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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Ladle On the Gravy

For many people, turkey gravy is the highlight of the Thanksgiving meal. Here's how to make it so flavorful you'll want to eat it with a spoon.

Good turkey stock is key to good gravy, say hounds. Many make stock from browned or roasted turkey parts (wings, backs, or necks, which many meat departments carry around Thanksgiving); some also save the skimmed fat for cooking the roux that starts the gravy. "Making a rich stock ahead of time lets you concentrate on building layers of flavor without the pressure" of Thanksgiving Day, notes Melanie Wong.

Add another layer of flavor by using white wine, dry sherry, or Cognac to deglaze the roasting pan. "A goodly slug of dry sherry makes a world of difference to the finished product," says jmnewel, and Diane in Bexley thinks Cognac "makes everything taste good!" Making the gravy in the roasting pan allows you to get all the fond into the sauce, too.

TorontoJo roasts a dozen shallots in the pan with the turkey, then blends them and mixes them into the gravy. "It gives a wonderful deep flavor," she says. "My 'secret' ingredient is soy sauce," she adds. "After I make the gravy and taste it, if it's a bit bland, I find a good splash of soy gives it the depth and umami that is missing."

maria lorraine goes in another direction altogether: She roasts the bird on a bed of carrots and apple halves, then separates the fat from the pan juices and blends the carrots and apples with the pan juices. "No stock. No flour and water," she says. "Best gravy I ever had. And I'm a gravy fan."

mcsheridan recommends this make-ahead gravy, which yields many servings and can be frozen for up to a month.

Board Links: Gravy good enough to drink: what makes your mostly classic turkey gravy special?
gravy

Dressed-Up Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce doesn't have to be plain. Adding fruits, nuts, and even booze makes it extra-special.

Some hounds start with the basic recipes on the back of the cranberry bag and add their own touches. Nyleve uses the whole-berry sauce recipe, but substitutes Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot for the water called for and adds orange zest. "Fantastic and easy," she raves. Val concurs, and adds that she makes hers with tangerine zest and a cinnamon stick. bushwickgirl makes the cranberry-orange relish on the Ocean Spray bag and adds chopped walnuts or pecans and a slug of brandy or Grand Marnier.

Full tummy recommends this spiced cranberry sauce to which she adds a couple of tablespoons of marmalade or preserves. valerie's favorite is triple-cranberry sauce, made with fresh and dried cranberries and cranberry juice cocktail.

Board Link: Cranberry Sauce

Overheard on the General Topics Boards

"People usually recommend either young, fruity red wines—such as Beaujolais or Merlots—or else spicy whites—Gewürztraminer, for instance—for Thanksgiving dinner, because the mix of foods and seasonings is rather challenging."
-Beckyleach

"I have grown both Hickory King (a traditional white) and Yellow Dent (a traditional yellow, obviously) and they are nothing alike. I only eat a little bit fresh, as I grind the bulk in a little stone mill for cornmeal and grits. The yellow corn tastes about as you'd expect, but the white has a much more pronounced, fresher, and more corn-like taste if you catch my meaning. Things made from the Hickory King meal taste like fresh corn out in the field."
-lanningsmith

"When I didn't have a clue how to make a Thanksgiving dinner back in the late 60s I just thought the Simon & Garfunkel song must have come from somewhere so I built the stuffing around parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme."
-rainey

Wine for Thanksgiving

"In my opinion, Thanksgiving dinners are perfect for Chardonnay, German Riesling, and Pinot Noir," says njfoodies. TonyO votes for Zinfandel. "I like Zin because you can drink it alone or with savory dishes like sausage stuffing," he says. "There are many Zins under $20 that are really excellent including Neyers and the Seghesio Sonoma Zin."

Pairing a wine with Thanksgiving desserts can be a challenge, says carswell, but a late-harvest Muscat or a tawny port is a good compromise to pair with apple pie, pumpkin pie, and even, perhaps, chocolate mousse.

Politeness likes white wines from the extreme northwest corner of Spain, especially Galicia. "One criterion for selecting a wine from that region—one that we have advocated in the past and still advocate—is to count the number of X's on the label (looking especially at the spelling of the town of origin) and purchase the wine with the most X's," says Politeness. "You rarely will go wrong ... however arbitrary it may sound." On the other hand, Politeness likes wines made under the Naia label, so instead of counting specific letters, you could just go with that.

Board Link: Tgiving wine selection help please!

Keep the Holidays Under Budget

How are you economizing this holiday season? Sharing the financial burden of a big holiday meal with fellow cooks is the approach HillJ takes. Food shopping with friends who will "share the cost and bounty of, say, a beef tenderloin, a large produce buy, or bulk spices" makes for better holiday value for everyone. "It hurts a lot less financially to have partners in food-crime," says HillJ.

"I make my own stock and that saves a bundle," says miki. "For veggie broth, I just save the ends and pieces, and for chicken, I save the bones from my weekend suppers. Also, if you troll the meat aisle in the grocery stores, you can find great bones for broth, extremely cheap."

Finally, some Chowhounds are not afraid to buck tradition in order to serve a high-quality but inexpensive meal. "We buy what is on sale and it is not always turkey!" says bermudagourmetgoddess. "Last year's dinner was a pork roast with pan gravy, Brussels sprouts sautéed with bacon and garlic, rosemary roasted potatoes, and when they come out of the oven hit them with some Parmesan cheese. For dessert we had individual pecan pies ... it pleased the family and it was not over the top and we did not spend a bundle."

Board Link: How are you economizing this holiday season? Please share your tips.

The Best Cocoa Powder

What's the best cocoa powder to use for chocolaty holiday baked goods? mels loves the Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa made by King Arthur (the flour maker). Cakegirl always uses the Dutch-process cocoa from Penzeys. "It's very high quality and reasonably priced, especially compared to Valrhona. I order several pounds at a time from Penzeys and it works perfectly in everything. Give it a try!" she says. scuzzo likes Droste brand cocoa powder. It's a Dutch-process cocoa powder that's not too hard to find in supermarkets. It comes in a red box, and it's a lot better than Hershey's, says scuzzo.

Speaking of Hershey's Cocoa, the jury's still out. The Professor thinks there is nothing wrong with Hershey's, especially the Special Dark version that is a blend of natural and Dutched cocoas. "I've used it with great results ... and results equal to what I've made with the more expensive brands," says The Professor. cheesemaestro, on the other hand, isn't a fan. "I've made hot chocolate with both, and the beverage made with Scharffen Berger is far superior." Scharffen Berger is a natural coca powder and not a Dutch-process, adds DallasDude. "Although recently purchased by the Hershey Company, the bean-to-bar artisan goodness is still intact."

Board Link: Good Cocoa Powder??

Bailing Before the Host Notices

Bailing Before the Host Notices

The infamous "French leave." READ MORE

New Finds: Hotlips Fruit Sodas

We've blogged in the past about the delicious blackberry soda from Hotlips Pizza in Portland, Oregon. It's got real pulp in it, and you feel like you're actually drinking something made from fruit, not chemicals. Now, that drink and a bevvy of other Hotlips flavors, including apple, pear, raspberry, and boysenberry, are spreading into more locations. Besides Oregon, you can now buy the sodas online for the first time, including in a mixed variety pack. We're hoping this is a sign that Hotlips will go nationwide soon, so we can pick it up at gas stations and janky corner stores everywhere. That'd sure be nice.

Market Highs and Lows

Market by Jean-Georges opened in the W Boston on October 29, and is receiving reviews that vary from thrilled to underwhelmed. On the positive side, the tasting menu is a good value at $58 for six courses and some of the dishes are choice. But some others are terribly oversalted, a fact which more then one hound has conveyed to the servers. Oh, and everyone at the table has to order the tasting menu or it's à la carte city.

Order:

• Fois gras brûlée: a thin disk of fois gras served cold on a round of brioche with a caramelized sugar coating and spicy fig jam on the side. This one sent the hounds into paroxysms of joy.
• Cheesecake with Concord grape sorbet.
• Seared shrimp with pumpkin, ginger, and basil sauce, plus pumpkin seeds.
• The grilled lamb chop, which comes cooked perfectly rare with a gorgeous smoked chile glaze, and served on a bed of king oyster mushrooms and broccoli rabe.

Avoid:

• The somewhat bland lobster with lemon spätzle.
• Overly peppery black pepper crab fritters.
• Strip steak, which is perfectly done, but unforgivably salty.

Despite the hit-and-miss food, hounds report throngs of diners packing the place, particularly before and after theater showtimes.

Market by Jean-Georges [Back Bay]
100 Stuart Street, Boston
617-310-6790

Board Links: Market at the W Hotel-Jean-Georges in Boston
Any other experiences at Market?

Spicy Sichuan at Thailand Cafe

Hoping to kick a head cold with some spicy chow, capeanne asks what to order at Mary Chung. Don't go there for spicy, says Luther. Go two blocks east instead, "to the Sichuan restaurant inside Thailand Cafe." Luther does not jest: Sometime this summer, Thailand Cafe, a barely passable Thai place, acquired a new chef rumored to be connected with the hound-beloved Sichuan Gourmet.

There are Sichuan dishes now to be found on the paper menus (look under "chef's specials"), on a Chinese-language menu posted on the wall inside the restaurant, and on a whiteboard. It's a little confusing. If the place isn't too busy, the friendly owner will translate for you. Be sure to seek out:

• Saliva chicken: "It makes you salivate!" says fredid.
Ziran niurou or cumin beef, with lightly fried beef, peppercorns, scallions, cumin, and star anise.
• Chengdu dry hot chicken, which features fried chunks of chicken with dry, spicy peppers.
• Cold noodles with chile-sesame vinaigrette.
• Double-cooked pork belly with spicy capsicum. The thin slices of pork belly come with green onions, and damneddemand says it's "awesome" and "spicy but not overpowering."

And don't even think about ordering from the Thai side of the menu. Even the MIT students won't touch it. And that's saying something.

Thailand Cafe [Cambridge]
302 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
617-492-2494

Board Links: Mary Chung tonight - Help
Sichuan Cuisine at Thailand Cafe near MIT