Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_BOOZE_FI_001

I’m coming up on a milestone birthday (it rhymes with shmenty-five) and I’ve been doing some deep thinking and metaphor-exploring about this decade in a person’s life.

If the college years were a plastic bottle of Vladimir—painful but functional—then I’d say the mid-twenties have improved a little to Absolut. Specifically, though, they’re the last ounce left of a bottle of marshmallow-flavored Absolut in my old freezer. My roommate and I have no idea where it came from, or to what particular gathering it was towed, by whom. Nor do we quite like the flavor. But hey, it’s free, I guess. MORE

Holiday TM_HL_MINCE_FI_001

Being half-British comes with its fair share of cross-cultural personality quirks. Most of them are minimal and usually go unnoticed, but during the holiday season certain traits and affinities become more pronounced, particularly when it comes to my cooking and eating habits.

The weeks leading up to Christmas are spent assembling the usual array of annual holiday snacks. We nibble on flaky sausage rolls, soft almondy Bakewell tarts and cup after cup of tea as we plan the menu for Christmas dinner. Once the type of roast has been determined, and side dishes are designated, our minds turn to the last course. When it comes to quintessential British desserts, I can take or leave a Christmas cake or figgy pudding. It’s the traditional mince pies that I look forward to the most. MORE

Holiday TM_HL_CHBALL_FI_001

’Tis the season for neighborhood treat exchanges, family get-togethers, and New Year’s celebrations. And so comes the yearly appetizer conundrum. Appetizer spreads have become a competition as we all try to out-hor-d’oeuvre one another. Each year, we try to bring something a little more sophisticated and spectacular to the party. But whatever happened to the classics? Why re-invent the wheel? That’s why, this holiday season, I’m going old-school. I am making cheese balls. (Please, hold your gasps of horror!)

It would not be a Lamoureux Christmas without a cheese ball. Even though some may see the cheese ball as the quintessential cheesy (if you will), retro (but not in a good way) appetizer, I look forward to the annual cheese ball gracing our table at Christmas. So it perplexes me why everyone snickers at cheese balls when they hold such a fond place in my heart.
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The Larder TM_TL_COOKIES_FI_001

There is no holiday tradition I love more than the baking and sharing of cookies. Most of the year, I do my best to keep the sweet treats at bay, but during December, all bets are off. I make at least half a dozen varieties and hand them out to my friends, neighbors, and family members.

My first cookie of the season is always a basic roll-out sugar cookie. The recipe comes from an old family friend. It’s easy to make, can stand up to repeated rolling, and holds its shape during baking. I like to decorate them with a simple shake of colored sugar or sprinkles, but the truly ambitious can employ frosting as well.
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DIY TM_DY_CANES_FI_001

Q: What do Tom Green, the Hoover Dam, and candy canes all have in common?
A: They’ve all been the subject of false rumors, perpetuated thanks to the Internet.

So for the record, Tom Green didn’t dress up as Hitler at a bar mitzvah, the Hoover Dam doesn’t have bodies of workers buried inside, and candy canes? Oh, where do I begin. Perhaps with a warning: other than grappling with a particularly divine-tasting edible, a column about foodstuffs isn’t normally the place to tackle religion. Today it is, because the candy cane and Christmas are as intertwined as the stick’s red and white stripes.
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The Brew TM_BR_XMAS13_FI_001

Ah, the holidays. They’re a special time for giving thanks, giving gifts, and enjoying the company of loved ones. Oh, and they’re also a time for spiked egg nog, champagne, mulled cider, punch bowls, Manischewitz, and birthday shots for Jesus. There’s nothing quite like alcohol to keep your bones warm, your disposition cheery, and your get-togethers enjoyable. And when it comes to holiday drinking options, nobody has you covered like the beer industry. At this time of year, beer stores are packed with rows and rows of bottles with seasonably corny labels representing a broad spectrum of different styles. You’ll see anything from pitch black imperial stouts to mahogany-hued abbey-style quadrupels to bright golden IPAs. At first glance, it’s hard to find any common ground among these beers, but in fact, they are all variations on a tradition that’s deeply rooted in the holiday spirit.
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Bookshelf, Thanksgiving

Choosing Sides

Make your side dishes the best part of your Thanksgiving meal

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TM_BK_CHSIDES_AP_001 We all know that Thanksgiving is a turkey-centric holiday, but I don’t think I’m speaking an untruth when I say that for most of us, it’s a meal that’s really more about the side dishes than the main event. Truly, it’s stuffing, potatoes, green beans, and casseroles that make this annual meal feel both special and festive.

Cookbook author Tara Matazara Desmond knows that it’s really the side dish that makes the meal, and has recently published a book celebrating the things we serve along with our mains. Called Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal, this book features side dishes for every occasion.

Whether you’re searching for something special to join a brunch menu or you’re simply on the hunt for some new flavors to enhance a weeknight regular, this book is here to serve as useful guide for home cooks who are stuck in a rut and need a few new ideas.
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Planet of the Grapes TM_PG_TKWINE_FI_002

I’ve been thinking a lot about Greatness in food and wine this year. Mostly about how overrated and irrelevant the idea of Greatness usually is when it comes to what we eat and drink. Take Thanksgiving dinner. If we look at the actual dishes served, Thanksgiving would rarely be considered a five-star meal. And who really cares?

The truth, in most families, is this: Thanksgiving is a team effort, prepared by cooks of varying abilities, and which appeals to a common denominator of taste. No matter how far in a foodie direction you want to push the meal, some relative is going to bring a green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup, or the sweet potatoes with the marshmallows, or the canned cranberry sauce. Deal with it. Thanksgiving is big and inclusive enough for everyone. With the Thanksgiving meal, as with so many other things in life, it is simply better to be good than great.
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Thanksgiving TM_FF_ANTIPMPK_FI_002

Rallying against the overabundance of “pumpkin” flavored and scented items that fill our coffee-shop menus and store shelves is like worrying about Miley Cyrus’s future or whether you left the oven on when you’re on vacation: it might feel important, but you can’t do anything about it. By now, we all know that many of the “pumpkin” treats marketed at us don’t have any actual pumpkin in them, right? Rather, “pumpkin” has become shorthand for a comforting combination of seasonal spices. I get it. Saying “pumpkin” or “pumpkin spice” is easier than “cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and maybe some allspice latte.”

So, if telling you that there’s no pumpkin in a lot of pumpkin-spice stuff is akin to telling you there’s no Santa Claus, is informing you that there was no actual pumpkin pie at the first Thanksgiving like telling you that the Easter Bunny is fake too? While the pumpkin is indigenous to North America and they likely had a pumpkin dish at the first Thanksgiving, they didn’t have the wheat to make the crusts at the time.

Rather, the pumpkin and the pumpkin pie are American nostalgia foods – and they’ve been that for a long time. MORE

Madame Fromage TM_MF_TRIPLE_FI_001

If there’s a cheese pairing associated with Valentine’s, it’s a glass of bubbly and a wedge of triple crème. Lovers who fall for this luxe combo tend to think of it as a supremely naughty indulgence – the apex of dairy gluttony. After all, “triple crème” suggests three times the fat of regular cheese.

Like Cupid, that’s a myth. Let me spread some beautiful truth: a hunk of hard cheese, like Pecorino or Parm, actually contains more fat by the pound than a wedge of runny Brie. That’s because there’s more moisture in soft cheese, meaning: more water. Hard cheese, on the other hand, is low in moisture and high in fat, making it far more decadent. MORE

Food Culture

New Year’s, North and South

How what we eat symbolizes our hopes for the months ahead

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Typically, I plan party food according to two basic rules: one, make it delicious, and two, present it in a discrete form that can be picked up and brandished in the course of energetic conversation without spraying crumbs or dip everywhere. But for New Year’s Eve, which I usually spend with a close cadre of friends, I am willing to break the rules for lucky foods. New Year’s style so often seems to highlight glitter and glamor: sparkling beverages, spangle and shine on the clothes, twinkling lights—but the food is down-home, humble but filling and delicious. I simmer black-eyed peas to creaminess with a ham hock in a slow cooker. I leave the pork out of the collard greens in case of vegetarian guests, but I caramelize the onions with a smoky salt and deglaze with wine to make this humble green a little more dressy for the occasion. Soft, round  rolls and the various offerings of other guests finish off the meal. Napkins are required. When we eat, I recite a litany cobbled together from memory and the Internet: the green folds of collards represent paper money and prosperity; the pork is a nod to the forward progress of the pig, who can’t walk backward; the black-eyed peas are looking to the future. MORE

Planet of the Grapes TM_BZ_SPARKL_FI_002

Though I absolutely love champagne and prosecco and cava, the idea of sparkling-wine cocktails always has vexed me. I mean, if we’re really being honest, how many champagne-based cocktails truly are better than a lovely glass of champagne all by itself?

Just look at the classic namesake, the Champagne Cocktail, found in most bartenders’ guides: Into a champagne flute goes a sugar cube. Douse it with a few drops of Angostura bitters, then fill the glass with champagne. Maybe toss in a lemon peel. MORE

Conflicted Kitchen TM_CK_HAPPS_FI_001

Let me be explicit about the conflict that informs my “Conflicted Kitchen” column here: I love food – making it and thinking about it and reading about it and eating it – but I hate gaining weight.

They say the average person gains 3 to 7 seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years. One holiday season, I managed to put on 17 pounds in 21 days. This feat is easier than you might think. That year, there were cookie binges so intense that I ate every available Christmas cookie my mother had baked for the family and went on to pillage the neatly ribboned gift bags of treats she made for other people. MORE