Thanksgiving: Too many dishes, not enough oven?

October 27, 2011

Last Year's Turkey

Before I get into some recipes, I thought I’d chat about a few tips for preparing a delicious and more importantly, a relaxing Thanksgiving feast:

Because unless you have found yourself equipped with double ovens, fundamentally, Thanksgiving day can be a bit of a circus. One oven leaves you juggling when to roast, when to bake, and when to take a break. And with most Turkeys taking at least four hours to cook, this becomes a big problem. So what do you do? Most likely you cook in advance or stress yourself out to the point of exhaustion. Your guests may blame it on the tryptophan but you know you’re passed out from a crazy day. But over the last few years I have discovered two amazing ideas that can help alleviate this double oven envy.

One: You know that gas grill you have covered and put away for the winter…meet your second oven. You’d be surprised how well a gas grill can maintain a temperature and by placing your Turkey in a roasting pan over INDIRECT heat, you can rest easily knowing you’ve got yourself a good cooking bird. It sounds easy enough but there are a few watch outs. Make sure you buy a temperature gauge of your own. While some of the gauges on the grills are decent, most are not. Nothing worse than cooking a big turkey at 350 only to find out the real temp was 450 or even worse…250. Second, the indirect heat part is really important. Depending on the grill, you can probably get away with using only one burner to maintain the temperature. Regardless, you will want to rotate that roasting pan every 45 minutes or so and baste well, just like you would in the oven. Lastly, make sure you have a new propane tank. While it might not ruin your summer cookout when the gas runs out while cooking some burger patties, running out of gas in this case will surely ruin your Thanksgiving. And yes, you can try this on a charcoal grill but it takes quite a bit of experience to maintain a temp over a long period of time.

Two: This one is more about the menu planning. For years I grew up eating all of the Thanksgiving standards and definitely enjoyed most of them. But two years ago, when I had my first real Thanksgiving menu to plan, I realized something fundamentally upsetting about my past experiences. Everything on the plate was hot! Warm, filling Thanksgiving sides, while delicious, make for pallet lethargy. Try incorporating some cold sides into the mix. How about a potato and string bean salad tossed with a dijon vinaigrette or roasted and chilled beets/carrots tossed in a balsamic dressing and paired with goat cheese? Don’t be afraid to introduce some cold dishes to the meal! You will kill two birds with one stone: fewer items needing the oven, and a proverbial kick in your pallet’s ass!

Nora's First Thanksgiving

Not so related, but I can’t believe it’s already time for my niece’s second Thanksgiving. I’m a bit bummed I won’t see her first real go at the turkey and fixins as I will be out on LI with Em’s family but I’m sure I’ll get to see some great pics. Before I know it, she’ll be cooking along side of me!


The List: Cocoron NYC

October 25, 2011


Cocoron Soba Noodles - Photo from Serious Eats

It’s been over 8 months since I last posted about a restaurant; that post being about our meal at Eleven Madison Park, by far one of the most fantastic and lavish meals I’ve ever had in my life. So it seems awfully fitting that the latest restaurant on my List, 8 months later, gets back to my core. Cocoron, a 20 or so seat Soba noodle shop on the LES is not fancy or expensive. But I can tell you one thing, it’s friggin delicious!

Ramen noodles have become a NYC craze as of late. The perfect example was our recent attempt at Ippudo. Touted as one of the city’s best, Ippudo is packed to the gills on a regular basis. I should have known better before going but when being told there was a two and half hour wait to dine, it’s fate was sealed. I’ll probably never go back. Here’s the thing, I’m sure it is great, but two and half hours for noodles…no thanks!

But after we waited a full hour and fifteen for Cocoron, my reaction at Ippudo became a bit clearer. I think it was more the attitude of it all than the length of time. Because once we finally got four spots at Cocoron’s noodle bar (the few tables only seat two, so you can probably get a table much quicker if you are in a duo), we were treated like real guests. The waiter and waitress walked us through the menu and meal from start to finish while we marveled in the clean and fresh flavors that each dish presented.

I followed recommendations listed on my favorite food site (serious eats), and we started with the homemade silken tofu, pork and okara croquettes, and raw octopus. All three were delicious but the tofu was a perfect representation of what can happen when a few quality ingredients come together. The tofu was luscious and sweet paired perfectly with bonito, nori, scallions, and freshly grated ginger; truly wonderful.

But it was the soba dishes that really caught my attention. They come in three main ways. The “dip”  comes as fresh soba noodles next to a simmering pot of broth for self-cooking and eating. The “hot” comes as a more simplistic noodle soup and the “cold” comes with freshly cooked soba noodles ready to be doused in a chilled and flavorful sauce. My “cold” soba dish was studded with delicious pork and freshly grated mountain yam and came with a mind-blowing sesame sauce. The flavors were so clean and complimented the earthy noodles fantastically. While I only tried the broth from the other three dishes on the table, the rest of the group proclaimed more of the same. Flavor, flavor, flavor! And it’s a testament to their menu as your night continues. Because unlike a big bowl of salty ramen, a meal at Cocoron leaves you feeling healthful and satisfied.

And that comes from an attention to detail that goes beyond a typical meal out with friends. For example, when my noodles arrived before everyone elses, I waited like my mother taught me too. But the waitress informed me to eat up as the noodles were ideal at that moment and not to be left un-eaten. Luckily none of the others cared as their piping out noodle dishes came quickly thereafter. And how about the end of the meal? A note card arrives explaining the importance of Sobayu, a delicate broth they cook the noodles in. This seems strange, until you read further. Soba noodles are packed with vitamins, although some of the key ones are water-soluble ending up in the cooking liquid. The bonito broth mixed with the lingering sauce or broth is really divine.What a meal!

Cocoron means “heartwarming”. A fitting name for a great new addition to the List…

Gearing up for Turkey Day!

October 24, 2011

Butternut Squash and Fennel Soup

Pretty wild but we’re only one month away from Thanksgiving. And while I’m in no rush for the bone numbing cold, I can’t help but admit I’m beyond excited for Turkey Day. But this weekend I realized something kinda stupid on my part. In years past, I’ve posted a bunch about Holiday recipes but often, only after the fact. Can’t imagine that was so helpful. So this year, I’m going all out. And while I won’t only be posting about Thanksgiving recipes, get ready for a full-fledged run down of the traditional and the not so traditional.

Cooking for Em’s family, I always try to toe the line. Every family has their “untouchables” and while I love to come up with all sorts of things like my psychedelic string bean casserole and my Philly soft pretzel stuffing from two years ago, I know there are limits. But no one will be disappointed if I end up serving this butternut squash and fennel soup. I won’t post the recipe until its mastered but its damn close!

So hit me up with any questions or thoughts on Holiday recipe planning and here we go…

Must Haves and Curry for the Weekend

October 21, 2011

Five Spice Seared Filet with Vegetable Stir Fry

No matter how busy you are, there’s always time for a stir fry. So while I spent the last month a bit on the busy side, we’ve been eating a ton of the stuff. But last night I had a craving for a restaurant style meal with some real deal flavor. Making a stop at Kalustyans on the way home I picked up some must haves if you want to come close to replicating the distinct and bold flavors of asian cuisine. Ginger, hoisin, and siracha only take you so far, but Shaoxing style cooking wine, chinese five spice, and sichuan peppercorns are three ingredients that really transform an otherwise simple dish.

And after an awesome dinner and waking up to a perfect Fall day, I’m in the mood for some curry. But what the hell type should I put together…I’ll let you choose. Enjoy the weekend!

Find of the Week: Sweet Potato Greens

October 17, 2011

This Week's Bounty

I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “this is the greatest time of year to shop at the farmer’s market” but here it comes again…

In all honesty though, if it wasn’t for my limited patience with people, I could spend hours at the farmers market on a Saturday. It’s amazing to see how much more is available on the weekend and how many more stands are set up. And as we exit the summer and enter the fall, full steam ahead, the produce is really inspiring. I may have gone a bit overboard this week.

But one item I’m most thrilled to have discovered…sweet potato greens. More and more, select stands have 1 or 2 burner set ups cooking away some of their more unique produce. And when I tried the sautéed sweet potato greens at one farm stand, I was instantly hooked; sweet and slightly bitter and really frickin delicious. And when sautéed and combined with roasted spaghetti squash and tomatoes and then baked under some fresh mozzarella, I enjoyed them even more!

Stuffed and Baked Spaghetti Squash

This was the first time I’ve come across the sweet potato greens…anyone else have these guys before?

New Cocktail

October 13, 2011

Another cocktail up at the Nobler…

The Bourbon Gary

Fall’s Greatest

October 12, 2011

Kabocha Squash Soup Leftovers for Lunch

I think regardless of which squash had won last week’s poll, I would have lied and said it was the kabocha. While the others all have their place in fall cuisine, there is something about the kabocha squash or japanese pumpkin that makes it better than all the rest. The color is unbelievable and the creaminess that can be created using the kabocha is mind-blowing. Honestly, try this soup or any other version utilizing kabocha squash and you will be hooked!

I would take this recipe as more of a guideline. The name of the game is balancing the sweetness with a bit of spice but have fun with it. Add different spices (like cinnamon) or different vegetables (like fennel) to make it your own!

Also check out my perfect fall cocktail at the Nobler…

Kabocha Squash and Hot Pepper Soup

1 kabocha squash, trimmed and rough chopped

2 long hot green peppers

2 poblano peppers

4 garlic cloves chopped

1 large red onion

3 tbsp curry powder

2 tbsp chili powder

2 cups apple cider

3 cups water

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a sheet tray, toss the chopped squash and peppers with olive oil, 1 tbsp curry powder and 1 tbsp of chili powder. Season with salt and pepper and roast until slightly caramelized (25-30 minutes). Meanwhile in a large stock pot saute the onions and garlic over medium heat until translucent. Add the remaining curry powder and chili powder and stir to coat. Add the squash and peppers and de-glaze the stock pot with the apple cider. Add the water, season with salt and pepper and let simmer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. Serve with roasted pumpkin seeds and some crusty french bread.

%d bloggers like this: