Thanksgiving 2014: McDonough Style

Another year, another great meal, another house full of Thanksgiving first timers. This year we welcomed five of my former classmates at BU to join us for our over-the-top feast. Ru, Qi, Qi, Meng, and Sammy came to the US from China a little over a year ago and joined our table this November for a meal I hope they won’t soon forget.

Sharing tradition and culture is something that has become fundamental to our friendships. We Americans introduce them to quirky cultural habits and deep rooted holiday traditions. In return, the Chinese students tell us about their home, about the similarities and difference in food, texture, flavor, and holiday rituals. This back and forth exchange is a gift I cherish and continue to learn from.

As with every holiday, each family celebrates in their own unique way. My foodie family adds emphasis to the blending of flavors rather than the array of options. We spend weeks prepping for the meal and hours on end cooking up a storm, crafting place settings, and assembling centerpieces. Special attention was paid to the small details this year in order to ensure that our international friends would have the very best experience.

THE ATMOSPHERE

Image of Kerryn's Place Setting at McDonough Thanksgiving 2014

Pilgrim Hat Place Settings!

Image of Dining Room Table Setting at McDonough Thanksgiving 2014

Dining Room Table Setting

Image of kitchen table setting at McDonough Thanksgiving 2014

Kitchen Table Setting

Image of bar at McDonough Thanksgiving 2014

Mimosas, anyone?

THE FOOD

Photo of Appetizer Table at McDonough Thanksgiving 2014

Olive selection, Curried Pickled Carrots, White Wine Pickled Asparagus, Curried Pickled Cauliflower, and Mixed Nuts.

Image of Thanksgiving Buffet

Deep Fried Turkey, Oven Roasted Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Homemade Gravy, Brussel Sprouts

Image of buffet table at McDonough Thanksgiving 2014

Harissa Carrots, Green Beans with Hazelnuts, Cornbread Stuffing, Herb Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce.

And of course, the menu for your careful consideration.

Image of menu at McDonough Thanksgiving 2014

The Official Menu

Another great year of sharing stories, customs, and happiness galore. Thanksgiving 2014 is full of fond memories and will always hold a special place in my heart. Thanks to my favorite Chinese ladies for making it so memorable!

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Tagliatelle al ragù

Yesterday, nostalgia overwhelmed the McDonough household. My need for comfort and warmth and happiness came in the form of sauce — a world-famous, meaty masterpiece.

After living in Bologna, the birthplace of ragù (most commonly referred to as Bolognese Sauce), there is only one solution when it comes to curing a craving — a home-made creation. I’ve braved the imitations at a few restaurants in the Boston area and can confidently recommend the ragù at Sportello, but nowhere else.

Once upon a time I had a recipe from a little, Italian nonna, but have regretfully misplaced it. Fortunately, l’Accademia Italiana della Cucina has declared and published an “official” recipe, which of course, includes full-fat, alcohol, and plenty of cream. Versions of this recipe are served in all of the greatest trattorie and osterie in Emiglia-Romagna. From the pancetta to the cup of Sangiovese wine and the fine cut meat to the imported tomato paste, all of the flavors slowly simmer together to produce that authentic, heartwarming, soul-inspiring perfection.

Image of tagliatelle al ragù ingredients

After an hour of chopping vegetables, measuring liquids, and grinding meats, I began the slow process of building layers of flavor to create one cohesive combination. Then came the hard part: Four hours of waiting while the sauce simmered on the stove and the smells of everything good in the world overwhelmed the house, forcing me to control my patience with all the willpower I could muster.

But then, heaven on a plate. This dish will forever remind me of the 11 months I spent in Bologna, the countless friends I made, and the spirit of the Italian people. The slow pace of life and appreciation of all things beautiful truly altered my view of the world. I left a little piece of myself in that city and someday I plan to return and reconnect with not only a culture that I adore, but the me that existed in that time and space.

Image of Tagliatelle al ragù

Here’s to a traditional meal from the region of Emilia-Romagna: ragù, tagliatelle made fresh, a Sangiovese wine, and parmiggiano reggiano.

What else does a girl need? … like ever?

If you ever find yourself in northern Italy, you can find the best ragù in the whole world at Osteria Dell’Orsa on via Mentana in Bologna.

I Labneh Arabic Cuisine.

Marhaban and welcome to Dubai! The food in the UAE is unbelievably delicious. Everywhere I go, I am surrounded by all of my favorite things: lamb, hoummos, stuffed grape leaves, halloumi, grilled fish, olives, and pita. Seriously, why would you ever eat anything else?

Last night, Fatima (more affectionately known as Fatoumi Halloumi) and I went to Karam Beirut at The Mall of The Emirates. The restaurant is known for serving hot and cold mezze, which is similar in concept to Spanish Tapas.

People typically dine out in large groups, which the restaurant accommodates with incredibly long tables and an abundance of circular ten-seat tables. Despite being just two people in a setting made for twenty, Fatima and I carefully selected a variety of dishes, including hoummos, kibbeh, warak aneb, shankish, pita, and samke harra. As they say in Arabic, sahtein!!

Not sure what those dishes are? Not to worry. A few months ago, I would have been just as lost. My dear Lebanese friend, however, has been kind enough to educate me on her beloved cuisine over a few meals in Boston, London, and now Dubai. After all, 90% of food education is actually tasting the combinations of flavors and learning about the ideal textures of each creation.

Image of Arabic mezze at Karam Beirut at The Mall of the Emirates in Dubai

Here’s a brief description of our meal:

  • Hoummos = mashed chickpeas with olive oil and tahini.
  • Kibbeh = fried minced meat dumpling-type treats.
  • Warak Aneb = stuffed grape leaves/vine leaves. Usually has lemon, rice, and tomato.
  • Shankish = a sharp goat cheese salad with cucumber and tomato.
  • Pita = bread.
  • Samke Harra = a white fish with a spicy sauce.

As we shared our meal and discussed the happenings of our days, we sat facing Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort in the middle of the desert. It’s one of the many absurd, yet fascinating Emirati constructions. Only in Dubai.

Following our meal, we had two traditional desserts,  halawet al jebn and qatayef. The halawet al jebn was definitely my favorite with the sweet sugar syrup and orange blossom water combining to form a delicate flavor.

Kerryn McDonough at Karam Beirut in Dubai, UAE

There is no better way to learn about a culture than through food. Shukran, Fatima for being an excellent host. Shukran, Karam Beirut for the perfect meal.

Yalla! Yalla!

(Yes. Of course I made sure to use every arabic word I know in this post. Luckily, my vocabulary is improving).

Full Irish Breakfast

One week in Ireland and approximately ten breakfasts later, I can say with certainty that my body and soul are incredibly nourished. Toast and eggs and bacon and pudding and sausage no matter what time of day over and over and over again. Some sort of heaven that is.

Image of a full Irish Breakfast

Every morning started with a huge breakfast and table full of family and friends. Even though the heaps of hearty food disappeared quickly as a result of hungry tummies and greedy fingers, no one was left wanting more. The endless supply of toast and tea coupled with stories of times gone by often carried the conversation well into the afternoon. As older generations told of past adventures, we youngsters listened intently, trying to absorb every detail of our family’s legacy.

Tales of crashing cars on country roads, silly shenanigans, and all around good times in one of Ireland’s most remote locations drew everyone’s interest. Stories of the past, of family, of community, and of pride filled the room with a lively spirit that urged us to continue living life as fully as those who came before us did.

These stories of Irish woes and others of unbelievable triumphs, all told over a traditional breakfast in Irish-speaking Connemara proves that the culture, language, and traditions of the Irish won’t die so long as there is someone to listen… and there are infinite numbers of people eager to learn about their own connections to this mystical land of Eire.

Tea warms the body, the meat provides energy, and the company encourages you to keep moving forward no matter what obstacles come in your way. When it comes to Ireland, food was a tool that not only brought people together, but improved and maintained their will to survive. Every time I go back, I fall more and more in love with the food, the people, and the land itself. There really is a mystery and a magic to that isle.

Afternoon Tea at The Ritz

The Ritz London is renowned as one of the most stunning Afternoon tea spots in London. The tea room has high ceilings, grandiose columns, rich colors, and elaborate decorations. The large, open ceiling lets in an abundance of natural light and the soft piano music creates a calm, relaxing atmosphere.

Image of the tea room at The Ritz London

Photo Courtesy of Angela Milinazzo

Upon sitting, we were handed menus with a large selection of fine teas from which to choose. From Traditional English breakfast to Moroccan Mint Green tea and Ceylon to Passion Fruit infused creations, the range of teas to choose from is sure to satisfy everyone’s tastebuds. Each of us was given our own adorable, personal silver teapot full of a delicious warm beverage to accompany our meal.

Image of Fatima Abou Nassif Mourad at tea at The Ritz London

Immediately following the tea service, a tower of small sandwiches and pastries appeared with the promise that more would be delivered until we were completely stuffed.

Image of the table spread at Afternoon Tea at The Ritz London

Photo Courtesy of Angela Milinazzo

The endless supply of tiny, finger sandwiches included:

  • Ham Sandwich with Grain Mustard Mayonnaise on White Bread
  • Cheddar Cheese Sandwich with Chutney on Onion Bread
  • Cucumber Sandwich with Cream Cheese, Dill, and Chives on Caraway Seed Bread
  • Chicken Breast Sandwich with Horseradish Cream on White Bread
  • Scottish Smoked Salmon with Lemon Butter on Rye Bread
  • Egg Mayonnaise Sandwich with Chopped Shallots and Watercress on White Bread.

We indulged in one yummy sandwich after another until we had tried them all and of course had a few extra of our favorites, But as we eagerly dove into the tower, we vowed to leave room for the scones which were sure to follow.

Image of Fanny du Fay de Lavallaz at The Ritz London

And follow they did. Scones: soft and warm and buttery. The baked knockoffs in the US cannot even begin to compare to these unbelievable delicacies that actually melt in your mouth. As traditional custom requires, we smothered our scones in clotted cream and strawberry jam to make for an even more decadent affair.

Image of tea and scones with clotted cream and jam at The Ritz London

Four cups of tea, an abundance of finger sandwiches, and three scones later (per person), we reluctantly folded our napkins and admitted defeat. Afternoon tea is an English tradition that I most certainly adore. The idea of taking time away from our busy schedules to chat with friends, sip on soul-warming liquid, and guiltlessly nibble on too many sweets, is one that I enthusiastically support.

Image of four girls at tea at The Ritz London

Photo Courtesy of Angela Milinazzo

We successfully and contently said our goodbyes in a manner of utmost class to the city we’ve called home for so many months. An appropriate end to the best summer.

Because this is how tea makes us feel…

Image of Angela Milinazzo at The Rtiz London

Until next time, London. We’ll be back for you.

Chips, Frites, and Fries! Oh my!

Delicious, deep-fried potato. What’s not to love?

In the US, French fries are typically a side dish associated with fast food. They come as a component to something considered far more delectable. For example, a cheeseburger and fries, the stereotypical American meal.

In the UK, it’s much the same. Fish n Chips come with the fries aka “chips” on the side. For some, these thin slices are a source of great excitement, but for most, they are really just an afterthought.

Image of French Fries

Photo courtesy of Joel Kato

And then there were frites. Thick slices of potato, double-fried, smothered in sauce, and served in a cardboard cone with a teeny fork. Frites embody the true glory of the fried potato. They are crispy on the outside and warm and soft on the inside, providing great texture and even better flavor.

And, as if being dunked in all that greasy lard wasn’t enough, the Belgians and the Dutch heap a generous glob of mayonnaise or various other mayonnaise-based sauces right on top. Unhealthy? Definitely. Worth it? Absolutely. I think the whole satisfying the soul aspect overpowers the clogging the arteries concern.

A recent trip to Amsterdam showed me just how essential frites are to Dutch culture. These friteries are quite literally on every corner, which means that as a tourist, you must try them all. We accepted our challenge: Three Americans + three days in Amsterdam + 10 cones overflowing with frites = one weekend of epic indulgence.

Image of frites in Amsterdam

Once again, image courtesy of Chris Hurlbert.

There are many foods that are universally eaten, but often uniquely presented in different cultures. When it comes to chips/frites/fries, the Dutch and the Belgians certainly win any competition.

Oh my!

Borough Market: Just Can’t Get Enough

Image of the entrance sign to Borough Market

Borough Market. Foodie heaven. Certain gluttony. With confit duck sandwiches, authentic seafood paella, Moong Dal dosa (Indian street food), Kangaroo burgers, strawberry ice cream, Naughty brownies (appropriately named if I do so say myself), French saucisson sec, and SO MUCH cheese, how could you not eat too much?

Our first trip earlier this summer consisted of lots of tasting, lots of sharing, and endless loops around the market. We tried new foods, learned something new about quite a few cultures, and enthusiastically teased Fanny about all the Frenchies fighting to help her pick out the perfect pot of Saint-Félicien. A few hours well spent followed by a lovely walk along the river.

Image of the physical structure of Borough Market

Our second trip, however, was a pure mission, as in a slightly hungover, rather foggy undertaking. But confit duck sandwiches are totally worth the struggle.

£5 for the most deliciously greasy, cure-anything-you-got hunk of meat and bread that ever existed…Image of Sign at Borough Market

which is expertly assembled with love…Image of woman at Borough Market constructing Confit Duck Sandwich

And fervently consumed by loyal admirers. Image of Fanny du Fay de Lavallaz, Angela Milinazzo, and Kerryn McDonough at Borough Market eating Confit Duck Sandwich

 

Oh. And obviously there was ice creamImage of Angela Milinazzo, Christopher Hurlbert, and Kerryn McDonough eating ice cream at Borough MarketBecause there is always ice cream.

 

Conclusion: We’ll be back.

(Photo credit: Chris Hurlbert)