When I give table manners classes to children, the first question I ask is if anyone gets together for a big feast on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Invariably, a hand from each member of the group of 8-12 year olds shoots into the air.
"Why, " I ask, "are these such special days for our families?" The responses are as varied as they are honest.
"I love the gravy and mashed potatoes..."
"My grandparents always come over..."
"The house smells so good ALL DAY LONG!
"We always laugh and hug alot..."
Wow, from the mouths of babes. I never hear about gifts or vacations, money or clothes. Children remember EXPERIENCES and tell us all the time what it is that's important and memorable to them. They recall the feel of the tablecloth mom unfolds for special occasions, drinking from a glass with a stem that has sparkling cider bubbling away and writing their names on steamy kitchen windows.
As adults, we recant stories with friends at work about Holiday gatherings of years gone by. We reminisce how the memory of an aroma brings us instantly to a precise moment in an exact location. I can smell the sage scented steam eminating from the overdone bird at my grandmother's house sitting in a pan on the luxurious electric range top. My mom is at a burner loosening stubborn bits from the bottom of the roasting pan with a slotted spoon and half a bottle of dry Vermouth. This was the humble beginning of a gravy that you could put on a chunck of bread and make a meal. On the table, I looked at it as Liquid Gold in the gravy boat. There was more intense, concentrated flavor in that piece of porcelain than on the rest of the table combined. Not a slight on the meal, this is just fact.
We recall with crystal clear specificity those feasts that really helped to define who we are as parents and families. The Love that enveloped us as children, just like the permeating aroma of roast turkey on Thanksgiving, needs to be shared and passed on to our next generation. The preparation of food, dining together and the service to one another provide us with that monumental opportunity.
So, let's get cookin'...
With the proximity of Thanksgiving, I begin to get lots of calls for a quick tip or two. So, this week I will endeavor to throw out some common sense pointers on elevating your Thanksgiving game in the kitchen.
Fresh Cranberry Relish
This is as easy as making a milk shake in the Cuisineart.
Take a 1lb. bag of fresh cranberries, place them in the CuisineArt and add,
Juice and zest (the pithless peel) of oh, I dunno...8 Mandarins or Clementines (little bitty oranges), add
1 cup of sugar for starters...you may like it a bit sweeter, who knows...now,
The sugar dissolves in the juice, the juice keeps the color bright red AND you have a WONDERFULLY fresh tasting relish for the table that doesn't have the Rings of Saturn etched in the sides (like the canned, demi-cylinder we saw in our childhood).
Now, this is so easy and the flavors are clean and unmuddled. My kids like these potatoes at breakfast, but, we save them for special occasions.
Take 5 lbs of Sweet Potatoes (not Yams, there is a difference) and peel them. Cut them into thumbnail-sized cubes ('guy' thumbnail sized, not 'LaQui'isha' size nails from down at the bo'teek) and push them into a pot of boiling water. We want to barely cook them; till they are just fork tender and NOT sluffing off into the water.
In a small sauce pot, place two sticks of salted butter and bring them to a boil. Look and listen, here. We want to boil the water out of the butter and get those remaing milk solids to get 'toffee scented' by browning. When you smell the toffee and see the browning, throw in a handful for freshly chopped sage and listen to it go "Whoosh!" as it releases water into the browned butter and infuses the liquid. Remove from heat.
Get a large saute' pan (12 inches or two-10 inch) nice and hot. Add enough canola oil to cover the bottom of the pan and add sweet potatoes to be a thickness of two deep in the pan. Let them get brown and crispy one on side before giving them a shake. Once done, remove to a waiting metal bowl and keep warm till all the potatoes are saute'd. At that point, toss them with Romano Pecorino cheese (the real Eye-talian kind!) and the browned butter.
You will think you have died and gone to Heaven! (I am told this is served at the Pearly Gates; St. Peter likes the play on saltiness (fisherman!), sweet and savory.
That's it for now. I hope these tips are put into use and we are all successful on Thursday.
Remember, "Food, Faith, Family and Friends; the Best things in Life aren't things."
Take care and God bless, Chef BQ.