Gobbler sighted at the Country Home of Harlem…


Last November I spent Thanksgiving up in Maine at my friend Alex Abuza’s sprawling country home.   Alex is a home and garden designer and has been renovating this space for over 5 years.  In true New England farmstead fashion it is a rambling house attached to another house attached to a barn…etc.  We cooked the turkey in an old wood stove in the kitchen and also had a modern stove to accommodate all the various other thanksgiving goodies.  The wood stove cooked a perfect turkey and the stovetop was great for keeping all the dishes warm.  Alex’s boyfriend Toby, an American/Italian, made a gorgeous eggplant parmesan and homemade bread. It all was a perfect blend of people, cultures, conversation and setting.  We ate on an old wide plank farmhouse table  and had a pre-dinner walk in some blueberry fields down the road.

This year I was the lucky recipient of an invite to the ‘country’ estate of Stacy and Fred, in the northern reaches of Harlem.  Theirs is a sprawling Riverside Drive apartment with Hudson River views.  It was another holiday with  amazing people, food, stories and lots of warmth.  My contribution was two pies: my old standby sweet potato and an apple.  I’m a sucker for tradition and realized I’ve been making the sweet potato pecan pie, an old Paul Prudhomme recipe, for 12-15 years.  It is a rich decadent Southern dessert, a fussy ‘pastry chef’ sort of pie.  As always it was a hit, although I decided that next year was time to find a new pumpkin or sweet potato dessert, perhaps something simpler. I also made an apple pie, which was a lot of fun after my apple experiments this fall. I rarely make apple pies; my apple desserts usually tend toward crisp, crostata or tart tartin. I used an all butter crust recipe this time and called up mom for tips.

As a side note, my friend April Baker has baked at least 100 pies since moving to Virginia.  She has an elaborate method of freezing apples and squeezing out the moisture before she tosses them with baking spices brown and white sugar and makes her crusts out of vegetable shortening. April claims this method produces the perfect velvety pie filling.  Perhaps I can coax the recipe out of her for the blog…….

Everyone has their theories about wine pairings for Thanksgiving and I prefer to stick with simple, fresh, palate-cleansing wines.  We had a variety of reds and whites this year but the one that really stood out as the perfect turkey feast wine was a Riesling trocken from the Rheinhessen by Bruder Dr. Becker .  This biodynamic white was clean with bright fruit, great minerality and floral notes.  It perfectly complemented the sweeter dishes like sweet potatoes and waldorf salad.  The racy minerality was a handy counterpoint to the fattier gravy and stuffing.

In the meantime up in Vermont, Gastronomeg side dish recipes……….


Thanksgiving vegetables….

The last several years, Thanksgiving has found us gathering here in Vermont with my mother and stepfather and a rotating cast of friends at the home of some old family friends in Halifax.  This was the first year that doing so didn’t require a long drive from New York, since the place I’ve always referred to as ‘home’ is really and truly my permanent home now!

Lynda, our hostess, loves to put on a big feast (and makes a mean turkey, not to mention the best pecan pie around)…. But she is nice enough to farm out some of the cooking tasks to willing guests. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving to me without some time at the stove! My mother and I were tapped to bring some vegetable dishes. I nabbed her half of the assignment, which gave me the chance to perfect two recipes I’ve been working on this fall.

First of all, I knew I’d have to do something with Gilfeather Turnips. This is our new favorite local vegetable – I don’t know if they are available widely outside of Vermont (or even outside our local area), but they are registered as a Vermont heirloom vegetable. The ever-so-humble Gilfeather Turnip is actually a rutabaga (or swede). It was developed by the bachelor John Gilfeather in nearby Wardsboro, VT (they have a yearly festival celebrating the turnip, which we attended in October, of course! Good fun.) At any rate, the Gilfeather turnip lacks the ammonia overtone that can make purple-topped turnips objectionable, especially when they get larger. Not so for the Gilfeather turnip: I have cooked some 1-pound+ specimens to good effect.They have a wonderfully subtle flavor for soups, and cook up surprisingly sweet when roasted.

For Thanksgiving, I decided to make them into a gratin, thinly slicing the turnips and cooking them in warm seasoned milk, finishing off with cheese (because obviously what we needed was more fat in our meal; it’s Thanksgiving). This is a wonderful preparation for these –actually now my favorite way to prepare the Gilfeather turnips. The subtle sweetness of the turnips really comes through when they are cooked in milk, which reduces to a nice creamy under-note. You could leave the cheese off, although I like the crunchiness it adds (and you could add in seasoned breadcrumbs for even more crunch and flavor).  Bonus – it’s easy to make ahead and reheat.

For dish number two, I have an accidental new favorite way to make Brussels sprouts which seemed a no-brainer for Thanksgiving. I stumbled upon this method when the last week of our CSA pickup included a not-so-pretty stalk of Brussels Sprouts. Rather than chuck them in the compost, I trimmed the black bits off, ending up with a pile of very cut up and irregular sprouts! So I decided to chop them all up finely, then sautéed them with some bacon and shallots, adding a little bit of water halfway through cooking to prevent browning. The result was a revelation – no blanching, no big mouthfuls of sprouts cooked on the outside but too crunchy in the middle, none of the bitterness that comes from roasted Brussels Sprouts.  Chopped before cooking, they melt a little and the flavor mellows (though not too much!).  And they are much easier to eat. I was pleased to note that they disappeared quickly off the buffet, a Brussels Sprouts first!  Try making them this way, and it may become the only was you make them.

Gilfeather Turnip Gratin (could work with small purple-top turnips, too)

1.5-2 lbs Gilfeather turnips

1 – 1 ½  cups whole milk (you will need enough to come halfway up the turnips)

2 TBSP butter

½ tsp salt, or more to taste

¼ tsp paprika (or more to taste)

black pepper

dash of freshly grated nutmeg

¾ cup grated cheese (I like a combination of boring old swiss and cheddar, but a good gruyere would be nice too, or parmesan even?) – optional

Preheat oven to 425

Peel and finely slice the turnips, then arrange in layers in a flattish pan that can be heated on the stove top. Dot with butter (not totally necessary, but it is better with butter of course).

Meanwhile, heat the milk to boiling and add seasonings (start with a cup here). Pour over layered turnips – it should come about halfway up the turnips; add more milk if necessary. Bring the entire pan to a simmer on the stovetop. Once it’s bubbling, throw into the oven for 15 minutes, or until about half the milk has boiled away and the top is starting to brown. Add the cheese and cook for 10-15 minutes more, or until browned – do keep an eye on it while cooking.

If you are making ahead, let it cool completely, uncovered, before refrigerating or transporting.

Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots

2 pints Brussels sprouts (about 1.5 pounds? I guess)

4 oz bacon (smoky=good!)

one large shallot

Trim the ends off the Brussels sprouts, then slice finely.

Chop bacon and shallot.

Cook bacon until fat starts to render, then add shallots and reduce heat. Add some olive oil if it looks dry. Stir until shallots are translucent, being careful not to burn them. Keeping heat at medium, add the chopped Brussels sprouts, sprinkle with salt, and sauté  until they are starting to look bright green – about 3 minutes. Add a bit of water (to just cover bottom of pan), reduce heat to low, and cover. Cook, stirring a few times, until the sprouts are tender and the water is reduced completely – about 3-5 minutes more.  Can also be made ahead and reheated quickly.