On January 23rd, 2006, two cases of duck legs arrived to the restaurant, and per the day’s to-do list, I threw them into hotel pans, covered them with a layer of kosher salt, then headed to the walk-in to find the duck fat. This was how we made duck confit at the restaurant: 1 case of duck legs per hotel pan, liberal coating of kosher salt, duck fat submergence, tight covering of aluminum foil, two and a half hours in the oven.
But when I got to the walk-in, I couldn’t find the duck fat. I looked and looked. I had made the mistake more than once of declaring we were out of something when we weren’t, and so I looked some more. Shit, I thought. But before running to the chef, I looked and looked again. It had to be there. I was positive this was the greatest conspiracy of the inanimate I had ever faced. There was no way two 8-quart tubs of duck fat had walked out of that walk-in.
But after awhile, I had to tell the chef. He looked too. He couldn’t find it. We suspected it had been tossed. There had been a lot of turnover in the kitchen staff in recent weeks, and it was likely someone had innocently trashed the duck fat, a supply the chef had been building for eight years, a supply that grew more flavorful with every use, the key ingredient to one of the restaurant’s staple dishes.
After the chef berated me for allowing this to happen, noting that this — me — is why he could never take a vacation — oh, the drama! — let alone a day off, he set to work rectifying the situation. Into each hotel pan he tossed pounds and pounds and pounds of butter along with a few sprigs of thyme. Then he cooked the legs just the same: tightly covered with foil for two-and-a-half hours. And when those legs emerged from the oven, we stored them just the same: legs in one tub; fat, clearly labeled, in another.
There was no need to fiddle with a recipe that needed no fiddling. I have made Molly Wizenberg’s irresistibly soft and sticky cinnamon rolls countless times always to rave reviews.
But when I received a note from a friend over the weekend describing the pearl-sugar topped cinnamon rolls her Swedish friend had made for her, I couldn’t resist experimenting. Besides, I wasn’t going to change the core recipe, just the topping and perhaps the baking method: instead of using a square pan, I would use my muffin tin.
But these two simple changes, small as they seem, produce a dramatically different effect, a cross between a morning bun and a cinnamon roll. Unconstrained by neighboring rolls, these buns spiral vertically into snow-capped peaks with trails of cinnamon and sugar bursting through their doughy seams.
About this time last year I discovered a most-delicious salad, a Greg and Lucy Malouf creation, a mixture of green olives, walnuts and pomegranate seeds tossed in a spicy, sweet, salty dressing, a combination I find irresistible.
It’s light. It’s fresh. It’s just the sort of thing we all found ourselves craving about three hours after our Thanksgiving lunch when we found ourselves back in the kitchen, hungry once again, faced with so many delectable options, but scrounging for something else: something crisp, something raw, something juicy.
1. Something homemade: Toasted Muesli
Since discovering toasted muesli this past summer, I can’t get enough of it — seriously, we make double batches of it twice a week. Its virtues are countless — healthy, whole grain, full of fiber, gluten free, easy to make, delicious, delicious, delicious — and I can’t introduce enough people to it.
If you are interested in printing these labels at home, these are the two sets of Avery stickers I ordered:
Circular: Avery, 2.5″ diameter, White
Rectangular: Avery, 3″x3.75″, Ivory
Here are the label files to download:
blue & off white
Two other foods I love giving as gifts this time of year are rosemary shortbread and orange and ricotta pound cake. This pinboard has more ideas, too.
Friends, hello! It has been ages. I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We had a ball at my sister’s — ate too many potatoes, drank too much punch, only wished we had made two pumpkin pies.
I know that some of you might be thinking there is no possible way you have time to add one more item, let alone homemade dinner rolls, to your Thanksgiving Day timetable, but I’m here on this snowy November morning to encourage — to insist! — that you do. You absolutely have time. Here’s why:
1. This dough, especially if you use instant yeast, takes five minutes to mix together. There is no kneading, no pampering.
2. Moreover, there is no need to flour up a workspace or to get your hands dirty shaping individual rolls. If you have a 12-cup muffin pan and someone lurking in your kitchen hoping to help, you’re in luck. Put that friend to work buttering the muffin cups, punching down the dough, portioning out the rolls. Handling this dough requires no skill.
3. This dough can rise in the corner of your kitchen all morning long. While that turkey roasts away, you can punch the dough down as often as you need, and when at last you find the oven free of birds and stuffings and gratins, in will go your rolls.
4. These rolls bake in 25 minutes. If you plan on letting your turkey rest for a good 30 minutes before carving, you’ll have plenty of time to let these rolls make their second rise (17 to 20 minutes) and to bake them before your guests are seated around the table, at which point you will pass around a basket of steaming hot, thyme-flecked rolls.
I don’t know how anyone could find fault in something as delectable as Teddie’s apple cake, as fun as the big apple pancake, or as glorious as the Balzano apple cake, but I happen to live with a few such people. And I know I shouldn’t take offense to a three-year old’s aversion to “texture” of any kind, but when I see a piece of cake picked to pieces, apples and crumbs scattered across the plate, my blood pressure rises.
In an effort to please these little beings — seriously, there’s nothing like a toddler’s behavior at the dinner table to shatter my confidence in the kitchen — I called my old neighbor, Geri, from Virginia, to get her recipe for applesauce-yogurt cake, something she always seemed to have on hand this time of year, a cake my children (and I) couldn’t get enough of when we found ourselves across the street at her house.
My sister, the doctor, lover of pies and Peeps, is hosting Thanksgiving this year. She has it all under control, sleeping arrangements organized, color-coded cooking timeline mapped out, and the menu finalized, promising her 12 guests a turkey, a spanakopita, cranberry sauce (not this one) and pie.
To help lighten her load, I’ve signed up to bring punch, stuffing, bread, and this potato gratin, a dish my mother has served at nearly every big holiday gathering for as long as I can remember, one that often steals the show no matter what it’s beside, turkey or otherwise.
There is a not-so-little known deli in my town called Gershon’s, and the first time Ben and I stopped in, we found ourselves in the to-go line staring up at the overwhelming menu board during the midday rush, the trail of hungry regulars growing behind us with every passing second, the decision of what to order becoming harder with every beep-beep-beep of the opening front door.
Fortunately, the man standing behind us offered us guidance, telling us to order the #1, a corned beef and pastrami sandwich, the one he orders every week, the one he has ordered every week since discovering Gershon’s 21 years ago. It seemed like a safe bet.
Served on rye bread, this sandwich, buckling with meat, dripping with Russian dressing, spilling with slaw, couldn’t have been more delicious. And as we chomped on our pickles and picked at our chips, we wondered if we too might fall into the #1-for-life routine. But fortunately, something happened — the weather turned — and when we found ourselves at Gershon’s again, this time to dine-in on a Saturday afternoon, we decided to warm up with a cup of the daily soup, white bean with escarole and sausage.
I woke up Sunday morning with one mission in mind: buy a punch bowl.
We had had friends over on Saturday night, and the Fish House Punch had been a wild success, adored by the men and women alike, the unfrozen ice ring inconsequential, the plastic lemonade pitcher excusable but less than ideal.
The punch had been a last-minute addition to the menu, inspired I suppose by the Bon Appetit Thanksgiving Issue I had been reading earlier that day, whose second bit of holiday-survival advice was to “Serve a House Drink.” With only four drinkers on deck Saturday night, there was no pressing need to make a punch, but after its reception, I don’t think I’ll be able to host another party this season — any season? — without serving it. It’s just too good, and so simple, too, calling for juicing lemons, dissolving sugar in water, and twisting open bottles: cognac, dark rum, and peach brandy.
Like most punches, this one is high-octane, the kind of stuff that warms the body upon first sip. And it did its job well, starting the evening with a bang, ultimately making the party a smashing success, but not before delivering a successful smashing: we were all drinking water exclusively by the time dinner hit the table. What can I say, it’s only November 5th. We’re out of practice. I’ve never been more excited for the holidays. And I’ve got my punch bowl now to prove it.