Sunday, November 20, 2011

Turkey Day 2011: Reflections and Recipe Rundown

Part one of the spread from Thanksgiving 2009
Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and I'm giddy with excitement the way that children look forward to Christmas morning.  I believe with steadfast resolve that Thanksgiving is the best American holiday of the year.  Worldwide, I think it might be either tied or a close second to Guy Fawkes Day, but if we're talking strictly non-pyrotechnic food-centric holidays, Thanksgiving is tops.

Why?  Because despite it's dubious beginnings, Thanksgiving these days is about celebrating time spent with your loved ones and preparing a fantastic meal together, and there is really nothing that can top that.   Unlike other feast days, there aren't any religious overtones, pressure for perfect gift-purchasing, and every family can make up it's own traditions.  No family that you can visit? Thanksgiving spent with friends is an equally special experience.

My parents live in Boston, and since Thanksgiving Eve is notoriously the worst travel day of the year, I usually like to go up early Thursday morning and have my own personal cook-off at home for my dishes the night before.  This year, my sister has goaded me into participating in a gratuitous athletic display on Thanksgiving morning.  Since I also have a zero vacation balance, I will braving the masses on Wednesday evening, sweating/panting Thursday morning, and going to be completely deprived of cooking time

But I'm not going to leave you gentle Trash Salad readers high and dry.  I've prepared a rundown of my favorite dishes that I've made over the years.  As a parting pro-tip: do not waste your cooking time or valuable stomach space on soups and breads.  You've got all of winter ahead of you for that.

Thanksgiving 2009's stuffing-heavy spread.  Courtesy of my sister for these photos, but Trash Salad worthy nonetheless.

Tried and true traditional flavors:
AllRecipes Yummy Sweet Potato Casserole
Serious Eats Classic Sage and Sausage Stuffing (I'm actually supremely fussy about my stuffing, but this is the recipe that comes closest to what I usually do, though eggs are completely unnecessary. Stuffing post forthcoming.)
Simply Recipes Perfect Mashed Potatoes
Gourmet Cranberry Sauce 
Cambell's Green Bean Casserole (My Mom's version has lots of cheese, completely canned ingredients, and is absolutely amazing.)
Martha's Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Tyler Florence Oven Roasted Turkey with Sage Butter
Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie
Jell-o Chocolate Pudding Pie (Another family favorite!)

A little something different:*
My Coconut and Ginger Sweet Potato Casserole
Bon Appetit Lemon Roast Potatoes
My Kale Salad
Williams-Sonoma Spiced Cranberry Chutney
Dave Lieberman Tangy Almond Green Beans
101 Cookbooks Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Apples
Giada de Laurentis Turkey with Herbes de Provence and Citrus
Oprah's Pumpkin Gingersnap Pie with Sugared Cranberries (I know. But it's really good!)
Alison Kave's Blue Ribbon Ginger Bourbon Pecan Pie

*Having tried many stuffing variations including cornbread and wild rice, this is the only place where I will say do NOT mess with the classic.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pickled Shiitakes and the Return of the Graphs

This tangy mushroom side dish has been on my mind for about nine months now since I first had something similar at Angelica Kitchen, and in my bookmarks list for at least two since getting a bang-up deal on dried shiitakes at the local Asian market.  If you like mushrooms and Asian flavors, these are absolutely amazing for an incredibly low amount of effort.

According to the internet, the most popular inspiration for pickled shiitakes is a recipe from David Chang's Momofuku cookbook.  Once David Chang served me a parfait of goat cheese, tapioca, beet root, and walnuts, and it was fantastic.  But I've never been to any of the Momofuku restaurants, even though I'm sure I would love the food, because I'm of the opinion that, when in a city as large and exciting as New York, you should never ever wait more than 20 minutes when you want to eat.  I refuse to believe that any pork bun, fried chicken, or bowl of ramen, regardless of the quality, is worth three hours of my time that could be much better spent elsewhere in the area on loftier pursuits.  I feel so strongly about this, that I've brought back the cost-benefit analysis graph to illustrate my point.

Take the case of the simple falafel sandwich. One of my all-time favorite foods, I'm lucky to have access to no fewer than 8 different falafel establishments within walking distance of my apartment. A solid and tasty meal that I enjoy for dinner at least once a week in Hoboken, I would never ever consider going to the mirror establishment on MacDougal Street for the exact sandwich, even when I'm in the area, since there is a perpetual line of 5+ customers deep.  Consider at least 3 minutes per customer, and my favorite food is suddenly not worth it. Whereas, the sort of bland, not super exciting noodle soup that I can get across the street from my office is absolutely worth it compared to the several hours of wait time at trendy ramen places.

The point I'm dancing around is this: I don't know how these marinated mushrooms are supposed to be served at Momofuku since I will never go there.  What I do know is that they are really really delicious, even when you half-ass the ingredients as you see in parentheses below.  I don't think they would go well with a normal noodle soup since they're quite salty, but could gussy up the bland one from across the street quite handsomely.  Really, you can use these mushrooms like kimchi: kind of a side, and also a punchy flavor addition to whatever the hell you want.  A trash salad, for instance.

Pickled Shiitakes
Adapted from Saveur (coopted from Momofuku)

Makes 2 cups (480mL)
Total time: 45-60 minutes (Active time <10 min)
  • 1.5 oz (43g) dried shiitake mushrooms (about half of a normal package)
  • 1/2 cup (120mL) soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup (120mL) sherry vinegar (or a half/half mixture of rice wine vinegar and Chinese cooking wine if you don't keep things like sherry vinegar on-hand)
  • 1/3 cup (70g) sugar (I used brown, and don't think it matters)
  • 3" (7.5cm) piece of ginger, peeled (or 3 tsp of dried ginger, in a pinch)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)
Put mushrooms in a large bowl and cover with 2.5 cups (600mL) of boiling water (they will try to float, so push them down until covered).  Soak for at least 15 minutes.  Drain, reserving 2 cups (480mL) of liquid.  Chop the mushrooms into slivers if you like them that way.

Combine the drained mushrooms, reserved mushroom liquid, and remaining ingredients in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove pan from heat, let cool, and transfer to a jar or other container.  Will keep in the fridge for at least a month.