Thanksgiving Lunch

I’ve been in the here in the States for more than two years now, and I think it’s a bit of a disgrace that I only just had pumpkin pie for the first time. I’m not sure why I resisted before, but here I am, about to give my first every proper grown-up lunch, for Thanksgiving, pumpkins and all. Well, actually, it’s a bring-a-dish-kind of thing, so not as scary, but still… I thought I’d share the things I learned from the day and show a few of the hastily-taken pictures, which do not do justice to all the lovely food people brought along. We had pies, zesty cranberry sauce, amazing biscuits/savoury scones, homemade beer and hazelnut and caramelized onion butternut squash, yum.

 

THE MENU

DRINKS:

Hot apple cider (don’t ask what happened here, a beautiful SIX CUP pot of spicy cider completely untouched, because I forgot that I had made it!)

Rosemary, gin and Cava cocktail, as above. Might I add that this picture does not do the cocktail justice, I found it on Jo Goddard’s blog, A Cup of Jo, and it is perfect if you want something light, a bit naughty (we are talking gin and champagne here), with levers for those who like sweet (rosemary syrup) and those who like it sour (lemon juice). The fresh rosemary garnish finishes it off beautifully. Some may turn up their nose at pre-mixing, but I mixed a whole jug’s worth and it kept nice and fizzy for a couple of hours and there was no faffing around with making individual drinks.

FOOD

Main:

Lemon, proscuitto and thyme-butter flavoured roast chicken, from Jamie Oliver’s recipe.

Brussel sprouts with bacon and chestnuts

Roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips, again adapted from Jamie Oliver’s roasted vegetable medley recipe

Broccolli with lemon and garlic

Hazelnut and mushroom stuffing, in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have made this as it was too similar to the veggie nutloaf below and a tad dry, but still a handy stuffing recipe

Lentil and cashew veggie nutloaf: more delicious and tangy that it sounds, you will never feel like the cheated vegetarian guest again! Cheese, breadcrumbs, toasted cashews and lots of yummy veggies bound together.

SWEET

 

Pumpkin and coconut pie: what a lovely twist on the classic I found on 101cookbooks, where evaporated milk is replaced with – I think the superior – coconut milk. I must say I would have liked a bit more of a Bounty moment with a hit of coconut, so when I make this again, I shall ramp it up and perhaps top it with toasted coconut shavings.

Tarte Tatin (which I am not brave enough to make yet, bought in and damn good!)

Blackberry Galette. This is a fantastic dessert, because you can do practically all the prep a couple of days before, make the pastry, make the frangipane filling and then on the day, roll out and bake. I did change the original baking instructions, by blind baking first alone, and then filling with frangipane and berries.

Pecan Pie. What’s there not to love about pecan pie? It is sweet, and you will go into a coma if you have too much, but we tempered this with whipped cream, so no worries. I have found a really good, robust recipe, where you blind bake a paté brisée shell and fill with a mixture of sugar, corn syrup(!), butter, water, eggs and pecans.

Conclusion: The lunch went well, and I think everyone went home full! The moral of this tasty tale is that you can prepare an awful lot of things beforehand:

-toast any nuts, chop them and keep them sealed. I also toasted the bread for my stuffing and stored it in a plastic bag.

-make simple syrups, cordials for cocktails, prepare garnishes

– make biscuits or cookies like macarons which will keep fine in the freezer

-make pie dough, I used paté brisée for the pumpkin and pecan pie. Granted, that the pastry had an off-gray hue when I was rolling it out the next day, but hopefully that was some weird oxidization going on, rather than anything more sinister…

-make things like frangipane, which keeps for up to a week in the fridge

Then the day before:

-we made the proscuitto/lemon/thyme butter, which isn’t difficult at all, but requires lots of faffing around with lemon zest etc, so good to have it all done.

– made the actual pecan and pumpkin pies and let them sit in the fridge, uncovered, overnight (DO NOT leave this as the last thing that you do, otherwise, like me, you’ll end up half asleep in a freezing kitchen, window open, trying to cool the just-cooked pies down, not the best thing!)

– washed, chopped and peeled most of the veg (not potatoes), ready to be cooked the next day

Tips:

– well, as above shows, planning all the stages of the recipes and how much you can do in advance really helps

– don’t worry too much, it’s not going to be perfect, it’s not a sit-down dinner for two

– remember what drinks you have and serve them!

Pittsburgh: Pamela’s Diner

Pamela’s Diner just won the Pittsburgh’s City Paper’s no. 1 breakfast venue and even the President is a fan. There are several locations, and rumour has it that the Strip District location is the best. I went to the Shadyside location, but will definitely try and make it to the Strip soon.


It’s always busy outside the restaurant, with people waiting out on the street. The menu is a mix of pancakes, waffles, various egg dishes, sandwiches and salads and inside, it’s buzzingly busy, with harrassed wait stuff flying around. One of their specialities is hotcakes, which are almost as thin as crepes, folded, filled with different fruit or chocolate.

I had to try the hotcakes, and went for banana and walnut. They really are delicious, but the frying in butter made them too heavy after a while, I couldn’t get through the generous portion.  I also had the waffles(!), which were fantastic, light, fluffy and crisp on the outside, no fanfare, just topped with powdered sugar and strawberries, yum.

I didn’t get a chance to try the omelets, but did have a bite of a friend’s fried egg dish, which was good.

Overall, a fun and relaxed dining experience with friendly, if busy, staff. Probably best to go during the week. The food is generous, tasty and pretty heavy, but after all, that’s what you’re going for.

Fafra

Country of origin: India

My aunt who taught me how to bake, makes these fafra every year and sends us some. They are crisp, crunchy, chilli-but-lemony snacks that are delicious with a cup of tea!

3 cups plain flour/all purpose flour

1 cup besan/chickpea flour

2 tbsp of neutral oil that will be in corporated into the dough

Oil for deep frying

1 tbsp butter

1 tsp green chilli, chopped

1 tsp ginger, chopped

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sesame seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp red chilli powder

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

A pinch of bicarbonate of soda/baking soda

2 tbsp fresh corriander, chopped finely

Sprinkling powder:

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp red chilli powder

1/4 tsp citric acid powder

The recipe is very simple, mixing most of the ingredients together to form a dough, and then after chilling to firm it up, it is rolled thinly and cut into shape.


Chop the butter into small pieces and add the oil to a large bowl. Then add all the other ingredients in the first list. Crumble the butter until the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs and add lukewarm water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together. Wrap in cling film and chill for an hour in the fridge. In the meanwhile, you can make the sprinking salt, simply mix together the ingredients in a small bowl.

Once the dough is chilled, divide it into little balls (I did six) and keep the ones you are not using wrapped up. Roll the dough out between two sheets of clingfilm, or if you’re brave enough, straight onto a rolling board/tabletop, with a little flour. Roll until it’s thin enough to see through if you hold it up, I think only a couple of milimetres thick (otherwise it won’t be crunchy enough when fried).

Cut into small rectangle shapes (actually there’s no reason why they have to be rectangles, they can be any shape you fancy!), the dimensions I used were roughly (2.5 x 5 cm rectangles, or 1 x 2 inches) Repeat the rolling and cutting for all the dough, ensuring that you keep the cut fafra covered to avoid them drying out and cracking.

Heat up some neutral oil for deep frying and fry in batches of five or six fafra at a time for about a minute on each side, or until golden brown and crunchy. When they are all cooked – you’ll get about 80 (2.5 x 5 cm rectangles, or 1 x 2 inches) – sprinkle with the citric acid powder mixture and eat! Store in an airtight tin for up to a month.

Petit Fours

Country of origin: France

Petit fours, petit fours, what’s not to love? Yes, they are cutes-y, and a pain to make, but you can eat ten and not feel bad. Really though, if you haven’t had dessert and want something little and sugary with coffee, these hit the spot.

I can’t wait to build up a catalogue of petit fours, but to start with, I made mini boat-shaped fruit tarts, chocolate eclairs, cream puffs and chocolate macarons.

The pastry for the tarts was from Ladurée’s Sucre book, and the pastry cream from Annie Rigg’s Macarons book. Each tart was topped with a teeny slice of strawberry, a blueberry and a raspberry. Of course, these would have been delicious with grapes, banana slices, orange segments or kiwis as well. I didn’t glaze them.

The chocolate macarons gave me a lot of trouble, I rushed and put them in the oven when they were slightly tacky and did I pay! A whole tray of shells completely cracked. Lesson learned! I also found that they had a slightly oily look about them, and apparently, according to this excellent trouble-shooting site, it may be due to oily almonds. They suggest drying out the ground almonds in the oven before use. The macarons that I could salvage were sandwiched together with the same chocolate pastry cream used to fill the mini eclairs.

The eclairs were choux pastry and I found a new way of cooking them, following the Laduree’s recipe: Cooking at 350 F/177 C for ten minutes, but then opening the oven door a crack and letting them bake for another twenty minutes, to allow the steam to escape.

After the choux pastry has come out of the oven, cool a bit and then using a pastry tip, make a hole in the bottom. You can fill eclairs with fresh cream, but I used pastry cream (recipe from Macarons) and added some chopped dark chocolate to taste.

Topping the mini eclairs with melted chocolate fondant was really tricky and I need to practice more to get a clean finish. I made fondant with icing/powdered sugar and water, quite thick, and then added some cocoa powder until I was happy with the colour. I then heated it up in the microwave in ten-second blasts to get it soft and runny enough to run off a teaspoon onto the teeny filled eclairs. I had some spare choux pastry left, so piped some little buns, and filled these with sweetened whipped cream.

Samosas

Country of origin: The Middle East

Samosas are one of my favourite starters/snacks/sometimes dinners. A tasty, crispy triangle of pastry that can be filled with almost anything you like: peas, lentils, meat, potatoes… Pastry is rolled out thinly, partially cooked and then stuffed with filling and sealed. These little parcels are then deep fried or baked (I personally think that if you’re going to go down the road of making these guys, you may as well fry them; they taste better!). They are easy to make, but there are a lot of steps. They can definitely be made in advance and thrown (carefully) into the freezer.

Ingredients: Samosa pastry

110 grams cake flour

1 tablespoon lemon juice (I used bottled)

Freshly boiled water

Ingredients: magic flour glue

3 tbsp all pupose/plain flour

Water (enough to make a smooth, glue-like paste when mix with the flour)

Ingredients: spicy pea filling

200g/2 cups frozen peas

Fresh chopped garlic/ginger and green chilli to taste (between 1/2 tsp and 1 tsp of each)

About 1/2 tsp of salt, turmeric powder, cumin powder and corriander powder

Pinch of mustard seeds

1/2 tbsp lemon juice

Pinch of sugar

Ingredients: halloumi and spinach filling

1/2 block of halloumi cheese, grated

1/2 bag of spinach leaves

I made two types: a spicy pea filling and halloumi cheese and spinach. The first thing to do is to prepare the filling: I blitzed frozen peas in a processor, then cooked them very lightly in a little oil and mustard seeds. To this mixture I added dried turmeric, cumin, corriander, red chilli powder and salt, as well as fresh ginger, garlic and green chilli, all to taste. After about five minutes of cooking, add lemon juice and a pinch of sugar. You can then mix in about a quarter of a finely chopped onion, for some texture.

The halloumi cheese was grated and squeezed to get rid of as much water as possible. Wilt some spinach in a pan and squeeze like crazy, then mix the two together:

Before you start with the samosa pastry, you can also make any sauces or chutneys to eat with the samosas. Below is a carrot-and-ketchup chutney that is simply grated carrot and ketchup, mixed with red chilli powder, salt and cumin (I have no idea where this recipe came from!). You can also make a delicious and tangy corriander chutney by blitzing fresh corriander, garlic, ginger, chilli, salt and lemon juice.

The pastry: Make the dough by mixing the flour with the lemon juice, then gradually add boiling water bit by bit until you have a soft and pliable dough.

Divide this dough into 12 pieces and roll into little balls. Roll each of these into small circles, as below, about 8cm/3 inches in diameter.

When you have rolled all the little pieces into this size, rub a neutral oil on one side of each of the circles and dust that side in flour, then sandwich two circles together. You’ll have roughly 6 sandwiches.

Now the hard part! Roll each of these sandwiches very thinly until they are about 16cm/6 inches in diameter.

The pastry is now partially cooked: On an oil-less pan, cook the pastry like you would a tortilla, only a minute or so on each side on a medium heat, until they look like this:

Peel the two layers of your sandwich apart quickly (you’re getting help from the steam while they are still hot) and cover with a clean tea towel.

Cut them half, so you’ll have roughly 24 semi circles, each of which will be a samosa wrapper.

Now the bunny-folding technique:

1 Lay the semi circle, cooked-side up on a flat surface:

2 Fold the right side inwards:

3 Fold the left side inwards:

Turn around and hold as in the picture, so that your hand is supporting the cone. Fill with a teaspoon, taking care to get the filling all the way to the bottom of the cone, but not ripping the delicate pastry:

Seal the two ears and then the third corner with the magic water-and-flour glue (press gently to ensure it sticks):

Cooking: Fry in hot oil (around 300 F) until golden brown, three of four samosas at a time, and drain on kitchen paper: