Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Beyond the Feast

Some foods are really only good in certain contexts. Take my mother's macaroni and canned something. When we are backpacking, it's the highlight meal: creamy hot noodles bringing out the slight tang of cheddar cheese powder, the chewy bursts of canned something adding depth of both texture and flavor. Since my mom doesn't really do prepared foods at home, it remained a high mountain treat. I recreated it several years ago on a trip in the White Mountains with my nephew and a few of his buddies. Junior and Johnny loved it so much that they begged for it back in Somerville. Not having, yet, quite as much devotion as my mom to keeping my home kitchen wholesome, nor, it turns out, quite as much understanding as she about the essential nature of ingredients such as high mountain air and a camp stove, I complied. It was hot dish gone bad (and if you don't know what hot dish is because you've never shown up late to a Minnesotan pot luck and had to do with what's left, be glad). We couldn't get beyond the first bite. Thanksgiving treats aren't quite as diametrically different off the holiday table, but much as I love creamed onions, stuffing, pecan pie, and even cranberry sauce once a year, I'd really rather not have them again until November 2010. So is it worth writing about them after Thanksgiving? Since I've been trying to perfect my cranberry sauce for about 3 years now and finally did it, got the one I want to put on that table every year from now on, that's a yes. The salads I really do enjoy way beyond the season. But otherwise, honestly, I'm ready to move on.

shallot-sherry cranberry sauce
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 12-oz bag of fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup sherry
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 T butter
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup currants

Saute the shallots in the butter until translucent. Add all of the other ingredients and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly until the cranberries begin to pop (about 20 minutes). Cook, stirring regularly, another 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Works perfectly as one of 2 cranberry sauces for 15-20 people.

Arugula-kohlrabi-cranberry salad
serves 10
1 box of baby arugula
2 kohlrabi
8 oz dried cranberries or craisins

Peel the kohlrabi, cut it into 1-2" wide chunks, and then thinly slice each one with a vegetable peeler or cheese slicer. Toss into the arugula with the dried cranberries and a white balsamic vinaigrette (1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/8 cup white balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper).

Red salad
serves 10
2 heads radicchio
1/2 red onion, halved and sliced
4 medium or 8 small beets
3/4 cup walnuts
6 oz. blue cheese

Roast beets by washing putting, whole and unpeeled, into 350 degree oven for 45 minutes-1 1/2 hours (depending on size: cook until beets can be easily pierced by a fork. When beets are tender, put into a bowl and cover tightly with tin foil or saran wrap (I roast them on a foil-lined pan, then use that foil to cover a bowl...) and let sit for about 30 minutes (and up to several hours), allowing the beets to steam the skins a little looser as they cool. Peel off the skins, cut into 1-inch cubes, set into a bowl with a half-cup of balsamic vinaigrette and allow to marinate for at lest 30minutes and up to a day.

Toast walnuts by speading in a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or else by shaking in a hot pan over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes (until they just begin to brown).

Rip radicchio into about 4 pieces per leaf and place in a large salad bowl. Add on beets, red onion, walnuts, and crumbled blue cheese. This salad will hold up well for several hours. Add an extra quarter-cup of balsamic vinaigrette just before serving.