I looked toward Per Se’s blue door and -- whoa! -- my eyes landed on a thick wall of green, one side of a secret garden that’s been erected as an entrance before Per Se’s entrance. Frank Bruni examines Per Se's garden, including how you get things such as lemon trees and pineapples to grow in a mall. I've seen the garden in person, and it's lovely, if a bit odd and unexpected.

A slideshow of favorite cookies, as selected by editors of Gourmet. Includes recipes, for those inclined to make some.

Making a gingerbread house

Photo by Flickr user Baslow
photo by Flickr user baslow

I'm going to be making my first solo gingerbread house this holiday season, and I'm really looking forward to it. The last one I "made" with my mom back in the early 1980s. The highlight was the trip to the candy store to get all the decorations. As I recall, it turned out lovely (alas I don't have pictures) and we all ooohed and ahhed around it for days. Then my mother packed it up for storage in the attic until the next Christmas. The following year, when we when upstairs to get it, we found the box open. Inside, we spied the house with huge chunks missing, pieces of candy broken off, walls destroyed. It was a ruin! Did a mouse get in there? Maybe a raccoon? What animal culprit was to blame? No animal, it turned out, only my little brother. My six-year-old brother with a sweet tooth so insatiable he spent the summer hiding in the attic, eating a rotten old gingerbread house.

So this year I'm doing my own, and will store it far away from my brother's greedy hands. He's coming to my house for Christmas, but I'll be keeping a close eye on him! I've got a design in mind, and a decorating scheme, but I'm looking for a great gingerbread recipe. Something that won't shrink too much and create firm walls. Any suggestions? And of course, I'd love any tips you may have to share.

How to Eat Fewer Pesticides A new wallet-size Shoppers' Guide can show you how. [via Lifehacker]

These types of bills aren't about foie gras as much as they are about animal cruelty. Kate then asks some questions that we should consider when trying to legislate against animal cruelty. She exactly nails what bothers me about the recent spate of foie gras legislation.

Frisee. Such a space-taker on the plate, so hard to pick up with a fork, and even harder to get gracefully into your mouth. I sort of hate frisee. There, I said it. I have to agree with Rebecca on this one. It's not a taste thing, it's a usability thing. I'd much rather eat mâche or arugula.

Heidi's got a nice travelogue from a recent trip to Puglia, Italy. Sounds like she was attending a conference focusing on the cuisine and culture of the region. Dear food world: I'd like to attend a conference in Italy focusing on the cuisine and culture of the region. My schedule is open. Just tell me when to show up!

Jones Soda Co., looking for a marketing advantage, is making the switch to pure cane sugar from high fructose corn syrup as a soda sweetener. Yum. Though I'm not a big soda drinker, when I do drink it, I prefer sodas sweetened with real sugar. It's so much yummier, and it's why I love Mexican Coke but never touch the American version. [via Girlhacker]

Eight hours into cooking the dish, I now realise Heston Blumenthal is a devil. He has taken a fairly straightforward recipe and endowed it with every possible fiendish element of complexity he could devise. The humorous and time-consuming experience of making Blumenthal's Black Forest gateau.

Photo: Julie Dennis BrothersLooking for a delicious holiday cake? This Peppermint Fudge Cake will have everyone raving. I made it a few years ago for the family for Christmas and it was a huge hit. Filled with a layer of airy peppermint mousse (made from white chocolate, whipping cream, sour cream, and peppermint candies), and enrobed in chocolate ganache, it's a decadent holiday dessert. Mmmm...I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!

It takes a bit of practice to roll sushi perfectly, so don’t worry if you don’t get it right on the first try! A great guide to how to roll maki sushi. I made maki once at home and it was delicious, though my rolls were kind of deformed. I should try again. [via Lifehacker]

A foie secret

Foie biteI have a terrible secret to reveal: ever since Battle Foie Gras, the smell of foie gras grosses me out! I thought it was just temporary, owing to too much handling of the liver during the four day preparation of the torchon. It does have a strong scent that really permeated my kitchen, and the dishtowels I used smelled so bad that even after two washes, I ended up chucking them in the trash! When I ate the torchon, I had a little trouble with the smell, so I tried not to inhale and just attempted to enjoy it as usual. It mostly worked. And I figured it would pass.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving afternoon, when my family and I stood around the appetizer table to enjoy veggies and dip, shrimp cocktail, and some lovely terrines of foie gras from Bouchon Bakery. (I wasn't going to make that torchon again so soon!). As I lifted the first beautifully spread bite to my mouth, the scent hit me. And it wasn't good. After two bites, I was done. Can it be my love affair with foie gras ends thusly? Or will time heal all wounds and soon I'll crave it again? At this point, I don't know. But I'm sad.

On the verge of introducing legislation tomorrow that would ban foie gras from city restaurants and food markets, a city council member decided to pull in the reins and investigate the matter further. Good to hear. [via Eater]

Post-Thanksgiving Pie Report

Pumpkin Pie going into its shell

Placing the crust on my pieEvery Thanksgiving, my grandmother and I make two pies: apple and pumpkin. This year I wanted to try something a little different with the apple pie. Much reading and eating has led me to conclude that a great way to get more complex flavors out of an ingredient is to blend varieties. E.g. pureeing butternut and acorn for a more robust squash. Several pie recipes recommended using two fats (I'd always used just one) to achieve a depth of flavor and flakiness for the crust. So after I spotted Karen Barker's Basic Pie Crust at Ed Levine's site, I knew I had one to try.

Folks I am here to report this is THE BEST PIE CRUST EVER!!!!!

Unbaked Apple PieAs a Former Professional Pie Baker, I have made many many pie crusts, using lard, Crisco, and butter. And Karen Baker's Crisco and butter combination produces the nicest crust I've ever had the pleasure to work with. The magic started long before I ate it. Simply combining the ingredients (she said to use the food processor but I just used my hands), I ended up with a crumbly mixture that pulled together almost instantly when I added a small amount of water. After chilling, I rolled it out and was astounded at how easily and quickly it rolled into a perfect round. No tearing. No breaking or crumbling. It rolled out, I lifted it up, and I put it in the pie pan. After I added some apples, I did the same for the top. Did I say it didn't even break a teeny tiny bit?

I can't really explain how well this crust worked -- it was a pleasure it was to make a pie with it! And then the taste: flaky and light, almost melt-in-the-mouth. While I've tasted better crusts in my day (not that this wasn't really good), it was the ease of preparation plus crust flavor that makes this a hands-down winner. I will never use another crust recipe again. And I'm going to be making a lot more pies from now on. No more once-a-year pies for me. More like once-a-week!

Snack reports Alan Gerson, NYC downtown councilman, is introducing a ban on foie gras this week. She shares a letter with a lot of information about foie gras and lists addresses and ways you can take action. Don't let New York turn into Chicago!

Sadly it's that time of year again. At some point in the next few days, I'll be making my final trip of 2006 to the Shake Shack for my last Shack burger and black and white shake. With the weather being as warm as it is, perhaps they'll consider staying open longer? That could be a plus of global warming: a longer Shack Shake season.

Lauren from New York writes to report:

Just wanted to send a feedback report on the White Castle stuffing recipe. I just tried it for Thanksgiving and served it to my husband and in-laws. They loved it! It really was delicious - kind of like a sausage-style stuffing, but without the complex spiciness. My husband's now asking me when I plan on making it again! Definitely give it a try!

Excellent, I'm glad to hear it was successful!

And so ends the Thanksgiving Spectacular of 2006. I didn't get in all the links I could have -- heck, I neglected nearly every major newspaper's coverage of the holiday! The New York Times will probably have more stuff tomorrow in their Dining & Wine section, to cap off three weeks of Thanksgiving coverage they're doing this year. And I didn't even discuss wine choices for your meal. But there's only so much one gal can do in a week. Next year I'll get started sooner (maybe) so that I can provide more coverage. I hope you found something useful in all of it.

I'll be off for the rest of the week, enjoying time with my family out in the country. I'll be making an apple pie and a pumpkin pie with my grandmother tomorrow. I'll be taking walks in the woods, and hopefully I'll make a nice wreath out of dried vines and berries. And I'll be eating turkey and stuffing and lots of tasty sides, and enjoying shrimp cocktail. That's our family's traditional appetizer on Thanksgiving, and boy am I look forward to it. I hope you have a wonderful day with your family and friends, and I'll see you back here next Monday. Safe travels to all.

I cooked the perfect turkey, now how do I carve it? Martha to the rescue with Turkey Carving 101! There's even a video, in case you're really stuck.

An Ex-Pat Thanksgiving

I've written a lot during this Thanksgiving Spectacular about cooking for yourself and your loved ones. But what if you find yourself in a far-off land for the holiday? How do you enjoy an ex-pat Thanksgiving? The much-loved and sorely-missed R.W. Apple, Jr. writes about Thanksgiving in Paris. I spent Thanksgiving in Paris in 2002, but now searching for my write-up, I discovered I never wrote about it. So you'll have to make due to with There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, or my Thanksgiving in Saigon last year.

If you find yourself far from home this Thursday, I hope you find a way to celebrate wherever you are. Usually an English-language bookstore will have information about ex-pat get-togethers and ways to celebrate the holidays. Of course, you don't need to eat turkey to be thankful. It's really about taking the time to pause and reflect, and you can do that just about anywhere in the world.

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