Monday, November 30, 2009

Et tu, Willams-Sonoma?

I don't enjoy cooking, ordinarily, but when the holidays arrive I get all excited about the recipes that are presented in the foodie magazines and catalogs. Indeed, as I paused last Wednesday to allow a line of shiny Mercedes, groaning under their weight of groceries, lumber out of the Foods of all Nations parking lot, I felt suffused with good will toward all mankind. It was time to cook!

This year for Thanksgiving I decided to try a new stuffing, which, in the scheme of our Thanksgiving tradition, is like committing to wearing a wig for the rest of one's life. I have always made the stuffing from the Tasha Tudor cookbook, which is identical to my Aunt Mimi's stuffing, and only slightly different from my mother's stuffing. It isn't very sophisticated, but we love it. The chestnut-sausage-mushroom-fennel stuffing featured in the Williams-Sonoma catalog seemed like a step toward a more adult fare. I had to visit three different stores to collect the ingredients--hence the trip to Foods of All Nations which carries the peeled, roasted chestnuts that I couldn't find anywhere else (except the Williams-Sonoma catalog).

I also had to buy some sherry. What is sherry, anyway? The only people I have ever known to drink it were my mother--when she was alive--and prim ladies in Barbara Pym novels and Masterpiece Theater dramas. I found a $6.99 bottle. "Excellent for cooking" the label said, which is code for UNDRINKABLE. It's a one liter bottle and I used 1/4 cup. The chestnuts cost $13. This was turning out to be the most expensive stuffing in the world and I hoped that it would be worth it. I won't bore you with the details of the cooking, only that it required considerably more effort than my nursery-level Tasha Tudor recipe. In the end, the flavors that dominated were chicken broth + bread, the same as in any other stuffing. It tasted fine, although the lumps of chestnut were a little scary, but it was hardly the height of sophisticated dining.

On the other hand, the maple cranberry cheesecake--recipe from the December issue of Bon Appetit--was fabulous, so fabulous that I am going to make it again for Christmas. It has a graham craker crust, which 10 year old Mr. McP made for me, and the cheese filling is flavored with a maple syrup reduction. Then there's a brilliant sauce made from maple syrup, fresh + dried cranberries and a little brown sugar cooked together. This is an expensive cheesecake, what with all the maple syrup, but it is totally worth it.

That's our Thanksgiving in a nutshell. We had to celebrate it on Friday because Jon and I both had to work on Thanksgiving, and it made me very unhappy to leave our children alone. I agreed to work holidays, because that is just part of being a nurse, but I didn't agree not to be depressed about it. I had to work Black Friday too but Jon had the day off to roast the turkey.


  1. For a couple of years I tried making a variety of elaborate stuffing recipes that invariably required some exotic and hard to procure ingredient. Everyone ignored them for the Stouffer's stovetop stuffing that comes in a bag and is essentially bread and stock and water, so now we just stick to that one.

  2. Whole Foods has peeled chestnuts in a jar. They're not roasted, but that's easy enough to do at home.

  3. We were on a cruise on Thanksgiving and were served a French chef's interpretation of a Thanksgiving dinner. It was very sophisticated and sort of sad. I made a very traditional dinner when we got home.

  4. let me tell you - our familial dressing is cubed bread, onions, butter and broth. I know. You don't even have to tell me. My concession is to use homemade slightly spicy vegetable stock. It changes the whole world. I have a super recipe should you ever need one.

    That said, no one should have to work on holidays, but since they do, thank goodness for a family that doesn't mind giving thanks any day they can be with you.

  5. This dimwit didn't even know about peeled chestnuts . . . I can tell you that whatever you paid, it was *totally* worth it.

  6. It's the ingredients that put me off of recipes like that. I applaud your courage for giving it a go--I'd have skipped it. (And I have 2 bottles of cooking wine to prove why I stay away from those recipes!)

  7. My daughter asked for Stove Top this year.
    I've had trouble with WS recipes.
    I think it's because I just can't afford the fancy cookware and gadgets.