What to drink on Thanksgiving

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite wine picks to enjoy with your gluttonous feasts. Since such a wide variety of dishes and flavors are featured on today’s holiday smörgåsbords, I’ve included white and red wines that are both versatile and food-friendly. For the most part, I’ve only listed grape varietals (both well- and lesser-known), rather than specific producers, as what’s available to you will depend on how well-stocked your local wine shops are and on which wines are distributed in your region. A good salesperson at your local wine store should be able to make recommendations on specific producers and bottlings, based on your preference for grape varietal and/or region.

White Wines

Even though I enjoy it, Gewurtztraminer tends to polarize (one of those love-it or hate-it wines), so a dry or slightly off-dry Riesling is a safer bet, especially those from upstate NY. See this New York Times article on Finger Lakes Riesling for a few ideas, like Ravines Dry Riesling, one of my favorites. Other minerally whites with good acidity that pair well with food include Grüner Veltliner from Austria, Albariño from Spain, and Vermentino from Italy—wines made from those grapes have become more widely available, so you can likely find them at your local wine store. My other white picks include Godello from northern Spain and Loire Valley whites like Sauignon Blanc (e.g., Sancerre) or Chenin Blanc (e.g., Savennières). If you want a sparkler to jazz up the occasion, Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava still offer great values, and if you’re keeping your Turkey day all-American, then look for Gruet from New Mexico—it’s a real find, and a bargain at that.

Red Wines

For the folks who tend to think red wine is too heavy, you could probably please them with a light and fruity Beaujolais Nouveau. More interesting, however, would be a Cru Beaujolais, which can hail from 10 different designated zones (“crus”) within the Beaujolais region. They’re fuller bodied than a Nouveau (but still on the lighter side as reds go) and almost reminiscent of a Pinot Noir. A couple lesser-known and lighter reds that pair well with turkey include Zweigelt (most available are those from Austria) or Lagrein from northern Italy. A medium-bodied Pinot Noir )Long Island, Oregon) or perhaps even a Cabernet Franc (upstate NY, Long Island, Loire Valley) would be great picks too. On the bubbly side, I agree with one of the recent Thanksgiving wine picks from the New York Times: a good, dry Lambrusco from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. They’ve come a long way from the cloyingly sweet Riunite bubbles of yore that Grandma used to drink.

Cheers, and a happy Thanksgiving to all!

Say what? Salmon, from a can?

Go ahead, wrinkle your nose in disgust. I had the same reaction the first time someone mentioned a recipe that called for canned salmon.  Isn’t that akin to 9Lives or Friskies, but for people? The thought of salmon in a can might get Morris the cat excited, but not a foodie like me.

This particular recipe, for Ginger Cilantro Salmon Cakes, ended up being served at an event here in D.C., where a number of chefs in attendance (who were serving their own dishes at the reception), apparently tasted the salmon cakes and gave them rave reviews. Now THAT got my attention. Surely all these accomplished chefs, with palates more refined than mine, couldn’t all be wrong, or could they? To satisfy my curiosity (and disprove the preposterous idea that canned salmon could actually be edible), I decided to put the recipe to the test at home.

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Whisk, schmisk. The Kitchen Tools You REALLY Need.

When you move five times within a four-year period, it becomes achingly (literally, having done the packing and schlepping myself for most of those moves) clear just how much “stuff” you own.  As you can see in these photos, my stuff tends to be of the culinary variety (and this isn’t even everything).  Although my collection of kitchen wares doesn’t qualify me for the Hoarding Hall-of-Fame like a Collyer brother or Bouvier Beale sister, it has nonetheless gotten a bit out of control. Perhaps having a plethora of kitchen tools is the home cook’s equivalent of Linus’s blanket – we feel more secure in our culinary endeavors, knowing these tools are by our side. Sounds plausible, but nah, that’s just denial talking.  Lately, I’ve been feeling the urge to downsize, which got me thinking about which tools are most essential in the kitchen.

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What’s for dinner? The pantry special.

You’ve heard of the blue-plate special, right? In the early half of the 20th century, restaurants and diners across the country often advertised a daily blue-plate special – a bargain-priced meal or daily selection that promised a full belly for a song. My own leaner times have compelled me to create what I’ve come to refer to as “the pantry special.” It’s all about making do with what you have on hand. Creating a pantry special goes something like this: open pantry, scan shelves, grab a few ingredients, and whip them into something edible. This resourceful kind of cooking was second nature for our penny-pinching, Depression-era grandparents or parents, but if you know the secret, delicious pantry specials are within anyone’s reach.

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You just THINK you don’t like Brussels sprouts.

What? Brussels sprouts for dinner?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Brussels sprouts?  If your early experiences with them were anything like mine, you might shudder to recall a dull green, mushy, stinky excuse for a vegetable—something to be assiduously avoided at all costs. As I noted in an earlier post, finding those unappetizing-looking orbs on my plate was cause for subterfuge…namely, stuffing them in my pockets when my parents weren’t looking, so they could be properly disposed of in the toilet. Others find them disagreeable because of their propensity to cause potential “embarrassment” (so you might want to stay away from them, if you’re on a hot dinner date), an attribute I can attest to as I type this post, having just consumed at least a couple dozen (I know, too much information. Sorry).

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Help, there’s a dude in my kitchen.

What I am about to reveal will not paint a flattering self-portrait. It will not give you the warm-fuzzies or make you want to become my new very best friend forever (v.b.f.f.).  Yet, it’s a story that plays out daily in kitchens across the country and undoubtedly is the source of “complications” in many relationships. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I’m willing to own up to it, for you see:

I am an alpha cook.

There. I’ve said it. What’s an alpha cook, you ask? In a nutshell, it’s somebody who  must. be. in. charge. in. the. kitchen.  A dictator in an apron.  A cleanliness- and order-obsessed bitch with a whisk.  The person who’s not going to be nominated anytime soon for the Retro Haus Frau of the Year award.  In short, me.

It wasn’t until I had to share my kitchen with a beta cook, we’ll call him B for short, that I became aware of my, shall we say, obsessive tendencies, over matters of the culinary variety.  As B has learned, I will likely turn down any well-intended offers to help me put together a meal, but I will happily bask in your praise for my cooking and let you clean up the kitchen afterwards.

Somewhere out there, some of you will be nodding your head, chuckling in recognition in a slightly guilty, knowing way. Fellow alpha cooks, you know who you are.  As for the rest of you, hopefully, I’ll still be able to look you in the eye after you read this.

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Feels like the first time

when every meal feels like the first time

The other day I was reflecting on memorable food experiences: the dishes that never disappoint at favorite restaurants (can I get an amen for the roasted rice cakes @ Momofuku?), exotic meals in foreign lands, unusual but interesting flavor pairings, and of course, those first times you taste something that rocks your world. Like that other “first time,” such experiences can be seminal moments.

Growing up in a tiny western New York town, practically a galaxy away from the food mecca of Manhattan, my future foodie’s palate was woefully underdeveloped and underexposed. While there were, and still are, lots of good cooks in my family, their culinary exploits at the time rarely ranged beyond standard meat-and-potatoes type fare: pork chops and apple sauce, beef stew, sloppy joes, roast beef on weck, goulash, and my childhood favorite, beef stroganoff. My nose still perks up at the thought of the delicious aromas that would escape the bubbling crockpot my mother often used. This type of cooking was about comfort and practicality, far from the realm of “cuisine” so accessible to middle-Americans today thanks to the likes of Iron Chef, Top Chef, and their ilk.

Although it felt like cruel and unusual punishment at the time, I’m sure that my father’s unrelenting insistence that my brother and I at least try everything on our plates (and refusal to allow us to move from the table until we’d done so) is partly responsible for the adventurous palate I have today. Luckily back then, I was just sneaky—and angelic—enough to get away with dropping a few hated Brussels sprouts down the toilet after stealing them away from the table in my pockets. My pocket disposal strategy was certainly less messy than my brother’s more melodramatic gag-vomit scheme, although his methods were equally successful in achieving the end goal of not having to eat a hated food (in his case, eggplant Parmesan).

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