November 14th, 2012

Holiday Sides: tweaking tradition

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Acorn Squash Rings stuffed with Sorghum Apples and Pecans

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Yukon Gold-Sweet Potato Gratin

There’s a thin line to walk at family holiday gatherings, where Traditions and The New intersect. Expectations for the Usual vie for their place at the Thanksgiving table, as does the Desire for Something Different. If you are like me, you would never dream of replacing the roast turkey. Oh, I’ve refined my recipe over the years. And I’ve completely veered away from how I had it prepared, growing up.

Back in the day, my dad was in charge of cooking the turkey. He would cover the entire bird with bacon strips, which would essentially baste it as it roasted. When done, the bacon was practically annealed onto the golden brown skin. He’d cook it early in the day, let it rest before carving, and saunter off to the den to watch a football game.

Crazed with hunger, we kids would sneak into the kitchen, and greedily pick off the bacon strips, which couldn’t help but tear things up. With a piece of bacon came a piece of skin, oops, and then a hunk of meat. By the time the poor turkey reached the table, it was a rather ravaged looking carcass.

Much as we all loved the bacon, no one missed the “bacon-turkey” when I took over the helm of holiday hosting. My replacement, a garlic-sage-butter baste (slathered under the turkey skin) is much-loved, and arrives like a showpiece on the table.

But, no turkey? Unthinkable! There would upheaval, shouts of betrayal, dejection.

However, times change; diets and tastes change.
When you want to introduce something really new, that’s where the side dishes come in.

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When our Third Thursday Community Potluck meets in November, it is a serendipitous convenience that it is held exactly one week before Thanksgiving. (always the fourth Thursday!) Our guests come bearing a bounty of intriguing dishes, ideal for holiday serving. I’m sharing two favorites with you today, for your consideration. Both are vegetarian and gluten-free, one is suitable for vegans. Bearing in mind shifting dietary needs, these are sure to please everyone.

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The first dish combines Yukon Gold potatoes and sweet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced, and layered in a gratin. I love the random look of the overlapping orange and yellow discs. And, grating fresh nutmeg over each layer imparts a subtle spicy note.

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The liquid in which these potatoes cook is half-and-half infused with shallots, chives, and flat leaf parsley. Shredded Gruyere cheese enrichens the dish, beautifully melting throughout the layers. If you can locate Comte, an artisanal French cheese that is possibly better than Gruyere, I recommend it.

The layers meld as they bake, but the naturally (and barely) sweet tastes of both potatoes shine through.

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YUKON GOLD-SWEET POTATO-GRATIN

4-5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 shallots, diced
2 cups half-and-half
2 heaping tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
whole nutmeg for finely grating
1 ½ lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ lbs. sweet potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
¼ cup grated Parmegianno-Regianno

13 inch x9 inch deep baking dish

Using one tablespoon of the butter, coat the baking dish.

In a saucepan on medium heat, saute the shallots in three tablespoons butter until translucent. Add the half-and-half, parsley, chives, salt, and white pepper. Stir well until warmed. Remove from heat.

Peel Yukon gold and sweet potatoes. Slice very thin (1/8 inch) and layer the bottom of the baking dish in overlapping circles. It’s fine to layer them randomly—a few slices of one potatoes, followed by the other. Grate some fresh nutmeg over the slices.

Stir and cover with a thin layer of seasoned half-and half. Sprinkle with ½ cup Gruyere. Repeat with another layer of sliced potatoes, arranged in similar fashion. Follow with grated nutmeg. Cover again with more liquid, followed by Gruyere. Press down with the back of a wooden spoon to make sure the liquid seeping through all the overlapping slices.

Finish with final of sliced potatoes, half-and-half, remaining cheeses. Dot the top with remaining butter.

Cover with aluminum foil and baking in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Uncover and finish baking for another 15-20 minutes, until casserole is browned, and potatoes feel tender when pierced.

Serves 10-12

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The acorn squash rings make a pretty presentation, and couldn’t be simpler to make. Here in the South, we love sorghum, which adds a mineral sweetness to the apple stuffing. But other syrups would work just as readily. Maple syrup would be a terrific choice.

Apples and winter squashes always pair well. Choose a firm, tart apple, like Granny Smith or Jonathan or Ginger Gold. Pecan pieces and diced shallots are folded with apples, the pecans become toasted in the bake.

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

If you are traveling, travel safely. Enjoy one another’s company, and dine well.

We are headed for DC to be with my daughter and son-in-law, and I plan to stay until my grandbaby is born! Stay tuned. We are full of excitement and gratitude.

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ACORN SQUASH RINGS STUFFED WITH SORGHUM APPLES AND PECANS (vegan)

2 large acorn squashes
2 large baking apples, such as Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gingergold
2/3 cup chopped shallots
2/3 cup pecan pieces
¼ cup sorghum
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
olive oil—for brushing squash rings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice squashes into rings, almost an inch in thickness. Depending on the size of the squash, you can get 5-6 rings from each one. Scoop out the seeds, and lay the rings on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the rings with olive oil.

Wash, core and dice apples into ½ inch chunks. Place into a bowl. Add shallots, pecan pieces, sorghum, salt and black pepper. Toss, so that all the pieces are coated with the sorghum.

Mound sorghum apple mixture into the center of each ring.

Bake for 25 minutes.
Makes 10-12 rings

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 27 Comments »




September 8th, 2010

Sweet Bays

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When my mom was a little girl living on Long Island, summers meant vacationing out the island’s North Fork, on a little strip of smooth-stoned beach along Peconic Bay called Breezy Shores. Facing the waterfront were dollhouse cottages, white-washed clapboards with dark blue trim, each cottage hand built and a little different from one another.

Some had screened porches, perfect for starlit sleeping; others had small flowerbeds where scrappy rosebushes ambled up their windswept trellises; most had blue painted wood chairs, cracked and peeling, placed out front overlooking the bay.

You could see fishermen in the early morning make their stealth way in small boats, on their quest for a good catch. You could see Shelter Island and watch the ferries make their hourly chugs from the mainland and back. You could watch weather.

I know all this, because when I was a little girl living on Long Island, summers, too, meant vacationing at Breezy Shores. Often, we would stay in the same cottage that mom had. My sister and I would collect smooth stones on the strip of beach, hunt hermit crabs in little sand mounds, rig cryptic messages in bottles and clumsily launch them into the bay.

Breezy, in 1965, was not very different from Breezy in 1935.

After we moved to Nashville, visits to that charmed spot became infrequent.
I went a couple of times in my teens and later brought my daughter–ten months old at the time–for her first salt water and beach experience. Not far from Breezy we discovered a little seafood restaurant. It was near the legendary Soundview, but it was more of a shack. It might have even been called The Shack–thirty plus years ago, memory is not clear on that detail.

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No matter, the food memory is everclear! For five dollars, you could get bay scallops, sweet, small as the tip of your pinky, broiled in a buttery broth, served in an oval gratin. It came with slaw, steamed local corn on the cob, and a soft roll to mop up all that buttery broth. It was simple and fresh, gently sea-perfumed and bursting with sweetness.

I was reminded of that place, and that sumptuous dish, over the Labor Day weekend. Something about the crisp quality of the September air–at last no humidity–the end of summer conjures memories, and I saw some bay scallops, wild caught, for sale at the market.

That little seafood place doesn’t exist anymore, but miraculously, Breezy Shores does…in much the same way as it always has…and holds many stories for future posts….

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MY NORTH FORK BAY SCALLOP GRATIN
with thanks to Joseph and LeCreuset for the Enameled Fish Gratin

2 T. Butter
1/4 cup diced Onion
1 clove minced Garlic
1 T. Flour
1/2 c. White Wine
1 cup Milk
1 lb. Bay Scallops
Paprika
Chives
Salt ‘n Pepper
handful of soft Breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a gratin dish (or small casserole, baking dish) with soft butter. Place uncooked scallops in the gratin.

In a saucepan or small skillet, melt the butter. Saute onions and garlic until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add white wine, a little sea salt, a few grindings of black pepper, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Mix flour into milk until well blended, and pour the slurry into the saucepan. Stir until mixed well with the wine and onions. Add snipped chives and a few pinches of paprika. Taste for seasoning. Remove from heat when slightly thickened, and pour over scallops in the gratin.

Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top, dust with paprika, and place into the hot oven. Bake for about 8 minutes–the top will get brown and bubbly.
Do not overcook–you want the scallops to stay tender.

Get out your best bread to mop up the rich goodness.

Serves 4

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Posted in Fish/Seafood, Recipes | 19 Comments »




December 1st, 2009

Swiss Chard-Butternut Squash Gratin

plate of t-day food

Like many families, we have a number of “must-have” dishes at our holiday gathering—Thanksgiving being a time for traditions. There would be outcry if sage roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry-walnut relish, and sweet garlic smashed potatoes didn’t make their annual appearance on the table.

But I’ve come to realize that it’s good, here and there, to break from tradition, enliven the usual players, or introduce something different to the menu.

Three years ago we spent our most exotic Thanksgiving in the lakeside town of Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. On that sunny Thursday, Bill and I met up with daughter Madeleine at her work, and took a long walk to an old resort hotel on Lake Tana. There, we dined outdoors in a tropical-like setting: flora in full bloom, trees full of brilliantly colored birds, some clustered with sleeping bats.

For the area, it was a lovely, yet pricey hotel, frequented mainly by Europeans, and offered unremarkable food. Bill had eggs and dabo–a crusty yeasted bread. Madeleine, the more seasoned diner of our troupe, piled her plate from the buffet with lamb tibs, lentils, and a beefy wat. I had been battling a “stomach thing” and recall having penne with tomato sauce, injera with cooked greens and carrots, some sort of melon.

As it resembled Nothing of the big T-Day of our heritage, the three of us laughed and called it the “Anti-Thanksgiving.” Nevertheless, there we were, together, and happy.

Since that extreme Thanksgiving, I have become mindful of the significance of family traditions—and how sometimes it’s worthwhile to bust them up a bit.

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This year, along with the traditional faves, I added a couple of new things. A Pumpkin Cheesecake with gingersnap-pecan crust and cultured whipped cream. (post on this very soon!)

And this chard-butternut squash gratin, which was especially relished.

I was inspired by a Smitten Kitchen post that similarly paired sweet potatoes and chard in a gratin. Recognizing that while oh-so-different, there’s a great interchangeability of sweet potatoes and winter squashes in recipes. I chose to use my butternuts in the casserole.

butternut and chard

The colors from the ruby chard and roasted squash were vibrant.
The green onion bechamel richly brought the chard heat and butternut sweet together.

Overall Delectable–worthy of repeating—holidays and any days.

And, tricky. My mom thought that the cheesy spinach-potato casserole was awesome. And so different! I kept mum. My dad wouldn’t have touched the dish had he known that it contained no cheese, spinach, or potatoes.

Here’s to traditions: the cherished knowns, and those in the making.
Mostly, here’s to being together.

Swiss Chard-Butternut Squash Gratin

2 medium Butternuts, peeled, sliced thin
Olive Oil
1 bunch Swiss Chard, washed, stemmed. Chop stems, and
Coarsely chop leaves. As cooking times vary, these will be cooked separately
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 cup White Wine
1/2 cup Vegetable Stock
Salt
Red Pepper Flakes (used in pinches–you decide how hot!)

roasting butternut slices

Lightly oil and roast the slices in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté the chopped chard stems in olive oil on medium heat in a deep skillet or saucepan for 7 minutes. (I used my now-beloved Fig LeCreuset! What ever did I do without it?)
Add minced garlic, and sprinkle with sea salt and red pepper flakes.
Add chopped chard leaves.
Stir well, then pour in white wine and vegetable stock.
Continue cooking for another 5 minutes, folding the leaves throughout the mix.
When the leaves are “cooked down” and tender, remove from heat.

sauteeing chard stems

Make bechamel sauce. Then, follow directions for the gratin assembly.

Green Onion-Chive Bechamel
2 Tablespoons Butter
4 Green Onions (scallions) chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Chives
2 heaping Tablespoons all purpose Flour
2 cups lowfat Milk
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan on medium heat, sauté green onions in butter until softened, about three minutes. Add chives, then rapidly stir in flour, allowing it to slightly cook and coat the onions. Pour in the milk, stirring constantly. Gradually the flour-cooked onions will incorporate smoothly into the milk, and the sauce with form. Simmer as it thickens, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

saucing the gratin

Assembly
Layer the bottom of your casserole dish with bechamel.
Cover with a layer of roasted butternut squash rounds.
Then, add a layer of sauteed chard.
Top with bechamel.
Repeat–squash, chard, and top finish of bechamel.

Note: this can be made ahead and refrigerated at this point.

Bake uncovered in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, slightly longer, if it’s coming out of refrigeration–until sauce is bubbly and brown-edged.

Serves 10-12.

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Madeleine, Bill, and I at Tis Abay, where the Blue Nile, after exiting Lake Tana, plunges over a 45 meter rock gorge.

Posted in Recipes, Vegetables | 7 Comments »