After a couple months of foreign food and little access to a kitchen, I was itching to get back to cooking and baking. While in Borneo, I spent more of my idle time than I’d care to admit scheming about the foods I’d cook once we returned. During our first week back, George’s nocturnal schedule prevented me from putzing around the kitchen to my usual extreme degree. I have a preternatural tendency to make A LOT of noise exactly when I’m trying hardest to be quiet, so I tried to keep the culinary antics to a minimum.
In my parents’ open kitchen, though, it was more or less an open season on any and all cooking activities. For my first few days, I had the pleasure of feeding not just my immediate family, but also some visiting relatives. Between cuddling babies and watching football, we ate mushroom risotto and roasted chicken and pumpkin soup with fried sage and a frittata perfect for lazy mornings.
Few, if any, of my cooking projects throughout the week were revolutionary. I made soft pumpkin cookies from an old Pillsbury recipe my mom saved from the back of a package years ago. Warning: these neither travel nor store well in multiple layers, as the frosting never really hardens. One loaf of this pumpkin bread didn’t last long, so I made a second batch with half tahini and half almond butter. Both times, I followed the second variation that calls for coconut flour in lieu of arrowroot starch and added about a cup of chocolate chips and cacao nibs.
Bittman’s pie crust and pumpkin pie recipes, from his How to Cook Everything app, served me as well this year as they have the previous few. To round out the Thanksgiving dessert offerings, I struggled to follow Sarah Moulton’s French apple tart recipe. This would have been easier had the Saveur website not gone down during the precise moment when I needed a crash course in arranging the apple slices in an artful, rose-like pattern. Big clouds of whipped cream graciously obscured my shoddy tart craftsmanship.
In the mornings, gently roused by the sound of Hank padding down the stairs after my dad, I’d snuggle back in to soft flannel sheets and, more often than not, consider the day’s cooking opportunities. One morning, I put a cup of sour cream - the balance of the container we'd sunk in to the mashed potatoes - to good use in my Grammie's trademark cinnamon-sugar coffeecake.
Fueled by pumpkin bread and tea, I’d empty the dishwasher and watch my dad cook his ‘big breakfasts’ and start my cooking engines. I’d make pumpkin (more accurately, hard squash) puree from scratch, clean and cook a pound of soil-caked wild mushrooms, trim and prep an entire stalk of Brussels sprouts, or delicately coax a couple of eggs into a pillowy scramble to pair with sliced avocado and leftover roasted squash.
By the end of the week, I’d torn through most of the produce we’d acquired for the holiday via my parents’ CSA box, a frenetic trip to Whole Foods, and a visit to the Hillcrest farmers’ market with my dad, who was probably more interested in the impending kickoff to the Chargers’ game than he was my wordy paean to the glories of cherimoyas and persimmons.
Although at past Thanksgiving dinners my vegetable contribution highlighted starchy roasted root vegetables, this year I decided to incorporate something bright and crunchy. If, like many holiday tables, yours lacks in the raw and vegetable departments, consider this salad:
I like using tightly packed greenery like radicchio, endive, and cabbage when refrigerator space is tight, as it is around the holidays.
thinly sliced celery and whole flat-leaf parsley leaves (lots!)
orange and tangerine segments
Pull out all the stops and cut them into supremes.
We picked up some locally grown red walnuts at the farmers’ market and they were gorgeous.
roasted vegetables of your choosing
I went with celery root and fennel in an effort to keep the starch factor in check.
a bracing horseradish vinaigrette
Whisk freshly grated horseradish into a standard vinaigrette until spicy to your liking.
plenty of flaky salt and freshly cracked pepper.
I’m back in the City of Redwood and settling in to a new routine, but of course my idle thoughts are never far from the kitchen. New ways to cook and dress Brussels sprouts remain one of my primary seasonal interests. I’ll leave you with this; an easy dish that we couldn’t stop snacking on:
- Reduce a couple cups of apple cider (I like to use leftover flat hard cider) until syrupy.
- Turn the heat off and whisk in a couple big spoonfuls of canned or roasted pumpkin puree, the juice of half a lemon, a bit of apple cider vinegar, a good pour of extra-virgin olive oil, and salt and freshly cracked pepper.
- Toss with still-warm, crispy-edged roasted sprouts, a handful or two of fresh herbs (cilantro and/or parsley work well), and serve.