Dining Differently on Holiday

Another summer holiday is about the begin – and we’re off to France.  And though this is a self-catering holiday and we tackle the majority of meals ourselves as we do at home, the way we shop and eat during this now annual week in Brittany sets it apart from the rest of the year; not only because it is in a different country entirely. But the pace, times and types of meals we have change as well.

Breakfast is always purchased fresh in the morning – croissants and a loaf of crusty French bread (which gets us through lunch as well) with butter and jam. Now that we’ve been trying to cut down on bread, this means we’re eating more bread in a week than we normally do in a month. But – holidays are holidays and I’m not gonna sweat it. The French are very definitely on to something with this daily bread purchase though. If I am going to blow the bread limit, let it be exceptional bread and fresh to boot.

Continue reading “Dining Differently on Holiday”

On ‘Catering’ Your Self-Catering Holiday

Cooking might be the last thing you want to do while on holiday, but there’s a lot to be said for self-catering holidays.

  • You get more room for your money on self-catering holidays than you do from all-inclusive.
  • You set the schedule – with young kids, this makes keeping to routine a lot easier.
  • You’re more in control of the menu on self-catering holidays.
  • You eat what you want when you want on self-catering holidays.
  • Makes managing dietary restrictions easier.

But I know the idea of having to cook (and wash up) makes it sound less holiday-like and more like just moving the housekeeping to a new location. But cooking doesn’t mean it must be done in the same way as you always do. Take a holiday approach to cooking:  take some shortcuts, mix things up, relax your rules.

All you need to adopt a holiday approach to cooking is a bit of planning and a willingness to do things a tad differently. I have some thoughts on prepping for self-catering holidays which I’ve shared on the ‘Greater Gotham Going Global’ travel blog, and now I’ve got some tips more specifically about preparing for the catering part of  self-catering. Continue reading “On ‘Catering’ Your Self-Catering Holiday”

A Tweaking of Mom’s Notes: Pizza Popover

This recipe, like the two previous ones, has its origins in Mom’s Notes but I’ve made more adjustments to this one than the other two so it’s become a hybrid of sorts (though my note taking is not as thorough as Mom’s).

I’ve added toppings – or what would be toppings if this wasn’t essentially upside down pizza. Instead of toppings, I suppose that makes them more ‘fillings.’  I’ve also played around with the spice profile a bit (settling eventually on the basil/oregano/fennel proportions listed below) as well as experimented with other types of sauce. Mom originally used marinara sauce because that’s what was out there when she first started making this (oh, 30 years ago) but now there’s so many variants of pasta and pizza sauce, you could make a different version of this every night for two weeks and never use the same sauce twice.

This is a great one to mess about with – so easily changed and/or amended for different tastes or just to see what you can come up with. Excellent for parties (the only limit is the size of your pans), meals you want to cook or at least get prepped in advance and definitely something to get the kids involved in should you want to start training your sous chef early.

PIZZA POPOVER
(Serves – well, serves LOTS)

pizzacassIngredients

  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 16 oz. jar marinara or pizza sauce
  • 6 oz. sliced Mozzarella
  • 1/2 C. grated Parmesan
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 C. milk
  • 1 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1 C. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. each of salt,dried oregano, dried basil
  • Pinch of fennel

Directions

Brown the meat and onion, then drain. Combine with marinara or pizza sauce (whichever you chose to use) and simmer 12 minutes. Spoon the resulting meat sauce into 13 X 9 X 2 pan and top with mozzarella. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes.  Combine eggs, milk and oil in a small bowl; add flour and salt, mixing well. Remove meat mixture from oven. Pour batter over top and sprinkle with parmesan. Continue baking at 400 for 30 minutes.

Tips:

  • You can prepare batter and meat sauce early and separately, combining when ready to bake.
  • Add mushrooms, pepperonis or whatever other pizza toppings you like to the meat sauce for fun, yummy variants.
  • Looking to boost everyone’s veggie intake? Add peppers to the meat mixture

From Mom’s Notes: Idiot’s Chicken

Another ‘go to’ recipe from Mom, the entertainingly named Idiot’s Chicken (otherwise known as chicken and mushrooms in white wine and cream sauce). Best part? Features two of my favorite ingredients – chicken and mushrooms.

IDIOT’S CHICKEN
(Serves 4)

chickenIngredients

  • 2-3 lbs boneless chicken
  • 8 mushrooms, quartered – mixed types or a favorite. I tend to use mixed for interest.
  • 2/3 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • pinch of tarragon
  • oil, butter – amount depends on size of skillet and amount of chicken.
  • salt, pepper to taste

Directions

Saute chicken breasts in equal parts ot butter and oil until brown. Add seasonings and sliced onion. Cover pan – no water please. Cook at low heat 20 minutes.
Turn and baste chicken occasionally. Add mushrooms last five minutes. When chicken is tender, add white wine and boil down rapidly until almost syrupy. Add cream and boil down so that just enough is left to cover the chicken.

From Mom’s Notes: Easy Jambalaya

Years ago – upon my graduation from college – my mother typed out a selection of the favorite family’s recipes so that I would have them at hand should I come over all peckish. I think she was both worried I might try subsisting on Chinese take out and hoping I would appreciate having this “little bit of home” at hand should I get homesick in addition to peckish. To be honest, I did appreciate it – a great deal. But this didn’t prevent me trying to subsist in Chinese take out for the first few years.

When I finally did come to the realization that I was going to have to use the kitchen for more than storing soda and chocolate, I was glad I had saved this little binder. It has moved with me many times, including making the great big move across the Atlantic. I’ve recently rediscovered it among all the other cookbooks and I have to say, it’s been a lovely chance to revisit my culinary childhood. One of the meals I enjoyed most back then – as well as when I made it myself as an adult was Easy Jambalaya. Nothing made a winter evening better than this huge hug of a dish. And it keeps well too. Lunch the next day? Oh yes. Almost better than dinner the night before.

EASY JAMBALAYA
(Serves 4)

jambalayaIngredients

  • 1 package chicken Rice-a-roni
  • 2 3/4 C. hot water
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 3/4 C. chopped onion
  • 1/2 C. diced celery
  • 1/2 C. diced bell pepper
  • 8 chicken thighs or legs
  • 12 oz. package sausage

Directions

Brown the sausage.  Remove from pan and brown chicken in drippings. Add vegetables and sauté until tender. In a separate pan, brown the Rice-a-roni lightly. Stir in chicken flavor packet and water. Add seasonings, vegetables, and meats. Cook covered on low for 20 minutes.

Chef in Training

Lots of stuff cooking this weekend at Transatlantic Kitchen.

josh cookingYoung Dungeekin Jr. – aka Sprog – is working towards his chef’s badge for scouts. Requirements state: 2 courses with the entree involving vegetables. His choice? Shepherd’s Pie and Apple Crumble. First we tackled Apple Crumble. We started with this because it’s a straightforward, dry mixing exercise, let’s him get his hands right in there. Tasks easily within grasp and building up confidence. He took to the whole creating cakey, buttery rubble thing like a fish to water. And having established that he was totally up for mixing and assembly were well within his grasp, we moved on to more involved mixing and assembly.  The Shepherd’s Pie.

Cleaning, peeling, chopping, etc. A lot of concern was expressed about the peeler. I can understand that. It’s a weird looking thing and veggies CAN be slippery while being peeled. But he took several deep breaths, did it tandem for a bit and then took over on his own. Was it quick? No. It was slow and steady – and that was JUST fine. Knife handling made all of us a tad nervous. I tend to babble when nervous so I had to leave the room so only one voice was giving instruction and very careful, details instruction was given with lots of practice holding and handling before any actual cutting occurred.

But you know what? It was fine. He’s got small hands but we took that into account with choice of knife. The veggies WERE a bit hard for someone without more strength to get through but some pre-cutting took care of that. As you can see, he tackled each step and did it with enthusiasm. I have rarely seen him THAT focused for THAT long.

washingup peeling
 onions   potatoes
mashing   meat
grating cheese

And the end results are tremendous. We all tucked in and are so stuffed with Shepherd’s Pie that dessert may well have to wait until tomorrow

crumble done

 

 

What’s Cookin’ at TransAtlantic Towers?

A whole lot of eatin’ has been happening at Transatlantic Towers lately. I mentioned earlier, in relation to National Pasta Day, that Dungeekin had sallied forth and made a magnificent seafood linguine– salmon and prawns specifically. But this was just one of his latest culinary explorations.

  • He has delved into amazing and delicious ways to clean out the fridge that resulted in Chicken a la Fridge-Clearout.
  • He has pushed the limits of gravity as well as the capacity of the human mouth with his doubledecker, cheese-inside “I Can Haz Cheeseburger Despite Being in the UK” burger.  He is, even as I type this, working on schnitzel and anticipating many many wiener jokes.*
  • He has attempted to replicate the IKEA meatballs we indulge in whenever we wander those flat-packed halls. And while they were not exactly the same, I have to say they were right up there on my “yes, let’s make it again” list.
  • He made his much talked about lasagne – and in all frankness, I had my doubts when I first saw it. It was not as solid as lasagnes I am used to. It was more like a loose lasagne bake. Gloopy might be the best way to describe it. But it tasted marvelous. We are a cheese-centric household and this lasagne was heavy on the cheese and sauce (hence the sloppy nature of it). With all that, who cared if it held together!

My plan is to keep you updated as dungeekin continues to explore the boundaries of his kitchen, our cookware and the bounty of local shops. My other plan is to keep eating. YUM!


* This post was interrupted by the cry of “dinner!” and I have now tried the schnitzel. I shall call it Slightly Spicy Schnitzel until such tie as he calls it something else because it was perfectly done and had the slightest hint of cayenne in there for “punch.”

Patrick’s Rules For A Better Barbecque

Summer is now upon us so The Season Of The Barbecque is here.  For the next few months most of us will be spending at least one evening each weekend outdoors, eyes streaming from the smoke, clutching unpleasantly warm beverages as we await what is all too often a confused and potentially indigestible meal.

Disappointing barbecques are somehow more of a let down than any other kind of disappointing dinner party.  Perhaps that’s because -at least here in the UK- the weather is so fickle as to make any opportunity for a summer outdoor meal that much more golden.  Or perhaps it’s because a bad home made burger is somehow much worse than a fast food burger. But it’s also possible that it’s because while we think of barbecques as being essentially so simple and a throwback to the most basic, pre-historic form of cookery, they actually require as much if not more planning and thought than an indoor dinner party.

After all, there’s so much more that can go wrong. Leaving aside the threat of a sudden summer shower, there’s the possibility of hideously over cooked or perilously undercooked meat. The inability to taste anything due to the choking smoke streaming from an over-heated, over-charcoaled Hibachi.  And the unpleasant cross-contamination of flavours brought about by a host who either believes that the mix of shop-bought and home made can be completely scattershot, or who seems to want to cook the world. Or the lack of  ice or refrigeration, leading to drinks that are almost as hot as the food.

Now of course we’ve all had or attended those last minute barbecques that follow a group’s afternoon in the park, those sweetly rag-tag events provisioned by a quick relay through the supermarket and the purchase of far more beer and wine than actual food. These are not the barbies I speak of. They never disappoint because in fact that party has already started.

No it’s the pre-invitational, “Come In Your Best Summer Tucker”, barbecques that concern me here. So I’m setting down a few rules to follow that should hopefully help anybody planning one of these events to ensure that it comes off perfectly, with no stress on the day and a delicious meal for everyone concerned.  However, I can make no promises about the weather.

1. Know Your Barbecqeuing Equipment And Use It Accordingly.

Firstly, when you’ve bought your char-grilling device, be it a little portable Hibachi or one of those spectacular monster grills so beloved of Americans and Australians, read the manufacturer’s instructions and follow them.  Don’t assume that you know better than they how to safely operate/set fire to said equipment. They’re in far more danger of being sued than you, so know better how to operate and maintain what they’ve sold you.  The instructions will tell you how to maintain the heat of your device, and how to properly cook different proteins  safely, either apart or at the same time. Don’t be surprised if they advise less of an inferno in your device than you might suppose.  Many people have their barbie set too high rather than too low and this is what causes the burnt on the outside/raw on the inside effect.  That’s fine if you’re doing back and blue steaks, but actually dangerous if you’re cooking sausages or chicken.

Secondly, make sure the bars on which you will be cooking the food are completely clean. Not only is there the threat of infection from rotted protein still stuck on the bars from a previous barbie, there’s also the unpleasant taste. Nobody likes a burger that tastes suspiciously like last week’s grilled mackerel.  To prevent food sticking to your grill lightly brush anything you’re grilling with oil before your lay it on the grill.   Alternatively, wipe the bars of the grill down with a flavourless  high smoking-point vegetable oil before you start grilling.

Thirdly, take a good look at the actual cooking space on your grill and number your invites accordingly. You wouldn’t cook a 15lb turkey in a toaster oven so don’t invite 20 people for dinner when you’re cooking on something that only grills four burgers at a time. To do so would mean you’d be sweating over the grill throughout the entire event, and some guests would be left waiting for their food, which can all too easily lead to irritation and over-inebriation.

2. Plan Your Menu And Stick To It

Having decided to thow a barbecque this Saturday, decide what you’re planning to grill and shop far enough in advance to stick to your plan. If you’re planning on burgers and hot dogs, make sure you’ve bought not only the meats but also the buns by Wednesday.  Trust me, if the weather’s stayed good all week, there’ll be none in the shops by Friday. You may think that buns will have gone stale by Saturday, but in fact pre-packaged burger and hot dog buns stay fresh for longer than you’d think as long as they stay in their packaging, and anyway, a light toasting on the grill next to the burgers and dogs will perk them right back up again.

Just as importantly, if you’ve decided that for your barbecque you’ll be grilling a butterflied leg of lamb and sliced courgettes and aubergines (zuchinni and eggplants, y’all) with perhaps a couscous salad and tzatziki on the side, don’t panic the day before and add burgers and dogs because you think people will expect them. It’s your party and your menu.  If you were planning an indoor dinner party this worry wouldn’t even cross your mind. Trust to the fact that you know your guests, and that they’ll appreciate what they may even consider to be extra effort on your part. As an adjunct to this, don’t panic and add fancy kebabs or tuna steaks because you’ve decided burgers and dogs aren’t effort enough. Your guests are far more likely to enjoy and appreciate food of a consistent theme and consistent quality than what will probably turn out to be a confusing array of tastes that don’t mix well. Also, you simply won’t wind up with enough of  either the high or low end options to satisfy everybody.

3. Get Everything Ready In Advance

First and foremost, this means getting the barbie fired up and at cooking temperature before your guests arrive. Doing this will ensure that your guests will be spared the smokiest stage of firing up your grill.  It’s also much easier to maintain the heat on your grill by feeding it charcoal than it is to get the dang thing started in front of a usually highly opinionated audience.

This also means clearing all fruit and veg out of your fridge to make room for all the beer and wine that will need to be kept icy cold. Either buy loads of ice, or make loads of ice in advance, so there will be plenty to put in drinks, or in buckets to keep extra cans or bottles icy cold. Any salads or vegetables should be at room temperature anyway.  I’m not suggesting you leave them out in the sun for hours beforehand, but they’ll be just fine left covered  on the kitchen counter. Even potato or rice salads ( and even coleslaw) have enough acitidity in their dressings to prevent spoilage in that short period of time.   Some veg-such as tomatoes and sliced onions- are actually improved by being left in the sun for an hour or so.  Just cover them lightly with cling film or a net cloche to keep flies out.  The kitchen counter rule also applies to condiments. Mustard and ketchup both have enough acid in them not to ever require refrigeration (Saharan conditions aside) and anyway shouldn’t still be chilly when dollopped onto a burger. A jar of mayo will also be fine on the kitchen counter for an hour or two.

The only exception to this rule applies to leafy salads. They’ll be fine on the counter for that hour or two, but only undressed. Leave them out once they’ve been dressed and they’ll quickly start to wilt.  So leave them out, but dress them at the last minute.  You can make the dressing in advance and keep it in a jar -again on the counter, or even store the shop-bought dressing on the counter.  Again the high levels of acid from either lemon or vinegar in the dressing will prevent bacterial infection. More on salad dressing next.

4. Don’t Over-Dress

I’m not talking about clothing here (though linen clothing and greasy burger do not a happy pair make), but rather about layering on too many flavours when they’re simply not necessary. We’re constantly being told about ways to add flavour to a meal, but the true meaning of that is the enhancement of flavours that are already there, rather than adding another flavour on top of that. All too often the extra flavours aren’t even appropriate to the spirit of your menu. A generous seasoning of salt and pepper will make for a tastier burger than the addition of obscure spices or blending the barbecque sauce into the actual burger. The basic rule I follow is to let  the deliver system foods stay simple and appropriate so that the big flavour foods can really shine.  To whit:

If you’re buying/making chips and dips to serve alongside or before the main meal, keep the chips plain and let the dips do the talking.  I find most shop-bought flavoured chips rather unpleasant anyway, but a nacho flavoured corn chip simply does not taste good when paired with hummus or even guacamole. In fact, for a burgers and hot dogs event I would probably serve plain salted potato chips, plain torilla chips with salsa and guacamole at a pinch.  For the leg of lamb kind of barbie, I’d serve toasted pitta strips and hummus.

Same goes for burger and hot dog buns.  Keep them simple and traditional.  You may eat only wholewheat, seed-packed bread the rest of the week, but on a burger or a hot dog that extra wheaty nuttiness interferes with rather than adds to the flavour and old fashioned experience of the burger. If you’re exprimenting with less traditional burgers, say tuna burgers or pork burgers, then feel free to experiment with the bread as well.  But don’t mix your culinary metaphors, so to speak.

Go really easy on the salad dressing. Barbecques mostly happen in summer, when fresh fruits and vegetables are at their best anyway, and so need the least assistance.  I promise you that fresh tomatoes that have never seen the inside of a refridgerator and have been sliced and left in the sun for an hour or two need no more than perhaps a light sprinkling of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. If you are going to dress salads, switch to lemon juice for your acidity, or if you must use vinegar, opt for the tangily sweet balsamic.  Vinegar-based salad dressings fight horribly on the palate with wine and even beer, and remember that if you’re serving these salads alongside any meats that you’ve marinated before grilling, those meats will also have acidity in their flavour.  If you’re not careful you’ll wind up with an unpleasantly sour meal. This rule includes anything served with either a yogurt marinade or dressing, and even a mayo-dressed potato salad.  There’s vinegar in that mayo.

On the subject of salads, there’s no need to have any more than three vegetable or salad options at any barbecque, be it high or low brow. I’m not suggesting that you stint, but rather that you provide ample helpings of three core alternatives. It’s a meal for  friends, not an all-you-can-eat Las Vegas buffet.  For a burgers and hot dogs barbie I’d suggest a green leaf salad, fresh sliced tomatoes, and a potato salad or coleslaw.  Remember that with burger and hot dog buns your guests are already getting the carb-based portion of their meal. For that lamb or lobster barbie I’d suggest again the tomatoes and the green leaf salad, then either a rice or couscous salad. If you’re grilling steaks and chicken breasts you can go either way with the starchy salads.

Let condiments be condiments and keep them appropriate. I’ve known people to include barbecque sauce into their burgers, and I then don’t get the pure burger taste I’m after.  People in general are quite particular about how they like to dress their burgers so leave it up to them. Have ketchup, that barbecque sauce, mustard (a choice of American and dijon by my reckonning), mayonnaise, and sliced tomatoes, onions and lettuce on the table, and let people dress their burgers themselves. Conversely, keep those condiments off the table when you’re serving that butterflied leg of lamb or those grilled lobsters. With the possible exception of the mayonnaise, they just don’t belong there. An addendum to this rule is that you need only go to the trouble of making your own mayonnaise when you’re serving that lobster. Homemade mayonnaise tastes entirely different to the shop-bought variety and so while it partners the grilled lobster perfectly (and here the shop-bought variety just won’t do), it clashes with the burger horribly.

Dessert. The sheer splendour of summer fruits at their very best means that dessert at a barbecque need be nothing more than fresh summer berries served with cream, or even ice cream if there’s room in your freezer alongside all that extra ice. If you want to serve a baked dessert by all means go ahead, but make sure it can sit on your kitchen counter all day until needed. On barbecque day that fridge wil be full of cold drinks.

A final note on over-dressing: It’s become popular to tigs of rosemary and thyme and other herbs amongst the charcoal to perfume your grilled meats and scent the air. beware of following this practise; not only is it simply not appropriate unless the foods you’re grilling contain those herbs, but they can actually be completely overpowering. You want the air to smell of the food you’ll be eating, not be redolent of an ancient pagan ceremony. Think Oysters On The Beach, not the Oracle of Delphi.

5. Don’t Go Travelling Around The World

By which I mean, if you’re going to serve teriyaki-marinated steaks, don’t partner them with a curried potato salad or Mexican rice. Similarly, don’t go pairing Masala grilled chicken breast with guacamole.  I’m all for new regional flavours in barbecque cuisine, but too often  mixing them unduly leads less to fusion than confusion on the palate.  So if you’re going far east Asian with your meats, keep to that theme with your accompaniments. Try a broccoli soy and honey noodle salad with that teriyaki steak, and a curried potato salad (sag aloo) with those Masala chicken breasts.  You’ve got more room to manouver with Mediterranean flavours, but then all those cultural flavours clashed and melded long long ago. I’m not suggesting that you be utterly rigid in your choice of culturally appropriate accompaniments and condiments, just that you be sensitive to which world flavours match and which don’t.

So there you have my rules for successful grilling al fresco.  I hope they will be of use to anyone planning to barbecque this summer, and most of all, I hope we get the weather…


Menu For A Cavalcade Of Canapes

Last Saturday was my mother’s 80th birthday, and as a family (by which I mean my sister and I) we decided that instead of going out to dinner we would hold an open house at my sister’s with a finger food buffet. Given that there would be at least 20 people present, a sit-down dinner was out of the question, and anyway finger food allows people to mingle and be more discrete about the amount of food they actually enjoy consuming at these occasions. Also, you don’t have to worry about Cousin Agnes the Vegan, Or Uncle George the Lactose-intolerant when planning your menu.

After all, canapes (or finger food) are all about variety. And let me say here and now that the only difference between canapes and finger food is the willingness of the host to carry a tray of food around the house and not look offended when people say a polite “No Thank you” to the delicacy on offer. But my point about both is that variety is the key, even if you’re obeying the Hosting Etiquette Edict to serve only three forms of canape. You can achieve a very high level of variety with only three canapes (one meaty, one cheesy, one veggie- there ya go), so just imagine the rainbow of flavours you can achieve if you really let yourself go. After all, most canapes are actually very easy to prepare, can be served at room temperature, and therefore can be made in advance. But I digress.

For my mother’s party, we decided to serve her favourite canapes, as well as a few of our own. So we decided on a theme; “Canapes Through The Ages”. This allowed us to serve food that reflected the changing times, as well as our Anglo-American heritage. Canapes that have never been seen on these shores (or indeed on any shore after 1978) shared tray-space with British stalwarts, and the latest in contemporary party food. And while the resulting menu may not strike anyone as being terribly high-end, it certainly meant that any given guest would find at least three kinds of canape that they personally remembered with great fondness, or with which they were currently enamored.

Two final notes before I give you the menu; we (myself, my sister, and a dear friend) cooked it all ourselves instead of buying shop-bought where possible, and we were not above mingling through the party with trays.

A CAVALCADE OF CANAPES THROUGH THE AGES

  • Deviled Eggs
  • Cherry Tomatoes stuffed with Cream Cheese and Chives or Tuna Mayonnaise
  • Homemade Sausage Rolls
  • California Dip With Vegetable Cruditees
  • American Shrimp Cocktail
  • Cheese, Pineapple, and Cocktail Onion Kebabs (stuck into a half-grapefruit, of course)
  • Goat’s Cheese and Tomato Pisalladiere
  • Dates Stuffed With Parmesan
  • Carved White-Trash Ham
  • Duck Liver Pate and a Selection of Cheeses with Crackers
  • Homemade Yakitori

By the way, my mother did get to have a cake too. I may be canape-Obsessive, but I’m not downright mean.

Getting Ready For Turkey Day

roast_turkey.jpgSo it’s that time of year gain, and I am once more preparing for Thanksgiving. This is a task made slightly more difficult by a) living in Britain, and b) cooking for a family largely unfamiliar with American food.

On the plus side, their idea of American food at Thanksgiving would be satisfied for them if I served Turkey Breast Fajitas (which, as I type, strikes me as not such a bad idea after all). On the debit side, they are as a group somewhat unwilling to eat sweet potatoes or pumpkin or corn that didn’t come from a can. On the corn front, my nephew considers eating corn on the cob “too much effort for too little reward” whilst my mother just mutters darkly about having dentures.

But, as with every year, I plow on. In recent years, I have in fact perfected my Thanksgiving menu, so much so that it’s become a little stale for me; too easily achieved by rote. So this year I’m shaking it up a little bit. I’m sticking to my staples, but re-working them slightly to give my menu more punch and interest. That interest isn’t just to keep me entertained in the kitchen, though I firmly believe that one shouldn’t just repeat dishes year after year to the extent that cooking for a celebration becomes drudge work. It also keeps the family and guests entertained. No need this year for them to feign excitement over the same dish they’ve eaten for the last five years, or even to politely avoid said dish.

This year they’ll try green beans a different way, and perhaps suck down even more wine, if only to cool the added heat I’m injecting into the stuffing. Because this year it’s all about a bit more heat. My Thanksgiving menus tend to the comforting and heavy end of things, so I’m banking on more heat and spice to satisfy the diners, instead of huge portions, thus leaving me more leftovers to consume well after dinner is over, when I can actually enjoy the food I’ve cooked, instead of waiting for the reviews.

So this is my Thanksgiving menu for Turkey Day 2007:

  • Roast Turkey basted with a thyme and garlic butter, and larded with bacon and bay leaves.
  • Port and cranberry gravy.
  • White and wild rice stuffing with chestnuts, sage, thyme, and chorizo.
  • Whipped potatoes with sour cream and chives.
  • Creamed onions with brandy and nutmeg.
  • Corn on the cob with lime and green chili butter.
  • Roasted butternut squash and green beans with sage, lemon, and whole garlic cloves.
  • Pecan pie and butterscotch custard pie, with cardamom and vanilla ice cream.
  • Lashings of wine for the chef.