Upside-Down Sides

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Everyone’s always on the lookout for holiday side dishes with a twist. Quite by accident, this year’s Thanksgiving table included sides that turned assumptions about certain ingredients upside down, offering savory  bites where sweet was expected, sweet where savory is  usually a given. It began with the cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Salsa “What is this? I’ve never had anything like it,” asked one dinner guest. This simple-to-prepare alternative to the usual sweet, forgettable cranberry sauce combines bright flavors: cranberries, pumpkin seeds, cilantro, jalapeno, green onion and line juice. It tastes fresh, not hot, works well with a variety of menus, and there’s no cooking required beyond some toasting of pumpkin seeds. Mix it up.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Chipotle — “These sweet potatoes are great. They’re not sweet,” said another diner. The Three Points cooks have long wondered why most recipes take an inherently sweet vegetable and douse it with even more sugar/maple syrup/marshmallows. A touch of chopped, canned chipotles in adobo adds a smoky undertone to mashed sweet potatoes. There’s no real recipe needed here; chipotles are added to taste. But do proceed with  caution, as the chipotle chilies are deceptively hot.

Carmelized Brussels Sprouts with Pecans — Who would have guessed that a bit of sweetness would turn up in the brussels sprouts? Shredding the sprouts makes the stovetop preparation quick and easy and maintains the color.

Marinated Beets with Horseradish — A vibrant dish that’s actually best made in advance. Oven-roasted beets (easy to cook, easy to peel) are dressed with olive oil, dijon mustard and horseradish.

Pumpkin-Thyme Dinner Rolls — And where’s the pumpkin? Why in the dinner rolls.  (Also great for appetizers with a blue cheese spread.)

These gorgeous, jewel-toned dishes surrounded the centerpiece:

Roast Turkey with Pancetta-Sage Gravy —  liberal application of a pancetta-butter blend with sage and Parmesan (or as we like to call it, bacon-and-cheese butter) infused the turkey with a slightly porky, umami essence. The wonderfully moist bird produced gravy so lip-smackingly rich that guests drained every last drop from the serving dish, thankful, each and every one, for the opportunity.

Thanks also to Chez Kate for the Unruly Cellars house red, from Spanish grapes blended with Spanish expertise.


Pie in the Sky

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Thanks, indeed for a beautiful, crisp and clear fall day for the first Thanksgiving at Kate’s first home. This year’s gathering of international and food-obsessed guests was reflected in the menu that blended traditional elements with the tastes of Mexico and the British Isles.

Here’s the menu:


  • Squash on Toast.  Amelia took this a step higher by making her own baguettes.
  • Crab and Artichoke Dip
  • Roast Turkey with Chipotle and Apple
  • Chestnut and Tart Apple Dressing
  • Potato-Tomatillo Gratin. A cooking class two days before Thanksgiving, and taught by the charming Eliza Gonzalez, inspired this dish. We took the potato filling from stuffed jalapenos — combining potatoes, garlic, tomatillos and ricotta cheese — and turned it into a gratin for the table (and potato pancakes the next day).
  • Braised Cabbage, with apples and clove.
  • Roasted Beets with Garlic and Cream.
  • Bread Sauce, another British Christmas favorite that was new to the table, a simple sauce heady with clove.
  • Cranberry Salsa with Chilies and Cilantro.
  • Green Bean Casserole. Yup, the delicious, old-school dish we know from childhood, complete with crispy canned onions on top.
  • Little Balls of Happiness (Julia Child’s Oignons Glacés a Blanc).
  • Mocha-Pecan Pie, now our gang’s traditional dessert.
  • Apple Tart. Listening to an NPR special on Julia Child gave us the idea to make an apple tart with souped-up apple flavor. She put fresh apples on homemade applesauce. We laid them over apple butter and brushed them with apple jelly. A tasting of the Genepi liqueur brought from a friend’s home region in France provide the inspiration for a glaze touched with that herbal Alpine liqueur.
  • Cranberry and Pear Hand Pies with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

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Gang Activity

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Easter was a group effort this year in DC, with friends gathering at the communal table and sharing their best celebratory dishes to serve with a cognac-marinated leg of lamb. We were too hungry to get a lot of photos… but can absolutely testify to the tastiness of everything.

The menu:

Slow-Roasted Leg of Lamb. Marinated in cognac, garlic, marjoram, thyme and onions, the main course was an improvization based on recipes for Spanish lamb and Greek slow-roasted lamb from MoVida Rustica and Gourmet Magazine, respectively.

Whipped Celeriac and Potatoes with Caramelized Onion and Leeks. While the potatoes and celery root boiled, we caramelized onion and leeks in lots of butter for last-minute incorporation into the whipped root vegetables.

Asparagus, Feta and Couscous Salad. Mateja kept the Mediterranean theme going with this fresh and light salad, modifying the dish with the addition of chopped red onion, more asparagus, plum and balsamic vinegar, and a blend of dried herbs.

Carrot Salad wth Parsley and Mint. Elizabeth treated us to this crisp and delicious salad, perky with white wine vinegar dressing.

Kathryn’s Homemade Biscuits. We rewarmed these tasty risen biscuits right before serving. Recipe from King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Companion.

Roasted Tomatoes with Sumac and Marjoram. The twist here: The tomatoes were tossed in a specialty olive oil from New Zealand that exuded buttery goodness.

Feta-Phyllo Torte. This savory pastry from the New York Times never fails to impress. We substitute ricotta for the cottage cheese and load it up with thyme and marjoram, in addition to the dill.

Green Deviled Eggs. Inspired by Dr. Seuss, these greenish eggs packed a spicy punch.

Potica. As per tradition, Mateja brought her famous Slovenian walnut bread. (A recipe for the Croatian version is here.)

Strawberry Marscapone Tart. A Gourmet confection with a lightly sweetened layer of marscapone cheese, whipping cream and vanilla covered by glazed fresh berries.

Raspberry Frangipane Tart. Gourmet provided the recipe for the frangipane base, which, once baked and cooled, was covered with glazed raspberries.

Eastover Offerings

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Easter Eggs 2012 (photo Three Points Kitchen)

A dinner companion the other evening recalled his childhood in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where dishes for the Passover seder were prepared by the housekeeper. Like a scene out of The Help, she’d then turn around and make the family’s recipes, like  kugel, for her own church suppers, calling it Easter dressing.

It was the perfect anecdote for a weekend with a mashup of the Jewish and Christian calendars that people in the New York region had taken to calling “Eastover.” Around these parts, gatherings for either Passover or Easter invariably include friends and relatives of varying religious backgrounds.  So the table this Sunday included recipes that recognized both holidays:

  • Lois’ Mother’s Matzo Ball Soup These knaidlach (matzo balls) are of the fluffy variety, with whipped egg whites folded in to lighten the batter.  With a nod to contemporary tastes and food resources, the usual parsley was replaced with a mix of fresh dill and cilantro and a bit of ground ginger for zing.
  • Coffee-Cola Baked Ham — In the Southern tradition, poured a cola over the ham (using Boylan’s Cane Cola in place of the typical Pepsi, or Coca-Cola, depending upon your regional cola allegiance) along with the last of the morning’s coffee that is the origin of red-eye gravy.
  • Potato-Mushroom Kugel Fresh garlic —  looking much like scallions — and a touch of marjoram bumped up the seasoning in this Jewish staple.
  • Salad of Green Beans — The beautiful celadon-green color of Spanish Verdina beans screamed out for a place on the Eastover table. The lovely, creamy beans were cooked on their own, then tossed with some of the minced greens of the fresh garlic, chopped celery, dill and an olive-oil/lemon juice dressing. Served at room temperature.
  • Roasted Cabbage — A Martha Stewart recipe brought to our attention via Pinterest, with the reaction: Why have we not thought of this before? Simple green cabbage, cut into thick slices, drizzled with olive oil and set in the oven to roast while the ham and kugel baked. Like other roasted vegetables, cabbage turns into a real sweety.
  • Blackerry-Ginger Sorbet — Frozen blackberry pulp served as a base. Simply mix the defrosted puree with sugar to taste, add a touch of lemon juice if desired, and some minced fresh ginger (in this case we substituted a couple drops of the magnificent Fresh Ginger Chef’s Essence from Atelier Perfumes) Churn according to your ice-cream maker’s directions. A dollop of creme fraiche on top proved the perfect, refreshing touch for after chocolate Easter bunny consumption, while also meeting the needs of those avoiding leavened desserts for Passover.

We Saw Stars

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Anticipating that  The Artist would take home top prizes at this year’s Academy Awards, the Three Points cooks also turned to Old Hollywood for inspiration this weekend. By that we mean two of the restaurants that are synonymous with Movieland’s Golden Years: The Brown Derby and Chasen’s. Together they hosted Hollywood elite and produced some classic recipes that proved even stars love their comfort foods, like Chasen’s Chicken Pot Pie and Chili.

On the menu for our multi-city Oscar viewing parties:

The Brown Derby Cocktail. A refreshing aperitif of bourbon, grapefruit juice and honey syrup. Grapefruit seems to have been a theme at The Brown Derby, whether in cocktails or cakes. Go for the fresh-squeezed juice suggested and use leftover  grapefruit segments, as we did, in another throwback salad, tossing with chunks of avocado and this old-fashioned fruit salad dressing.

Cobb Salad. The Brown Derby, so the story goes, is progenitor of this classic American salad, created from leftovers by Bob Cobb, a co-owner. We all know  it and love it… though its original form included chicory and watercress, which are far less likely to appear on today’s menu (or grocery shelves). So, we went with mixed greens. The recipe also calls for boiled (boring) chicken… So we poached it Pierre Franey style (a warm bath with carrots, celery, onion, bay, thyme, marjoram, garlic and — our twists — lemon pepper and a hit of ginger).

Chasen’s Chili.  Legend has it that Elizabeth Taylor loved this chili so much she had orders of it flown to Rome while she was filming Cleopatra (and conducting a torrid affair with co-star Richard Burton). The list of ingredients is pretty simple in comparison to today’s more complex recipes, but something about the combination produces one damn, fine chili. (We suspect that browning the beef and pork in butter before adding to the pot has something to do with the crazy tender, succulent results. Don’t skip this step if your diet can take it.) In honor of the Oscars, served with sparkling Cava.  A award-winning combo, indeed. We  think Liz, who was honored in memoriam at the Oscars, would approve.

Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake. We went with the LA Times Magazine’s modified version of this cake, sans candied grapefruit peel. Goosed with a little grapefruit essence from Aftelier Perfumes, the cake packed a tart punch to counterbalance the cream cheese frosting.

Three Cubed: Banana Salad

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Three Cubed Project

The Book: Harper’s Cook Book Encyclopedia (1902)

Opening Harper’s Cook Book Encyclopedia proved more than serendipitous. The volume is an exhaustive compendium of turn-of-the-20th-century recipes and preparations, but a previous owner had also used her trusted book to file away newspaper clippings for spring fashions, household hints, and some favorite “Why Mothers Get Grey” cartoons.

This, from “Caroline Coe’s Hints on Spring Housecleaning,” Omaha Daily News, April 22, 1913

To Clean Plaster Casts:

Busts and statuettes may be cleaned by dipping them into a thick liquid of starch, or apply a thin solution with a brush, covering every part. Let it dry two or three days. Then carefully peel off the starch. The dirt will come with it.

Somehow I’d never thought about springcleaning for the plaster, or ebonizing the woodwork, but Caroline has the answers.

The Harper’s Cook Book is a marvelous glimpse into life, both everyday and aspirational in the first decade or so of the past century. And a reminder of how much lifestyles and eating habits have changed in the past 100 years. There are lots of items that really don’t grace our tables anymore: mutton, aspic, violet jelly. And also recipes for “exotic” fruits and vegetables that are so commonplace today we rarely give them a second thought, like Banana Salad. It could just be me, but this recipe sounds a tad racy. Maybe that’s why the owner had page 327 bookmarked.

Banana Salad

A strip of the peel of a large and perfect banana may be turned back, and most of the pulp carefully scooped out. The short, thick variety of banana, in either red or yellow, is best for this purpose. To fill the space left by the removal of the pulp, prepare a mixture of thinly sliced banana, shredded orange or grapefruit, seeded and peeled white grapes, and a few kernels of English walnuts or pecans in small pieces. In their season, stoned cherries may be added. All must first be mixed in a bowl with a generous supply of dressing, and after the yellow cases are filled with the salad, each must be laid on lettuce leaves. These, like the apples, must be prepared in a short time before using. Either a mayonnaise or a good boiled dressing may be used.

The suggested dressing:

Boiled Salad Dressing

To four well-beaten eggs, stir a pint of vinegar, two teaspoonfuls of sugar, a teaspoonful of mustard, salt and paprika to taste. Turn all the ingredients into an agate or porcelain-lined saucepan and stir over the fire until the boiling point is reached. Add two teaspoonfuls of butter, and beat until it is thoroughly incorporated. When cold, turn into a preserve jar and set in the refrigerator.

The result? Quite honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from this recipe, but it turns out to be a nicely balanced and unexpectedly refreshing salad. Something I’d not think of making but might manage to work into the repertoire, sans the banana boat presentation. Same goes for the boiled salad dressing. It’s not an idea that leaps to mind, but it has a smooth texture and bright acidity that plays off the sweetness of fruit.  Thanks, Harper’s!

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Almost Heaven

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. . . West Virginia/Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River”

A chorus of John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads set us off on the latest Three Points road trip. Destination: Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, for a weekend pig roast hosted by recent guest blogger Michael Turner and wife Marybeth at their family retreat, an 1860s farmhouse and one-time inn. Alas, Kate and I arrived a tad late to witness the prepping, stuffing and lipsticking of the whole pig, obtained from a farmer down the road.  But we joined the friends and family huddled close to the fire until the flames were reduced to red-hot, glowing embers. It was time to bury piggy in the coals and call it a night.

Resurrection came the next day, around noon, with a ceremonial unwrapping of the banana leaf blanket and carving. The afternoon on the peaceful rolling lawn, overlooking a pond, unfolded like a Thanksgiving holiday: eat, nap, eat, play, repeat.  Everyone exclaimed they couldn’t eat another bite—until they could–ending the evening around the campfire once again, this time for Bruléed Pumpkin Peeps. One last dance in the moonshadows of the nearly full moon, and an end to harvest weekend that was satisfying to body and soul.

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On the Table:

  • Pit-roasted pork stuffed with apples, onons, sweet potatoes and pineapple, finished with a dry rub of secret spices, then wrapped in banana leaves. First round included pulled- pork sandwiches. The Turners will have many opportunities to try other pork dishes.
  • Corn and Orzo Salad Fresh tarragon adds an elusive, clean taste to this unexpected combo.
  • Mac Daddy Mac ‘n Cheese Creamy and smooth with Monterey Jack.
  • Red Cabbage salad, a change-up from coleslaw, with tomatoes, onion, green beans and a vinagrette dressing.
  • Gigi’s Carrot Cupcakes, our favorite version of the classic, with cream-cheese frosting
  • Bruléed Pumpkin Peeps. Obtain Halloween-themed Peeps, skewer on sticks, roast over open campfire, smash between graham crackers (optional)