. (Scroll down for the recipe)


5. Napa Cabbage Slaw with Mustard & Apple Butter Vinaigrette



This autumnal take on the classic coleslaw would be a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving table. Unlike the summery version that's heavy with mayonnaise and...well...basically it's just mayonnaise, this one gets its creaminess from a warm and tangy dressing redolent with the flavors of mustard and and apple butter. Toasted pecans add a lovely crunch and like all the best Thanksgiving sides, it can be prepared well ahead of time. Get the recipe here.


Still need a great cranberry sauce recipe? Try my Spiced Cranberry Orange Sauce.

Still trying to decide the best way to cook your turkey? Try my Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey for the juiciest turkey breast you've ever tasted.

Looking for Thanksgiving dessert ideas? Come back tomorrow because that's next on the agenda!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts

Ingredients
2 pounds Brussels sprouts
3/4 cup walnuts halves
Extra virgin olive oil
3 strips bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
kosher salt
black pepper

To make:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees

First prepare the Brussels sprouts: trim off the stems and then quarter. Combine the Brussels sprouts in a large bowl with the walnuts and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Use your hands to mix and maker sure they are all coated well.

Spread the Brussels sprouts and walnuts in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Scatter the bacon pieces evenly throughout the pan, then season with kosher salt and black pepper.

Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the sprouts and bacon are crisp.

Creamed Kale


Ingredients
2 pounds kale, washed and sliced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg


To make:
Blanch the kale in salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain, then return to a medium size pot or saute pan. Add the butter, cream, and nutmeg and cook over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes or until has reduced and thickened slightly. Season to taste and serve.

Chipotle & Cola Braised Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients
6 large sweet potatoes
12 oz Malta (can be purchased in the Latin aisle in most major grocery stores). Use cola or cream soda as a substitute. Look for brands that do not contain high fructose corn syrup, such as Boylan's.
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped coursely
3 tablespoons adobo sauce (from chipotles)
4 tablespoons butter
kosher salt
black pepper

To make:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

1. Scrub the sweet potatoes well, then dry and slice into thick 1" rounds. Layer into a baking dish.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the soda, broth, chipotle peppers, and adobo sauce. Pour over the sweet potatoes in the baking dish. Dot with pats of butter then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Wrap the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes, remove from the oven and flip the sweet potatoes then return to the oven to bake for another 15 minutes. Check for seasoning and serve.


Roasted Plum Tomatoes with Garlic & Shallots

Ingredients
10 Whole Plum Tomatoes (fresh)
2 Whole Shallots
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds, crushed roughly
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Kosher salt
Black pepper

To prepare:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
1. Cut each tomato in half and spread in a single layer in a baking dish. Slice the shallots in half (leave peeled) and scatter into the dish along with the crushed garlic cloves.
2. Drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with crushed coriander, thyme, Kosher salt, and black pepper.
3. Roast in oven for 1 hour. Can be served hot, at room temperature, or cold.

Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake

Last month, I got an email from an editor at Bon Appetit magazine asking me if I'd be interested in entering one of my desserts in their holiday bake-off contest. I was excited about the prospect, but had a hard time deciding what to enter. After stressing about it for much longer than I should have, I decided to just go with one of my old favorites.

My Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake.

I first posted about this cake back in February 2008, just a few weeks after I started this blog, when my photography skills still justified that "mediocre" adjective in the tag line. The cake was a hit, though, and I think it's still the one about which I get the most passionate letters from readers. Mostly people like me who spent their childhoods trying to snag as many of these amazing little cookies as they could from the family dessert platter. My giant cake version was a bit of a dream come true for them (and, obviously, for me).

Some of you may not know this, but my obsession with this cookie was so great that a couple years ago (back during the really bad photos days), I started a small dessert catering business centered entirely on these wonderful treats.


The cookies, if you haven't tried them, consist of three layers of thin almond sponge cake filled with raspberry and apricot jam, all topped off with a layer of bittersweet chocolate filling. My little business was a hit, and at my peak I found myself baking about 30 batches of them a week. This inspired me to start offering the full-size cake versions to local customers. I've since tapered off on all the baking (really, it was just too much even for me), but I still have a few loyal customers who request my cake each year for their birthdays and other family celebrations.

The recipe I'm featuring today is the version that I've tweaked and revamped over the past couple years. I've got this cake down to a science by now and figured out ways to make the process as easy and quick as possible. The round shape with three layers is also a little more versatile as it makes for a perfect birthday cake and can be decorated however you like. Sometimes I use food coloring to dye marzipan, which I then mold into little bouquets of roses or cut into hearts and polka dots that I press into the sides. Depending on the occasion or recipient, I play with the colors in the layers (think shades of green for St. Patrick's or a lovely rainbow of pastels for Easter). I even make a version filled with lemon curd and topped with white chocolate ganache, although we'll leave that for another post.


I served this cake on Sunday at my fake-Thanksgiving along with anise-scented poached pears and fresh kiwi sorbet; definitely not traditional holiday desserts by any means, but delicious and festive nonetheless. Because of the brilliant colors, I think this cake would be particularly suited for the Christmas or New Years dessert table. It certainly may not be the most elegant or the fanciest of my dessert recipes--no crushed macadamia nuts, saffron, or chardonnay in this one--but it's probably one of the most fun. And your guests who have sentimental attachment to the traditional rainbow cookies will absolutely appreciate it.

Oh and please don't think this is just about nostalgia and novelty! This cake really is damn good. Moist spongy layers rich with almond are accented by high-quality apricot and raspberry preserves (you'll want to splurge on a good brand like Sarabeths or maybe even something fancy and French. Of course, good ol' Smuckers works too!). The frosting is a simple bittersweet chocolate ganache which can be left plain or decorated as you like with white frosting and pearlized sugar beads.

However you end up serving it, you're guaranteed to end up with a cake that's festive enough to capture the imagination of the adults in the room, while simultaneously delighting the children.

UPDATE: The contest is over! I didn't win, but a million thanks to all of you who voted. And let me know if you try the recipe at home!






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Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake
makes one 9" round layer cake

Ingredients
3 sticks butter, softened
1.5 cups granulated white sugar
6 large eggs
12 ounces of almond paste, grated with a box grater
1 tablespoon pure almond extract
1 cup milk
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder
red food coloring
green food coloring
yellow food coloring
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/4 cup apricot preserves
For the ganache:
1 cup heavy cream
12 oz semisweet chocolate

Special equipment: Three 9" round pans, buttered and floured, with a circle of parchment paper on the bottom

1. In the base of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. About 5 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat for 3 more minutes. Add the grated almond paste, almond extract, and milk, and beat until well combined.

2. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder then slowly add to the almond paste batter and mix until combined.

3. Separate the mixture evenly into three bowls. Dye each bowl a different shade (one green, one yellow, one red).

4. Pour each color of the mixture into individual pans making sure to smooth out the top. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack. Remove the parchment paper and let cool completely.

5. While the cake is cooling, prepare the ganache by heating 1 cup of heavy cream in a small saucepan just until bubbles start to form around the edge. Turn off the heat and pour over the chocolate in a large bowl. Stir continuously until melted completely and smooth. Let cool to room temperature.

Assembling the cake:

6. Start with the pink layer of the cake and spread with the raspberry jam until it nearly reaches the edges of the cake. Top with the yellow cake. Spread this with the apricot preserves. Top with the final green layer.

7. Use a spoon to pour the ganache over the cake, using an offset spatula to even the sides and make sure the cake is completely covered. Use as much ganache as you need. Let sit at room temperature in a cool spot for 1-2 hours until completely set. Decorate the cake as desired (optional).

Spiced Cranberry Orange Sauce


Growing up, cranberry sauce was one of the first things my mother tossed together on Thanksgiving morning, quickly combining a bag of fresh cranberries in a pot with a few cups of water and sugar. The sauce would bubble and pop until it was ready to be poured into the serving dish on our dining table to cool and wait for the other, more complicated, dishes to join it much later the same day.

Once I was tall enough to reach the stove, cranberry sauce duties were delegated my way and I would take much pride in the stirring and careful measurement of water and sugar. When the guests arrived, I’d eagerly offer them a serving of MY cranberry sauce to accompany the rest of the food on their plates. The fresh sauce was always wonderful, simultaneously tart and sweet, with a bit of burst from the whole berries. It was, I assumed, what everyone else was eating along with their Thanksgiving turkey.

It wasn’t until I was in Jr. High School that my parents brought my brother and me along on a volunteer trip to a soup kitchen near Times Square. It was just before Thanksgiving so were were serving turkey and all the fixings to the many homeless men and women who came through the hall that afternoon. My mom and I wore matching oversized Mondrian-patterned sweater and leggings (ahh, the 90s!), and I stuck close to her, simultaneously terrified of and curious about the scruffy-looking men who shouted at us for seconds. In the kitchen, a woman worked quickly with an electric can opener removing the tops of giant tins of jellied purple substance.

“What is that stuff?” I asked my mom as I watched the lady slice it into thick can-shaped circles that she layered onto an aluminum tray, refusing to believe her when she told me it was cranberry sauce. I had a difficult time reconciling the congealed maroon discs with the brilliant bubbly sauce I was so used to eating.

As always seems to happen when you first learn a word or see a color, I soon started to notice the cans everywhere—on television and in the lower shelves of the grocery store. I didn’t quite understand why anyone would eat something so ugly when the real version was so simple and no more expensive. The homeless people may not have had a choice—though they certainly deserved better—but I still don’t really understand why people would pick the illusory convenience of a can over the very real convenience (because it’s so easy!) of a fresh and homemade cranberry sauce.


If you read this blog, then I have no doubt that you agree with me on the fresh vs. canned debate (is it even a debate?), but I'd also love to encourage you to mix up the classic sauce this year.

For the past several years I’ve been experimenting with adding different flavors to my basic sauce recipe, and have recently settled on a new favorite: a lovely spicy-sweet combination of fresh ginger, citrus, and cinnamon that I love so much I admit to eating it by the spoonful while preparing the rest of the meal. And while cleaning up afterward. And while writing this blog post.

Instead of water, I used a combination of apple cider and orange juice, and at the end, I added a quick splash of 20-year strawberry-balsamic vinegar to round out the flavors (you can use your favorite flavored or plain balsamic for this). This sauce particularly complements my smoky Latin-style turkey recipe, but would work just as well with your favorite Thanksgiving dishes.

This sauce is the quickest thing to throw together and can be made well in advance of the big day so you won’t have to worry about freeing up one of the burners. It keeps in the fridge and can be served cold, hot, or room temperature. Leftovers are wonderful with roasted pork tenderloin or even over a simple flourless chocolate cake! I'm actually toying with the idea of tucking a few spoonfuls into a batch of buttery puff pastry, just to see what happens...


Spiced Cranberry Orange Sauce
Notes of ginger, orange, and cinnamon elevate this Thanksgiving side dish beyond the ordinary.

Ingredients
3 cups apple cider
1 1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup sugar
Peel of one orange, cut into large strips
2 inches of fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced thickly
1 cinnamon stick
1 pound fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar (a raspberry, fig, or strawberry balsamic vinegar would work particularly well here)


To make:
In a medium saucepan, combine the apple cider, orange juice, and sugar and heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the orange peel, ginger, and cinnamon stick and let simmer for 10 minutes until reduced by a third.

Add the cranberries and stir. Let simmer over medium low heat for another 15-20 minutes until the berries burst and the sauce thickens slightly.

Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar. Let cool before serving. Can be made up to 3 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.

Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey


On Saturday, I had dinner with my boyfriend's family for his mother's birthday. It was the day before my own party for fake-thanksgiving, and I was discussing a few of the menu points with his brother.

"I've never had a good turkey," he summarily declared. "Turkey is an inherently dry bird so it's impossible to make it tender."

At this, I laughed. "That is just plain not true!" I exclaimed.

I went on to explain the most common problem with turkey, which is that most people just don't know how to cook it properly. They're so concerned with it looking golden and perfect, that they ignore some of the basic aspects of turkey. That, of course, being that turkey breast cooks in about half the time of the rest of the bird so by the time the whole thing comes out of the oven, the breast is overcooked and dry. It's why people who in regular life have little interest in dark meat, tend to prefer it in the Thanksgiving turkey.

The best way to avoid this, I continued, is to cook the bird upside down. My secret is to go even further and half-braise/half-roast the turkey by filling the basin of the roasting pan with a delicious braising liquid. I lay the bird right into the pan without a rack so the breast cooks slowly in the rich liquid, while the rest of the bird roasts and crisps.

Ilya was skeptical, but upon tasting my turkey the next day, he conceded. "You were right," he said as he reached in for another helping.


I hope to convince you to try it this way, too. And so here is Alejandra's ...er...MY recipe for a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey. Note that you'll have to let go of your preconceived notions of what a turkey should look like, but once you try it, I suspect you'll be pretty pleased! (Oh and I should also note that all the amazing photographs in this post were taken by my friend and incredible photographer Monica Navarro. She also does weddings, portraits, and cute baby photos. You can check out more of her work here.)

Since I know many of you are worried about not having a picture-perfect bird. Let's just get that out of the way first!

Come time to serve the bird, I have two suggestions:

1. Set it on the platter and bring it to the table upside-down! It will still look absolutely gorgeous--crispy skin and all. And I guarantee you that 75 percent of your guests (unless you come from an unusually foodie clan) won't even know that it's upside down. You will get your ooohs and aaahs and can leave it there while saying grace or making toasts. Explain that it's upside down because it cooks better that way and, when they challenge you, say "oh just you wait, annoying Uncle Steve!" Then, come time to carve it, simply pull it away and say, "we're going to carve it in the kitchen and bring it back." Uncle Steve will be begging you for more!

2. Carve the bird in the kitchen and layer the slices elegantly on a pattern adorned with roast vegetables and sprigs of herbs. Then bring it out to the table where, I assure you, you will STILL get lots of oooohs and aaahs. Maybe even more now that your family will know they can just dig in without having to wait while you carve it.


If you're concerned about the crispy skin, simply remember that the WHOLE bird is covered in skin. Even if you cook it upside down, you still get a whole half-a-turkey full of crispy skin on the bottom part. Just pull it off before you flip the bird, then proceed as usual. The tender and juicy breast will hush any doubts the more skeptical members of your family may have.

This is my recipe for a perfect Thanksgiving Turkey. The marinade is a rich sauce made out of onions, garlic, fresh herbs, and spices. It has a it of a Latin kick to it with fresh cilantro, sour orange juice, and warm and smokey Spanish paprika. You can, of course, adjust the marinade to your tastes so just think of it as a guideline. This turkey is wonderful paired with all the traditional Thanksgiving accompaniments, a few of which I'll be posting over the next few days.

Another tip: on a smaller scale (think half), this recipe and method is also absolutely brilliant for your average roast chicken. One thing to remember is that you need to think ahead.

This turkey is best when it is marinated for at least 24 hours in advance. My mom likes to marinate it a full 48 hours in advance and it comes out even better. The recipe itself is actually pretty quick and easy because it there is no dicing or chopping involved. Also no messy brines to contend with. It will work for turkeys of any size, simply adjust the cooking time based on the size of your bird.



Alejandra’s Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey
This recipe is for a turkey that cooks upside down with the breast in a braising liquid. There are a lot of ingredients, but don’t let that scare you; the actual hands-on time is minimal.

Ingredients

For the marinade:
1 whole Spanish onion (Spanish onions are typically spicier and larger than regular yellow onions; if you can’t find any, substitute two whole yellow onions)
1 whole red bell pepper
1 whole head of garlic, each clove peeled
1 bunch of cilantro
1/2 bunch parsley
3 tablespoons Smoked Spanish Paprika
Juice of two seville oranges (sour oranges often available in Latin grocers, or substitute a mixture of 1 whole regular orange and 1 whole lemon or the juice of 3 Meyer lemons)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup Kosher salt, plus more if necessary (as outlined in the instructions)

For the herb butter:
1 stick of salted butter, softened at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon paprika

For the turkey cavity:
1 Spanish onion, quartered
1 lemon, halved
1 head of garlic, whole but with top sliced off


1 fresh Turkey (any size)

For the braising liquid:
1 bottle of Malta (a latin malt soda) or 1 can of Coca Cola
2-3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (homemade or boxed)
1/2 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed or bottled)
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh oregano

Special Equipment: 1 large roasting pan, twine and skewers to truss the bird, 1 oven safe meat thermometer, aluminum foil, a blender or food processor for preparing the marinade


To make:

1. First, prepare the marinade. You will need a blender or a food processor with the largest bowl in place. Peel the onion and quarter it. Cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds and vein. Peel the garlic. Drop the onion, bell pepper, garlic, cilantro, and parsley into the food processor and blitz until completely blended. Add the smoked spanish paprika, orange juice, olive oil, black pepper, and salt, and continue to process until the mix is completely smooth like a sauce. Taste it for seasoning; the sauce should taste TOO salty. If you taste it and it’s still pleasant—like you could easily eat it as a salad dressing—add more salt. Note that this amount of salt will not be evident in the final turkey, but it’s going to be what makes the bird so flavorful so don’t be afraid to add more. Once it is ready, set the marinade aside.

2. Prepare the herb butter. In a small bowl, blend the soft butter with the thyme, oregano, and paprika. Set aside at room temperature.

3. Prepare the items for the turkey cavity. These will go inside the bird in lieu of stuffing (which should be cooked separately) and will provide even more flavoring for the bird. Peel and quarter the onion. Halve the lemon. Slice the to off the head of garlic. Set these aside.

4. Prepare the turkey: Unwrap the bird and rinse under the sink to remove any blood or liquid. Remove the giblets and turkey neck and set aside. Pat the bird dry and use your hands to separate the skin from the breast of the bird. Using your hands, scoop in small handfuls of the herb butter and massage into the bird under the skin and inside the bird cavity. Use the entire amount of the butter.

5. Now you are ready to pour on the marinade. Place the bird in the roasting pan where you will be cooking it, breast side up. Pour on the marinade by the cupful, making sure to get it all over the bird, inside the cavity. Use a spoon to scoop the marinade into the bird between the skin and the flesh. Be sure to also pour some inside the neck cavity.

6. Insert the onion, lemon, and garlic inside the bird cavity until it is filled. Scoop in a few tablespoons of the marinade.

7. Cover the bird with the top of the roasting pan or aluminum foil and place in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours (note that if you started late, that will be OK and it will still taste better than a plain old salt-and-pepper bird).

When you are ready to cook:

8. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove the bird from the refrigerator and let sit for 30-45 minutes until it loses some of the chill from the fridge.

9. Uncover the bird and use your hands to gently flip it over in the roasting pan so that the breast is on the bottom and facing the bottom of the pot. Use twine to tie the legs together and skewers to seal the skin over the breast and neck cavities. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh being careful not to touch any bones.

10. Pour in the braising liquid: 1 bottle of soda (malta or coca cola—not diet!), 2 cups chicken broth, 1/2 cup orange juice. Scatter in the herbs. Cover with foil or the top tightly and place in the oven for the recommended amount of time based on the size of your bird. (You won’t need to worry about basting it!)

11. About 1 hour before it’s finished roasting, remove the cover and let it continue cooking uncovered.

12. When the meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees, remove from the oven. Cover with foil and let sit for 30 minutes until the temperature reaches 180 and the juices have all settled.

Fake-Thanksgiving was a Success!


As I mentioned the other day, I came up with the brilliant (and *very* last-minute) plan to throw an early Thanksgiving feast yesterday in order to prepare and photograph some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes. I invited a bunch of friends over and got busy in the kitchen. The party was a success, and I can't wait to share the results. This week (and possibly some of next) is going to be "Thanksgiving Week" here on Always Order Dessert, with recipe ideas for your holiday table.

I'm editing and uploading the photos right now so you'll have to come back tomorrow for the details, but I've posted a little sneak peek of the turkey so you can see how lovely and golden it was. Careful observers might also notice that my bird is upside-down. That is Thanksgiving tip no. 1 around here! Birds are always better when they sleep (in the oven) on their bellies--it's the secret to a perfectly juicy and succulent breast every single time.

I can't wait to share the rest with you!

The Eggplant Song


My mom is a little bit obsessed with a singer named Michael Franks. I have no idea where this guy came from; I can't remember ever hearing one of his songs on the radio. And yet, anytime she cooks for a big meal or cleans the house or is just home alone working on a project, you can absolutely expect to hear this man's quirky jazzy music blasting throughout our house.

When I was in high school or came home from college during the holidays, it used to drive me a little bit crazy. Our house is on the large side with pretty fantastic acoustics, and my room happens to be right in the center of the house. I've nicknamed it the "chamber of sounds," because it's right next to the main vents and pipes for the central air, heating, vacuum, and water are. Which of course means that it is also where the sound of anything and EVERYTHING that goes on in the house (dish washing, laundry doing, showering, Michael Franks-blasting) congregates, thereby making it impossible to do anything but give up on trying to read or watch TV and instead spend the afternoon listening to the dish-washing, laundry doing, showering, and Michael Franks-blasting that is going on elsewhere.

It was on one of these afternoons that I, against my will, learned the lyrics to the Eggplant song. I just thought of them again recently when I asked my mom to send me along a specific recipe that I remembered her making. In the instructions she noted that she doesn't always make it the same way twice, "you know, like in the Michael Franks Eggplant song."

I'm totally the same way and thought I'd share the lyrics. You can check out the video here (please excuse the man's mullet and large 'stache. It was the early 90s.)

Eggplant
Michael Franks
From: The Art of Tea

Whenever I explore the land of Yen
I always take one on the chin
And now this lioness has almost made me tame.
I can't pronounce her name but
Eggplant is her game.

The lady sticks to me like white on rice.
She never cooks the same way twice.
Maybe it's the mushrooms. Maybe the tomatoes.
I can't reveal her name but Eggplant is her game.

When my baby cooks her Eggplant,
She don't read no book.
She's got a Giocanna kinda of dirty look

And my baby cooks her Eggplant,
Bout 19 different ways.
Sometimes I just have it raw with Mayonnaise.

Maybe its the way she grates her cheese,
Or just the freckles on her knees.
Maybe its the scallions. Maybe she's Italian.
I can't reveal her name but Eggplant is her game.

When my baby cooks her Eggplant,
She don't read no book.
She's got a Giocanna kinda of dirty look.

And my baby cooks her Eggplant,
Bout 19 different ways.
Sometimes I just have it raw with Mayonnaise.

Just a few I love

I'm in the middle of my mock-Thanksgiving party prepping craziness, but I thought it might be fun to tell you about a few blogs I've discovered recently. If you haven't seen them yet, they definitely deserve a gander. (They're not all food blogs, but they are all lovely.)

Mae Bird: I'm a little bit in love with the photography and sentiment on this blog. Each time my reader tells me that there's a new post, my belly does a little jump of excitement.

Not Drowning, Mothering: This blog is my absolute brand new favorite blog. It's so my favorite that I'm actually not sure why I listed it second. The blog itself isn't brand new; it was around for a while before I even found it, which meant that I once spent several hours (when I should have been writing) reading the archives and giggling. The writer, known as the NDM, has a brilliant voice and I have never once not loved a post or found myself laughing OUT LOUD (and for real, too. Not just that patronizing IM "LOL"). She's a mom with a clever husband, a gaggle of kids (both hers and her friend's), and a delightful turn of phrase. If you've ever read and loved Shirley Jackson's "Life Among the Savages," I think you'll like. (And even if you haven't, so don't let that be your excuse not to check it out.)

Honey & Jam: I'm so amazed by this young writer/photographer/baker's writing and photos. Something about it just makes my eyes and heart happy.

The British Larder: A recent afternoon I came across about a half-dozen photos on Tastespotting that really caught my eye. Each time I clicked on them, they brought me to this blog, which is written by a UK-based professional chef. Some truly gorgeous and inventive dishes here.


Pacing the Panic Room Floor
: Like NDM, this one is also not at all a food blog, but have you been? Have you seen the gorgeous photos and read the beautifully honest prose written by this new dad? He's a photographer and a (new) father who writes with such love about his family.

I'm off to the kitchen now (am already behind schedule, actually), but I hope that you go check out these sites. And maybe tell me about your own recent favorites in the comments below?

xoxo

Turkey on the fly


This is one of my absolute favorite photos. It was taken on a friend's iPhone late at night at one of the more raucous parties I hosted. You can tell from the state of the kitchen that things were definitely a little chaotic, but it was a blast.

And that bottle of Veuve? That was the 6th or 7th one I opened that night.

Earlier today I decided on a total whim that I was going to host a mock-Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday afternoon. I'd been meaning to write about some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, but without photos, I didn't think the post would do them justice. So I decided to throw a little party! It won't be as wild as the one above, but it will give me a chance to make all the dishes I've been meaning to share... and to post my pre-Thanksgiving feast menu on here just in time for your last-minute real-Thanksgiving feast planning.

I ran the idea past Eugene who was completely horrified, albeit supportive, and then I sent out a quick e-mail invite to a few awesome friends in the area. We have a nice little group coming AND I already went out and got myself a turkey (plus another four bags filled with ingredients).

I haven't entirely finalized my menu--and I probably won't until I actually start cooking--but I've got a lot of good ideas.

This, as I'm sure you've already guessed, is the kind of cooking (and hosting!) I like to do; creative, spontaneous, and totally risky.

It's going to be fantastic!

In-N-Out Burger: Etymology of a Burger Chain


When I first heard about In-n-Out Burger, I assumed it was a gay burger chain.

I think it was the word "out" that threw me. And the California thing. Whatever the reason, for the longest time I just thought of In-n-Out burger as "that popular California gay burger chain." Like Lambda, the gay and lesbian bookstore on Connecticut Ave in DC, or the now-defunct Food Bar in Chelsea. (Actually, like just about every bar in Chelsea.)

It wasn't until last month, when on our visit to San Francisco, BFF Matt and Reamonn (both Bay Area natives) took a few of us to In-N-Out Burger for the very first time. While walking into the place, I mentioned that my brother and his Marine buddies had all been huge fans of the burgers when he was stationed in Camp Pendleton near San Diego. This was followed with a statement about the irony of it and a reference to "Don't Ask. Don't Tell," when finally, one of my friends turned around and asked me what the hell I was babbling about.

"You know," I said. "Because of the gay thing? In and out...of the closet?"

And while I was still saying it, just before everyone around me burst out laughing, I realized how incredibly wrong I was. In-N-Out was not, as I'd always thought, a clever and slightly risque name for a gay burger chain, but rather a much more literal (and logical) reference to fast food.

Etymology failed me twice that day; as the wait for our burgers was actually quite lengthy. At least it gave the locals the chance to educate us on the "secret menu" so that when my turn finally came up I knew enough to order my burger and fries "animal style." (Or slathered in a pink mayo-ketchup pickle onion sauce situation.)

Unfortunately--and if I haven't already offended a third of my reading public, I'm probably about to with this next statement--I didn't like it. The burger was fine, but didn't taste that much different than a Big Mac. My real issue was with the fries, which I found bland and lacking the bold flavor I usually crave from crisped potatoes and hot salt.

The locals tried to defend their hometown favorite. "It's supposed to be healthier," explained BFF Matt. "They use healthy oils." We (read: the East coasters) just weren't buying it.

"I think that's the problem" I replied, but it was really Eugene's face that said it best:

BAD fries!




*For the past two weeks, whenever I remind Eugene that I have to get a post up before I can go to sleep, he replies "Oh just post a picture of me and come to bed." And so I did.

Veal Marsala for Mama's Birthday


A few days before my mother's birthday last month, my dad called me and told me that since things had been a little hectic around the house lately, he thought it would be a good idea if we skipped the big fancy birthday dinner out at a restaurant, and instead did something low-key and relaxing.

"So," he continued. "I think it would be good if we all just go to your house on Sunday and you can cook."

I don't remember if I actually pointed out the amusing fact that he found my making dinner for my mom, my dad, my brother, my cousin, my cousin's husband, Eugene, and myself to be a "more relaxing" prospect than if he were to just take us all out for dinner, but he must have realized it because after a brief pause he added:

"Oh and I'll pay for the groceries."

I accepted, of course, because the only thing I love more than hosting a large group for dinner is hosting a large group for dinner on my dad's dime.

Since the party was in three days, I spent the next afternoon assembling a menu and grocery list on Fresh Direct. I decided to start with one of my most popular recipes; stuffed mushrooms filled with a mixture of sausage, dried fruits, nuts, garlic, olives, and herbs. Next came panko-crusted goat cheese medallions baked in the oven and drizzled with vincotto and a salad of mixed greens with 20 year artisan strawberry balsamic that we bought in Sonoma a few weeks ago.

The main course consisted of veal marsala with wild mushrooms, rosemary roasted purple fingerling potatoes, and homemade spinach and goat ricotta gnudi with brown butter, sage, and walnuts. For dessert we had pinot noir & tonka bean poached pears stuffed with honey cinnamon mascarpone. We took the opportunity to open up an incredible bottle of port that we got in Sonoma at St. Francis winery. (I'm not a port fan, but I fell in love with this bottle and actually regret not buying a couple more.)

I tried to take a few photos of the food that we served, but between the cooking and hosting and arguing with my brother who kept trying to turn the TV on to "the game," I didn't get a chance to document everything as I would have liked. So, with apologies for the blurry photos, I'll post a few of these over the next couple days.

First up is the veal marsala, which I chose because it's a family favorite and even something that my brother--who as evidenced above can sometimes be difficult--enjoys. There were seven of us that day so I made a large portion, but I've reduced the recipe here to serve a more realistic four. (Or two, with leftovers.)


Veal Marsala
The veal can be replaced with chicken in this recipe if desired.
Serves 4

8 veal cutlets, cut thin and pounded for scaloppine
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
kosher salt
pepper
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound wild mushrooms, sliced (button or baby bella mushrooms work too)
1.5 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup Marsala wine
fresh parsley


1. Sift the flour into a shallow basin and season generously with salt and pepper. Also sprinkle some of the salt and pepper onto the veal cutlets. Now dip one of the veal cutlets into the flour making sure to coat completely on both sides then set on a baking sheet. Repeat with each cutlet.

2. In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add the butter and olive oil and heat until the butter is melted and sizzling.

3. Add the veal, in batches if the pan is not large enough, and brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and set on a baking sheet.

4. Into the same pan, add the sliced mushrooms and saute. Add the broth and Marsala and let cook for a minute until it starts to simmer. Lower the heat to medium and then gently arrange the pieces of browned veal back in the pan and let simmer for approximately 5 minutes or until the sauce reduces to two-thirds and thickens slightly. Adjust the sauce for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if necessary.

5. Serve the veal on a large platter topped with the mushrooms and the sauce from the pan. Top with fresh parsley and serve immediately with a side of pasta or sauteed vegetables such as broccoli rabe.

Evolution of a Plum Cake


It started with this perfect plum, which I saw hanging in a tree out back behind the house. We'd only just arrived at our home for the weekend, but I was already excited. The tree was full of fruit and with a gentle tap I knew they were all ready to come down. "Am I allowed to pick these?" I asked.


The answer was yes, so in the morning I slipped out into the misty garden with a basket and a sweater. The dogs followed around behind me, eating the fruit that had fallen during the night. With each pluck, the branch buckled then sprang back up, showering me with morning dew.


I quartered the plums and tucked them into a batter scented with saffron that I brought in my purse from home and a meyer lemon from a tree I passed while in town. A generous dusting of sugar finished it off. Don't you love the way the buttered and floured sides of the pan catch the afternoon light?


While this baked, the kitchen took on a sultry dreamy aroma. For a while I just sat in front of the oven peering through the glass as the golden cake rose and the plums gently and slowly slipped under the surface. Later, when I served it, my friend Reamonn held a piece up to his face and inhaled. "Is it wrong that I'd like my future wife to smell like this?"

The recipe is this one, although I changed a few things. I only used plums, of course, and since I didn't have almond meal, I ground a large handful of macadamia nuts instead. Decadent, perhaps, but that perfect plum deserved it.

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