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Archive for November, 2009

The First Thanksgiving

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Photo courtesy Plimoth.org. There’s lots more
on the website!

What did they eat at the first Thanksgiving in 1621—which was not called Thanksgiving by the celebrants? It was probably referred to as a harvest festival. (President Abraham Lincoln declared the first national Thanksgiving Day in 1863.)

We know that in 1621, the governor of Plimoth Plantation sent four men fowling, and “they four in one day shot as much fowl.” Perhaps it was turkey, perhaps not. The native Wampanoag guests killed five deer. About ninety of them attended, and the feast lasted for three days.

There’s much to know about the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag People that we never learned in school. But Plimoth Plantation, a historical site, offers terrific education online.

Before or after Thanksgiving dinner, the website is a great alternative to football for young and old alike.

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TIP OF THE DAY: A Sweeter Hostess Gift

Happy Thanksgiving! If you’re a guest at Thanksgiving dinner today, you’ve most likely picked up a gift for your host or hostess. But for future dinner parties, find out if anyone on the guest list is on a sugar-restricted diet.

Then, let other guests bring the traditional bottle of wine. You can help out the hosts by bringing a box of fine sugar-free cookies or candy that can be enjoyed for dessert by those with restrictions.

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Curious Cookies sugar-free cookies.

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COOKING TIPS: The Butterball Hotline (1.800.288.8372) & Turkey-Carving Video

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Don’t thaw in the bathtub while bathing the kids.

For 10 months a year, the Butterball Hotline is an automated tip line. But for almost 30 years, live operators take over during peak turkey season, November and December, and a tidal wave of people (last year, around 100,000) phone for their advice. If we may cross over to fiction for a moment, even President Jed Bartlett called for help, in one of the more endearing scenes on “The West Wing.”

The 55 operators who staff Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line know their stuff(ing): All have degrees in home economics, food science or nutrition. While some have been on the line since its inception, newbies are trained to address every situation, from the banal but necessary (optimal size turkey to buy, thawing techniques, cooking times and temperatures, amount of stuffing needed, how to use a meat thermometer, carving knives, presentation tips and food-safety concerns) to the erratic (you’d be surprised how many people thaw the turkey in the bathwater while bathing the kids).

More recently, everyone has had to come up the curve on deep fat frying a turkey, which has become a more popular way to prepare the holiday bird. (But don’t get too excited—it’s the least healthy way to prepare a turkey.)

The hotline, 1.800.288.8372, is available 365/24/7.

  • One thing you need a visual demonstration of is carving. See a video on how to carve a turkey, from Chef Daniel Humm of one of our favorite restaurants, NYC’s Eleven Madison Park (and a James Beard Foundation Rising Chef award winner).

 

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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Sprinkles Cupcake Mix

In greater Los Angeles, home to Sprinkles Cupcakes,* there is the usual discussion board controversy. You’ll read everything from they’re “the best there is” to “avoid at all costs.” We only know Sprinkles cupcakes from their mixes. We’ve made every one, and we stand firmly with “the best there is” crowd. Maybe your homemade cupcakes are as good, but they can’t be much better.

*The original store is in Beverly Hills. There are outposts in Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Newport Beach, Phoenix/Scottsdale and Palo Alto, with 16 additional locations on the boards (see the website).

If you’re looking for a better cupcake than what you can buy…if you’re tired of trying recipes, only to find that they’re not what you were hoping for…we hope that your search, like ours, has come to an end. Your new favorite gourmet cake mix purveyor is Candace Nelson, co-founder (with her husband) of Sprinkles Cupcakes. Some day we’ll get to a Sprinkles bakery; until then, we can only judge the cupcakes made from the mixes as A to A+.

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The best cupcakes in town are at your house,
with Sprinkles cupcake mixes. Photo by Victoria Pearson | Sprinkles.

We baked up all seven cupcake mixes: Banana, Dark Chocolate, Lemon, Pumpkin, Red Velvet, Spice and Vanilla. There’s also Chocolate Peppermint which, along with Pumpkin, is a seasonal mix flavor.

  • Read the full review to discover our favorites and how to make the best cupcakes in town.
  • Find more of our favorite cupcakes and recipes in THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet Cakes Section.

 

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TIP OF THE DAY: Glamorous Garnishing

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A bowl of tomato soup garnished with crab-
meat, fresh basil, shredded Grana Padano
and snipped chives. Photo courtesy
WisDairy.com.

Remember when a garnish meant parsley? Today, part of the creativity in cooking is the choice of edible garniture. Just a bit of garnish makes any plate look better.

Try whole or halved cherry or grape tomatoes or actual grapes, caperberries with stems (or scatter small capers on the plate), beads of whitefish caviar, edible flowers….There are dozens of tasty choices whether your course is sweet or savory.

So whether you’re presenting the turkey, yams, stuffing, cranberries or other dishes tomorrow, consider whether sprigs of rosemary, orange peel, dill or other garnish (yes, even parsley) can make them even more of a visual “wow.”

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