One of the lovely things about having been involved in a cookware store and cooking school for the last decade is that food and cooking have been front and center of almost every workday conversation.
Even employees who came to the place pretty much indifferent to cooking would quickly develop an interest. They couldn't have avoided it even if they'd wanted to: when the rest of us weren't actually back in the kitchen cooking, we were talking about it - what we just made, what we were going to make - even, at times, what we were vowing never to make again.
Some of the best culinary exchanges happened around Thanksgiving.
Truth to tell, though, from what I've observed through the years, practically every workplace becomes a culinary forum at Thanksgiving, because this is a real cooks' holiday that's all about being grateful with food.
Yes, there's a feast at the heart of almost every holiday you can name, whether it be religious or secular. And most of them are actually an expression of gratitude. But not one of them can claim to have food at its heart in the way that Thanksgiving does.
Every fall at the kitchenware store, we'd start sharing our menus and recipe ideas early, discuss wine pairings, and exchange our tips and tricks for making the juiciest bird and ultimate gravy, mashed potatoes, dressing, cranberry sauce, and pie crust.
We'd grumble and commiserate when one of us wasn't going to be able to cook, or when someone's cooking was being constrained by a child who'd gone off to college and abandoned reason - along with gluten, dairy products, meat, and/or refined sugar.
And on the day itself, those conversations continued by way of our cell phones, which would become venues for some very lively culinary exchanges and, at times, a little bit of well-earned bragging. I very much hope those phone forums continue this year, since we'll no longer be together in the same place while we're getting ready for the big dinner.
Meanwhile, here are a few things that some of those cooking colleagues have shared from their own Thanksgiving tables. With them I offer a challenge: share your feast with your own co-workers, exchange ideas, recipes, tips, and encouragement.
In so doing, you just might find yourself adding a few more people and things for which you are grateful when you bow your head over your own Thanksgiving feast.
I know that I have.
Gina Caraviello's Spicy Rosemary Cashews
To my mind, these cashews are the perfect before dinner nibble. These come from friend and wonderfully creative cook Gina Caraviello, who says: "I've added other nuts to this flavor lineup. Pecans and cashews together are pretty awesome, too, or just the pecans, but cashews are the ones that seem to make it taste like Thanksgiving in a bite." She also advises to adjust the heat levels of the cayenne for the taste of whomever you're serving or gifting with them.
Makes 1 pound, serving 6-8
1 pound whole cashews, unsalted
3 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread cashews in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 5-8 minutes (based on cashew size picked) or until fragrant and lightly toasted.
2. Combine remaining ingredients in bowl. Mix well. Add warm cashews and toss to coat. Return coated cashews to baking sheet and bake for 5 to 8 more minutes. Toss again and let cool. Store in air tight container at room temperature for a week.
Grandma Rose Misiti's Mushrooms
Friend Paula Misiti Hall's Grandma Rose was a first generation Italian-American who was the culinary matriarch of their family. Her Thanksgiving menu was deeply influenced by her Italian heritage, something she passed along to her granddaughter. The menu always included these lovely mushrooms, and they're a perfect side for any Thanksgiving dinner, not only because they're delicious, but because they can be made the day before and reheated.
2 pounds white mushrooms
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
Celery hearts and tender inner leaves from one celery bunch
3 cloves garlic whole
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
1. Wash mushrooms by using a damp paper towel or a soft mushroom brush one at a time to remove any dirt. You can lightly rinse the mushrooms with cool water and pat dry but do not soak the mushrooms. Cut mushrooms into large chunks.
2. Warm butter and oil on medium heat in large skillet. As soon as butter melts add chopped onions, celery, garlic, and mushrooms. Toss to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss again to mix. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for about an hour, being sure to stir often. If they get too watery, remove cover, raise the heat, and stir until liquid evaporates.
Melanie's Green Bean Salad
From friend and ace cook Josh Gannam, whose blog page "The Hungry Southern Wanderer" always makes me both hungry and restless. This is his mother Melanie Marks' recipe. He says it has become a tradition on their family's Thanksgiving table since it is welcome even when the temperatures on Thanksgiving Day climb above 80 degrees.
For the salad:
1 Â½ to 2 pounds green beans, snapped and cut into about 2 inch pieces
1/2 purple onion, thinly sliced into half moons
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
For the Dressing:
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove minced (or run along a microplane) or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried dill
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
1. Steam green beans or blanch in large pot of salted boiling water until crisp-tender (no one likes mushy green beans), about 2-6 minutes, depending on beans, and allow to cool or shock them in basin of cold water.
2. Combine dressing ingredients in mason jar, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, screw cap on, and shake vigorously to blend.
3. In a large bowl combine salad ingredients: green beans, purple onion, pecans, and feta. Add dressing and toss to coat. Let sit for at least 1 hour, or up to a day, refrigerated. Taste for seasoning before serving chilled or at room temp.
Weitz Family Challah and Cornbread Dressing
From friend and fabulous baker Lauren Weitz Fins comes this old-fashioned dressing that combines the family's Jewish and Southern heritage. Lauren and her mother sometimes add apples, dried cranberries, and/or pecans, but this is the basic recipe. Feel free to make it your own by adding any or all of those things, or by adding crumbled sausage, oysters, or bacon.
4 cups of cubed challah
4 cups of cubed cornbread
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 sweet onions, diced
4 celery ribs, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups chicken stock
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Grease a large baking dish and set aside. Spread out bread cubes onto baking sheets and bake for about an hour, or until dried out. Let bread cool, put into a large bowl. Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add onions and celery. Cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.
3. Add vegetables to bread. Pour 1 1/2 cups of stock into a bowl and stir in seasonings. Pour stock mixture over bread, toss gently, and set aside to cool. Whisk remaining stock with eggs and add to bread. Fold gently until combined. Pour into greased baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 20-30 minutes.
Fowler-Hall Clan Cranberry Relish
This has been a part of my own Thanksgiving table for as long as I can remember, so it was a delight to find that it was part of the holiday traditions of every family I've been adopted into through the years. It's the perfect relish for turkey, game, and roast pork, and its lively, fresh flavor is such a nice foil to the heavy fare that usually surrounds it at Thanksgiving. We even eat it on our toast in my house.
The best thing about it is that it has to be made a day ahead, and is even better if it's made 3-4 days ahead, so it's one less thing to have to worry about when you're watching the clock on Thanksgiving Day.
Makes about 4 cups
1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries
1 large navel orange or 1-1/2 small oranges
1 large, or 1-1/2 small, tart red apples such as Winesaps or Arkansas Blacks
1-1/4 cups sugar
1. Wash all fruit and dry well. Pick over cranberries and discard any soft or blemished berries. Peel oranges, reserving peelings. Slice oranges crosswise into Â¼-inch slices and seed them. Quarter and core apples.
2. Cut orange peel, orange, and apples into chunks roughly same size as berries. Put orange skin and flesh, apple, and berries in a food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse until uniformly chopped fine. Add sugar and pulse to mix. Transfer to a glass or stainless steel bowl, cover, and refrigerate 24 hours before using. Stir before serving, and serve cold.
Barbara's Sour Cream Pound Cake
Friend and fabulous baker Barbara Freeman spent most of her days at the kitchenware store at her desk in the back, managing the books and keeping the store stocked. When she did come out into the kitchen, amazing aromas were soon filling the store. We all still dream about this cake.
Makes 1 10-12-inch tube cake
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
3 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 pint (8 ounces) sour cream
1 box (1 pound) confectioners' sugar
About 1-1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour standard tube (angel food cake) pan (10-12-inch diameter/6-inch deep).
2. Cream butter and sugar well. Add eggs one at a time. Combine flour and soda and add alternately with sour cream to butter and egg mixture. Pour into prepared pan and bake 1 Â¾ to 2 hours, or until tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for about 10 minutes before inverting onto a plate and removing pan.
3. If liked, blend confectioners' sugar with enough lemon juice to make smooth and spreadable. Spread over cake while warm. (Cake is also wonderful without frosting.)