Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I think everyone, especially those who care about food are starting to think about Thanksgiving dinner. Traditionally, there are several Thanksgiving staples that we tend to focus on when we think of the big dinner: turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, cornbread, green beans, creamed onions, Brussels sprouts etc. Some families cook all of these things in fairly traditional ways while others cook some of these dishes and substitute for others while others, (especially in a city like New York) put their own multicultural twists on Thanksgiving fare.
Thanksgiving for me has always been about spending time with family and friends, hopefully enjoying a nice meal and then probably falling asleep somewhere warm, hours before I’m supposed to go to bed. Our family has used Thanksgiving to celebrate engagements, re-connect with friends who’ve moved away and also to travel and spend time with extended families that we don’t get to see very often. Food has always been an important part of Thanksgiving, but when it comes to eating, I think food’s importance is more in that it’s there and bringing us together, creating interpersonal memories, than that the taste of the food itself is actually memorable. We are more or less eating the same things every year, but at least in my case, we don’t always get to see the same people. I can’t remember the best thing I ate every thanksgiving but I do remember the people we spent time with and the process of working together to create a meal, and generally being happy.
In recent years, as my interest in food has grown and I’ve gained more experience in professional kitchens, we started to drift slightly from the typical thanksgiving cooking model. After reading Michael Pollan’s books, and Jonathan Saffran Foer’s Eating Animals (specifically the last chapter) I find it very difficult to buy and eat Turkey anymore, even on Thanksgiving. I understand the tradition and nostalgia associated with eating Turkey and I won’t be snobby to people who do (check out Peter Meehan’s food snob piece in NY Times magazine here) but I can’t really justify doing it myself-it just doesn’t make me feel good about my actions.
The most important part of thanksgiving for me these days is the vegetables. There are still a bounty of root vegetables, Brussels sprouts, hearty greens, apples, pears, chestnuts and squashes to form a meal around. This thanksgiving we will still buy a bird (probably a squab or a duck, something that I can trace back to a farm and has had a better life than a turkey) but we will also eat a lot of vegetables.
Here is a glazed carrot and parsnip dish I like to cook for my mother. We made it four or five years ago with a recipe from Gourmet magazine and I’ve pretty much changed everything save for the carrots and parsnips and the fact that they’re glazed. I am making it with heirloom carrots from Norwich Meadows farms because I like the size (not too thick so I can cut them uniformly and so they’re visually appealing) and I like the fact that they are so colorful.
Before I give a recipe, let me preface by saying that when I cook at home I don’t usually follow recipes. I find that all home kitchens work differently and thus set recipes never work out the way I plan. I try to be proactive in tasting, smelling and observing during the cooking process and have left instructions of what to look for when following my recipe. Best of all is that taste is subjective so feel free to alter anything to your tastes.
2 lbs carrots
2 lbs parsnips
1/3 cup whole almonds
1 tbsp honey
1 1/2 cups orange juice(freshly squeezed)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp coriander
1 stalk lemongrass,bruised with the back of a knife
1 tbsp picked tarragon
2 1/2 butter
Water or Vegetable stock, as needed
Kosher salt, as desired
White pepper(freshly ground), to taste
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 cup Micro greens, for Garnish (optional)
For the Parsnips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
1.Peel and cut into uniform wedges so that they cook evenly. Depending on the size you can usually cut the thin bottom part off and then split lengthwise down the middle while quartering the top.
2. In a mixing bowl, toss the parsnips with olive oil and salt and pepper. Everyone tastes salt differently so use an amount you think is appropriate.
3. Place on a foil lined baking tray and roast in the oven. Check after about 20 minutes, they may take as long as 40. You want them to be tender enough to eat but not mushy and to have a little bit of color. Set aside to cool.
For the Almonds
1. On medium heat, add about 1/2 tsp of olive oil in a pan and add about 1 tbsp butter. When it starts to foam, add the almonds sprinkle with salt cook, tossing occasionally until toasty and fragrant and the butter is browned about 4-6 minutes. Set aside to cool
2. When cool, cut the almond in half or into thirds (crosswise) depending on your preferences
For the Orange juice
1. In a small pot, lightly toast the cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and allspice (it is important to use whole spices so they don't make the orange juice cloudy and brown)
2. Add the orange juice and lemongrass and cook until reduced by two thirds. Strain and discard the spices. Set the orange reduction aside for later use.
1. In a saute pan large enough to hold the carrots in one layer, heat up 1 tsp of olive oil until slide easily across the pan. Add the carrots and season with salt. They should sizzle when they hit the pan, stir for about two minutes so they don't take on any color but they release a little moisture.
2. Add the Orange juice, honey and 2 tbsp butter and let simmer on medium heat. When liquid starts to thicken and glaze, taste a carrot if its still raw add about 1 tbsp of water so the carrots can cook longer-you want the liquid to become a glaze and the carrots to be cooked at the same time and can add water as necessary.
3. As soon as the carrots are cooked, add the parsnips and half the almonds and toss to coat.
4. Serve either in small individual bowls or one large serving bowl, garnished with the tarragon sprigs, the rest of the chopped almonds and the micro greens.