Traditionally we’ve not paid much service to national traditions or tastes in food, especially on Thanksgiving. Once we had a wild turkey at my sister’s house in Michigan. It was quite good, but the meal would have been better had someone not taken my request to strain the just as instructions to strain it over the sink drain and save only the cooked out vegetables and neck bones. I don’t hold that against the turkey, although I suspect the episode has reinforced my solidarity with those who don’t choose turkey. At home, braised goose has been the bird of choice most of the time. We have always had a bird and as far as I can recall, always a dark meat bird. There was a year when it was just the two of us and we had two squabs. There was also the year halfway between our daughter’s graduation from college and marriage when she seemed to need us less than ever and we felt liberated enough to spend the week in Hong Kong. I still remember some of our meals from that trip, but I have no idea what we ate on that particular Thanksgiving day. Besides, in a time zone so far removed from home, I wasn’t sure which meal would have been Thanksgiving dinner anyhow.

There was turkey when I was a child but definitely not since Esilda and I took over the cooking. The baton, the baster, the bain marie, or whatever, is now passing to the next generation and to professionals. This was a particularly celebratory Thanksgiving the first since the kids’ new kitchen was installed and the first Thanksgiving with his family in from Brittany for Thanksgiving dinner. This year the white breast returned, fortunately in a more succulent form than roast turkey ballottine de chapon and our only savory course without truffles. Capon is lovely. I was surprised to recently read on the BBC web site that it’s no longer legal to produce capons in the UK.

One tradition that appears to have crossed the generation gap is the tendency to entertain the guests in the kitchen with stubborn disagreements between the cooks on techniques, timing and temperatures. The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree and just as the bread always lands butter side down, it also seems that whoever wins the argument ultimately turns out to have been wrong, but somehow disaster is averted and the food is fantastic. The pros are more relaxed cooking dinner than we were. Then again it always seems easier when you’re watching than when you’re cooking.

There may be nothing as rustic or luxurious as a truffle, though a good brandade de morue might come close. In any event, I hadn’t realized the two would complement each other so well. It’s something one should learn at an early age. Thus I envy my grandson, who at first spit out his canap (he is two, afterall), and then complained more bitterly when his father gave it back without the truffle. It was the truffle he wanted and the toast he found offensive to his palate.

We moved on to an oxtail, foie gras, artichoke, vegetable and red wine terrine as we stood around the kitchen being entertained and drinking champagne. The terrine looked good enough to eat or grace a plate with a bit of garnish, but in a rustic spirit, the chef presented it on slices of baguette (actually a stirato from Sullivan Street Bakery) and covered it all with slices of earthy black truffle.

Some of the visual entertainment was provided by the progress of the desserts. As if to remind the guests to pace themselves and their appetites, the canals came out of the oven and the tarte tatin started cooking on top of the stove as we stood around the kitchen. The small canel?s were cooked to a dark caramel crispness and the large ones with a more supple crust. I was still trying to decide if I liked white truffles more than black. Later I’d get the chance to compare canel styles, if my appetite held.

White truffles appeared again on the surface of a lightly curried cauliflower soup as we sat for dinner. The soup was marvelous and the truffle added a wonderful earthy grace note, but it was less than cost effective as even the mild curry flavor masked some of the truffle. Nevertheless, excess is a part of Thanksgiving and better too much truffle than too many marshmallows.

The tarte tatin, looking and smelling more enticing at each step of the way, went into the oven. It later came out with it’s flaky bottom on top in time to cool off a bit while we attacked the main course of boned capon. The stuffing of foie gras, arugula and chestnuts resembled our family’s traditional Thanksgiving stuffing of chicken livers, sausage and chestnuts in that it didn’t use any egg or binder. On the other hand, we’d never have been able to get such a rosy foie with the time it takes to cook a goose. The bones and scraps produced a marvelous jus. A side of a free form gratin of sweet potato, celery root, rutabaga, turnip and apple, served family style, lent a creative, and perhaps American, note while maintaining the elegant, yet rustic, character of the feast.

Upside down or is it right side up seemed like the perfect dessert, at least until the pastry chef made it all that much better with the addition of chestnut puree folded into some whipped cream. Whoever said you shouldn’t repeat ingredients in successive dishes never had chestnuts or truffles. I didn’t eat enough caneles to decide which style I liked best, but I had too many for me to reach for a Pierre Marcolinni chocolate until we returned two days later and then only because they had run out of caneles

Photo essay follows.

Brandade canapes with white truffle

Oxtail terrine canapes with black burgundy truffle

Curried cauliflower soup with white truffles

Ballottine of capon with foie gras, chestnuts and arugula

Gratin of sweet potato, celery root, rutabaga, turnip and apple

Canele Recipe

1 liter/quart milk
100 grams butter (divide by 28 and change to get ounces, then multiply by two to get tablespoons)
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
500 grams sugar (probably about 2 heaping cups)
200 grams all-purpose flour (about 1 1?3 cups, but you should check me on that)
100 grams rum
Nonstick cooking spray

Heat the milk, butter, cinnamon, and vanilla bean seeds and pod over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Turn off the heat and let the cinnamon infuse into the milk as the milk cools a little.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar until well combined. Whisk in the flour.

When the milk mixture is warm but no longer hot, after 15 to 20 minutes, slowly strain it into the egg mixture, whisking to incorporate. Once all of the milk has been added, whisk in the rum. Set the mixture aside until cool and then refrigerate it for at least 12 hours and up to 24.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place canel molds on a cookie sheet and then heat them in the preheating oven until hot. Spray the inside of the molds well with nonstick cooking spray, making sure to coat all of the sides.

Remove the canel batter from the refrigerator and whisk it gently to combine (the flour rises to the top as the mixture cools and you need to reincorporate it into the batter). Pour the batter into a pitcher and then fill the molds with the batter, leaving a good 14-inch free at the top of each mold. Bake for about 1 hour for small molds or 1 hour 10 minutes or longer for big molds until the caneles are uniformly dark brown on the outside. Test by removing one canel: stick a toothpick, cake tester, or fork into the bottom of one canel and remove it to check its color. When ready, remove all of the caneles from the molds and cool them right side up on a wire rack.

Once cool, the caneles will theoretically keep in an airtight tin for a few days (although Cyrille prefers to leave them outside so they don’t get mushy; it’s a matter of taste).

Makes approximately 24+ large canel and I have no idea how many small.

Canel Recipe Copyright 2006 Rica Allannic