Today’s lesson in Thanksgiving prep (are you sick of Thanksgiving yet? Tough!) concerns what is, in my opinion, the best part of the Thanksgiving table. No, I’m not talking about the napkin rings shaped like little turkeys, I’m talking about that glistening bowl of ruby red cranberry sauce. Its combination of tongue-tickling tartness and mouth-warming sweetness makes even the dullest bird sing. Sure, you could get it out of a can, but I won’t be coming back to your Thanksgiving table if you do that. My kind of cranberry sauce is the kind you make yourself and, frankly, it couldn’t be easier.
Now let’s get to the serious business at hand: Thanksgiving dessert.
Oh, I know what you’re going to tell me, that this is a pie holiday and that offering up a cake at Thanksgiving is like offering up a latke at Christmas. Well you’re speaking to a latke person at Christmas, so of course I’m going to steer you in a cake-direction—especially after that discussion in one of my podcasts where we determined that Christians are pie people and Jews are cake people. And if there’s one cake that Jews do better than anyone else, it’s cheesecake. And this one, with its combination of a pumpkin and chocolate is a whopper of a Thanksgiving dessert. It’s so good, your guests will actually be excited to eat it, which is more than I can say for pumpkin pie.
Here’s the thing about turkey. If I were making it for my family, this year, I’d go the Gina DePalma route (click that link for her excellent essay on how to keep it simple): a whole roasted bird, some butter, some stuffing, the end. But, as it happens, I’m not cooking for my family this year (we’re going out! “It’s just easier”) so last week I made a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for some friends and threw tradition out the window. The first thing to go? The white meat. Sure, you can monitor the temperature and hope that it doesn’t taste like sandpaper when you roast it in the oven, but why bother when the dark meat–legs and thighs–are so much better? (Note: if you must have white meat, slow-roasting the breast is best.) Best of all, if you braise them, you can do everything the day before and it will only taste better. Let me repeat that. You can have all the turkey cooked the day before and don’t have to stress on Thanksgiving Day. That’s worthy of a parade right there.
After spending a week in Perth, Australia for the Eat Drink Blog conference, I knew I’d be connecting back through Sydney and everyone in my life told me I’d be crazy not to spend some time there. As it happened, I had recently signed up for an American Express Starwood card that came with 25,000 points—or I’d earned them or something—and I could use those points to stay at the Westin in the Central Business District for three nights. So, in other words, I could stay in Sydney for three nights totally for free or just go straight back to America. Duh: I chose to see Sydney.
Hey New York, guess what? On December 5th at 7 PM, I’m hosting an event at The Strand bookstore with Emily and Melissa Elsen for the launch of their new cookbook The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. Click here to buy tickets (only $15 or a copy of the book); rumor has it, there’ll be pie. Also: we’ll all sign our books at the end.
When it comes to food, the holidays–and by holidays, I mean the big three: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas–are like rides at Disneyland: you almost always know what you’re going to get. That’s what makes them so comfortingly familiar. Alter the turkey, sub out the latke, or cancel the Christmas cookies and you’re looking for a world of trouble. So accept this holiday dessert despite whatever resistance you might feel; it’s my humble creation based on a bottle of Amarula, a cream liquer from South Africa, that I was sent in the mail. I took one sip and thought: “Rice pudding…with toasted almonds!”
Let me start by saying that the dish you see above is not an actual dish served at Billy Kwong, the Chinese-Australian restaurant in Sydney where I ate my first meal after the five hour flight from Perth. It’s a dish that the manager hastily assembled at the end of an incredible dinner (one shared with my old friend and neighbor, Ameer) to allow us to sample the various bugs used as garnishes and flavor-enhancers for a panoply of dishes we didn’t get to try. Do not, by any means, be scared off by that plate. Instead, let me seduce you with the food we did eat before we get back to the bugs at the end.
Jerry Fraser of Print Hall in Perth, Australia shucks 5,000 oysters a week. He does it with such finesse, with such ease, he can carry on a meaningful conversation and have a dozen oysters shucked by the time you move on to the next topic. He’s an oyster-shucking master who’s so completely passionate about what he does, people from all over Australia come to Perth just to see him in action. I feel incredibly privileged that I had the opportunity to learn from the master directly; what follows are some pictures and more video of Jerry giving his oyster-shucking master course. Turns out you just need one tool and the rest is skill.