Pie of the Tiger
Ever since I first saw the picture of the cute little Mini Cranberry Meringue Pies in Martha Stewart Living a couple years ago, I've wanted to make them. Their photo showed one sliced down the middle, exposing the jewel-like filling and the lightness of the meringue to full effect. I never got around to it, but this year I decided to try all new recipes for Thanksgiving, and this went to the top of my list.
I made a few mistakes along the way. Mistakes like forgetting the egg in the citrus pate sucree (I put it to the left of the food processor and the rest of my mise en place to the right) and experimenting with a store-bought carton of egg whites for the meringue when I didn't have time to make a second batch. However, even without that egg, the pate sucree was possibly the best tart crust I've ever made, and several people complimented it. It uses both lemon and orange zest, a flavor combination that I used in my wedding cake years ago that really seemed to punch up the flavor.
But there was no blessing in disguise in regards to the meringue, unless I count the reminder that things never go well when I try to cut corners. At least this time it was in the spirit of experimentation and not just out of laziness, as usual. I used the Trader Joe's 100% egg whites, and I knew that they weren't going to be ideal when I saw how cloudy they were, but I went ahead and made the meringue. The foam ended up looking, well, very insipid and watery, not the airy dollop of heaven that I wanted to recreate from the magazine. By the time I was done, there was no time left, so the mediocre meringue went on the tart and I did my best to torch it, even though it didn't want to brown properly.
Despite all of that, I don't think I've ever had a dessert disappear so quickly at a big family event or gotten quite so many compliments and questions. I kept being surprised that people liked it, because I wasn't entirely pleased with the mouth feel of the cranberry filling, as pretty as it was. It had that gross texture that comes from too much cornstarch, so next time I make this I'll either decrease the cornstarch or experiment with some of the alternate thickners my husband has been playing with in his attempts at molecular gastronomy, now that we have a kitchen that we can actually cook in again. The xanthan gum marshmallows he made last week were a huge success, so I'm reading up on hydrocolloides now, too.
As I said above, I picked out a number of new holiday recipes to try this year. When I ate meat, Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays, and I've been trying to recreate that experience in a vegetarian way for eight years now, with varying amounts of success. This year, though, inspired by the new kitchen, I decided to try to find some new flavors to turn into new traditions, rather than continue to try to recreate the omnivore's version of the holiday. Pretty much all of them (other than a new twist on the savory seitan and mushroom dish I've come up with to stand in for turkey) came from Martha Stewart--I rarely turn to her during the rest of the year, but the recipes in the holiday issues of the magazine are always really appealing to me, so much so that I keep them in their own binder on my cookbook shelf.
Cauliflower Gratin with Endive was delicious--cheesy without being greasy at all, and the Israeli couscous scattered in the bottom of the pan absorbed the sauce but held its shape in a texturally interesting way.
Stuffing was always my favorite part of Thanksgiving, so it took a lot strength to turn my back on the plain old crouton, celery and sage type stuff we always had. The Cornbread, Wild Mushroom and Pecan Stuffing I settled on was so good I just wanted to hold it on my tongue and not swallow it, or even chew it.
We used maitake, hedgehog and oyster mushrooms--I'd never cooked with hedgehog mushrooms, and they were extremely tasty!--so it wasn't inexpensive. Otherwise, I would've made another pan straight away and wolfed it down at home. I have plans to try it with less expensive mushrooms soon. The pecans were a revelation. I've often put walnuts into savory cooking, but I think this was my first time using pecans that way, and they complemented the mushrooms very well.
It seems like we made another new dish, but I can't think of what it was, other than the seitan stuff, where the newness of it lay mostly in my husband's interpretation of how to cook it based on my instructions I yelled from the shower. That and he tried a trick for quickly browning onions by adding baking soda to them that he read about somewhere online. It worked. But it also made the onions completely dissolve...which had the effect of coating the seitan in the onion pulp and frying it onto it. Not what we were going for, but I think I'll do it again next time we make it.