Newsletter: This is what a food critic cooks for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving spread
There will be turkey and pie on Bill Addison’s Thanksgiving table.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

The holidays are upon us, and Patricia Escárcega and I take a break from restaurant reviews this coming week to make way for the Nov. 21 Food section brimming with Thanksgiving recipes. We savored the leftovers from dishes that Genevieve Ko and Ben Mims tested for weeks; can’t wait for everyone to see — and cook — the brilliance they came up with.

Thanksgiving has always been a friends’ holiday for me. (I spend Christmas with family in Maryland.) For the last seven years I’ve cooked the big meal with my friends Caline and Numan in Atlanta. We fused together an ever-evolving collage of Lebanese, Pakistani and American Southern classics that made complete sense on their table. I’d argue for lamb instead of turkey; they always wanted turkey and won the fight every time. The chunky, sweet-savory cranberry sauce leaned closer to chutney. Lubieh bil zeit, a Lebanese staple of green beans in olive oil with garlic and tomatoes, would beat out green bean casserole.

It’s hard to be apart from them for my first Thanksgiving after moving to Los Angeles.

But this year, I’ll be staying in Southern California, celebrating the holiday with my dear friend Denise. We worked together at a vegetarian restaurant in the ’90s. She moved to San Diego nearly a decade ago and now co-runs a falconry school in Alpine — which is still a wild reality to me, but we never know where life will take us.

This will be my first Thanksgiving dinner with Denise since 2005. She’s agreed to let me destroy her kitchen with a crazy feast.


Dal with pumpkin to start, heavy on the cumin and mustard seeds tempered in ghee. There will be a turkey, unbrined but basted with beer, butter and herbs (based on a recipe developed by Atlanta food writer buddy Meredith Ford). Collard greens, cooked with a ham hock if I can find one, and otherwise simmered with bacon and lots of garlic and onion and finished with sherry vinegar and chile flakes. Custardy mac and cheese from “The Gift of Southern Cooking” by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, one of my enduringly favorite cookbooks. Cranberry sauce with blood orange. Sweet potatoes with ginger and chipotle; mashed potatoes with gravy made from the turkey’s beery pan drippings. Lewis and Peacock’s recipe for skillet cornbread; no sugar. (I really hate sweet cornbread.)

Book cover of The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern by Claudia Fleming with Melissa Clark.
Book cover of The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern by Claudia Fleming with Melissa Clark.
(Random House Publishing Group)

I love making ice cream. I was leaning toward vanilla bean-bourbon this year but, like many cooks and food writers of my generation, I was obsessed with Claudia Fleming’s definitive dessert book “The Last Course.” It’s just been reissued, so I may make the book’s brandied fig ice cream in her honor. Certainly, I’ll bake a simple pie — maybe sweet potato-pecan — and then I’ll concoct a not-so-simple pear crisp with a pistachio-cardamom crumble and vanilla bean-brown butter poured over the fruit (a superlative Nancy Silverton trick).

Excited. I confess, though, it’s been months since I’ve prepared even a basic meal; this will be a fun challenge for me. I’ll be scouring the Santa Monica and Hollywood farmers markets this week for on-the-fly inspiration. Early wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

Ask the critics

When is the 2019 Best 101 Restaurants being released?

Monday, Dec. 9! The Times is throwing an event at the Vibiana downtown to celebrate its release; 30 of the restaurants from the list will be serving food. Alas, Patricia and I remain committed to hiding our faces as best we can, so we will not be in attendance. But Food section colleagues will be there, including editors Peter Meehan and Andrea Chang.

The beautifully designed magazine will be included in your Sunday subscription on Dec. 15. We’re thrilled for readers to devour this project we’ve been working on all year — and to hear your thoughts.

Top stories

Nutmeg fruit being prepared for juicing at 33 Coffee Shop in Balik Pulau, Penang, Malaysia.
(Austin Bush / For The Times)

  • Reviews from this week: Patricia writes about the corn-centric, Mesoamerican cooking at Milpa Grille in Boyle Heights. I take a look at All Time in Los Feliz — an all-day restaurant that feels like the neighborhood’s living room, and is where I happened to be the first time I experienced a Southern California earthquake.
  • Prompted by the Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes arriving in Southeast Asia for the first time, Austin Bush writes about the ways nutmeg appears in Malaysian cuisine. This is fascinating: “Raw nutmeg fruit is intensely astringent, sucking the moisture from your mouth, so Kenny and other vendors temper the juice with simple syrup and — a very Chinese touch — salted plum.”
  • Jenn Harris tells us where to eat in the South Bay. There are oxtails, palak paneer, khao soi and breakfast pizza — but it’s Jenn, so of course there’s also fried chicken.
  • Dami Lee has an illustrated guide to her Korean father’s onion hacks.
  • And finally: Sorting through the wine club morass. Leslie Pariseau offers suggestions for finding ones that really deliver.