NEW YORK (Nov. 7)
How does an award-winning chef finesse timing Thanksgiving dinner, the shopping, the chopping, the planning ahead? “With so many things happening on Thanksgiving, such as football on television and people descending on your kitchen, I suggest being organized,” says restaurateur Michael Schlow, who holds the James Beard Award of Excellence for Best Chef in the Northeast, among other distinguished culinary awards. “Take 10 or 15 minutes and make a schedule. Decide what can be made days ahead, two hours ahead, that day, and at the last minute.”
Thinking of the home cook, Schlow has analyzed how food preparation fits into the equation of a 24-hour day. In his cookbook, “It’s About Time: Great Recipes for Everyday Life,” he explores time as an ingredient in deciding what to cook. There are recipes some of them are for nonkosher dishes — for when you’re in a rush. as well as recipes for days when you have the luxury of time.
“My cookbook sets about not only to teach you how to cook and eat well when you’re busy,” says Schlow. “But it also works in reverse, for when your soul cries out for a little bit of culinary therapy.” Ideally Thanksgiving should be one of those days.
“I can’t think of a better way to unwind than by spending a couple of hours in the kitchen with a glass of wine, good music on the stereo and some delicious things simmering on the stove,” he adds.
Born in Brooklyn, Schlow is now the executive chef and owner of three of Boston’s best restaurants: Radius, famous for modern French cuisine; Via Matta, specializing in regional Italian food; and Great Bay, serving sophisticated seafood. Schlow credits his parents for a lot of his success.
“I grew up in a household where food was important,” he says.
But isn’t that typical of most Jewish families?
“I mean food was really important. Not for its basic nutritional sustenance value. I’m talking about people who were real food freaks, a family completely consumed with the experience of eating and dining. We would be at breakfast and the conversation would be about what we were going to have for dinner.”
Yet mealtimes were sacred, not only for the cherished food but for the time they spent together, talking about their experiences since they’d last sat at the table.
These days nothing has changed. When Thanksgiving rolls around, Schlow heads to his mother’s house to celebrate the holiday with 25 or 30 family members and friends. “Everybody is welcome there,” he says, describing the tumult and the fun.
“The nice thing about Thanksgiving is that everyone gets involved in the cooking,” he says. For instance the holiday wouldn’t be the same without his mother’s red wine-braised brisket. Not the usual Ashkenazi variety, this brisket derives an Italian accent from garlic, rosemary, tomatoes and porcini mushrooms.
Schlow attributes his sense of adventure in the kitchen to his mother, whom he calls the culprit behind his fascination with food.
“In school, I was an avid jock and really only cared about sports, pretty girls and getting into trouble,” he says. “However, I know for a fact, in 1978 I was the only kid on the block whose mother kept homemade garam masala in the cupboard. Back when most people thought Chinese food meant pu-pu platters, lo mein and egg rolls, she was making hot-and-sour soup from scratch. She even had fresh mozzarella in the fridge just waiting for the tomatoes and basil from her garden.”
From this background, Schlow discovered all kinds of flavors, stirring his passions. In this spirit, the recipes in “It’s About Time” draw from a wide range of ingredients, some of which veer from the laws of kashrut.
It’s not surprising that Schlow has developed a repertoire of recipes that both shakes up and enhances the standard Thanksgiving menu: the sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows, stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie that people adore. Working wonders with olive oil, he’s developed sumptuous dishes, relying on seasonal produce.
Easy roasted vegetables with walnuts are the essence of autumn, a colorful combination of beets, turnips, baby carrots, Brussels sprouts, onions and fennel. Sauteed broccoli rabe is Schlow’s favorite vegetable. Prepared with garlic, this piquant side dish receives its kick from a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Crunchy string bean Salad derives its zest from lemons, rosemary and red onions, which add a Mediterranean twist.
“In my family, Thanksgiving is a balance between tried and true recipes and new dishes,” says Schlow. “Most people expect turkey, so keep that on the menu, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Just remember, any dish you introduce has the potential to become a cherished tradition by next year.”
If you’re seeking to branch out, Schlow recommends sticking to an 80 percent to 20 percent formula. Retain 80 percent of your family’s favorites, so no matter what, they won’t be disappointed.
Although turkey is as tied to Thanksgiving as matzah balls are to Passover, the “big bird” is known to wreck havoc with timing the meal, an issue that is close to Schlow’s heart. To control the cooking time — and because he prefers the taste — Schlow slow roasts the turkey at 250 degrees. But first he cuts the bird into pieces. He gives the legs and thighs a lead of about an hour over the breast and wings. This takes some of the guesswork out of timing turkeys, which like Jewish holidays, are often late or early, rarely on time.
While he believes timing is everything in kitchens and in life, there’s a lot of Jewish soul in Schlow’s approach to cooking and the meaning of meals.
“Jewish families revolve around sharing food and sharing stories,” he says. “Celebrating Thanksgiving is what the Jewish family and the Jewish table are all about.”
Recipes from: “It’s about Time: Great Recipes for Everyday Life,” by Michael Schlow
Easy Roasted Vegetables With Walnuts (Pareve)
Prepare that day .
8 baby turnips, peeled and halved lengthwise
2 golden beets, peeled and cut into 8 wedges a piece
8 whole baby carrots, peeled
8 Brussels sprouts, halved and blanched for 2 minutes
8 pearl onions, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 head of fennel, cut lengthwise into eighths
6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch sugar
1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed from stalk, but not chopped
4 sage leaves, coarsely chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Juice of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place an ovenproof roasting pan in the oven for 15 minutes. Combine all of the vegetables and the olive oil in a large mixing bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Add a pinch of sugar to help the vegetables caramelize, and toss well to coat evenly with olive oil. Remove the heated roasting pan from the oven, add the vegetables and shake the pan a few times to keep the vegetables from sticking. Roast uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring the vegetables occasionally to prevent sticking or burning. Add the rosemary and sage, and stir to combine. Check the vegetables — they should be almost tender. Continue to roast until the vegetables are cooked, but not mushy. Then add the walnuts and adjust seasoning. Squeeze the lemon over the vegetables, stir to combine, and serve.
Yield: 4 side dishes
Sauteed Broccoli Rabe With Hot Red Pepper Flakes (Pareve)
Prepare at the last minute .
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
Salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes
2 heads broccoli rabe, trimmed
1/2 cup water
Place the olive oil and garlic in a sauce pot and cook over medium-high heat until the garlic starts to turn golden brown. Add 4 pinches of salt, 2 pinches of black pepper and 2 pinches of crushed red pepper flakes. Add the broccoli rabe and saute for 2 minutes. Add the water, turn the heat up to high and saute 2 more minutes, or until tender. Taste for seasoning and serve.
Yield: 4 side dishes
Crunchy String Bean Salad with Red Onion (Pareve)
Start one day ahead .
3 pounds fresh string beans, ends snipped
3 Tbsp. salt
1 to 2 small red onions, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
Salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the salt. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set it beside the sink. Blanch the string beans in the salted water for 1 to 2 minutes, until cooked but still slightly crunchy. Then strain and plunge into ice water for 2 minutes. Strain beans, transfer to a bowl, and refrigerate. (The beans can stay in the fridge for up to a day.) Remove beans from fridge 1 hour before serving. Add the onions. (This can be done in advance or when you dress the salad.) Just before bringing the salad to the table, mix in the oil, lemon juice, rosemary, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Taste for seasoning, add more oil or lemon, if necessary, and serve.
Yield: Makes a big bowl, enough for a small crowd