FoodView: THANKSGIVING menus

RER 11.24.11

I know Thanksgiving is over, but the fullness of food and family and good times still lingers with us. I am pretty sure some of us still have leftovers (I know we do, though it is almost the end of the line).

I have started to explore the creation of family Thanksgiving menus. Some people stick to tradition, the usuals and dishes that have been passed down through generations and generations, while other families constantly evolve and add and subtract. Some times these changes happen because of expertise or even prices of ingredients, and some times it has to do with the morphing and changing of the guest roster.

I already talked a little about the classics in my family here. But I got to talk to my mother further about how she developed our current Thanksgiving menu, as it has hardly changed in my memory. Perhaps the dishes have been the same, yet the mild modifications and alterations to each, have not severely impacted our holiday meal. Many of the things that we eat every year for Thanksgiving, like the corn pudding, turkey, sweet potatoes, greens, are the things that she ate when she was growing up as well. And even in her childhood, the menu of her family’s thanksgiving dinner did not vary tremendously from year to year.

She gave some insight though into how our preparation of the turkey has evolved through the years. After a mild catastrophe one year, involving a dysfunctional oven and carrying all the various dishes to be cooked and warmed at a neighbor’s around the corner, it was decided that the oven was not the best avenue for all the dishes. This marked the beginning of our use of the outdoor grill for our smallish turkeys. The grill has been found to be much more reliable and allows more things to fit in the oven with ease. Even since we changed the method of cooking our turkey, the recipe for preparing it has varied, from a fancy Martha Stewart recipe involving coffee and a homemade bbq sauce, to the easy peasy brining method. This year, mom undertook the brining method, which left the turkey a little salty, but reduced the cooking time and maintained moisture.

There is always stuffing at our thanksgiving feasts, but my mother said that her famous cornbread stuffing came about after trying the recipe in the early years of my parents marriage, and liking it, adjusting it, being addicted to it, and keeping it on the list. This is a similar story to the corn pudding that is now a part of my favorite meal. My mom and even my dad grew up with corn puddings too, so that was a combination of two different family’s dishes. The corn pudding was not always a stable member of the Thanksgiving cast, until Mommie found the recipe we use now.

This is also true of the kind of sweet potato casserole we make annually. My mother grew up with sweet potatoes on her Thanksgiving table, but not necessarily the way we eat them now, laced with sugar, rum and butter, crowned with an ample amount of marshmallows. She revealed that this came later, after seeing how her mother in law (my grandmother) prepared her fancy sweet potatoes. It was this way that my father grew up with them, and so then I did too.

Our Thanksgiving is a happy mixture of dishes from my mother’s childhood and that of my father’s, keeping many of the traditional dishes with some modifications and personal touches.

My friend, who is of Cape Verdean descent, also has a mixed Thanksgiving, where her parents bring some of the traditional dishes to their table, along with some of the American Thanksgiving favorites, like turkey. This includes pastel (the Cape Verdean version of empanada), seafood rice, bacalhao, catchupa (Cape Verdean stew) and other favorites of the family (lasagna, mom’s famous shrimp and broccoli pasta). She mentioned that all of these dishes are not exclusive to the Thanksgiving holiday, like our corn pudding or cornbread stuffing may be, but they make appearances at many of the holidays and family get-togethers. These are the Cape Verdean crowd pleasers.

She also informed me that this year was kind of different, even though usually the menu stays close to the same most years. This year introduced more American elements as the family is morphing. So their Thanksgiving included some more of the typical things we tend to think of when dreaming of the classic Thanksgiving like mashed potatoes.

This goes to show that new additions to family and visitors adjusts and morphs the traditional Thanksgiving fare, just like I previously mentioned with my aunt bringing string beans. Not only is it different dishes, but members and visitors also include their specialties and favorites. Another of my friends mentioned that some things find their way on the holiday table because they are an expertise of a guest or a family member. And sometimes those items, like great rolls or fancy sweet potatoes, become a permanent fixture on the menu, taken up by another family member further down the line, passing on the tradition and recipe.

This is kind of like my boyfriend’s family. He patiently explained that this year was very different from the previous years, because all of his siblings were trying out new things. Typically, his mom made most of the fixings, the traditional ones (turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing… you know the drill), but this year there was an explosion of enthusiasm from the sibs and each contributed their own masterpieces, taking the weight off their mom. Some of the dishes added new favorites, like butternut squash lasagna and stuffed grape leaves, while replacing the foods that mom used to make, like the mashed potatoes and stuffing. The diversity in their dishes comes from family additions and also food interests.

Even the first Thanksgivings were not exactly how we picture them today. As I learned from Iron Chef America and Cooking Channel’s “Back in Time for Thanksgiving,” many of the things we eat today for Thanksgiving were hardly thought of then. The pilgrims and natives most likely chowed down on what they could find and what was available, like pigeon poultry, and corn breads, eels and other fishes, deer and other game. Lobster was a big part of early Thanksgivings in the New England area, and I know where I am from, we do not always see that. Just how price fluctuations and costs of food affect some current Thanksgiving traditions, availability of items played a large role in what was eaten early on.

The ideas and connotations of the Thanksgiving holiday have been conflated with food and over indulging. In reality, it is that, but it is also a moment for family and friends, celebrating traditions old and new. Food is just a great platform to bring these people together and reflect on bounty and blessings. Thanksgiving will always remain one of my favorite holidays, and I can’t wait to create my own Thanksgiving menu and see how it evolves.
RER 11.24.11


plaid clad BRUNCH : Marco&Pepe

RER 10.24.12

RER 10.24.12
I was warned that Marco & Pepe would look like a hipster haven, but then was reassured they were not hipster jerks but actually really nice. And all of this is really true. The servers were all wearing plaid and jeans, but in the end they were all really nice (just like I was told). The décor looked mildly distressed intentionally. And at the same time there is a kind of picturesque country home feel with the wooden benches against the wall and tables and chairs that look like a cafe bistro, and the large windows at the front of the restaurant. The space is cute and homey but adult at the same time.

I was really hoping to come in and stumble on the dinner menu, but it was still brunch lunch time. Prior to this lunch date with my good friend, I put in some time to research. Marco &Pepe had been an option for a last minute dinner or food meander before, but never realized. So checking out the menu via the website was a familiar process, and driving by the restaurant also resonated familiarity. After looking at the menus, I found myself far more attached to the dinnertime fare, but life brought me to Marco & Pepe for lunch.

The brunch menu ranges from salads to sandwiches to eggs, with a lengthy list of sides but a short list of entrees. It felt more or less like a typical weekend brunch menu, not necessarily something I would expect from a restaurant during the weekday lunch hour.

Because it was chilly and I was starving, I knew I wanted something hearty. Because of the place’s quaintness and mild trendy atmosphere, I was afraid that nothing was going to come in the big girl portions I needed. I ordered the huevos rancheros, slightly hesitant because it only said “fried egg” (singular) on the menu. That singularity became a point of contention in my mind because, after verifying with my friend, “huevos” is plural… so what was it going to be?

In the end, it was plural, hearty and delicious. The dish came in a tiny iron looking pan, lined at the bottom with a corn tortilla (or two) and laden with fatty chorizo on one side, hearty black beans on the other, topped with my fried eggs, cheese and a green tomitillo salsa and a picadillo sauce. I was in brunch heaven. It had all the warmth I wanted, and all the protein I needed. There was definitely a little kick in the sauces and the beans, but the sharpish manchego cheese and the runny yolk of the fried egg, cooled it down, making a creamy sensation. The beans, to my relief, were cooked just right, not too hard but also not too soggy. They were a great aspect to stand up to all the softer textures of the dish.

All of the elements were simple and well executed, except I was not really into the flavors that the chorizo added. Usually I am a sucker for chorizo, fatty and spicy, but this chorizo (like my last experience ), fell more into the category of hot dog. I was really excited to see chorizo as a meat option to go along with my huevos, but in the end the sausage did not taste how I wanted it to, so it kind of clashed with the heavy beans and the various sauces.

My friend ordered the ham & eggs on a croissant. Sounds simple enough. But what she got was an enormous portion of what looked like a hearty round of ham, salty and pan fried, topped by a magical cheesy sweet brie sauce, all hiding the crusty croissant. The eggs floated on top of the heavy mass of ham, glistening with the melted cheese sauce. This sauce was what made the dish special, other than the sheer enormity of the portion size. Everything it touched was made more delicious and special. Even though the menu said melted brie, it felt much more than that, mysterious and delicious. Brie has the reputation of being mild but with a little tang, this melted mysterious sauce had that, but was also sweet, and mixed so well with the saltiness of the ham, the smooth eggs and even the crunchy hidden croissant. A perfect bite included all the elements, accompanied by a feeling of comfort and warmth. It was endless and delicious.

Even after stuffing my face with my food, a side of golden and crispy french fries, and some of my friend’s dish, I had to have dessert, especially after seeing the menu. The dessert menu is a mix of old friends learning new tricks. There was a mango coconut crème brulee, banana bread pudding, a strawberry rhubarb tart, amongst others, all with a twist on the traditional.

There was no way I was leaving that place without trying the banana bread pudding. What’s not to love? Unfortunately, it was a little less than what I expected. I was hopping for warm and soft, custardy and smooth. But the pudding was not warm enough, and it felt like all the little bread bits did not have enough time in the egg mixture, rendering it not smooth and dry in places. The flavor, however, was amazing. It was sweet but not too sweet in the way that bread puddings can be, and the ice cream and the little caramel sauce played with the balance of sweetness, different with every bite.

All and all, it was a fun lunch, in a fun little place. It was quiet which allowed for girl talk, but I think later in the day, with the little bar in place and the great looking dinner menu, Marco & Pepe would get louder and more trendy. I would love to go back to try out the dinner menu and more of the desserts, but maybe next time I will travel in my hipster attire.
RER 10.24.12


second YELPing

RER 11.8.12

Check out my review of Biggie's Clam Bar in Hoboken on yelp. Fun times, fun space, fun food!



Now, who doesn't like Thanksgiving? It happens to be one of my most favorite days of the whole entire year. It always involves lots of laughs, kitchen chaos, fun company, great food, and tons of butter...good times. To me, the few trips to the grocery store (which occur almost daily) before Thanksgiving, mark the commencement of the Holiday Season. Bring on the cheer, the food, the friends, and the pounds!
RER 11.22.12
This is the famous cornbread stuffing. It happens to be one of my favorite Thanksgiving decadent treats. My mother probably starts this goodie before any of the other dishes that fall on the dinner table and stumble into our bellies. She makes the cornbread days in advance. This year some of it found its way into our freezer to maintain freshness. In the cornbread (made from the Jiffy mix...oldie but goodie), she incorporates cream style sweet corn, hot jalapenos, and other varieties of corn to add kick and texture. The broken bread is then mixed with butter drenched onions and celery, more corn and seasoning deliciousness, and thrown back in the oven to crisp up. In the end, it is crunchy, sweet, spicy, indulgent and mildly (euphemism) addictive.
RER 11.22.12
Because Hurricane Sandy deprived us of power for more than a week, all the things in our freezer were forced to be evacuated and mutilated into use. We always stock up on the fresh cranberries because during this Holiday Season, cranberries are a featured star. So our freezer was full of the berries. We cooked the berries with lots of sugar and brandy to create a chunky cranberry sauce, perfect for the Thanksgiving dinner table, but also a filler for one of our favorite cookies (more on those later). The sauce is sweet and tangy, and with every bite a berry bursts and brings a new flavor with it, making it interesting and never the same.
RER 11.22.12
Most times Thanksgiving dinners at our house deffo lack in the vegetable department and are laden with butter, corn, brown sugar and other delicious decadence. Other than greens (this year a mix of collard and kale), there is not much to offer in the realm of vegetables. My Aunt has been bringing another vegetable to help balance our meal. The fresh green beans, dotted with colorful bell peppers, garlic and spice add variety and color. They are crunchy, flavorful and fresh, brightening the rich meal.
RER 11.22.12
I can't say the turkey is always my favorite part of the meal or the accoutrement that I look most forward to. Turkey is just a platform, a subtle foundation to our Thanksgiving meal (in my mind that is), but this year, the brined and grilled turkey was delicious. It was smoky and moist, flavorful, but heightened the other flavors that danced on the dinner plate. This turkey was a success, and brining it shortened the cook time, which is always a plus when people are starving for the dinner of the year.

Unfortunately, some of my favorite Thanksgiving things are not shown, but check out my tumblr to see them. The corn pudding, which is a strange creamy, buttery rich, corn dish, that can pass as dessert, is probably at the top of my food list. This year I ventured to make it, and with mild modifications, it was as delicious as ever. The cinnamon and nutmeg make the side dish magical, as well as the cream style corn suspended in the custardy mixture. Another at the top of my list is the kind of sweet potato casserole that we make for every year, involving heavy amounts of brown sugar, rum, butter and marshmallows. This is a treat that reminds me of home and family, and it will be a tradition that follows into my Thanksgivings.
RER 11.22.12
And who doesn't like sweet endings? Why not end the meal with a meaty slice of pecan pie? Sweet and syrupy, but nutty and heavy at the same time, topped with a healthy scoop of cold vanilla ice cream. Sounds good to me. This year instead of making pumpkin or sweet potato pie, I made my popular pumpkin cupcakes, that turned out scrumptious once again. Their spicy sweetness reflects the fall flavors and all the aromas that make me feel like the holidays are around the corner.

I hope everyone had a super delicious, fun and food filled Holiday...counting blessings not calories.



drink2that: Sandy MANHATTAN

RER 10.30.12
RER 10.30.12
After growing tired of reading by candlelight (believe me, this is strenuous, on the eyes and the mind) and getting weary of worrying about water in the dark, my family turned to Manhattans. A classic drink, involving bourbon whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters, maraschino cherries and orange peel (though we skipped the orange because we did not have it).

The drink gets its name through either myth or fact, from its birth and popularity on the island of Manhattan in New York City. The myth, contrived of dinner parties for the elite in the 1870s, counters prior references to a similar drink, created in what we know as Lower Manhattan. [1]

This drink traditionally employed rye whiskey, or an American whiskey, but presently involves a bourbon whiskey more often than not.[2] Sweet vermouth, also comes in different shades, white or red, popular in cocktails but also as an apertif.[3] Bitters on the other hand, is a blend of herbs and spices. The particular brand we used was in fact, Angostura, which was developed in 1824 by Surgeon General Dr. Siegert.[4]

For one serving:

3/4 oz  sweet vermouth
2 1/2 oz bourbon whiskey
1 dash bitters  
1 maraschino cherry
1 twist orange peel

aka 1:2 ratio of sweet vermouth to whiskey

Check out a video here.

Because of the popularity and ease, Manhattans are the subject of a host of different varieties. Different ratios interplay with different liquors, and even different accents. Because of the superstorm Sandy, a new variation of the Manhattan was born, called the Sandy, which is a watered down Manhattan (how fitting).[5]
RER 10.30.12
I must say, I do not share my mother’s taste for Manhattans (though she admitted after this Sandy adventure, these drinks were loosing her favor). For some reason I’m not wild about the strong taste. All the flavors are very pronounced and relentless. To me there is no arch that brings my mouth back for more. Although there are various layers of flavor from the bitters to the very sweet vermouth, there is no rest or definition. The maraschino cherry is a nice addition and garnish, adding a burst of sweetness to compliment the sweetness in the bourbon whiskey and the vermouth. Though it is not enough to bring the whole drink to a level of comfort for me.

I preferred the next night of darkness’s drink, the easy breezy (though less classy), rum coke and Kahlua. Probably because it is sweeter and less harsh, easier on the tongue.

Making drinks is always fun in the dark.
RER 10.30.12

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_%28cocktail%29
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_%28cocktail%29
[3] http://www.drinksmixer.com/desc361.html
[4] http://www.angosturabitters.com/About
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_%28cocktail%29


MangiaMore: DEAD velvet cupcakes

RER 10.26.12
And the last contender of the Halloween Cupcake Wars (it may as well be Halloween 2013 at this point, sorry for the delay) is the illustrious, Dead Velvet. Dark red, haunting, mysterious and a southern classic.

You got it, this bloody red velvet cupcake was armed and ready for a fierce flavor battle with its two other competitors. As always, when baking red velvet (or blue velvet, depending on who my patron is), I turned to the queen of southern favorites, Paula Deen. There is no way to go wrong with this recipe of hers. I think it is simple and straightforward, with just enough room for interpretation and creativity. I have made the recipe what feels like a dozen times, and on each occasion the cake is moist and just flavorful enough to combat the strength of the tangy sweet cream cheese frosting.
RER 10.26.12
As the theme of this long, drawn-out battle, was Halloween, I decided to continue on with a dead motif, echoing the Graveyard cupcakes also in the running. To top the dark, bloody red cake, I imagined a black frosting to provide a stark contrast. To my amazement, the ease of finding black food coloring was astonishing at this spooky time of year (I had never even looked for black food coloring before, as blue or red were my top choices). Unfortunately, after adding drop after drop on top of drops of black food coloring, my creamy cream cheese frosting only became a dark slate grey. It was not the heavy black I was looking for, but the dark grey inspired the images of gravestones. Of course then, that was the direction I headed toward. Using the incorrect frosting tip on (ssshhhh) bought decorating frosting, I was able to scribble some haunting R.I.Ps, initials, and scary looking (in a funny, not a terrifying way) creatures.
RER 10.26.12
I must say, these monsters were pretty delicious. This time I added a smidge more cocoa powder than the legend prescribed, mostly because I wanted a touch more flavor to stand up to the bold frosting. And I also put in a little bit of almond extract, as well as just a little less of the vanilla extract. A happy accident (or lack of ingredient) caused an instantaneous attachment to almond extract in red velvet cake batter. The addition adds a nuttiness, which embellishes the chocolate flavors, while creating a harmonious contrast to the tangy cream cheese. With the welcomed modifications, I found a balance and my Dead Velvet cupcakes were a success (to taste, though aesthetically, not so much… must work on cake decorating skills).
RER 10.26.12
So now the moment of truth…. 

And the truth is… All three of the cupcakes were delicious, and disappeared like vampires when the sun comes out. Each was completely different and mildly surprising. The Candy Corn cupcake featured the spices and flavors we all attach to fall, while the Graveyard goodies had a moist surprise in the middle and strong edible decorative elements, and the Dead Velvet transformed a classic into something eerily delightful. They are all winners in my book, and tasted even better in the dark (thanks, Sandy). But with Thanksgiving just around the corner, looks like I will be giving those pumpkin cupcakes another shot.
RER 10.26.12


MangiaMore: GRAVEYARD cupcakes

RER 10.26.12
This Halloween (I know, I know, mid November is almost upon is...Sandy is to blame) cupcake was an experiment, not really any specific recipe that I stuck to, just a combination of different pieces from various recipes. I let my creativity go wild. I got worried that all the different elements made from different ingredients and tastes would be too varied and strange... but in the end it was so fun.

The elements
White cake
I decided that I wanted a blank canvas, so I could create a Halloween cupcake monster. That lead me to a plain vanilla white cake. When I was younger I was the cake queen and would make white cake with a host of different frostings. I looked for the old Betty Crocker recipe I used to use, but to no avail. But the trusty internet helped me find this one.
RER 10.26.12
I wanted to try filled cupcakes again, as last time they were decent (with plenty room for improvement). That time, I was working on Boston Cream cupcakes, and it was my first time making a custard, so I think that may have been the reason they did not turn out as well as I wanted. This time, I opted to make pudding as the filling. I got French Vanilla Pudding and put in red food coloring so it would be like "blood." I know it was kind of cheating (but I did make three different batches of cupcakes in one day).
RER 10.26.12
I love love love my version of buttercream (check out the frosting FoodFacts), which does not involve any cooking, but instead a whole lot of butter. I did not use a recipe, but I did look for a specific consistency and color. All it took was almost a stick of butter, powdered sugar, cocoa powder and maybe a little milk to loosen it up. I just added powdered sugar until it was smooth enough to spread. The frosting was meant to look like dirt in the spooky cupcake graveyard. I made it a light chocolate buttercream, opting for just a little bit of cocoa powder, for just enough color and flavor.

For it to be a graveyard there needs to be graves. At first I was going to try to make fondant, but then when perusing the grocery store, I stumbled on marzipan dough. I LOVE MARZIPAN. So my little bias decided that the almond paste dough would make for perfect tombstones, with just a little shaping and black food coloring. My creative Susie Homemaker, also wanted some grass to litter the graveyard atop the cupcake, red with blood and dead bodies. Green food coloring and some shredded coconut was just right!
RER 10.29.12
The crazy scary combination of French vanilla pudding, light chocolate notes, coconut, and almond, laden on a white cake foundation, was surprising and delicious. The filling spilled into the mouth, combining with all the other elements, and almost acted as a unifier. Even the edible decorations added textural and flavor interest. I really enjoyed dabbling in a more creative and imaginative cupcake, aesthetically and in taste.
RER 10.26.12


MangiaMore: CANDY CORN cupcakes

RER 10.26.12
In celebration of National Candy Corn Day (October 30... I know some of us missed out because of Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey and NYC were hit really hard by the storm, and areas will take a long time to recover, but the amount of sharing and outreach has been amazing.) and the fall season's flavors, I started this war with a spiced pumpkin cupcake, topped with salted caramel frosting, and decorated with the highly venerated Candy Corn and Autumn Mix.
RER 10.16.12

I really wanted to try something new and different (for me), while incorporating the classic, old school fall favorite Candy Corn (I also had a can of pumpkin in the pantry that was calling my name, loudly, especially after the FoodFact).
RER 10.26.12
I scoured the internet for pumpkin cupcake goodness, and stumbled on this recipe. The recipe for the cake part, is similar to many others that I found, but it was the salted caramel frosting that put me over the edge. So I had to try it! I was excited to see how the mixture of the savory and sweet would turn out....

RER 10.26.12
Even though I never made the recipe before, I did not have my usual nerves and apprehension. Maybe it was 8 am, after a midnight manicure and little sleep, or it was nerves for something else after a weird week, but the recipe went super smooth. I halved the batch (because I don't think we needed 6 dozen cupcakes in the house), but made a full batch of the frosting!
RER 10.26.12

These pumpkin cupcakes turned out absolutely delicious! They are savory because of the kind of earthy vegetable feeling of the pumpkin, and the salt layered in the frosting. And they are sweet because of the decadent caramel frosting and the honey mallow Candy Corn resting on top. But they are also spicy, because of all the fall flavors of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice that are embedded in the moist cake. The first bite is stunning, smooth, moist, tender with a little crunch from the large morsels of sea salt, so many different layers and tastes. Some how it turned out to be a well orchestrated symphony of spice, sweet and salt.
RER 10.26.12