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November, 2006 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - November, 2006

Stuffing

Thanksgiving is the only holiday when what we do and what we eat are both described by the same word: stuffing.

How was your Thanksgiving? The answer largely depends on what you ate for stuffing, as well as how egregiously you stuffed yourself.

There is something tantalizing about a turkey and stuffing dinner. Each flavor follows inexorably to the next, the bland leading the bland. Why do we eat so much of it? Do we lose ourselves in the mesmerizing combination of enormous portions and early memories? Is it because stuffing takes up such a large area on the plate that in addressing the dinner and awaiting the ponderous toast or prayer we feel an Alice-in-Wonderland sensation of suddenly becoming very small? Staring at a heaped, steaming mound of comfort food, each portion elbowing out the other, do we imagine a family snuggling together against the oncoming winter cold? (Who will play the turkey? Who will be this year’s cranberry sauce – shockingly crimson and tart?)

The evidence is overwhelming. We overeat at Thanksgiving, with particular regard to carbohydrates. Which Founding Father decreed that we need to eat stuffing and mashed potatoes and candied yams and pumpkin pie with ice cream else we do an injustice to the memories of fallen patriots?The aftermath is all too familiar. This week we are all, Mr. Henry included, wandering around in carbo-psychosis fighting the deadly addiction hour by hour, skittering past the freezer still replete with that Olympian ambrosia, Haagen Dasz vanilla.

Despite its unappetizing name, however, stuffing can be marvelous.

The very best stuffing Mr. Henry ever ate was Nadia’s 1001 nights chestnut forcemeat cooked inside the bird – a woodsy, oriental, amber and frankincense delight that takes half the day to prepare. If you are in the mood for something subtle and heavenly, read on.
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Boil 3 lbs. of chestnuts (slice an X in each before), peel and roughly chop in food processor
Lightly toast 1/2 lb. of almonds, chop together with sugar and cinnamon to the consistency of bread crumbs
Chop a handful of dried apricots
Sauté the turkey liver in a bit of butter, a splash of olive oil, shallots and port wineTwolovers.jpg
Make a turkey stock from the giblets with an onion, celery, carrots, black pepper and saffron
Sauté chopped shallots or onion, then add chestnuts and sugared almonds, next add basic bread crumbs (not too many – this is a principally a chestnut preparation), chopped liver, apricots, orange zest, and enough stock to make a mixture that binds together but is not wet.

Stuff the turkey cavity and sew it closed.

Each guest will get a ladle-full of aromatic chestnut stuffing to accompany, not replace, the standard sage stuffing. The saffron, cinnamon and port lend the high notes. The liver and turkey stock gives bottom notes to the chestnut’s prevailing sweetness.

Orange Cranberry Sauce

In response to A Henry Halloween, Joanie requested a recipe for pumpkin stuffing – a stuffing for a whole baked pumpkin, that is. Mr. Henry did not send her one. Instead, he admonished her to buck up, embrace the old pioneer spirit, and just make do with whatever dry ingredients happened to be on hand.

Is this fair? Is this kind? Mr. Henry is having a moment of remorse for his flip dismissal of the good Joanie who, after all, asked only that Mr. Henry come clean with his cooking secrets on his own food blog.

But does he want to share? Does he want everyone to know his recipes?

Does he want everyone to know his deepest kitchen secret of all, viz. that he loathes recipes and never fails to tinker with them and that as a consequence he is a perfectly lousy pastry chef?

Does he want the world to know that he resembles exactly every other testosterone-poisoned male and does not like to ask for directions? That he is a pig-headed old coot?

He argues that there are very good reasons for such stubbornness. Whenever he DOES follow directions, things go badly. When he shops open-mindedly, for example, permitting the freshest vegetable to determine the day’s culinary pathway, then nothing ever fails.

A Mr. Henry Dictum: the freshest ingredient determines the choice of the menu.

If you are cooking fish, you must first peruse the fish counter, next nose around in the vegetable bins, and then return to the fish counter. Ignore the annoyed looks of the fishmongers. They specialize in disdain. It is their birthright, an attitude they feel they can assume as recompense for having perpetually fishy fingers.
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Meats don’t vary much from day to day, so you may safely build a menu around a market oddity such as fresh baby okra secure in the knowledge that the lamb chops (rubbed with salt and rosemary, then broiled) will be perfect.

OK, but where are the recipes?

With regard to the question of sharing, Mr. Henry embraces the new spirit of the internet generation, namely, that all knowledge should be free, like books in libraries, and that everything of value should be shared without regard for copyright so long as it is not a Henry copyright.

In the selfless, altruistic ethos of Thanksgiving Mr. Henry here proffers his very own recipe for orange cranberry sauce, a recipe he himself invented and developed for over 30 Thanksgivings. Be forewarned, however. THIS SAUCE IS TART.

Mr. Henry foregoes all royalties now and forever, all hard-won remuneration, all possible legacies bequeathed to the Henry generations to come. Yes, he is giving it away.

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Buy a bag of cranberries and one navel orange. (Here Mr. Henry is not taking chances with imaginative cooks. Trust me, dear reader, follow this recipe, if indeed it IS a recipe.)

Rinse the berries, pick off any annoying little stems, and throw out the mushy ones. To a heavy pot add the berries, half the sugar and half the water recommended on the package, that is, half a cup of each. (For more orange oomph you may substitute orange juice for water.) Over a medium to low flame bring the berries to a boil and stir, stir, stir. Don’t be gentle. Each berry must pop to let its sour juice mingle with the sugar. Those few recalcitrant ones you can mash with your wooden spoon. Don’t cook it until the berries get leathery, for God’s sake. Do it just enough to get them popped.

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While your berries are cooking, grate all the orange skin off the navel. (Mr. Henry prefers the navel because it has thicker rind and more concentrated juice.) When all the berries have popped, take the pot off the fire and mix in the grated orange peel. Slice your navel in half and squeeze with your fingers all its juice into the pot, too. (A bit of orange pulp in the sauce is good.) Transfer it to a large glass bowl and place it on the terrace to cool. (Cover it with foil, by the way, so that the afternoon blue jay doesn’t get more curious than he already is.)

Chaw-bacon Chew

Mr. Henry is not one to call names, casually hurl insults or take cheap shots.
His friend Michael, also a Southerner, took issue with Mr. Henry’s writing style saying, “Why don’t you come clean with your reading public and stop pretending to be this urbane New York sophisticate ? Out yourself as a true chaw-bacon, cousin-humpin’ cracker!”

Mr. Henry takes no umbrage. He feels, however, a twinge of envy at Michael’s fluent command of invective. Also, he has every confidence that even if not in mid-season form he could best Michael at tennis, golf, or bridge.

When Mr. Henry recently visited Jacksonville, Florida, however, he began to sputter and spit at the truly disgusting fare offered up as cuisine.

To be fair, it was not as bad as what Frances at the 87th Street dog run, having just returned from Dallas-Ft.Worth, confronted at the Texas State Fair. Is it really possible that in Texas they serve deep-fried Coca-Cola balls with fake whipped cream topping? (Yes, the Henry research team uncovered just such a monstrous concoction. First soak dough balls in Coca-Cola. Next………….no, please! Make it stop!)

Resize Assistant-1.jpgJacksonville may specialize in fried food, too, but this year Mr. Henry made a discovery that set him back on his big city heels – a brand new upscale eatery called “Chew” on an old block centrally located in the heart of Jacksonville’s languishing downtown. This is not Hooters. This is not Whitey’s Fish Camp, accessible only by motorboat, where every entrée is fried and served with a side of hush puppies. (At Whitey’s the specialty of the house is “cooter.” Opinions are divided on whether that is alligator tail or turtle).Resize Assistant-2.jpg

The staff at Chew do not speak with a southern accent. (The chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America.) The braised short ribs sandwich was a tender, rich and subtle creation that clearly took hours to prepare. Mr. Henry believes there is hope for America after all.

Semi-Homemade Horror

Last week’s Halloween Special on the Food Network featured the noted “popular lifestyle professional and author” Sandra LeeMake it Semi-Homemade! – preparing pizza with canned tomato sauce, pre-shredded cheddar cheese, and sour cream topping laced with ‘cheap’ caviar.

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Mr. Henry thinks Sandra should be working for Homeland Security in the terrorist interrogation unit. How did this wasp-waist Wisconsin University blonde get into a position of food authority? She is striking at the Heartland, that’s for sure, and from Sandra’s sinister recipes we shall all need fast, permanent relief.

At first blush Mr. Henry assumed that Sandra was some kind of Saturday Night Live character. But this show, like Rambo, is parody proof. Even Meryl Streep couldn’t portray a more plausible dunderhead than the genuine, all-American Sandra. When she scooped out the innards of a store-bought pumpkin pie, squished them around, mushed them into a big plastic baggie, cut off the bag’s tip, and squirted the abused result into petit four shells, well, Mr. Henry shook his head with deep regret at the astonishing nonsense that passes for sound advice on television.

When she put the caviar on the cheddar cheese and tomato pizza, however, the whole Henry family screamed in horror. It was a suitably Halloween total gross-out. Even now Mr. Henry nearly hurls at the thought of it.