There’s been some debate about whether or not you should serve salad at Thanksgiving.
My stance? A traditional salad — with wan lettuce leaves from a bag, dried cranberries (the most clichéd Thanksgiving salad ingredient), and toasted pecans — is a pretty depressing thing to see on the table, TBH. But, as I get older, my body does crave some kind of crunchy vegetable situation if I’m going to eat a lot of heavy food (turkey, stuffing, gravy, etc). So what’s a Thanksgiving chef to do? Enter the shaved Brussels sprout salad.
I get so annoyed, sometimes, watching America’s Test Kitchen. As I’ve mentioned before, my Saturday ritual is to watch all of the PBS cooking shows and America’s Test Kitchen is the one that took me the longest to warm up to. Whereas Lidia’s Italy lets you peer over the shoulder of a real Italian grandmother cooking for her family with a pinch of this and a pinch of that, cooking from the heart and not the brain, America’s Test Kitchen is as antiseptic as a science lab. In fact, the set feels like a science lab and that’s intentional. The whole concept of the show is that everything is tested scientifically. “We did it five hundred times and after creating flow charts and factoring thousands of equations, we determined this is the best way to make a corn muffin.” It’s so dry and sexless.
And yet, there are so many reason to watch. I do love Bridgett and Julia, I do love Adam and the enthusiasm he musters for measuring cups. And then there’s Elle Simone, my favorite of the many chefs who pop up now and again. Elle seems to be just as wary of the show she’s on as I am of watching it. Yet she has such a gleam in her eye when she’s sharing one of her techniques that it’s hard not to want to make exactly what she’s making after she makes it. Which is why I knew I had to make her fingerling potatoes after seeing her make them on Saturday.
There’s a lot of treachery when it comes to substitutions in recipes. “Hide sweet potatoes in the brownies, your kids will never notice!” “These zucchini noodles taste just as good as real noodles but with half the calories!”
Me? I’m all for transparency when it comes to the things that I cook. And that’s why I recommend tossing your green beans in pesto. You’re not pretending that the green beans are anything they’re not — “If you close your eyes, they taste just like French Fries!” — what you see is what you get.
Becoming a good cook is a little bit like becoming a good musician: at a certain point, you can glance at a recipe–the way a pianist might glance at a piece of sheet music–and know what it’s going to taste like, just like the pianist knows what it’s going to sound like. That’s a real skill to have, especially when planning a dinner and searching through cookbooks for something to dazzle. On the morning our story begins, I was flipping through a Food52 Cookbook that I was sent long ago, and this recipe–which is also live on the Food52 site–sang out to me like a Mozart concerto. Turns out, not only did it taste as good as it did in my head; it tasted even better.
Now we all know the concept of the student beating the master and I don’t want to imply that my friend Diana was ever my student or that I was ever her master (though I was her roommate, which is kind of the same thing with me); what I’d like to imply, however, is that Diana–who was a timid cook when I lived with her–is now giving me a run for my money. I remember her not wanting to make a salad in front of me, back then, because she thought I’d be judgmental. Since then, and since moving in with her husband, she’s had a chance to hone her chops and by all accounts her chops are very good. Case in point: check out her potatoes.
Let’s face it, cabbage is a tough sell. Even though it’s what makes coleslaw coleslaw and it’s a crunchy companion to a fish taco, most people associate it with their grandmother’s boiled cabbage fouling up the air with its death-like aroma. That’s why I’m titling this post Sexy Cabbage Sexytime because the other night, I came up with a way to cook it that’s so terrific, so genre-shifting, it’ll forever change the way that you think about cabbage.
If there’s a time of year to break out Molly Stevens’s new Roasting book, this is it. Thanksgiving dinner is all about roasting. If you deep-fry your bird, you’re missing out on one of the great aspects of Thanksgiving–the lovely aroma of a slow-roasting bird wafting through your house or apartment. Keeping in the spirit of roasting, your side dish should be roasted too. That’s why butternut squash is a good choice.