Friday, November 23, 2012

Sweet, Sweet Thanksgiving

    Granddaughter, Anna Rose, and Uncle Warner
Our dining room table was pushed to the brink, I think, when we gathered 20 adults, children and various animals around it for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a spectacular feast with a variety of appealing dishes that would have rated high marks even from the testy food critics at the New York Times.
by Charlie Leck
Though we led with a big, free-ranging and organic roast turkey at our Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, it was surrounded by so many wonderful accompanying dishes that even Mark Bittman of the New York Times would have approved. (See his column of 20 November 2012: All Hail the Sweet Potato.) Indeed, as Bittman promised, the sweet potatoes were delicious and surprising.
Bittman, a brilliant food blogger and an extraordinary cook, thinks that the turkey is generally a waste of time…
“At the hands of all but the most experienced, careful or lucky cooks, the more than 700 million pounds of turkey we’ll buy this week will wind up with breast meat that’s cottony-dry and leg meat that is underdone, tough, stringy or all three…
“It’s not entirely the turkey’s fault; when you think about it, few holidays are really culinary [1], and in general Thanksgiving is a celebratory feast that has little to do with the harvest or the brilliance of the food but rather family and memories and, usually, obligations.
The Thanksgiving Sweet Potato
And, he thinks the sweet potato is the savior of this holiday dinner so boldly headlined by the turkey (his column so deeply impressed me that I gave extra-careful attention to my sweet potato this year and I found it an absolutely wonderful and compelling experience)…
“If you bake a sweet potato properly – in its skin, with a few holes poked in it (they’ve been known to explode, in a messy but not dangerous sense) – you will get a combination of textures that no other food can offer, and with no added ingredients: sweet stickiness from the caramelizing liquid that oozes from the inside out; a little bit of crunchy chewiness, from the parts of the skin that this liquid helps brown; a soft, velvety yet slightly leathery skin, perfectly edible; and, of course, the meltingly tender, ultra-luxurious flesh, which can range from creamy white to familiar orange to deep red and even purple, and is perhaps best enjoyed with a sprinkle of salt.
“I’m not one to extol the nutritional benefits of one plant over another — we should be eating more of all of them, and less of tortured, chemically enhanced birds — but sweet potatoes are almost unfairly potent, especially when it comes to beta-carotene (happily, made more bio-available when eaten with a little fat), fiber and a host of micronutrients, including not only common ones but those whose benefits are still being explored. If that alone isn’t a reason to eat them, it’s a reason to consider eating them instead of a bag of pretzels when you’re craving starch, or a handful of cookies when you’re craving sweets.
“The sweet potato, of course, is not only fit for baking: it can be grated and stir-fried; sliced and steamed, sautéed, broiled or roasted; wrapped in foil and baked in a fire; fried or, even better, cut into “fries” and baked with a little oil until crisp (or included in tempura); made into soup, a pasta sauce, a filling for ravioli or pie; used as a thickener; dried and eaten as a snack; reheated and drizzled with olive oil; braised in curries or soy-based dishes or European-style stews. Turkey, actually, is not nearly as versatile.”
Well, I gave it up for Mr. Bittman and even tried to propose a toast to him, but it was immediately taken up as some sort of joke by the diners and they laughed the toast and me off before I could even commence. So instead I proposed some sort of delight in the year past and gave thanks for it and offered the hope that the coming year would be as successful and happy.

    The glorious sweet potato!
But I kept giving eye to a remarkable standing rib roast that my NYC daughter had spent a great deal of time preparing on Thanksgiving morning and presented at just the exactly right moment when the Thanksgiving dinner commenced. It had been roasted at a very high temperature for a very short time and then allowed to come to perfection in a closed but tightly sealed oven for the next two hours or so. She had also rubbed it affectionately and thoroughly in a concoction she had invented that morning right in our own kitchen from ingredients she stumbled upon in the pantry.
So, with the help of some remarkable wine recommended by my favorite wine seller up in town, the sweet potatoes and the boufe magnifique were my personal winners at the table yesterday; but, perhaps, they had been aided by the wondrous beet salad and the carefully constructed green lettuce salad that joined them on our table. Bittman, as he usually is, was correct about the turkey. It is a necessary part of the Thanksgiving dinner, but, my, it is certainly not to be considered the star of the table’s list of players.
Follow it all with more wine and the taste sensations drawn from the Apple Crisp and the Pumpkin Pie and you know that Thanksgiving has again been more than simply wonderful.
One wonders, however, how any Thanksgiving dinner, surrounded by such happiness and love could ever be anything other than wonderful!

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