As the holiday season is almost upon us, we asked the Coho Restaurant culinary team to reflect on their holiday memories and what inspires them as they plan another year of holiday dinners for our patrons.
As I close my eyes and try to recall memories of Thanksgivings with my family I see the autumn sun reflecting off the gold and auburn hues of leaves changing just outside the window. I am lifted by the delicious smells wafting from the kitchen as my mother puts the finishing touches on the day’s feast. At this point in the day, the sounds coming from the living room have shifted from the early morning commentary of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a somewhat yearly tradition in our house which I can’t ever recall actually watching, to the cheers and dramatic themes erupting from the holiday’s football marathon. As the aromas make their way through the house, filling rooms and temping palates, the focus becomes more centered around the gathering place and draws people closer to the kitchen. Unless you were there helping prepare, you would often be shooed away scornfully and told to wait. Then, in a very rapid succession, bowls and platters begin occupying the recently empty places on the table.
There were always a few yearly classic sides that found their way to the table; the green bean casserole with a crunchy French onion crust, mashed potatoes with my mother’s wonderful gravy, cranberries, a salad adorned with nuts and dried fruits, and of course a ham or turkey. The years we had a turkey my mother would make a wonderful white bread stuffing with celery, sage, and chopped onion. Every once in a while a minced meat pie would find its way to the table, and while I was reluctant to try it at first, it soon became something I looked forward to.
This year at our Coho Thanksgiving celebration I am hoping to share some of our family traditions with you and bring some of our family favorites to your table.
Thanksgiving comes at a time when the fall evolution has completed and produce has settled into its autumnal rhythm of winter squash, hearty greens, root vegetables ready for winter cellaring and tree fruit. It’s crisp and cold and I find myself craving the warming flavors that accentuate what makes this bounty so unique. The cliche “what grows together goes together” fits so well here and is what farm to table or “terroir” driven cooking is based on. What I feel is unique about Thanksgiving ingredients is that they showcase an ability to be utilized in every course of the meal and they pair very well together.
My Thanksgiving food memories were built around the ritual of the grand feast which was the food highlight of our family year. Even with the increasingly growing crowd with children then grandchildren, the most important meal of the day had a huge amount of leftovers. There was an intentional over preparation so that the four days that represent this grand weekend would be covered with one meal. Turkey roasted on Thanksgiving became turkey sandwiches for lunches and snacks then a hearty soup on Sunday.
Our meal was traditional Americana, casseroles, composed salads, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pie. I draw on these memories when composing a meal like this. Mother nature is still churning out its bounty during this time so we will do what we do…what is growing and available? How can we prepare it to highlight its flavors? One can be sure winter squash, Brussels sprouts, turkey(of course), and stuffing will be represented. Bright rather than muted flavors that are soulful, heartwarming, and nostalgic are what you can expect as we kick off the winter holiday season.
The cooler weather we’ve been getting recently has my thoughts turning to the fast approaching holiday season. As with many people, to me this means family and food. Particularly with Thanksgiving; from the menu planning (usually done via a group text between all those who will be present), to the grocery shopping trip fueled by the requisite pumpkin spice latte, to the several days of prep needed to amass the shear quantity and variety of food for all the expected guests, all of it is filled with familial interaction and tasty autumnal flavors.
Over the years my sister and I have assumed the roles of “head chefs” in place of grandma and mom, and though we both enjoy it, there are the inevitable “sibling-ish” squabbles.
“The Brussels sprouts should be roasted whole.”
“No, they should be in halves.”
“I think that the stuffing needs more onion.”
“Well I think it is perfectly fine the way it is.”
We never agree on how to make mashed potatoes, so several years ago we settled on the compromise that we get to make our preferred way every other year. She likes them made with peeled potatoes, cream and butter, whipped into a smooth and fluffy dish. I like a more rustic version where the peels are left on, buttermilk is used instead of cream and roasted garlic cloves and fresh herbs are stirred into the slightly lumpy hand-mashed potatoes. Both are delicious of course, and all differences of opinion aside, we both enjoy time spent together with family.
For many people thoughts of Thanksgiving dinner is usually centered around the turkey, but my family dinner is a bit different as I was raised in a vegetarian home. The star of our Holiday table is a vegetarian rendition of “Swiss Steak.” It’s at least a two-day process since it includes making the seitan “steaks.” These are then breaded and fried, sliced into strips and tossed in mom’s electric wok with bell peppers, onions, mushrooms and home-canned tomatoes to simmer for hours and make everyone’s mouths water.
As we enter the Harvest Season with its plethora of pumpkins and abundance of apples I am already looking forward to the family gathering, and to the food (especially since it is my year for the mashed potatoes! ) And I sincerely hope that all of you are able to take a bit of time during the holidays to spend with family and friends and enjoy a few favorite seasonal dishes.