“I have strong doubts that the first Thanksgiving even remotely resembled the “history” I was told in second grade. But considering that (when it comes to holidays) mainstream America’s traditions tend to be over-eating, shopping, or getting drunk, I suppose it’s a miracle that the concept of giving thanks even surfaces at all.”
– Ellen Orleans, author
Those of my local friends who’ve been around awhile know that we simply won’t “do” Thanksgiving dinner at Casa S. It’s too complicated – everyone has their own family memories of what it should be like. The very first year we opened we offered it, thinking it would be a great chance to show off a little t-day comida norteamericana. Not so much. Prior to the dinner I received not just requests for reservations, but attachments of family recipes from various petitioners with exhortations to use them for our dinner so that it would be a “real” Thanksgiving dinner. In the end, when I saw what was coming in, I decided to only accept reservations from people we knew, so it became a family and friends dinner after all – we also held it on Friday, since the night before we took a private catering gig for the holiday. Interestingly, a local woman posted a long tirade on one of the local foodie message boards about her disastrous experience with us at that very evening, carrying on about the food (none of which she described at all accurately) and Henry and I have loud arguments in the kitchen (never happened) – only problem was, she wasn’t there – as we knew each and every person who was.
As I said, we also catered a dinner on the night of for a group of norteamericano business students down here on a semester abroad. It was where I learned that we really have to check things out before we accept an outside catering job. The hosts, who booked for a party of 16, asserted that their house was equipped with a state of the art gourmet kitchen, a full compliment of pots and pans, and more than sufficient plates, glasses and silverware for the group. On arrival we found a kitchen the size of a New York City studio apartment bathroom, equipped with a hand-washing sink not even as wide as a dinner plate, a two burner range with an oven of the same width. We had two turkeys that, thankfully, we’d pre-cooked, as well as all the accompaniments. They had one small frying pan and one small sauce pan, one wooden spoon and a spatula. The serviceware consisted of cocktail party sized paper plates, napkins, and plastic silverware – and, they barely had enough of those. And 22 people showed up. Hmmm… maybe that woman above was at THAT dinner – except again, her descriptions of the food and fighting didn’t fit. Somehow we muddled through. And vowed, never again. So we’ve spent the last five t-days at local friends’ house where they host a potluck style dinner. This year I brought spicy sweet potatoes (roasted with olive oil, chipotle pepper, salt, pepper, brown sugar and marjoram) and a “pumpkin” pie (butternut squash, it’s what we have to work with here).
We opened up for post-t-day dinners all weekend, three nights where I figured maybe a slightly lighter take on the menu might be appropriate, given what it was likely numerous of our guests had eaten….
Cauliflower / Mint / Litchi / Cashew
Nieto-Senetiner Nature, N.V.
I was in the mood for a chilled soup, and rather than an ajoblanco style with the heavy bread and garlic, I thought about a chilled cauliflower soup. And I happened across this website with a fascinating sounding take on a cauliflower gazpacho. No recipe was provided, particularly for what went into the soup, but enough of a description for me to have fun with it. I cooked and then chilled a large cauliflower, then pureed it with a liter of milk, a handful of mint leaves, four garlic cloves, a large shallot, a small bread roll for consistency, a quarter cup each of good olive oil, white wine vinegar and fruit vinegar, smoked salt and white pepper. To serve, I’d chopped up some peeled litchis, toasted and chopped some cashews, and then drizzled the whole thing with a mix of sesame oil and cilantro oil. Simply amazing – thanks for the inspiration “laocook”!
Mushroom / Pea / Smoked Turkey / Romano Cheese
Algodón Wine Estate Semillón 2009
My only nod to post Thanksgiving, an inspiration from my mom’s turkey tetrazzini, which seemed to be one of the first things she made when we were kids as a followup to the big feast. Or at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The classic midwest version of the ’60s, noodles tossed with cream of mushroom soup, frozen peas, and shredded leftover turkey, all with some “parmesan” – the grated stuff out of the shiny green Kraft container. Here, roasted mushrooms caps filled with a mix of the chopped stems, smoked turkey breast, sunflower seeds, garlic, peperoncino, salt and black pepper. Served over a fresh pea puree – shelled, shocked and blanched the peas, pureed with a handful of basil leaves, salt, pepper, a splash of cream and just enough vegetable stock to thin it out. Sauteed slivers of shiitake mushrooms. Shavings of romano cheese. Fresh pea sprouts. Not quite what we used to have on the day after.
Homemade Ricotta / Tomato / Star Anise / Pecorino
Las Moras Rosado de Syrah 2010
Raise your hand if you know the difference between manicotti and canneloni. I’m waiting…. I mean, you know there must be a difference, otherwise why have two different names, right? Nope, it’s not the filling. Nope, it’s not the sauce. Nope, it’s not the shape… though kind of. It’s the tube. Canneloni are big extruded pasta tubes, or at least pasta rectangles rolled into a tube shape. Manicotti are crepes, made the traditional Italian way with flour, egg and water (not milk, which is the French version). So, crepes (1 cup each of water, eggs, flour, beaten and then left for an hour to hydrate the flour), made and then trimmed the rounded edges off. Made fresh ricotta and then mixed it with whole eggs, lots of garlic chives, salt and pepper. Rolled the filling up in the crepes, grated some sheep’s milk pecorino over the top and tossed them in the oven to brown. The sauce, a simple one of plum tomatoes cooked down with garlic, shallots, basil, lemon peel and star anise, roughly pureed and then seasoned to taste. Some shredded leeks, fried up until crispy, then drained and salted.
Cod / Green Bean / Wild Rice / Peach
Alfredo Roca Pinot Noir 2009
I don’t know why I was in the mood for a barbecued fish, but I was. Fillets of cod, brushed with sauce made from cooking down fresh peaches with ají amarillo, a splash of ketchup, and some garlic. Pureed and then added in some bourbon, salt and pepper to taste – the fish got glazed with that before going into the oven and then again about halfway through cooking. Served over wild rice, just seasoned with salt. Green beans that I’d cut in small lengths, blanched and shocked them to set the color, then sauteed with red onions, ground chilies, coconut and peanut powder and a little salt. Topped with mixed sprouts.
Strawberry / Molasses / Cream / Chocolate
Quara Torrontés Cosecha Tardía 2010
Since a week or two ago when I found myself confronting a disappointing strawberry shortcake, I’d been thinking about preparing one of my own. It seemed to fit in well with the night’s menu. The shortcake recipe, about as classic americana as you can get – right out of The Joy of Cooking (the baking powder here doesn’t raise them as well as in the States, not sure why) – it’s essentially a buttery biscuit recipe (and I made extra for my morning coffee accompaniment). Roasted halved strawberries in a splash of molasses and vanilla, kept them warm to spoon over the biscuits. Topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream and lots of grated dark chocolate.