Monday, November 29, 2010

Contest Winners Announced


Hope you have all survived happily your long weekend of celebration!  Just a quick note to say, if you haven't checked out the super cool foodie gift list yet, click over here! Everything is available ONLINE, so on this Cyber Monday, make yourself a cup of tea and shop away without battling the stores.

I am still basking in the glow of the was very special to have Reverend and Mrs. Charming in town, and to introduce them to Mom and Dad and Little Sister and watch them all enjoy each other's company so much.  Next time we are going to have to convince Charming Sister and her family to brave the cold! 

This weekend was also special because it was the one-year anniversary of my first date with Charming Suitor.  Can you believe it?  So much can change in a year. In such wonderful ways.  Lucky me.

Speaking of lucky, it was very hard to narrow down the winners for the contest, thanks to everyone who shared their tips and stories.  But we did finally figure it out.


Tammy B!

And runners up are:

Em Rohrer
Jennifer Banuelos
Forty Pound Sack
Tracey Wells

Everyone e-mail ,me at staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com with your shipping address and I will get your prizes out to you.

You can read all the tips, tricks, recipes and hilarious disaster story HERE.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Friday, November 26, 2010

Feasting Black Friday

First off, the Thanksgiving contest is still running through Sunday night, so pop over here and enter if you haven’t already.  We had a spectacular time, Charming Suitor's Charming Parents and my adorable family, including my brother from another mother Officer K all stuffing ourselves silly on the feast...highlighted and much improved by Charming Suitor's amazing cornbread stuffing, and Mrs. Charming's light as air yeast rolls, and perfect pecan/hickory nut pie...

Mrs. Charming taught me the secret to her rolls and pie dough, so recipes will be coming soon.


Holiday gift giving is right around the corner, Chickens, which means it is time to shop and your Polymath has a round-up of the best foodie gifts around, even if the foodie in question is you! After all, tis the season to be generous, and one should always be generous with oneself. Now that we have all been Thankful for our blessings, I thought you’d want to take a look at my go-to gifties!


Here are my best presents, something in every price range and for everyone on your list!

First and foremost? I would be remiss if I didn’t highly recommend the fabulous ‘novel with recipes’ Good Enough to Eat, by ME!

(or Room for Improvement, or The Spinster Sisters for that matter…) The perfect thing for your bestie, your Mom, your sis…anyone of style and taste on your list.

And just in time for the holidays…if you send me an e-mail with a copy of your receipt to staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com showing me books purchased after November 25, 2010 and before the end of the year (for you procrastinators), I will send you a personalized book plate for every book of mine you order! A lovely glossy sticker, with my signature, addressed to the person of your choice. That’s right; you can insert the autograph with personal message to your gift recipient! I will do as many bookplates as you buy books, so feel free to order them for everyone you know.

(Sorry, receipts dated before November 25, 2010 or after December 31, 2010 do not qualify.) If I get your receipt by December 15, I can guarantee you the bookplates in time for the holidays, but am happy to do them even after…

But I’m not here just to hock my own books, nay nay, I have plenty of other gift ideas for your nearest and dearest.


These are the high ticket items that will guarantee you that the recipient will say “Santa who?” You might be off dishes duty till 2014. It is not impossible that some serious nookie might come your way. I’m not saying, I’m just saying…

John Boos Block THE AZTEC

Best carving board ever. You know how most of your basic carving boards never really manage the meat juices properly, and you still end up with a small puddle, or waterfall down the fronts of your cabinets? This one is not messing around. The little pyramids in the middle hold your meat solid for carving, and not only do the ample deep moats cover the juice problem, the little stainless tray that works for your scraps goes underneath and there is a hole so that the juices collect there and can be then whisked into sauces, added to gravies, or used to make a delicious au jus! Those precious and delicious fluids which are usually lost are now safely captured, even if it is just for ease of disposal. If you could ever fall in love with a cutting board, this is the one. Big enough to hold a whole 25 pound turkey, a large watermelon, or a five rib roast easily. And pretty enough to bring to the table for carving. But wait, there's more!  t is reverseable, so evem when you aren't in need of carving magic, the flip side is just a basic flat cutting board, with the juice tray flipped up to gather scraps for disposal.  GENIUS!  Easy to maintain, and truly the last board you will ever need to buy.

MAC Knives

The knife of choice for many of the chef’s we respect and admire most, Thomas Keller at the top of the list, once Charming Suitor and I tried them we were blown away, and are complete converts. Not that the Henckel’s and Wustof’s are suddenly terrible…they are still very well made and completely fine. They just aren’t quite as mind-blowingly extraordinary. If you are at the place where it is time to invest in good knives, I hope you will check them out. If it is time to help a loved one replace some good knives that are beyond their prime (maybe the ones they have been washing in the dishwasher) these are the next level. They’ll never need or want others.  I should warn you, however, as with all knives...BE CAREFUL!  My knife skills are great.  My knife WASHING skill apparently could use some work, as I discovered Tuesday night while blithely scrubbing my MAC without paying attention.  On the downside, a major laceration on one's right index finger in the middle of Thanksgiving prep is not, as they say, ideal.  On the upside, the MAC cut me so cleanly, albeit deeply, that the would was able to reseal with some while I did end up in the ER briefly, I didn't need stitches, just some tape and a tetanus shot.  The doc said it looked like a scalpel cut...I know that is an odd recommendation for a kitchen knife, but I do try to be honest with my Chickens!

CDN Infrared Probe Thermometer

I’m a stickler about temp being the best way to insure prime protein perfection and while I have long relied on those cheapie probes from the grocery store, this is a game-changer. It can take an infrared shot, testing the true temp of your oven, or a probe temp, with pinpoint precision to make sure your roasts and birds all come out moist and juicy and safe. If you have someone on your list who loves the meat, this will be perfect!

Small appliances that make all the difference:

Cuisinart Slow Cooker

This 6.5 quart beauty has been turning out some perfect stews, chilis, and braises all Fall, and I can’t wait to see what I can do with it over the winter. If you know someone ready to dive into the world of slow cooking, this is the one, and if they have an old one in need of replacement, they will love this sleek update.

Immersion blender

This thing gets a crazy amount of use at my house, the best for fast salad dressing, instant homemade mayo, emulsifying sauces and pureeing soups, whipping cream. I probably use it at least 3-5 times a week, and for entertaining, probably 5-10 times for one meal!

Fagor Pressure Cooker

Pressure cooking is back, people everywhere are discovering how fast and easy it is to cook with them. I know a lot of you have the same fears I had, recalling the old “blowing up all over the kitchen” issue of legend and myth. But the new models have all kinds of safety features, so you get all of the benefit of pressure cooking without the worry. Fagor has been making them for years, and there are a variety of versions so you can choose the best one.

Kuhn Rikon Swiss Chop Chop

With its reasonably large capacity, two spinning blades, and the funky ripcord mechanism, this thing has become indispensable in my kitchen. The little arm at the bottom of the bowl keeps contents moving towards the blades. This thing actually works. It makes quick work of minced garlic, and is big enough to do a whole onion a once. It comes with a lid, so you can use it to store things, which is pretty handy. I have given three of them as gifts, and have another on deck for the holidays.

Salter scale

This digital scale makes baking a dream, and is very useful when you find recipes with weight measurements. Affordable and sleek, with everything you will need. It also can be helpful when you want to keep an eye on what you are eating connected to a healthy program, I can eyeball 4 oz of chicken pretty well by now, but it is easy to accidentally overserve yourself….this scale takes the guesswork right out. Buy it for the baker in your life with a copy of Ratio by Michael Ruhlman.

Fun and Funky stuff for entertaining

Swissmar Raclette Set

Raclette in the traditional Swiss method, involves an entire wheel of nutty creamy raclette and an open fire. But we all don’t have access to Switzerland. Swissmar makes a great home raclette set…you put the cheese in the bottom to melt, and cook up sausages, new potatoes, veggies or anything you like on the top. It is the new fondue, and utterly delicious. You can use it as the centerpiece of a cocktail party, or go whole hog for dinner.

Nordicware mini popover pans

and mini cakes

Nordicware makes the best nonstick baking items I have every used, and my two new faves for entertaining are the mini popovers and tiny decorative cakes. Popovers are dead easy and a unique addition to a dinner party or a fun enclosure for any number of hors d’oeuvres. And these tiny cakes are two bites of adorable. They come in many shapes, and accommodate your best cake and brownie recipes.

For the coffee and tea lovers:

Capresso Froth Machine

I am not a coffee drinker. Which is good, because I make terrible coffee. Charming Suitor, on the other hand, is my own Mr. Latte, and needs his steaming cup to get through the morning. Enter my salvation. Starbucks Via packets and this Capresso Frothing Machine. It heats and froths milk for perfect lattes, cappuccinos, and hot chocolate. It even gets a good thick froth out of skim milk! I made CS a latte with the Starbucks Via and freshly frothed milk and he loved it! Morning is saved. Buy for the coffee maven in your life.

Tea Forte Tea over Ice set

While I may not like coffee, I do love tea, and in the summer, I am a serious iced tea girl. Tea Forte sent me this cool set, lovely glass pitchers, the upper for making intense tea (using their iced tea blends, natch) the lower you fill with ice. When the tea is done brewing on top, you just pour over the ice below.

Makes for a lovely presentation for company, but I use it all the time just for myself! Be sure to buy some of the Tea Forte teas to go with it!

Beehouse Teapots

I have used these individual pots by Beehouse for a long time now, and I love the convenience of the mesh inserts, the fact that all the parts can be tossed in the dishwasher.

Gadgets and Cool Tools


This company makes the coolest stuff out of silicone, steamers and lemon squeezers and silicone mats for baking. I love the decorating pods and can lids. Not usually seen much in stores, so the kind of thing you can safely buy for the person who has everything!

Soda Stream Soda Maker  

For starters, it is dead easy. Five minutes after I opened the box, I was drinking a frosty glass of homemade soda water. No electricity, no batteries, so it can be anywhere. Pop in the canister, fill the special bottle with cold water, screw it into the machine, pull the lever three times and presto! Fizzy lifting drinks in your own home! They have a great ginger ale, which CS loved, and both regular and diet Tonic, so mixers for cocktail parties are well covered. You name your favorite pop, they have a version. There are 38 flavors all told, in regular and diet, with four ‘essences’ for unsweetened flavored water. And an unexpected shocker, even the regular flavors are about a third the calories and carbs and sugars of the commercial brands, with half the caffeine and almost no sodium, so when I want to indulge, I’m not totally derailing my program. It is fun to be able to offer guests their own custom fizzies when they arrive, I am glad not to have to keep tonic and soda slowly going flat in the pantry on the off chance someone wants a cocktail, and I am experimenting with making some of my own flavorings by adding in fresh pureed fruit, herbs, and other fun stuff. Cucumber mint is delish, ditto strawberry basil. The bottles of mix are only about $5,and make 12 liters, so it is very affordable, but you can also experiment with those wonderful French and Italian soda syrups, just add slowly to find the amounts that work for you.

ReUseIt produce bags

I recognize the hypocrisy of taking a re-useable bag to the grocery store and then filling it with little plastic bags from the produce department. So I feel much better about these little green mesh bags. They are see-thru enough that check out personnel can still see what they are ringing up, and even better, you can wash the produce IN THE BAG and then store it in the fridge. And they come in a small bag so you can keep them organized. I am still collecting them, since I only have the set of four and I never buy just four things in the produce department! Perfect for your green pals!

Amazing ingredients

The Spice House
The Spice House. My only source for dried herbs and spices. For starters, it is actually less expensive to buy from a spice vendor. You can get larger quantities when you need them, custom blends, and exotics that you just can’t find in the chain grocery stores. The products are fresher, unadulterated by fillers, and will last longer. The quality of your cooking will jump a notch, even though you won’t have changed anything about your recipes or cooking methods.

And which is best, as long as you think a little bit ahead, you can always have your spices delivered right to your door if you aren’t lucky enough to live near a store! Their products are impeccable, and I’m a huge fan of many of their custom blends. Charming Suitor uses almost equal parts of their Bronzeville Rub and Milwaukee Ave Steak Seasoning as the basis of his famous Rib Rub, and we both love the Trinidad Lemon Garlic blend on chicken. I give endless gifts of their products to my foodie friends, gift cards and gift baskets alike, and at least every other month I have to find an excuse to go to one of the stores and putter around. Not sure what you need? Give them a call, their salespeople are all very knowledgeable and can help you find exactly what you need. Great gift boxes!

We took Reverend and Mrs. Charming for a spice buying adventure on Wednesday, so things are going to be awfully perky in a Kentucky kitchen very soon!

Onion Jam

 A spoonful of this stuff is like magic in a jar. Use as a condiment on any meat, spread on your sandwiches for serious wow factor, stir a spoon into sauce, use to glaze a roast, coat a log of goat cheese with it for an awesome appetizer. My last best use? On a homemade flatbread. Picked up pizza dough from my local, spread with the onion jam, strewed with prosciutto, chopped sage, and curls of really good parm. Insane.

Food Reads

Adventures on the Wine Route, by Kermit Lynch

This one was a gift from Charming Suitor, and I devoured it. Wine and food in France. Delish. And really informative for the newbie wine enthusiast.

Chocolat, by Joanne Harris Even better than the movie.

Chocolate transforms a tiny puritanical French town.

Tender at the Bone, by Ruth Reichl

The former Editor of Gourmet Magazine remembers her own food awakening. Funny and poignant memoir.

Crescent, by Diana Abu-Jabar

Wonderful novel about a chef, with equal passions for food and love.

French Lessons, by Peter Mayle

Really, anything by Peter Mayle. Provencal and inspiring.

The Art of Eating, by MFK Fisher

If you buy only one book on this list, you need go no further. Who I am as a cook, an eater and a writer are all steeped in these pages.

The Soul of a Chef/The Making of a Chef/The Reach of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman

I can re-read these books over and over. Beautifully written and unbelievably compelling.

Heat by Bill Buford 

A fun look behind the scenes with Mario Batali. If all you know is Molto Mario, you don’t know nuthin’!

Toast by Nigel Slater 

A coming of age story with food. Hilarious and touching.

The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten

My favorite food curmudgeon. He snarks better than anyone, but his praise can be equally effusive.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

It’s Tony. Full stop.

Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch 

A fun look behind the curtain at Per Se.

The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin

Simple and fun essays, great read.


Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson

All her books are great, but this is the one to have if you are only going to have one.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking1 and 2 by Julia Child Simone Beck and Loiuse Bertcholt

Perfect gift for anyone who loves to cook.

The Essential New York Times Cookbook, edited by Amanda Hesser

Massive and terrific.

Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller

The one you can safely and easily cook from, with all the food porn you come to appreciate about the Master.

Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Perfect. Full stop.

Foodie DVDs

My favorite stuff to snuggle up with…

The French Chef

Big Night

Babette’s Feast

Eat, Drink, Man, Woman

Pie in the Sky

Two Fat Ladies

Mostly Martha




Julie and Julia

Wishing you happy shopping, and if you need an idea and don't find the inspiration here, post your query in the comments and let the class help!

thanks to for my gorgeous mag mile!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thankful is the Order of the Day WITH CONTEST!

As a passionate home cook, Thanksgiving is my grail, my marathon, the ability to pull it off is a source of pride, and no moments of my year are as purely pleasurable as those brief moments of silence around the table when everyone tucks into their plates, followed by gradual exclamations of rapturous delight. And while there is always something a little bit new or different every year, the basics stay the same, and I’ve gotten a lot of it down to a science.

But science doesn’t mean clenched perfectionism.

With all due respect to Martha, you don’t need twenty four matching turkey shaped bowls for the soup to taste good, you don’t have to grow your own cranberries, or even make your own pie crust (or pie for that matter) for this day to be wonderful. Good food, prepared with love, and served with a smile is all anyone needs for the holiday to be sublime…to each at the level of their own ability.

For those of you who are thinking of tackling the big day, I’ve got some tips to help you out. The most important thing about Thanksgiving is right there in the name, be thankful. If you burn the turkey, make PB&J and laugh it off. And if at all possible, set yourself up for success with some simple advice and simpler recipes.

I am feeling especially blessed this year since Charming Suitor’s parents, Reverend and Mrs. Charming are joining us for my favorite holiday. It is their first visit since Charming Suitor and I found each other, and I am so excited to have them here to celebrate our first Thanksgiving with us, since one of the things I am most thankful for is their dreamy son.

Plus it means that this year, I have the best co-chef ever, since Charming Suitor's knife skills are just as good as his boyfriend skills, so I am so excited to make this meal for our families together.  He is going to teach me his famous cornbread stuffing and yeast rolls, and says that I can share both recipes with you when we are done.  Yippee! Seriously?  This holiday gives me the all-over joy wiggles, and the fact that it is our first Thanksgiving together is making it so over the top fabulous that I am amazed my feet are even touching the ground.

But I know that some of you do not look forward to this day with the same level of insane enthusiasm.

Whether you are having a huge event with five generations, a gathering of your best pals who aren’t able to be with their own families, or just a small dinner with you and your sweetie, there are ways to make this day less stressful, and more joyous.

Firstly, know thyself. Do you regularly make your own puff pastry, serve towering flaming Baked Alaskas, and finish your sauces with homemade demi-glace? Then find any challenging menu that inspires you and have at it. But if you burn the toast four days out of ten, this isn’t the time to try anything complicated. Keep things simple, and don’t be afraid to get help with the hard stuff or fiddly bits. People love to participate, so let guests bring something to take some of the pressure off you. If you’ve never made pie crust, buy a good quality frozen crust. Look at local prepared foods sections of grocery stores and see who is offering side dishes and do a tasting the week before. If Whole Foods is making a killer stuffing, there’s no shame in serving it. Does gravy make you nervous? Add five or six whole peeled shallots to the turkey roasting pan along with your bird, and simply blend them into the de-fatted pan juices to thicken it easily without all that tricky flour business.

Secondly, know thy audience. You might be a major foodie, but is Aunt Marge? No point in fussing over individual pumpkin soufflés cooked in hollowed out oranges unless the rest of your guests will think it as cool as you do, and not wonder where the Entenmann’s Pumpkin Pie with Cool Whip is this year. You can take the basics and just make them with the best ingredients you can get, and know that you have improved, even if you haven’t monumentally altered. Or think of it as a retro meal, all the rage these days, and revel in the kitschy quality of making the recipes the old way.

Thanksgiving is also a great time to connect with Mom, Grandma, or your favorite Fairy Godmother (or father)…call and ask for advice and recipes, they’ll be flattered and you’ll be amazed how many great tips they can give you.

So, if you’re getting ready for the big day, here are Stacey’s Thanksgiving Commandments:

1. Thou shalt buy a fresh turkey from a butcher, and brine before roasting.

I know Butterball seems like a good idea, but they are so filled with preservatives and salt and other unnatural stuff, they don’t really taste like turkey. Call before the holiday and have your local butcher order you a fresh turkey for pick up the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Take it home and brine for 24 hours using the brine recipe of your choice…mine is below. You’ll be delighted with the results.  Many stores like Whole Foods also carry fresh turkey these days, splurge.  It is the centerpiece of the meal, and your sandwiches will be elevated all weekend!

2. Thou shalt discover how easy it is to make awesome cranberry sauce.

Cranberry sauce is not just the easiest part of the meal; it can be made up to a week in advance. It’s the perfect thing for even a reluctant cook to offer to bring to someone else’s meal, or an easy addition to your own. (and yes, I know some of you love that shimmering jiggling tube with all the ridges, and if you must, have some on hand…but do at least TRY homemade…you can always serve both)

3. Thou shalt not be ashamed to make the green bean casserole with the Campbell’s Condensed Soup.

Sure, I’m a foodie-slash-crazy person, so I make my cream of mushroom soup from scratch before assembling the ubiquitous casserole…but honestly, it’s a tradition for a reason, the original recipe is pretty comforting and delicious in its own nursery food way, and easy to make, so even if you consider yourself a major gourmet, pull out the processed food version and serve with a smile. Ditto sweet potatoes with marshmallows.

4. Thou shalt not overdo the appetizers.

You’re going to spend at least two days cooking for this meal. Let your guests be hungry when they get to the table. Keep your pre-dinner nibbles to small bowls of nuts or olives or pretzels or the like, think basic bar snacks…you just want your guests to have something to nosh on with their pre-dinner drinks, but if they fill up on hors d’oeuvres you’ll all be sad when you get to the table and can’t manage seconds. (this is good advice for any dinner party…either plan heavy hors d’ouevres and a light supper, or vice versa)

5. Thou shalt not bother with salad.

I know it always seems like such a good idea to make a fresh green salad. But frankly, it takes up valuable space on a plate that should be devoted to fourteen different starches, and you’re just going to throw most of it away, since it will be all wilty and depressed by the time you go to put the leftovers away. No one will miss it. Seriously. Stop even thinking about it.

6. Thou shalt not count calories, skimp on ingredients, measure portions, or whine and pout about how bad the food is for you.

We are all very sensitive to healthy eating these days, and more than a few of us are dealing with the need to lose a couple of pounds. Or a couple of dozen. THIS IS NOT THE DAY TO DO IT. Thanksgiving is, at its very core, a celebration of food and the memories that food invokes and the new memories created at the table. You do yourself, your host, and the day a disservice if you think of it as anything else, or deprive yourself of the sheer joy of this meal. If you’re the cook, don’t alter recipes with low fat/low salt/low taste versions of things unless you have a guest with medically prescribed dietary restrictions. Don’t skip meals before, so that you aren’t blindly starving by the time you get to the buffet, and if you’re really concerned, fill your plate anyway you like, but either don’t go back for seconds, or on your second round, stick to the less gloopy veggies and white meat turkey and the cranberry sauce. Any nutritionist worth their salt will tell you that one meal cannot derail your overall progress, especially if you get back to your program the next day and maybe add a workout that week. And any counselor will tell you that the surest way to be cranky is to deprive yourself while all around you are celebrating. Give yourself a break…you’ll be amazed that if you give yourself permission to have everything you want, how easy it is not to overdo it.

7. Thou shalt not stuff your bird.

I can hear you crying about it now….you are used to the bird packed with stuffing, you dream about the really crispy good part in the front over the neck, why can’t we stuff our turkeys? Here’s why….one, a stuffed bird is the best possible way to get food borne illness on the agenda. If the stuffing doesn’t get up to at least 180 degrees internally, it can breed bacteria, not fun. Two, in order to get the stuffing to 180, you are going to overcook the crap out of the turkey itself, especially the breast meat. Three, all that moistness you love in the in-the-bird stuffing? That is all the juices from the meat that are getting sucked out by the huge stuffing sponge, and you not only dry out your bird, you have many fewer juices with which to make gravy. Make your stuffing and bake in a separate dish, and if you really miss that dense moistness, buy a couple of extra turkey wings and lay them on top of the casserole as it bakes, and/or melt a stick of butter in a cup of chicken stock and pour it over the stuffing ten minutes before taking it out of the oven. And get over it. Stuffing that wasn’t actually stuffed is always going to be better than food poisoning.

8. Thou shalt not test more than one new recipe for this meal.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful meal to add to, but don’t do everything at once. I know that the cooking mags have all sorts of new-fangled versions of things, but they have to reinvent the holiday menu every year. Experimentation is good, but if you change the whole thing up at once, people are going to miss their old standby favorites. Pick one dish that you think is ready for a revamp, and throw in that curveball. If you love it, add it to the repertoire. But don’t do the chipotle rubbed turkey, sweet potato tofu bake, barley stuffing, green beans with fresh ricotta, and sherried fig cranberry coulis all in one meal. Someone will weep openly, and everyone will have to run out the next day and make a few traditional items to get them through to next year.

9. Thou shalt not be a Thanksgiving Dictator.

If people want to help in the kitchen, let them. And don’t criticize the quality of their small dice, or the way they wash the pots. Ditto assigning specific foods to guests who want to bring something…if someone offers to bring a dish, ask them what they love to make or what they crave most about Thanksgiving and let them bring that. Who cares if you have two kinds of sweet potatoes, or both cornbread and regular stuffing? On Thanksgiving, more is more, and abundance rules. Besides, you have a three day weekend that needs quality leftovers.

10. Thou shalt be thankful.

We are all very blessed in our own ways. Even if you are going through a rough time, there are those who have it rougher. Take a few moments to think about all of the gifts you have in your life, the family and friends who surround you, all of the wonderful things you may take for granted in the hustle and bustle of your day to day. Close your eyes, be joyful, and in all sincerity and humbleness thank the universe for your life.

And because I am so truly and deeply thankful for each and every one of you who reads this blog, FABULOUS PRIZES!

This amazing company called Lekue sent me a box full of totally cool cooking gadgets all made out of silicone.  Everything from a lemon squeezer to a collapseable steamer.  And I want to share the booty!

SO, post any of the following in the comments section:  most hilarious Thanksgiving disaster, best Thanksgiving recipe, or best Thanksgiving tip.  The best one will get a signed copy of my new book Good Enough to Eat which I will personalize to whoever you like (holiday gift anyone?), a Lekue Silicone pumpkin shaped cake mold a Lekue silicone cupcake set (including silicone cupcake cups, a spatula, and a decorating pod), and a really fantastic stretchy lid that allows you to flexibly top cans or jars for fridge storage.

Perfect pumpkin shaped cakes, all season long.  Think of the Jack O Lantern opportunities!

Such a great kit to play with-rainy day activities with the kids...

Perfect for those holiday cookies, even a decorating idiot like me can do it.

These things really seal well!

And because I love you, the six runners-up will get either a decorating pod or a stretchy lid (please allow me to choose for you).  Seven lucky winners in all!  Post those comments between now and 11:59 Sunday night November 28, the winner will be announced Monday November 29.   That way anything that happens this coming holiday weekend can be included in the running.
Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Here are some of my go-to turkey day recipes. Follow to the letter or use as a springboard for your own touches… All recipes are designed to accommodate 12-14 people with leftovers.

Brined Turkey

1 16 lb. fresh turkey, fully thawed


9 Q water
1 gallon apple cider
1 bottle Riesling or other fruity white wine
2 ½ c kosher salt
2 c brown sugar
8 bay leaves
2 ½ T coriander
1 ½ T juniper berries
2 T peppercorns
1 ½ T fennel seed
1 T mustard seed
3 onions-quartered
2 apples-quartered
1 bunch thyme

Boil 1 Q water with salt, sugar and all spices. Cool. Put in brining bag. Remove giblets from turkey, and rinse bird under cold water inside and out.Add rest of ingredients and turkey. Brine minimum 12 hours, 24 is better.

Dry with clean dishcloths and set on large sheet pan. Season cavity well with salt and pepper, then add 1 quartered apple and a quartered onion to the cavity, along with a bunch of thyme.  Put compund butter under skin and let sit on counter uncovered to tighten and dry skin, at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Make rack on the bottom of the roasting pan with celery, carrot, onion, 4-5 whole shallots, thyme. Melt remaining compound butter and brush the outside of the turkey.  Put turkey on vegetables breast side down, and put in oven. Reduce immediately to 400 degrees. Cook 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325, cook 90 minutes.

Flip breast side up, insert probe thermometer, and cook to 155 internal temp, 45-120 minutes depending on size of bird, rest 40 minutes.


Discard carrots, celery, onion and thyme sticks. Set aside shallots. Pour juices into fat separator or tall glass. Put roasting pan on one burner and add 1 c white wine, cooking over high heat to get any brown bits dissolved, and till reduced by half. Defat pan juices, add roasted shallots and wine and blend with immersion blender. Taste for seasoning. If not liquid enough, add turkey or chicken stock.

Compound butter:

2 sticks butter at room temp
1 minced shallot
2 T fresh thyme leaves
2 T fresh rosemary
2 T Dijon mustard
Zest of 1 lemon
1 T salt

Blend by hand or in a food processor. Can be stored up to five days, or frozen for up to three months. Bring to room temp before using it on your turkey, I use half as is under the skin, and then melt the other half and brush the outside of the bird.

Cranberry Sauce

2 bags cranberries
1 ½ c port (or pomegranate juice if you are worried about alcohol)
1 c sugar
1 t salt
5 T orange juice
1 ½ t cornstarch
1 t ground mustard
1 t lemon juice
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch ground clove
Pinch fresh ginger
Zest of 1 lemon
½ c dried cherries-rehydrate by heating gently for 10 minutes in ¼ c port or water

Cook cranberries and port in a saucepan over med-high heat 10 minutes, until cranberries burst. Add sugar and salt. Whisk OJ, cornstarch, mustard, lemon juice in a bowl and add to berries. Stir to combine. Add rest of ingredients, cook 5-6 minutes more, cool.

Killer Mashed Potatoes

10 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled, cubed)
2 sticks butter, cubed
1 pt. whole milk, warmed (or half and half or cream, depending on how rich you like it)
1 pt. sour cream
1 8 oz tub whipped cream cheese with chives (or plain) at room temp
1 bunch chives, chopped fine
S&P to taste

Boil peeled cubed potatoes till soft in well salted water. Drain completely. Put potatoes through ricer, or just use hand masher to mash. Then switch to hand mixer, blending only just as long as you need to mix in each ingredient.  Don't overmix!  Add butter first, then cream cheese, and then milk to just shy of your preferred texture. Once the potatoes are almost there, add in the sour cream and chives and season well. Hold in double boiler to keep warm…this is the dish I make while the turkey is resting, best when fresh.

Stacey’s Green Bean Casserole

3 lbs fresh green beans, trimmed, blanched 90 seconds in boiling water, dried thoroughly (I often buy the microwave in bag pre-washed beans, and follow cooking directions, setting time for the lowest time listed (4 min per bag), then dry)

1 lb asst. sliced exotic mushrooms (I use 4 oz each oyster, crimini, chantrelle, and either morels or shitake, but use any combination of mushrooms that are available and you love)
2 shallots minced (or one small onion minced fine)
4 T butter
8 T flour
2 c chicken stock (homemade if possible)
2 c heavy cream
16 oz mascarpone cheese, room temp (can substitute cream cheese or soft goat cheese)
½ cup buttered breadcrumbs (1/2 c breadcrumbs sautéed in 2 T butter)-optional
1 large can French’s fried onions

In a large wide saucepan with high sides, sauté shallots and mushrooms in butter until moisture is released and evaporates completely. Sprinkle flour over mixture, stir in, and cook 2 minutes. Add stock and simmer 2 minutes. Add cream and simmer about 15-18 minutes until very thickened and reduced. Take off heat and stir in mascarpone, taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper. Mix beans with sauce and pour into buttered pan 9x13.

Mix buttered breadcrumbs and fried onions in bowl and set aside.

If serving right away: Cook 425 degrees 15 minutes, top with onion breadcrumb mixture, cook 10-15 minutes till top is lightly browned and crispy.

Can be made up to two days in advance…take out of fridge to come to room temp 90 minutes before cooking. Put in 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes until bubbling around the edges. Top with onion mixture and cook additional 15 minutes.

Basic Stuffing

1 XL loaf country bread or French bread cubed and toasted till totally dry (2 lbs.) (or 2 lbs of the plain crouton cubes from the store)
1 pkg soft egg rolls or hot dog buns torn coarsely
2 ½ sticks butter
1 ½ c finely chopped onion
1 ½ c finely chopped celery
Celery leaves from 2 heads, chopped
¼ c chopped flat leaf parsley
Dried sage, thyme, marjoram (1 T each)
S/P to taste
4 lg eggs, beaten
1 32 oz box chicken stock…add as necessary to moisten
½ c toasted bread crumbs

Saute veggies and herbs in 1 ½ sticks butter. Toss with bread. Add stock slowly till moist but not overly soggy. Taste for seasoning. Stir in eggs and mix well. Put in deep foil pan. Drizzle with melted stick of butter and sprinkle of breadcrumbs.

400 degrees for 25 minutes covered, then 20 uncovered. If you want extra turkey flavor, lay the pieces of 2-3 turkey wings on top of the casserole for all but the last 10 minutes, and for extra moistness, melt another 4-8 T butter in 1 c chicken or turkey stock and pour over top when you uncover the stuffing, then continue cooking.

Can be made up to two days in advance, and reheated in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes before serving.  Add in whatever you like to make it yours, cooked sausage meat, nuts or dried fruits, other herbs, mushrooms or water chestnuts, swap out some of the croutons for dried crumbled cornbread...

Sweet Potato Casserole

8 large sweet potatoes
1 stick butter
½ c brown sugar
Cinnamon, nutmeg, s/p
3 eggs
1 bag mini marshmallows

Roast potatoes in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes to an hour till ery soft. Mash with butter, sugar, and cinnamon, s/p, nutmeg. Mix in eggs.

Bake 350 for 25 minutes, add marshmallows to top in one layer, put back in oven for 10-15 more minutes until the marshmallows are golden brown.

Pumpkin/Butternut Squash Soup

If you want this soup all pumpkin, replace the butternut squash with fresh or frozen cubed pumpkin. If you want it all squash, eliminate the canned pumpkin and add another 2 lbs of cubed squash.  I love this served at the table, but it also is great in little espresso cups as a pre-dinner amuse bouche.

3 lbs fresh butternut squash cubes(about 3 large squash, peeled and de-seeded and cubed)
2 large cans pumpkin (29.5 oz organic…not pumpkin pie filling!)
3 quarts chicken stock (or veggie stock if you have vegetarians coming)
1 pt. heavy cream
2 med. (or one large) yellow onions
1 stick butter
Fresh ground nutmeg

Prep squash if necessary by peeling, de-seeding and cubing in large chunks. Sauté onions in butter till soft but not browned, add squash and pumpkin. Pour in enough chicken stock to cover the vegetables by about 1 ½ - 2 inches. Cook over medium heat till very soft, about 35-45 minutes. Blend with immersion blender or in batches in regular blender till very smooth, for extra velvety soup strain thru Chinois or fine mesh strainer. Add cream and season to taste with salt and pepper and fresh nutmeg.

Freezes beautifully pre-cream, I often make a double batch and freeze half without the cream in it. Is also delish without the cream if you want to be healthier.


½ c heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
8-10 amaretti cookies, crumbled but not powdered

Blend together right before serving and garnish each bowl or cup with a generous spoon.

Have also topped with:

Crushed gingersnaps and mini marshmallows
Crème fraiche mixed with crystallized ginger
Candied orange zest and toasted pine nuts
Toasted gingerbread croutons
Caramel corn
Whipped cream blended with cranberry sauce
Crouton with melted asiago cheese
Fried sage leaves
Curried nuts (pumpkin seeds, pecans, walnuts)

Balsamic Cipollini Onions

A great savory/sweet side dish, and amazing on leftover sandwiches!
2 lbs cipollini onions, peeled (blanch in boiling water one minute, shock in ice water, skins should slip right off)
3 T olive oil
3 T butter
1 ½ T brown sugar
6 T balsamic vinegar
1 T chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Place onions in medium bowl; toss with oil. Arrange onions on baking sheet or in roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until onions are brown and tender, rotating pan in oven and turn onions once, about 35 minutes (they will caramelize and be quite dark in parts but, if you have coated them well with olive oil, will not have a 'burnt' taste). Meanwhile, melt butter in heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add vinegar. Return to heat. Simmer until mixture thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Pour over onions and continue to cook in oven 10 more minutes. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Pickled Carrots

Great pre-dinner nibble! A bowl of these and a bowl of nuts are really all you need.

1 large bag baby carrots (2 1bs)
1 bottle apple cider vinegar
1 large jar honey
4 T mustard seed
1 bunch dill

Combine vinegar, honey and mustard seed in saucepan. Add carrots and cook over med-high heat till carrots are cooked but still crisp, 5-8 minutes. Store in pickling liquid in fridge. Before serving, drain liquid, add chopped fresh dill.

Thanksgiving Time and Action Plan

Here is how I manage the week so that I don’t have a nervous breakdown. All recipes are above. I like to serve dinner at dinner time, but you can alter by changing the end time to the time you want to serve, and adjust backwards.

Monday: Cranberry sauce, pickled carrots, herb butter, make amaretti crumbs, prep veg for stuffing.

Tuesday: Make stuffing, sweet potatoes, onions, green bean casserole, soup, make brine for turkey and chill.

Wednesday: Brine turkey, set table, get house organized, make any desserts or breads you want to have, these are things I tend to let others bring for ease, but this would be the day to do it if it is on your agenda.


10:00 remove herb butter from fridge, take Turkey out of fridge and let sit in brine at room temp

10:30 make turkey stock from neck, wing tips, carrot, celery, onion, one bay leaf and a quart of water. Simmer for 30 minutes, strain and reserve.

11:00 remove turkey from brine, pat dry, put ½ herb butter under skin, leave uncovered to dry on counter (away from dog’s reach, cat access, or curious children) If you can’t leave it on the counter in the open kitchen, on top of the washer or dryer in the laundry room is another good place as long as it isn’t near any cleaning products.

12:30 melt remaining herb butter, brush on skin

1:00 Heat oven to 500. Make vegetable rack in roasting pan.

1:30 Put Turkey in oven Breast side down. Immediately reduce heat to 400

2:00 Reduce heat to 325

3:30 Turn Turkey breast side up. Take stuffing, sweet potato casserole, green beans, soup, cranberries out of fridge to come to room temp

4:30 peel and chunk potatoes, put in cold well-salted water in pot on stove

5:00 Turn soup on medium-low, make amaretti whipped cream

5:15 Turn on potatoes, chop chives, heat milk and cream for mash

5:30 Turkey out of oven, tent with foil, rest minimum 40 minutes. Put sweet potato casserole, stuffing, green beans in oven. Make gravy/jus.

5:45 Mash potatoes

5:55 Put marshmallows on sweet potato casserole, add broth with butter to stuffing if needed

6:15 Have someone serve soup while you carve turkey

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Parlor and the Kitchen- Stew for your Crew and Killer Rice Pudding

Okay, Chickens. Get ready. This is a big post. Much to tell you.

First off, again, I apologize for the absence, I was actually in lovely NYC for a week, seeing friends and having some meetings and then a glorious weekend of art and food and pals with Charming Suitor. G-L-O-R-I-O-U-S.

Some dining highlights:


This great seafood restaurant by David Burke and Donatella Arpaia is pretty flawless, the best halibut I have ever had in my life, lovely room, terrific service…all of which will be difficult to remember after the Can ‘O Cake. I will not ruin it, half the fun is the discovery of it as an amazing piece of dessert theater. All I can say is ORDER IT, and sit back and wait for the fun to start. We were the first ones in our section to get it, and I guarantee that every other table in the room ordered one after they saw us having so much fun.

Collichio and Sons

Major crush on Tom Collichio notwithstanding, this man can run a restaurant. Food is impeccable. Innovative enough to not be boring, but familiar enough to bring all the soul satisfying comfort of old favorites.

The Red Cat
An old favorite that never disappoints, do not skip the tempura green beans on penalty of your life.

The Spotted Pig

We went for brunch. We ordered the pot of pickles, since anything vinegary makes me swoon with delight. These did not disappoint, green beans, carrots, radishes, tiny cornichons, little onions…all very yummy. Then I ordered the Dutch Baby pancake which comes with house-smoked bacon. Now where I am from, a Dutch Baby is a very large unwieldy delicious but heavy dish. I have never been able to get through half of one. They usually require a major nap immediately following. April Bloomfield’s version is a whisper of a pancake. It is insanely delicious, but totally ethereal. It literally melted away on the tongue, barely there, like it was made of rainbows and butterfly wings. So when the server came back to see if there was anything else she could bring us, I didn’t hold back. I gestured at my empty plate.

“Yeah. I’m going to need to do this again.” Cause that is how your Polymath rolls.

She did an excellent job of looking unsurprised that someone just said “Ditto” to a whole breakfast.

Charming Suitor did help me with the second round, just as delicious as the first.

Rice to Riches

I have spoken about them before, and I shall do it again. Rice pudding. All rice pudding, all the time. Ever since my dear friend Brooklyn Harry took me, nearly four years ago, I have never skipped a pilgrimage when I go to NY. I even once shipped it in for a dinner party. But the shipping is exorbitant, and I needed to be able to have this one in my back pocket. It took 13 tries spread over 2 years, but Chickens, I HAVE NAILED IT! And because I love you, I? Am totally sharing the recipe. See below. And you’re welcome. And if you think you hate rice pudding, make this and then tell me how very very wrong you were.

Once we got back from our wonderful mini-vaca, Charming Suitor and I had to gear up for a dinner party we were hosting. Since Fall has fallen in these parts, and the weather was due to be brisk, we knew we wanted warm bowls of comfort food. Charming Suitor had the perfect thing.

Back in 1983 there was a cookbook published called The New American Cuisine. A sort of ominous black cover revealed glossy pages filled with a whole lot of French cooking for a book supposedly about American Cuisine. With pictures from before the time of really good food photography, where all the food looks either garish or gray or as if it is made of plastic.

But in the Feasting section, there is a gem. Burgundian Beef Stew. Not sure why they call it Beef Stew, since there is also pork and sausage in it, but no matter. This is French peasant cooking at its finest. A one-pot meal, full of meat and veggies and starches, in a rich broth that begs to be sopped up with bread. The fact that you serve it topped with a ridiculously delish crème fraîche sauce, which brings wonderful brightness to the dish, and crispy bacon bits for texture (and bacon-ness) elevates this to perfect dinner party food. I tweaked it a bit for my own taste, but the essence of the original is retained in my version. 

We put out the usual cheese and olives and such to start. Then everyone grabbed their bowls and headed to the stove to make their perfect plate. Crisp baguettes on the table for everyone to tear off hunks and dunk. A crisp green salad with a simple vinaigrette, served after the stew in the traditional French manner. Easy. We made the stew and dessert the night before, since both taste even better the next day, making day-of prep insanely easy. Plus, it is the kind of recipe that is totally fun to cook with your sweetie, nothing hard, some simple chopping and dicing, tossing things in a big pot…it is a forgiving dish, so no worries about anyone missing a step or doing something wrong. And as the house starts to smell warm and delicious, everything gets very cozy.

And for that dessert?

Yep. Rice pudding. Gilded with a drizzle of caramel sauce and a sprinkle of chopped toasted salted Marcona almonds for crunch.

If you have friends who feel like family, or family that feels like friends? Invite them over for this meal. It tastes like love.

And pork.

But mostly love.

And if you have a similar dish that works for you? Share with the class!

Burgundian Stew
Adapted from The New American Cuisine Cookbook (1983)

12 oz diced slab bacon or salt pork
2 medium onions, chopped
1 c chopped celery heart, with the leaves
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 ½ inch chunks
2 leeks, white part only, chopped
2 small turnips, diced
1 ½ lb lean pork shoulder, cut in 1 ½ inch cubes
1 ½ lb beef shoulder, cut in 1 ½ inch cubes
1 ½ lb kielbasa sausage, in 2 inch chunks (use a good local butcher version if you can get it, grocery store versions can break down and get mushy)
Bouquet garni of 3 sprigs parsley, a celery stalk with the leaves, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 bay leaves tied in cheese cloth or just wound with butcher’s twine
8 cups good beef stock
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut in eighths
1 small green cabbage (I use Savoy if I can get it) cut in 8 wedges, with the core intact to hold the wedges together
2 c flageolet or cannellini beans, soaked overnight
3 T demi-glace or condensed beef stock (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large heavy-bottomed wide Dutch oven, cook bacon slowly over medium-low heat to render the fat and make it crispy. Drain bacon and reserve for serving. Add onions, celery, carrots, leeks, and turnips to the hot bacon fat and sweat vegetables slowly about 10 minutes. Add all the meats and bouquet garni to the pot and cover with the beef stock. Raise heat to high and bring to boil. Skim the foam, then reduce heat to low and cover, and simmer gently about 1 ½ hours, the meat should be tender, but not falling apart. Add the beans and cook about 1-20 minutes. Stir in the demi-glace if you have it. I like to cook it to this stage, cool it down in the pot and then refrigerate overnight for up to two days. If you are making and serving it the same day, just continue immediately with the next steps. The day you want to serve, bring to a simmer over medium high heat, add the potatoes and cook about 15 minutes. Nestle the cabbage wedges down into the broth and cook covered another 10 minutes. Taste to be sure all the vegetables are cooked through and the meat is the right level of tenderness, and season the broth with salt and pepper. Turn on low and leave until you want to serve, it is fine to be on low for 3-4 hours.

To convert for a slow cooker, once the vegetables have been sweated with the bacon fat, transfer them to your slow cooker, add all of the rest of the ingredients except the cabbage and cook for about 8 hours on Hi. Add the cabbage about 1 hour before serving.

To serve, have the crispy bacon bits for people to add to their taste, and crème fraîche mustard sauce to put on top:

Creme Fraiche Mustard Sauce
2 c crème fraîche
3 T Dijon mustard
2 T lemon juice
4 T chopped chives
Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together and keep chilled until service.

I serve this in the kitchen, letting everyone get their perfect bowl with the right amount of broth for them (be sure to have loads of good crusty bread for dunking!).

This and a crisp simple green salad is all you need for the best Fall/Winter get together.

Stacey’s Ridiculous Rice Pudding

Serves 12-16 generously, making it a great dish for your upcoming holiday events, can be halved with no problem.

3 c arborio rice
8 c whole milk
4 c heavy cream
6 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
¼ t almond extract
1 ¼ c sugar
Pinch salt

Cook rice in rice cooker (or on stovetop using regular method), fluff with fork and spread on baking sheet to cool at room temp, but do not use cold rice out of the fridge if you can help it. Bring milk, sugar, vanilla and salt to a boil. Add rice and cook over medium-low heat about 30 minutes, stirring frequently looking for a good creamy slush and that the rice has puffed up and is cooked completely through without being mushy. Should not boil, just keep at a lazy simmer. Whisk egg yolks with 2 cups of cream and then mix into rice mixture off heat. Return to heat and let come to a lazy lava-like bubble, then remove from heat and transfer to a bowl to cool. Let cool until slightly warm to the touch. Add flavorings now if you choose, see below. Whip remaining cream to soft peaks and fold into pudding.

Stir in while pudding is still warm but not hot.

1 c Nutella
1 c dark caramel sauce
1 c melted creamy nut butter, my fave is pistachio, but almond is also great
1 c fruit puree or butter of your choice, raspberry and blueberry are very good, ditto apple and pear butters and pumpkin
1 c lemon curd
8 oz melted chocolate mixed with 2 oz cream
8 oz softened mascarpone or cream cheese or goat cheese for a cheesecakey flavor
4 oz flavor syrup (coffee, spice, maple)
Replace the initial 2 c cream with egg nog
2 oz liqueur (rum, amaretto, kahluha, bourbon, marsala etc.)


Chopped nuts
Chocolate chips
Cookie crumbles
Fresh fruit or dried fruit macerated in liqueur until softened
citrus zest
cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spice (add 1-2 t to your taste)

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath