My Book and Thanksgiving
My publisher says I need to overcome my polite tendencies and be more aggressive about promoting my new book. Don't get me wrong: I am very proud of it. But I figured giving a toot or two on the home page of TheCityCook.com plus several mentions of it in this newsletter is already quite forward. Not enough, I was told.
So before turning to Thanksgiving, the third rail of American home cooking, here are a few words about my upcoming book.
The City Cook: Big City, Small Kitchen. Limitless Ingredients, No Time will be released this coming Tuesday, November 16. For those of you in New York, I will be speaking and doing a signing at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 17 at Borders Columbus Circle, Borders' flagship store at the Time Warner Center -- and please come. I'm both excited and anxious about it all (who wouldn't be?) and have no idea what to expect from either that event or the coming weeks.
The book's butter-yellow hard cover is friendly, covered in little cooking and city icons -- like martini glasses, carrots, fire hydrants, frying pans, pears, forks, and shopping bags. There are no clichéd images of angry graffiti, steam-belching streets, or dented taxis because who wants that in your kitchen?
The inside pages are all black and white, including 31 photographs that are documentary-like, almost snapshots that we might take with our phones -- images that capture the real people, experiences, and feelings of city living. There are no photos of plated food, often called food porn. This is partly due to budget (first time authors don't usually get color photos) but also principle: I think it's rare for our cooking results to resemble that of food stylists and while a great food shot can motivate us to cook, it can also discourage us when in the end, it doesn't look the same even if we love its taste.
I've included 92 recipes, each of which was tested at least twice by home cooks, working at a range of skill levels. Some of the recipes had, at some point, appeared on TheCityCook.com, and they're organized into 7 chapters:
- Hors d'Oeuvres and Starters
- Pasta, Rice, and Grains
- Meat, Poultry, and Game
- Fish and Shellfish
- Desserts and Other Treats
The back of the book has a list of some of America's best food merchants; I did the New York City and online lists but the other cities -- Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle -- were contributed by friends who live and cook in these cities. There's also a list of organizations that can help teach you more about the changing world of food shopping (co-ops, CSAs, farmers' markets, urban farming) plus a glossary for the new terminology that's now so casually, and often confusingly, tossed around.
The front of the book is a combination of mini-memoir and coaching. The memoir part shares how over a couple of decades I gradually figured out how to put daily home cooking into a miniscule kitchen and frantically busy life. The coaching part is what I do to make it all come together.
Above all, I wanted this book to be practical, candid, and priced within easy reach ($20, hard cover). I often complain that as cooking has become entertainment and ingredients treated as a prop, it's hard to find answers for the very real challenges of home cooking: time, costs, and cravings. So it was important as I wrote my book to create something that could be as easily put into the hands of a new cook as one who is skilled but has simply lost interest in, and thus the habit of, cooking.
Whether I have succeeded in doing all this will be up to you to decide. Wish me luck.
My Thanksgiving Dinner
These past months have been taxing and only the demands of feeding the website version of The City Cook have kept me from cooking the same three or four dishes over and over again (you can ask my husband; I know he's often been bored with dinner and too kind to complain….). But with deadlines met, I've been back in my kitchen with more imagination and time, and I'm relishing the chance to make Thanksgiving dinner.
This year there will be five of us, including friends who live in Zurich, Switzerland. One of them is an American with an appetite for all things traditional, including sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. But since I consider that dessert, it won't be on my menu. Here's my plan thus far:
- Champagne and Hors d'Oeuvres -- Salted almonds and Julia Reed's Hot Cheese Olives (from last week's newsletter and the new Amanda Hesser New York Times cookbook; they are fabulous and can be made in advance and just popped into the oven when your guests arrive; by the way, the recipe says bake for 15 minutes but mine took closer to 25).
- Mushroom soup. I'm still trying out recipes for this.
- A small (12-to-14 pound) free-range turkey; no brining; I use the Martha Stewart recipe and baste with a combination of turkey stock, white wine and melted butter; no stuffing except a cut-up lemon, a halved head of garlic, and sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary and parsley.
- Pan gravy.
- Rice, sage, and sausage stuffing, baked in a casserole. My mother's recipe.
- Something orange. I haven't decided if I will do sweet potatoes or butternut squash. But in either case, no marshmallows.
- Haricots verts with minced shallots and lemon butter.
- Simple mashed potatoes; but there's nothing plain about this indulgence of Yukon Gold potatoes, butter and cream.
- Cranberry sauce; made with a touch of orange juice, grated orange rind, and rosemary.
- A cheese and salad course of tender Boston lettuce dressed with white wine vinaigrette alongside 2 cheeses, yet to be selected, but probably one blue and one goat.
- Pumpkin pie (I like the recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook which is a classic custard and nicely spicy) served with a glass of 10-year-old port.
- Coffee and chocolates (I've asked our Swiss friends to bring Teuscher Champagne truffles).
- Wine for the meal is TBD but my husband is thinking we'll serve a sparkling wine or Champagne throughout; as Andy Fisher of Astor Wine & Spirits advises, it's a good choice given all the sweetness in a typical Thanksgiving menu. You can listen to Andy in our Podcast & Media section.
A few reminders as you finalize your menus --
- If you haven't yet ordered your turkey, do it today.
- Do a plan that begins with the time you want to sit down and goes backwards.
- Prepare a master ingredient list before you start shopping. And check your pantry to make sure you have the staples you think you do; last minute ingredient errands can be stressful and also costly.
- If you have a slow cooker, use it to keep pre-cooked foods warm. It's like adding a fifth burner to your stove for re-heating soup, vegetables, or mashed potatoes.
- Check your menu to make sure it's not all white (potatoes, turkey, gravy) nor all sweet (marshmallows, yams, pie). If it is either of these, add some color (green beans) and some heat or acid -- a salad or lemon butter on a vegetable or jalapeños to your stuffing.
- Think about what can be done in advance, such as ironing a tablecloth or washing dusty serving dishes or setting the table. Time has its way of running out so anything done ahead can help.