Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Like Christmas, but better...

The first turkey of the day.

Last Thursday was 389 years since the first Thanksgiving celebration when the pilgrims sat down to their harvest supper. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but any holiday that revolves around food is all right by me. As we're currently in a downtown apartment, we thought we should get involved, and so got up bright and early to watch the parade along State Street to Macy's. It only went for about a mile, but was a plethora of marching bands, cheerleaders, enormous character balloons, and generally lots of people looking like they were having a great time, in spite of the cold.

Where are you Scooby Doo? Oh, there you are...no sign of Scrappy though.

After heading home for an hour or so to defrost, we headed off for our very first Thanksgiving lunch. Given the shoebox size of our current kitchen and its lack of equipment, I didn't fancy trying to create even a standard roast dinner, never mind the culinary masterpiece required by Thanksgiving, so we booked lunch at Lockwood, one of the restaurants in the nearby Palmer House Hilton Hotel. And I have to say it was really rather good. Lunch was served as a buffet, which gave us opportunity to try all of the holiday treats on offer, rather than glancing at the next table and wishing you'd ordered what they have (known as 'futterneid' in German - every language should have a word for food-envy).

We started off with butternut squash and apple soup with cinnamon creme fraiche - nothing special, but very nice all the same. The creme fraiche was a nice touch, but the pecans made it a little too sweet for my taste. This was swiftly followed by a trip back for salad, smoked salmon and huge prawns. Prawns were good, the smoked salmon was fairly pedestrian, but okay, and the hot smoked mackerel was lovely. The asparagus however was not. I should know better than to eat such things out of season, and having feasted on English asparagus for a few glorious weeks earlier this year, it was a real disappointment...

The soup was good...but the fish and salad didn't deserve a picture.

The main event was, unsurprisingly, turkey...and ham and fish and squash ravioli and squash purée with marshmallows and roast potatoes and rutabaga (turnips, but the American name is more fun) and cranberry sauce and stuffing and biscuits. And yes, all of those things did find their way onto my plate, all at the same time. Like I said, I didn't want to suffer futterneid. It was all very good, even if some of the sauces didn't exactly complement each other, but that's my own fault for being greedy.

Turkey with lots of trimmings.

Sadly there was no pumpkin pie for dessert, so I'll have to wait until next year to try that American staple, but the other miniature puddings were all pretty good. Again I had to try everything, and they were all very nice. I was tempted to save the sugar turkey off one of the little cakes, but once again my greed got the better of me.

We finished off the day with a walk in the park. I expected it to be deserted, but the ice rink was packed and there were plenty of people around walking off their festive lunch. All in all it strikes me as a pretty good holiday - good food with family and friends, without the commercial pressures of Christmas. And as an added bonus, there wasn't even any washing up to deal with this year.

Well, I guess that's it for big feasts until Christmas, but if you're in the UK this weekend you might want to start preparing with a trip to Ms Marmite Lovers Underground Christmas Market. I sold my wares at the first market earlier this year, and so have been following the preparations for the festive market with interest. It sounds like it's going to be a great day - you can see more details and how to get tickets here. Amongst other things there's going to be Christmas puddings, cookery demonstrations and an ironing board cocktail bar!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Down on the farm

Before we left the UK for the land of deep dish pizzas, Thanksgiving turkeys and no - I repeat no - Marmite (any visitors from the UK will be required to bring a jar in exchange for board and lodging), I had a few great food experiences. One of the most notable was when in early September we went to River Cottage in Dorset for the River Cottage Autumn Fair. It was a fantastic celebration of growing your own fruit and veg and raising your own meat, while treading as lightly as possible on the earth.

Suffice to say I loved every second of it, particularly the lamb butchery demonstration which was a fantastic display of skill that produced some very tasty results - especially the neck fillets I was given at the end which made a wonderful rich stew a few days later.

Everything that we ate during the weekend whilst staying on nearby Trill Farm, dinner at the River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, and on the day of the fair itself was fresh and incredibly tasty. Fine dining it wasn't, but smoked mackerel sandwiches with home made mayonnaise and peppery salad leaves, or a creamy, rich courgette frittata take some beating.

It's Thanksgiving here next week, so we're going out for a traditional turkey lunch after watching the parade - I'll report back on the day soon. I'm also going to be trying out a few 'traditional' American foods and ingredients in the next few weeks, and I'm planning on jumping in at the deep end with spray on cheese. Yummy.

River Cottage HQ - aka Park Farm. I don't think Hugh actually lives here, but even for the end of the growing season, the kitchen garden looked great

River Cottage butcher Ray showing us how to butcher a lamb - he's on the TV!

Mackerel being smoked...

...and then becoming lunch.

And finally, a spot of ferret racing to finish a day out in the country.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

An update

Okay, so it's been a little while since my last post and a lot has happened, so I'll try and keep this update brief, and then get things going properly again.

To cut a long story short, Kitchen Confidential (the beta issue) had its first and so far only outing at Ms Marmite Lover's Underground Farmer's Market back in March. We pretty much sold out of marmalade, and sold plenty of cakes, soups and other lovely bits and pieces. It was a fantastic day and we met some great people, including the lovely Lex of Lex Eat (but more on her later), Mama Lan who made the most amazing traditional Chinese stuffed pancakes, and Scarlett the Heavenly Healer. Okay so we didn't make our fortune, but we covered our costs for the day, and then (proving our love of good food if not our business sense), decided to spend our takings on a fabulous blow-out at Wild Honey. I would tell you about what we ate, but the quantities of Champagne and rather good wine have made it all a bit blurry - although the wonderful honeycomb ice cream with which we ended the meal stands out as a memory even now.

So, that's what happened with the marmalade from the last post, but why nothing since, and why haven't we taken part in the other farmers' markets run by Miss Marmite Lover? Well, in late April my husband returned home slightly tipsy one evening and asked how I felt about moving to Chicago. At the time I dismissed it as the ramblings of a drunk, but six months later I got on a plane without a return ticket in my pocket for the first time ever, and I'm now trying to become a Chicagoan. I'm learning cook and eat in a new country, and I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences with you. I'm also going to be investigating the supper club movement over here, which on first inspection seems a bit more like pop-up restaurants than actually visiting people's homes as I've done in the UK, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they've got to offer.

I'll sign off for now, but there's a few other interim stories to tell you, such as our visit to River Cottage, and my fabulous going away Christmas dinner. I've also already managed a couple of pretty good meals out in Chicago, despite only having been here for four weeks, and with the major culinary event of Thanksgiving fast approaching, I'll have plenty of other tales to tell soon...