By Marcia Pilgeram
As much as I love my travels to foreign destinations, exploring fascinating new (to me) cultures and sampling unknown foods that amuse my palate, our old friend Dorothy from Kansas said it best: “There’s no place like home.” Nothing affirms that statement more than the familiar homestretch, crossing the iconic Long Bridge.
I often find myself foregoing the more efficient bypass so I can make a loop through our sweet little village and check out what’s happened since I last left town (this past year has seen myriad changes). I especially love it when the town is lit up pretty for the holiday season.
It’s the time of year when I like to plant my feet in Ponder Point, listening to Pink Martini and baking lots of holiday favorites, especially for each of my kids: Irish shortbread for Ryanne, Mexican wedding cakes for Zane and Blarney Stones for Casey. Though not one of my children — nor theirs — has ever included my holiday fruitcake on their favorites list (I don’t think they have even dared to taste it!), it never stops me from making a double batch.
Late every October, I whip up a double batch of the thick batter and bake it in a variety of small lined pans, after garnishing it with the requisite pecan halves and maraschino cherries. After baking and cooling, I cover the tops with cheesecloth that’s been moistened in good Irish whiskey. Then, every other week or so, I give it another dose of whiskey until it’s cured and ready for Christmas.
Much has been said about the holiday fruitcake. Like them or not, they were a tradition in my childhood home and the familiar, fragrant smell that comes from my oven evokes tender moments from my past.
I just filtered and decanted a small batch of homemade huckleberry vodka, a gift for a special friend. It’s the first time I’ve made it since preparing a huge batch for Casey’s wedding six years ago (shipped to Chicago under the guise of homemade vinegar). Again, the familiar fragrance and ritual of macerating huckleberries brought back all the memories associated with preparing for her perfect wedding.
Casey has been a vegetarian for more than 15 years, yet one of her favorite aromas is still a pot roast, braising in the oven, reminiscent of her own youth. She says if she ever comes back to carnivorism, it will be for a bite of her mother’s pot roast.
Thanksgiving is coming right up, and every one of us has that familial food or two we expect to see served up on the holiday table. On our table — along with the obligatory turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy — you’ll find a heaping bowl of colcannon and a big serving of potato and onion stuffing. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them.
I’m not even sure if we savor these foods because they are so delicious or because they provide such sentimental value to us. like the fruitcake. Personally, I love preparing food with others as much as I love sitting down and sharing it at the table. It seems there’s always family lore involved with prep time — a certain knife, a specific pan or a kitchen spat over cooking time — that we can now laugh about each time we gather.
I have more recipes and cookbooks than the average human. Many were gifts from loved ones or former catering clients and are autographed by the chef/author. Some were gifts from publishers or authors of books for which I tested recipes, and a couple even contain my own contributions. The cookbooks are mostly well organized (thanks to my journalism professor son-in-law, Russ) on shelves that line my kitchen walls, stairway landing and half the wall space in a spare bedroom. Collectively, that’s thousands of recipes, acquired over 40 or so years. I know and love most of them by heart, yet it’s the same dog-eared handful in my collection that I use the most.
I have a penchant for the books I discovered in the ’70s and ’80s, when I started becoming more confident with my culinary skills and I could finally afford the ingredients. Fondant potatoes are one of those foods for me. Once I discovered these crispy and tender potatoes, I made them until I had perfected the recipe — and gained more than a pound or two.
I’d be tarred and feathered if I placed them on the Thanksgiving table, so I’ll save them for Boxing Day, paired with roasted prime rib. But honestly — between us — they’re pretty darn tasty alongside a turkey.
Fondant potatoes recipe • 8 servings
These potatoes are crispy, tender and a perfect side to roasted meats. Or, for a delicious vegetarian entrée, use vegetable stock and serve with a salad and Greek yogurt.
• 4 Idaho Russet potatoes
• Kosher salt and freshly ground
• 3 tbs olive oil, for searing
• 3-4 cups vegetable, chicken or beef
stock (more or less)
• 1 cup of butter
• 6 cloves of crushed garlic
• 4 sprigs fresh rosemary (chop one
• A few sprigs fresh thyme
• Sea salt flakes, for serving
• Chopped chives and rosemary,
Peel the potatoes with a knife (not a peeler — you will lose some potato with the peeling), into cylinder shape, then cut evenly in half. Soak in salt water, pat dry just before cooking.
Place an oven-proof pan on stovetop on medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Sear the potatoes in the hot pan on both sides until golden brown (don’t undercook). Set potatoes on a plate; pour off any remaining olive oil; reduce pan heat; and add the butter, garlic, sage, rosemary and thyme, stirring until butter melts. Return potatoes to pan, coat all sides, stand on end, then add stock, not quite to top of the potatoes.
Place in a 450-degree oven and cook until the potatoes are golden and tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Lift from stock and place on a serving plate. Sprinkle with sea salt, finely chopped rosemary and chopped chives. Ladle a little stock over the potatoes and serve.
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