Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Ginny’s Thanksgiving pie

26 Nov

When a 98-year-old woman texts you her mother’s recipe for a cherished holiday pie from her childhood — days before Thanksgiving, it is worth noting — well, my mamma didn’t raise no dummy.

Also worth mentioning is the woman’s place in my life. She is my wife’s mother. Her name is Virginia. But you can call her Ginny.

Ginny is a New Englander to the core. The place where she lives today, just outside of Boston, is but a few miles from where she was born and raised.

New Englanders and New Yorkers, particularly Italian-American New Yorkers like myself, are not always, shall we say, simpatico in matters of food cravings. I learned this long ago, and so was not surprised that Ginny’s pie recipe featured a main ingredient unlike any that my kind would expect on a holiday dessert tray.

It’s a blue hubbard squash.

And here’s what it looks like inside.

Lucky for Ginny that her son-in-law doesn’t live in Brooklyn anymore; he lives in Maine, where the nearby farms are positively lousy with these things!

Despite a strong urge to fiddle with the recipe (I am not a recipe follower by nature) I followed this one to the letter. I cooked some of the filling separately to see what I’d gotten myself into and it tasted an awful lot like a pumpkin pie, both to me and to Ginny’s daughter.

Later on today we’ll be driving the pie down to Ginny’s.

She is not a woman without strong opinions and so odds are good that a Comment might be forthcoming.

Pray for me.

And Happy Thanksgiving.

Blue Hubbard Squash Pie

One pie crust. (I used Beth Queen of Bakers’ recipe.)

1 1/2 cups blue hubbard squash, roasted and mashed

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cloves

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups evaporated milk

1 tablespoon melted butter

Mix together the dry ingredients, then add in the squash and mix thoroughly. Add the beaten eggs, milk, and butter and mix.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 45 minutes or so.

Thanks are owed

21 Nov

To me, the holidays wouldn’t be the holidays without these two wonderful women.

That’s my Aunt Anna on the left and Aunt Rita on the right. By the look of things I would say that they are taking a well-deserved break from feeding a whole mess of us at some family get together long ago.

Time has altered their appearance a bit. Rita will be 90 very soon and Anna isn’t too far behind.

Each lost her husband at a young age. For decades now they have lived together, currently in an apartment in Queens that is just above Cousin Joan’s and near to several other members of our family.

My aunts are about as close as any two people can be. I know marriages—good ones—that aren’t nearly as inspiring.

Anna and Rita are in my heart always, but never moreso than around this time of year.

I am lucky to be a member of the Christmas Eve celebration they host each and every year. It is literally a feast—the Feast of the Seven Fishes to be exact, totally worth clicking on and checking out—and I would no more miss it than I would lop off my right hand, or even that other one.

For a long time I used to wonder when the holidays might finally, inevitably lose their allure. After all, the years have a way of grinding away at the starry-eyed idealism that’s required to truly love this time of year.

But I haven’t grown at all weary. And in a very large way I owe this to the optimism and love of these two extraordinary women.

I am over-the-moon thankful to them for that.

Happy Holidays everybody.

Pumpkin ricotta pie

13 Nov

There’s a reason nobody ever asks me to cook Thanksgiving dinner: I’m not wired for it. And can’t be trusted to do things the traditional way.

Let’s face it, my idea of a Thanksgiving feast isn’t so much about the bird and the stuffing and the side dishes as it is about starting things off with my mother’s manicotti (and possibly ending them with cousin Josephine’s biscotti). Not exactly what most folks expect when they gather to celebrate such a uniquely American holiday, and so I don’t blame people for keeping me away from the kitchen year after year.

Last Thanksgiving I did manage to snooker my way into the dessert portion of the festivities, by promising to bake a simple and completely traditional pumpkin pie.

“You’re not gonna screw around with it, right?” asked My Associate, understandably dubious of my intentions. “We’re talking about a straight-up, old-fashioned pumpkin pie. That’s what you’re offering to make, nothing else?”

Anticipating the woman’s resistance I had come prepared with unimpeachable evidence to prove that my motives were pure.

“Is this traditional enough for you?” said I confidently, holding in my hand an original edition of Joy of Cooking. “It’ll be by the book, I swear.”

Once given the go ahead I had every intention to follow Joy of Cooking‘s recipe to the letter, and in fact did so in every way but one: At the last minute—while no one was watching—I decided to, well, not exactly bake a straight-up old-fashioned pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

There was some very nice fresh ricotta in the fridge, you see. It was only a small amount, leftover from the batch of mom’s manicotti that I had prepared and stored away earlier in the day.

“Why not?” I muttered, looking around to see that I was indeed alone. “Nobody will even notice.”

The full list of ingredients is below but basically the deal is this: Instead of using the 2 cups of pumpkin that the recipe called for, I went with 1 1/2 cups pumpkin and that 1/2 cup ricotta in the fridge. They’re about to be spoon-mixed with the two eggs that are in the recipe.

Then the white and brown sugar and spices are mixed in.

Along with evaporated milk.

The pie crust is one that I swear by. It’s from Cook’s Illustrated and the complete recipe is below. Pour the mixture into your pie shell and bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 45 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.

And there you have it, a not entirely traditional pumpkin (and ricotta) pie that’ll go along just swell with your Thanksgiving feast.

One other thing. People did notice. Who knows, they may even request the pie again this year.

Of course, I can’t promise not to mess with the recipe all over again.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

For the pie crust
From Cook’s Illustrated
NOTE: This recipe is for a double crust but only the bottom crust is needed here.

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water
Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses.
Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour).
Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together.

Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
For the filling
Adapted from the original Joy of Cooking
1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin 
1/2 cup ricotta (This is the only alteration I have made. Should you be looking for Joy‘s recipe simply ditch the ricotta and go with 2 cups of pumpkin.)
1 1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 slightly beaten eggs

Happy Thanksgiving!

24 Nov

The people that I care about most, and who care about me, know that I am thinking of them. They make my life full, help me to be a better man. How could my thoughts not be with them on a holiday such as this?

But there are others who have helped to shape me — at critical stages in my life — without even knowing it. I’ve been thinking about these people a lot this year. They deserve mention.

“Rudy Tie My Shoes.” I know that sometimes us kids would make fun of you, Rudy, and I’m sorry about that. Even back then I knew that you were just a guy who’d drawn a bad hand, that you were only trying to make the best of a lousy situation, and that the deformity that caused both of your wrists to curve up so badly had to be a hell of thing to have to live with. I don’t know how many times you stopped me on the street and asked me to tie your shoes for you, probably hundreds. I want to thank you for that. Kneeling down on the sidewalk in front of a man who others might consider “less than” taught me about compassion and humility at a young age. Thank you.

Mister C. This is gonna be one of them what you call backward compliments, but here goes: Thanks for being such an asshole. You taught me something about how powerful people can abuse their authority, and I’m grateful for that. Really, I am. I learned something valuable, something that I have carried with me and benefitted from my entire life, and I appreciate it. But we were kids. You were our principal. C’mon. (By the way, that heavy college ring that you used to whack us on the head with all the time? The one you “lost” when you were eating your eggplant parm sandwich in my mother’s store? I snatched it off the counter and tossed it in the sewer. So screw you.)

Senor Alfonso. Two years of high school Spanish classes with you and all I’m able to do is say hello to a woman named Isabel, then ask her how she’s doing. This only happened to me once. And the Isabel that I ran into didn’t even speak Spanish. But you were a class act, Senor, and you taught me something really important about being a gentleman: When wearing dress pants, or a suit of course, socks must go over the calf. No exceptions. Gracias!

Those two undercover cops who tried to buy a kilo of weed from me when I was 19. Thanks for not being as smart as me. The day after you guys showed up asking for me I knew things had gotten too hot. The very next day I closed up shop. For good. If not for you guys scaring me onto the path of the straight and narrow, there’s no telling how things might have turned out. So thanks. Very much.
Jeff K. You were a respected television journalist in New York. I was a junior in college studying to be a photographer. I took your writing class because it fit into my schedule and because I’d seen you on TV so many times I figured it’d be cool to meet you. The first time you told me that I was a “natural writer” I didn’t think much of it. The next couple times I thought about it some but not a lot. But on that last day of the semester, you asked me to hang after class for a few minutes. That’s when you said that if I didn’t get off my ass and become a writer you were gonna track me down and beat me to death with a shovel. Thanks for that, Jeff. Wherever you are. 

With friends like these…

23 Nov

The picture doesn’t exactly capture the moment, but what a moment it was.

This is my first plate from yesterday’s Thanksgiving feast, held about a mile from here, at the home of my friends Scott and Giovani. There are tasty brussels sprouts, whole roasted carrots, delicious oyster stuffing, super-smooth mashed potatoes, and a very well turned out bit of fresh turkey.

The moment is about the manicotti, though. Because they were a closely guarded secret among all of the guests who attended the elegant holiday bash.

All of them except for me.

Long story short, my friends had read the piece that I had written about my mother’s Thanksgiving manicotti. And so to honor her — a woman who they had never met, by the way — they decided to add an extra multi-step item to an already labor-intense menu.

I won’t embarrass my friends by going on here, okay. They wouldn’t want that.

Just so long as they know that I consider this moment to be an extraordinary gift. And always will.

A very Meatball Thanksgiving

13 Nov

I know. This holiday is all about the bird.


Should you wish to take a page from the Meatballs’ Thanksgiving tradition, then you had best be prepared to add a pasta course to the festivities.

And not just any pasta course.

My mother (she’s the one at the far left, swigging what appears to be a pink bubbly) always made manicotti on Thanksgiving. Those are probably hers on the far right, below the turkey and a fork’s lift away from her eldest brother Joe. Uncle Joe is sitting next to his father, my grandfather, John.

There are a lot of Johns in my family. One is sitting next to my grandfather, come to think of it. I wasn’t yet born on this Thanksgiving Day, but had I been there might be three Johns at the table, not two. If you count middle names, that is. And were I seated with this particular group.

See, there are likely two or three other tables lined up that aren’t visible here, each crowded with as many people. Tight quarters considering that the apartments my grandfather’s six children lived in back then, with their own growing families, were on the small side. I can’t even tell whose apartment this holiday is taking place in because the six flats in our family’s side-by-side tenement houses all looked the same.

Anyhow, you didn’t come here looking for a history lesson. And so I’ll wish you all a very, very happy holiday and leave it at that.

And if you are inclined to make with the manicotti, here’s the recipe that I learned from watching mom. It’s from a post that I did here early this year, but repeating it now seemed appropriate.

My family prefers crepes over pasta shells. The thinner and lighter the crepe the better the manicotti, so use a blender for the mix, and keep adding milk if it thickens as you’re working. The full recipe is below.
A super hot omelette pan doused in butter is the way to a great crepe. I keep a bowl of melted butter next to the stovetop and apply it with a bristle brush before pouring the crepe mix into the pan.
To make thin crepes you must barely cover the surface of the pan with the mixture. Once the crepe is set and drying flip it over with a spatula. If your pan is properly heated this won’t take very long at all.
Here’s what the cooked side should look like. After flipping the crepe it only takes maybe 30 seconds more to finish the other side.
This is a pretty traditional filling, made with ricotta and fresh mozzarella.
A simple fold from one side and then the other does the trick.
Lay a light dose of tomato sauce in a baking pan, line the manicotti side by side, then add some more sauce on top. Cover in aluminum foil and throw into the oven, preheated to about 375 degrees F. Remove the foil after around 25 minutes and continue baking.
After another 15 or 20 minutes the manicotti should be done.
This being Thanksgiving, one or two of these babies apiece should do the trick.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Makes about 24
For the crepe
2 cups flour
4 extra large eggs
2 1/4 cups milk (more as needed)
Pinch of salt
Mix together in a blender until fully incorporated. 
For the filling
2 lbs ricotta
1 lb fresh mozzarella
1 extra large egg
1/3 cup grated Romano cheese
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl add the ricotta. With a wide-cut grater grate the mozzarella over the ricotta. Add all the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.

What to drink with the bird

15 Nov
Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water. —W.C. Fields
I know a couple of other wiseguys who like a good drink.
What’s more, if provided just the right amount of inebriant, these friends of mine can be talked into anything. It was only three days ago when I floated the idea that they drop everything and compile a list of Thanksgiving wines and beers we can all enjoy on our holiday. And here we are.
Handling the wine picks is Scott Tyree. A wine professional of some standing, you may recall Scott from the time he expertly paired a bunch of wines with my meatballs. TH Strenk, a very fine home brewer, understands more about beer than anybody I know; he will do the holiday beer pairings.
Me, I’ll shut up now. Have a wonderful holiday, everybody.
7 Great Thanksgiving Wines
by Scott Tyree
Lini 910 Lambrusco Rosé In Correggio 2010, Emilia-Romagna ($18) I know what you’re thinking: Riunite on ice — niiiiiiiice. But one taste of this high-quality dry Lambrusco happily obliterates any memories of the cloyingly sweet, soda pop-like fizzy wine your auntie enjoyed sipping during the holidays. This wine is lush and creamy with rich red fruit flavors, a mineral tang and razor-sharp acidity. Best of all, it’s blessedly bone dry. I wouldn’t hesitate to drink the Rosé In Correggio throughout the entire Thanksgiving dinner.
Rolly-Gassman Gewurztraminer, Alsace 2009 ($28) Dry Alsatian Gewurztraminer is the go-to white wine that successfully navigates all the big bold flavors of Thanksgiving dinner. Think about it. All those warm spices used in the stuffing, sweet potatoes and sides pretty much reflect the exotic spicy nature of the gewurz grape.
Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Etna Rosato 2010 ($18) It seems most rosé wines are often unfairly marginalized and described as being “rustic” or “simple.” The Terre Nere Rosato is neither. In fact, I’d say it’s downright elegant. The grape is nerello mascalese, grown in the high elevations of Sicily’s Mt. Etna. It’s citrusy, delicately spiced and wild berry inflected. A perfect foil for the cranberry sauce.
Moulin-à-Vent Clos du Tremblay, Paul Janin 2009 ($15) All Beaujolais is not of the grapey, purple-hued, tongue-staining variety known as Beaujolais Nouveau. In fact, much of the region produces elegant wines that are soft, supple and excellent with food. Gamay is the perfect grape variety to pair with both dark and white turkey meat, and it will cut through rich sauces and gravy. Janin is a great producer.
Evening Land Gamay Noir Celebration, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon 2009 ($20) An American Gamay that is juicier, rounder and more fruit driven than its French counterpart from Moulin-à-Vent. Undeniably pleasurable to drink.  
Umathum Zweigelt, Burgenland, Austria 2009 ($25) In keeping with the medium-bodied red wine theme. In contrast to the Gamay-based wines, Zweigelt grapes produce wines with an overtly savory character — lots of dark fruit, black pepper and herbal notes. Think a toned down, lean, less alcoholic zinfandel. Both styles work with T-day dishes.
Madeira, New York Malmsey Special Reserve, The Rare Wine Co. ($48) The versatility of Malmsey Madeira (also known as Malvasia Madeira) is impressive. I can’t think of a wine that pairs so easily with pumpkin pie, pecan tarts, custard and chocolate. Tailor-made for Thanksgiving drinking.
How to Choose a Holiday Brew 
by TH Strenk
Matching beer to turkey is pretty straightforward. The trouble starts at the potatoes and pan gravy, chestnut stuffing, cranberry sauce, buttered parsnips, green bean casserole and grandma’s pineapple gelatin mold with cherries on top. No one beer could cover all those bases. This style-by-style guide should help you to keep things balanced.
AMERICAN IPA IPAs are floral and citrusy on the nose, and bitingly bitter in the mouth. The theory here is that bitterness will cut through the heaviness of the unctuous gravy, a refreshing contrast to the big meal. Be careful not to choose a tongue-numbing “extreme” IPA, but one that balances the bitter with some malt. My choice is Southern Tier IPA.
DOPPELBOCK The dark German lager is fairly high in alcohol (6-8%), which will help you keep laughing at Uncle Teddy’s bad jokes. It is less bitter than an IPA, but still refreshing. Doppelbocks will complement both the roast turkey and the marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes. There are plenty to choose from, including Ayinger Celebrator, Paulaner’s Salvator and the American Troegenator. I’ll go with Spaten Optimator.
PUMPKIN BEER This spicy amber ale isn’t apt to work with anything on the table, but some people have come to expect it. (Not Meatball; he hates the stuff.) My pick here is Southhampton Pumpkin Ale, which offers good gourd flavor, with balanced spices and a little vanilla.
HARVEST SEASONAL These malty brews tend to work well with dishes that traditionally show up on the Thanksgiving table. Medium-bodied, Marzen and Oktoberfest beers are great with roast turkey and can handle most accompaniments. Top German producers Paulaner and Spaten brew good Marzens. However, my pick is Sierra Nevada Octoberfest.
SAISON This Belgian’s dryness and acidity would be good foils for the fatty gravy, drumsticks and creamed onions. Its spice, usually coriander, complements the warm fall spices found in many harvest dishes, not to mention dessert. Saison Dupont is a solid choice, but I would pop for Brooklyn Brewery’s Sorachi Ace.
IRISH STOUT Most American stouts are so full of coffee and chocolate they don’t pair well with food. But the dry style of Irish stout is more delicate. It’s also generally low in alcohol, which means you can quaff it all night. I’d go with the old reliable: Guinness.
SOUR STYLES These ales, fermented with wild yeast and bacteria, have bright acidity that perk up flavors and cut through fat. Traditional sour styles include lambic, gueuze, Flemish red and brown ales and Berliner weisse. Of these, Rodenbach Grand Cru is the easiest to find.
PILSNERS Sure, there’s a craft beer revolution going on, but domestic and imported macrobrews still dominate. Not all Pilsners are pallid. The best are bitter, floral and dry with yeasty notes. My choice would be for the original, Pilsner Urquell, from the town of Pilsen in the Czech Republic.

Thanksgiving in a can

23 Nov
It was the night before Thanksgiving and the A&P on Fulton Street, the one under the El that went from the East River out through Queens, was about to close. I was a teenager, on a mission for my mother to gather last-minute items for the next day’s meal.
The supermarket was oddly quiet. There was one cashier, a manager sitting in a platform that overlooked the registers, a Con Edison worker picking up a six-pack of Rheingold Extra Dry, and me.
Or so I thought.
“Pete,” I said, startled when the familiar face appeared without sound or warning. “How you doin?”
“Okay, kid, okay, good, see your uncle Joe today?” said Pete in that rat-a-tat-tat way of his. “Thought he’d be at The Club this afternoon but he never showed, no he never showed, your uncle didn’t, didn’t show.”
Uncle Joe was both head of our family and, arguably, the tightly defined corner of the neighborhood where we lived. People relied on my mother’s brother — for favors, kindnesses, sometimes money — and so, too, no doubt, did his friend.
“Dunno, maybe on a job,” is all I needed to say in order for Pete to wish me a happy holiday and move along.
Until I stopped him.
“What’s this?” I asked pointing at the two strangely familiar-looking cans in Pete’s cart.
To this day, I wish I had allowed that poor man to be on his way. Because his answer has haunted me, in a very deep and painful way, ever since.
“They’re good,” Pete said, now handling one of the cans of Chef Boyardee Ravioli. “We run them under water, get all the sauce off, get it all off good. Then my brother makes his gravy and we pour that on top, know what I mean? They’re good, they’re okay, yeah, kid, they’re not bad, pretty good.”
Pete and his brother Johnny were in their late fifties, I’d guess. Neither was married, and they lived together, as best I can recall, in the house they had once shared with their parents. Johnny was a mailman. I can’t say what Pete did for a living, because I never knew.
They called him Chicago Pete, though I doubt he ever stepped foot in Illinois. Who knows how they handed out nicknames back then. Some made sense, sure. Frankie Squarehead’s dome actually did appear to be framed by right angles, for instance. But logic did not reign always, and I am suspicious about the handle bestowed upon Pete.
No matter. It is the culinary strategy in question here. Why on Earth would two grown men decide that opening a can of ravioli was in any conceivable way preferable to boiling a pot of salted water and throwing fresh or even frozen pasta into it? On Thanksgiving Day, no less!
Remember, they cooked their own tomato sauce. From scratch. One of the brothers likely made his own meatballs to go into the homemade sauce. And as for real ravioli, the stores were lousy with the things. This is Brooklyn we’re talking about here.
What the hell were these two thinking with these cans?
I have lived with this riddle, this burden, for well over thirty Thanksgivings. The current haunting began a couple weeks back, after it was decided where the family’s holiday meal would take place (in Manhattan, at cousin Jo’s, it turns out).
The difference this year is that I decided it was time to exorcise my demons, by confronting them. And so, God help me, that’s just what I did.
The can you already saw. Well, I opened it. Then I got out a colander. The ravioli (and I use that term advisedly) did not give up the red stuff so easily, but a constant stream of water did finally do the trick.
I won’t torture you more than is necessary, so you’ll just need to trust me on how the ravioli looked buck naked: think pale, gummy, foul-looking scary stuff, more like yellow Play-Doh stamped into unholy little squares than actual food-grade product. I touched one of the things with my bare fingers, just to get a feel for the texture; I won’t be doing that again anytime soon.
That night, in fact, I suffered the most horrible nightmare. I was being smothered to death by a giant, gooey, yellow Blob. Steve McQueen was there, and so I thought I might have a chance at getting out of this mess. But all he would do to help me was toss lit cigarette butts at the yellow monster and yell, “Take that, Blobber.” After awhile of getting nowhere with the lit butts he just took off on his motorcycle and waved goodbye. To me, not the Blob. I think.
I woke up in just a terrible sweat, made worse by the sight of my dog Otis sitting next to me on the bed. He was wearing a white toque and a red neckerchief. Worse, he was holding a bowl of the canned ravioli and singing Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” except Otis was saying “Eat It.”
I so need a drink just thinking about it.
Where was I? Oh, yes, the exorcism.
Always the dedicated Italo, I am never without some quantity of good tomato sauce on hand. And so, like Pete and his brother, I proceeded to apply my homemade sauce to the washed-and-prepped Chef Boyardees. Then — and this is the truly scary part — I took a bite.
Decades after our encounter at the long ago shuttered A&P, uncle Joe’s friend and I were finally joined in a profoundly strange and unusual way. Only Pete and I parted ways on one crucial point. That first bite? It was also my last.
Next Thanksgiving, when I think about Pete and Johnny, I will probably feel as sad for them as I have always felt. You would think that rinsing my own can of ravioli, swallowing one of the awful things, might provide insight into their ritual, but the truth is that it did not.
I have no more clue today what they could possibly have been thinking. And probably never will.