Mirepoix -- From the French, a mix of aromatics that provide the savory foundation of a recipe. From The City Cook, a periodic report on things that have been collecting on my desk.
Thanksgiving is in two weeks so if you're cooking this year -- game on. It's never an easy to meal to make, no matter how often you've done it. So it's time to get focused.
There's plenty of time to grocery shop and cook, but if you're hosting and doing most of the cooking of the meal, there are three things you should do now:
- Plan your meal. This includes the menu, grocery list, guest list, and the related logistics, e.g., laundering the table linens, ordering the wine, etc.
- Order your turkey. Whether it's going to be your traditional choice or something different, now would be when to place your order.
- Buy essential ingredients sooner. Not later. Things like canned pumpkin, pecans, brown sugar, chestnuts, bags of cranberries. They sell out and you'll be stuck if you can't get what you want because stocks won't be replenished until after the holiday.
Not a baker? Buy your pies. But order them now because even more than the turkeys, the pies sell out early. Here's a link to our list of some of New York's best pie-makers.
Even if you make a Thanksgiving turkey every year, it can help to get a refresher about how to buy and choose your bird. I recently had a conversation with my weekly neighborhood Greenmarket's turkey guy. Dan DiLeo of DiPaola Turkeys. See our link to our podcast conversation with Dan.
Thanksgivukkah. Hanugivingkah. Thanks-A-Latkah. A Draidel Made of Turkey.
If you celebrate Hanukkah, this year you get, depending on your point of view, either twice the work or half the trouble. That's because for the first time (and it won't happen again for another 77,000 years), the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. If you want to combine the holidays' culinary features, please don't make two meals. Holiday cooking is tough enough and none of us need a meal that lasts eight days and eight nights.
Instead choose the holiday you're going to emphasize and then add a little from the other. Like including cranberry sauce with your Hanukkah dinner. Or serve baby latkes topped with lox for a Thanksgiving appetizer or add a brisket alongside your turkey. Most of our holiday meals are personal mash-ups anyway, and this year gives us just one more way to make it so. Even simpler, use harvest colored candles in your menorah and just make your favorites from each holiday menu.
City Kitchen Brining
If you have a small city kitchen (with its requisite small refrigerator), have always wanted to brine your turkey, but didn't have a place to keep your turkey in its brine in a huge pot or ice chest outdoors, here's a solution. Williams-Sonoma sells sturdy plastic brining bags that will hold a turkey as large as 23 pounds, plus your brine. You'll still have to re-arrange your refrigerator shelves to make room for the bagged bird, but you won't have to also accommodate a brining container. A set of two costs $10.95.
Li-Lac At 90
As New Yorkers (and anyone who visits here) know, buying things in this city can be overwhelming. It doesn't matter if it's a holiday turkey, organic apples, dried herbs, or a pair of socks, there are just so many choices. That's why many of us spend years finding favorite sources and then we stay loyal. I'm like that with chocolate stores. There are so many excellent ones, but it's comforting to find the one that makes your favorites, just as you like them.
My favorite chocolate store is Li-Lac Chocolates. Their main store is in Greenwich Village, with a small outlet in the food hall at Grand Central and a factory in Brooklyn. I'm a particular fool for their jellybeans at Easter and year-round for their milk chocolate-covered raspberry cream patties and dark chocolate-covered dried orange peels.
At a time when new is too often assumed to be better, Li-Lac is celebrating its 90th anniversary. I think this is a big deal to have made wonderful candy for nearly a century. If you're in the Village, please make a detour and get yourself a treat and wish them happy anniversary. See our merchant listing for where to find Li-Lac.
With sadness I've been reading every tribute to Marcella Hazan, the Italian author and teacher. Like many others, I always thought of her as simply Marcella, as if she were a friend, although for those of us whom she guided with her books, she was. I know I'm not the only home cook whose most precious cookbook space -- for me it's the shelf above my desk -- holds a well-worn copy of every one of her books.
These obituary tributes have reminded us of the unexpected life she came to have and of the profound influence she wielded without a blog or TV deal or Twitter feed. For me her influence was also sweetly personal. That's because I once cooked with Signora Hazan, in an intense six-hour master class that was held at the French Culinary Institute on the occasion of the publishing of one of her books. There were only 12 students, about the same number of assistants rushing around, her elegant husband, Victor, keeping an eye on everything, and sitting at the head of a huge table, Marcella. In front of her was an ashtray and a pack of cigarettes, plus a short glass containing about an inch of Scotch which she nursed as she was unable to drink wine, ironic given her husband's expertise in Italian wines.
I've written about this experience before, especially in her teaching us about the importance of using good salt and also about her lesson for making risotto, which was among the dishes we made that day. It was a risotto with zucchini and clams. As I stirred the rice, a pot of simmering chicken stock at hand, she stood next to me, her deep mezzo voice warning me to hold back as I reached for the ladle.
Non basta. Not enough. Not enough heat, not enough cooking. She showed me that the secret to great risotto was to use high heat and to let the rice cook to the border of scorched. Only then to add another ladle of hot stock. Standing hip-to-hip with me leaning over the burner's flame, petite to my height, cigarette in her hand, I simply couldn't ignore her. It was like being brought to the edge of a cliff wearing a safety harness that I, not she, controlled and she forced me to be fearless.
Thanks to Signora Hazan my risotto is perfection. I defy any home cook or famous chef to make one that is better. No matter if I make it with saffron, radicchio, zucchini, Barolo wine, or mushrooms -- my risotto is tender to the tooth, creamy without a drop of cream, and luscious. That's because Marcella taught me not only the technique and the flavor, she also gave me courage, which at the end of the day is what we all need -- no matter which cuisine we love -- to be successful cooks.
Marcella was not the sweet nonna that we might have wanted her to be. She had a physical handicap caused by a childhood accident that rendered her right hand nearly useless. She was serious, extremely intelligent, and seemingly unsentimental. While she did not suffer fools gladly, she was gracious and could be quite charming, even funny. But she likewise could be aloof and demanding as we students watched her send the FCI staff scurrying. She had tremendous dignity but was also tough.
My sadness for losing Marcella is for Victor and their family. Theirs was a lifetime of public and private partnership and devotion and the loss must be profound.
And I am sorry for us all, to lose a woman whose unflinching demands for simplicity, superb ingredients, flavor, and authenticity transformed our kitchens in ways many won't possibly ever know. There was no one else like her. I treasure the books she inscribed to me, the emails we shared in past years, and most of all her enabling me to glean the essentials of Italian cooking. Non ci sono abbastanza parole.