When I was growing up, an “annual” was a comic-strip-based holiday gift that kept you chuckling for about a day and a half before being stuffed into a cupboard and forgotten about. I like to think our annual Thanksgiving roundup follows that tradition.
This accurately describes our run-up to Thanksgiving this year:
September: – *glances at calendar* – “OK, plenty of time to plan our T-day, we’ll take it nice and slow this year, no need to stress” – * yawns, takes sip of tea, looks back down at calendar* – “HOLY CRAP IT’S NOVEMBER 14th AND WE’VE DONE NOTHING WE’RE SCREWED, BURN IT DOWN, BURN IT ALL DOWN”
Seriously. Our work schedules (our real work, you know, not this culinary frippery) became uncommonly strange and busy, and what with one thing and another and yet a third thing, and then the first two things again because they didn’t get done properly the first time, we didn’t stick with our disciplined scheme from previous years where we make stock exactly two weeks in advance and proceed from there armed with post-its and string and pins for the crazy wall and it all somehow comes together on the day. This year our minds were elsewhere and now November 23rd is coming up and we have to scramble.
These are what you want for a holiday party: buttery puff pastry tartlets topped with oven-roasted pears, balsamic-caramelized red onions and goat cheese crumbles. A drizzle of spicy chili-honey puts it over the top.
While we love (love!) throwing parties around the holidays, we inevitably get so busy that what we envisioned as a relaxed morning of prepping nibbles ends up being a scramble to get food on the table before our famished guests start experimentally sprinkling salt and pepper on the cats. That’s when a time-saver like puff pastry sheets becomes our best friend in the kitchen. In fact, the day before a party, we often defrost a box just on the off chance that we’ll need to make more vittles. It’s a matter of minutes to throw a few ingredients onto a pastry square and bake it.
We recently found a combination that requires a little more prep time, but is so worth it: roasted pears, caramelized red onions, goat cheese and chili-infused honey. It’s so satisfying that these tarts, maybe with a simple cheese board, are all you need to wow and satisfy your guests. The toppings can be made in advance and even assembled the day before, so all you need to do the day of the party is pop them in the oven. Easy peasy.
Also, don’t forget to check out our tips for buying and cooking pears below. The variety you buy matters!
The croque madame is a quintessential dish in the French culinary canon. Essentially a ham and cheese sandwich, this beauty is elevated by two generous layers of creamy béchamel, broiled until bubbly and golden, and topped with a perfectly fried egg. With a little help from our friends at Le Creuset, we’ve used both their new recipe book and their bakeware to put together a perfect brunch dish.
We’ve mentioned before in the blog that there are certain kitchen items that we can’t do without. We just can’t, we’d be lost and flailing. A microplane for fine grating, a silicone spatula for mixing cake batter: these critical objects are non-negotiable. Another, of course, is a good, heavy, enameled cast iron skillet. You can pre-heat it on the stove to get it to a high temperature for quick cooking, you can transfer it to an oven or broiler for a finishing step, and if you take care of it, it will last forever. Also, if you choose well, it can be beautiful enough to be the centerpiece on your table.
We’re always keen to find new ways of using our pan, and when Le Creuset asked us to make a recipe from their new cookbook (which you can buy from their site through the link) our decision wasn’t hard: we wanted to make our favorite Parisian lunch, croque madame.
Shrimp and grits is a Southern standard which we in the Northeast are delighted to adopt. We tossed crispy shrimp with spicy, buttery buffalo sauce, and cooked up corn grits with plenty of salty, crumbly blue cheese. A match made in heaven! (Well, South Carolina.)
We’ll admit it: we don’t get out of New York State very often. Our combined day jobs and blogging responsibilities have us tied down to the homestead most of the year, and, let’s face it, NY is so damned big, and we’re barely halfway up the Hudson, so it takes half a day’s drive to get anywhere that’s not here. We do jaunt across to Connecticut every couple of months to do a warehouse shop run and marvel at their exotic blue highway signs before coming straight back, but that’s about it. A couple of winters ago, we made a concerted effort to break free of our routine, and almost at random decided to drive down to Maryland. It was there that we fell in love with (a non-traditional version of) shrimp and grits.
If you like to celebrate Fall by reaching for the pumpkin spice, try its sophisticated cousin, Chai. Complex sweet, spicy and peppery notes combine to flavor these Chai Cupcakes, topped off with decadent Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting and a sprinkle of pink peppercorns.
It’s easy to knock pumpkin spice. It’s the low-hanging fruit – early-dropping leaf, perhaps – of the autumn zeitgeist. But don’t worry, we’re not heading into a cliched diatribe about hipsters and their spiced lattes and something something Williamsburg gentrification. We’re here to celebrate something with more depth, more sophistication, more … panache. Chai is not a new flavor by any means – in fact, it’s one of the oldest spice combinations in the culinary palette, dating from thousands of years back in India’s history. The nineteenth century saw it added to black tea and given more of a global reach, but the essential spice base has lasting appeal beyond hot drinks.