Category Archives: food

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 polarise  and is 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 Sancerre (made from sauvignon blanc) or Savennières (made from chenin blanc). 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, or “crus,” within the Beaujolais region. They’re fuller bodied than a Nouveau and almost reminiscent of a Pinot Noir. A couple lesser-known and lighter red varietals that pair well with turkey include zweigelt (Austria) or lagrein (northern Italy). A medium-bodied pinot noir (Long Island or Oregon) or a cabernet franc (Upstate NY, Long Island, or the Loire Valley) would be great picks too. For something food-friendly and unique, 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. This red bubbly has come a long way from the cloyingly sweet Riunite bubbles of yore that Grandma used to drink.

Cheers, and a happy Thanksgiving to all!

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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 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 to 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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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.

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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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Make like an apple and be saucy!

As an upstate New York native, I’m accustomed to having four distinct seasons and unlike here in Washington, DC, summers up north don’t wear out their welcome.  Fall has long been my favorite time of year, and I can barely wait to see the landscape explode into a riot of colors.  The days are shorter, the nights are cooler, and the urge to cook and nest takes hold.

When I think back to the autumns of my youth, I remember the excitement of heading back to school; rooting for our home team, the Purple Eagles, at Friday night football games; hiking  at Letchworth State Park (aka “Grand Canyon of the East”) and collecting colorful leaves for pressing between sheets of waxed paper; gathering glossy brown chestnuts in big paper bags from the huge tree down the block from my grandparent’s house; and eating lots and lots of apples.

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Kiss my…grits (that’s gree-yuhts to you).

Growing up, I recall lots of lazy Sunday mornings, with plenty of time for sleeping in, watching cartoons, and doing pretty much anything that didn’t involve homework.  My parents would be drinking coffee in their bathrobes, while my father lorded over the newspaper, doling out sections as he saw fit.  Every now and then, he’d abandon the paper and make his way into the kitchen to cook up a super-sized brunch-for-one (although sometimes he could be convinced to make extra) that always had one essential component: grits.

You see, he was a southern boy, trapped in my mother’s yankee hometown in upstate NY.  Back in those days, my mom did nearly all the cooking, grilled beast notwithstanding, so anything that managed to draw my father into the kitchen surely must have been the holy grail of breakfasts. Perhaps these meals were his way of reclaiming those southern roots; but I bet it was also simply a matter of knowing how well his belly would be rewarded for the time he put in at the stove.

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