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 29th, 2011

Two Autumn Tarts

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Sweet Potato Tart with cornmeal crust

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Maple Pecan Tart with gingersnap crust

Today, an embarrassment of riches!

Between house parties and a special local farm dinner, I’ve been busy-busy cooking this month. In the process, I’ve created a couple of lush desserts suited for fall.

It’s a beautiful day in Nashville, the essence of early autumn: sunny, neither warm nor cool, with that slant of light that makes all things clear.

Ripe for sharing both recipes.

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The first, sweet potato pie with cornmeal crust, was one that I made for the local farm dinner, hosted by Fretboard Journal, a guitar-afficianado’s dream-magazine based out of Seattle Washington. With all the “box” pickers, builders, traders, and listeners, Nashville is one guitar lovin’ town, the perfect site for the Inaugural Fretboard Feast.

My friend, organic farmer Tally May, and her husband, guitar builder extraordinaire, Kipp Krusa hosted the event on their Turnbull Creek Farm, just west of Nashville.

Working with Tally, I designed a menu, basing it on what was seasonal and available at the moment. We sourced meat, eggs, fruit, and vegetables from her farm, and her neighboring farmer-colleagues.

Here are some of the highlights: Rosemary-Sage Roasted Fresh Ham with Fig Sauce, Fall Lettuces with beets, pears, walnuts, chevre, Sherry-Plum Vinaigrette, Butternut Squash-Swiss Chard Gratin, October Beans, Pole Beans, and Leeks with blistered cherry tomatoes and peppers, Yukon Golds and Harukei Turnips roasted with Thyme and Garlic…

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And, this very local pie, distinctively Southern with its slightly gritty cornmeal crust. A drizzle of sorghum, a dollop of lemon-basil scented creme fraiche, and Mer-cy, was it ever down-home elegant good. Have a bite, please!

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SWEET POTATO PIE WITH CORNMEAL CRUST

The Crust
3/4 cup Yellow Corn Meal
3/4 cup All Purpose Flour
2 T. Sugar
1/2 t. Salt
7 T. cold Butter, cut into pieces
3-4 T. Ice Water

Place all dry ingredients in a food processor fitted with a pastry cutter blade (or swivel blade). Pulse quickly to “sift” them together. Add cold butter, and pulse until the pieces are cut throughout the cornmeal-flour mix. Continue pulsing, add water, one tablespoon at a time. The dough will begin to amass. Continue pulsing until it forms a ball. Collect, pat into a firmer ball, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (You can do this well ahead of time–a day in advance.)

The Filling
2 cups cooked Sweet Potatoes (2 medium or 1 large Sweet Potato, baked, meaty insides scooped from the sweet potato shell))
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 cup Cream
1 T. Vanilla
1 t. Ginger
1/2 t. Cinnamon
1/2 t. Nutmeg
pinch ground Cloves
3 Eggs

I used the food processor (swivel blade) for the filling too.

Place sweet potatoes into the food processor and process until smooth. Add brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and spices. Continue processing. Taste, and adjust for seasoning. Add eggs, one at a time, and process until very smooth and well-incorporated.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove doughball from refrigerator and allow to soften. Sprinkle counter with a little flour and roll out crust. Fit into a 9″ or 10″ pie pan. If the dough breaks or crumbles, (which it might) don’t worry. The cornmeal makes it a bit that way, but is very forgiving as far as piecing the crust back together.

Fill the pie with the sweet potato mixture and bake for about 35 minutes. Test in the center for doneness (whatever you stick in to check will be clean when removed)

Cool. Serve with lemon-scented creme fraiche.

LEMON BASIL SCENTED CREME FRAICHE
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 T. Buttermilk

3 T. Lemon Basil Simple Syrup
1 T. Lemon zest

Mix the cream and buttermilk in a clean glass mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit out, in a cool dark place, for 24 hours, to thicken. Stir occasionally. Refrigerate, and allow to culture for 3 days.

Make your simple syrup. (recipe below)

Whip the creme fraiche with lemon zest and simple syrup until fluffy. Serve over pie.

Lemon Basil Simple Syrup
1/2 c. Sugar
1/2 c. Water
1/2 c. Lemon Basil Leaves

Dissolve sugar into water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Plunge in the lemon basil leaves.
Stir well and simmer. Allow to cool. Strain the leaves.

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Next up, Maple Pecan.

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Southern pecan pie is traditionally made with corn syrup, and I’ve generally made it this way, with delicious results. But, for this tart, I wanted to use maple syrup that I was able to source from a farm in neighboring Kentucky. I had always thought about maple syrup coming from New England and Canada—so it’s nice to know that locals are making it too.

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And, a different, “spicier” crust seemed to be in order. For its sweet and heady bite, a crust made from ginger snaps makes a nice shell to hold that pecan studded custard, and is a snap to make.

I’ve used the same recipe, pressed the crust into an 8″X8″ square baking pan, and made Maple Pecan Bars, instead of the round tart. This works, easy-peasy.

I hope you all are enjoying the change of season. Take time outside, have a slice of one of these tarts, sip hot coffee, drink in that rare slant of light.

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MAPLE PECAN TART WITH GINGERSNAP CRUST

The Crust:
24 Ginger Snap Cookies (from an Archway Cookie Bag)
3 T. Melted Butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pulse gingersnaps in a food processor into fine crumbs. Place into a mixing bowl, and stir in melted butter. Press mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan. Bake for 5 minutes.

The Filling:
1 cup Maple Syrup
1/2 cup Sugar
1 stick melted Butter, slightly cooled
1 T. Vanilla
3 Eggs
1/2 t. Salt
2 cups Pecan Halves

Line the bottom of the gingersnap crust with pecans.

Make the filling, using a stand mixer, or a hand-held. Beat maple syrup, sugar, vanilla, and butter together. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Pour over pecans in the pie pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Serve warm or cold, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. (drizzled with caramel sauce!)

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Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 25 Comments »




December 15th, 2010

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple-Sage Brown Butter

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In December, life moves at a crazy pace; it’s a giant snowball, hill-tumbling, avalanching to year-end. With all the demands of the season, it feels like I’m in a race to outrun it. This puzzles me, as my life is scads simpler than it used to be.

When I was full time-full blown catering, outrunning that avalanche was de rigueur for December. Any given day would be crammed with making countless appetizer platters, holiday luncheon spreads, and fruit, cheese, and petite sweet trays while orchestrating concurrent cocktail soirees, dinner parties, and dessert fetes…only to be repeated the next. Days were bleary, and days were Long.

At some point, in the course of this catering mania (We called it The Season We Love to Hate) I’d experience a meltdown. You know, one of those collapses into a tunnel of blind psychotic frenzy that would end with a bout of uncontrolled sobbing. You never knew when it would occur, or what might trigger it.

One morning, in predawn darkness, I spent forty-five minutes ransacking my home, front yard and driveway looking for my car keys—I had to get to the shop to scramble 200 eggs for a company breakfast and I was running horribly late—-only to find them lying on my dresser, under a scarf. Another time, I was talking to a client for the fifth time that day, as she revised her party’s headcount upwards (these late rsvps! we must have enough food!) and dozens of beautifully crafted yeast rolls burnt to a ghastly char in our oven.

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Once the meltdown happened, everything would return to normalcy—relatively speaking. Bill always hoped that “the episode” would occur early in the season. “Get it over with and move on.” I always hoped that it wouldn’t occur at all—wishful thinking. In fairness, we had a share of comedic moments to balance out the drama (like the time I ran over the baked glazed ham !) but I am grateful that those days are behind me.

Nonetheless, I have fallen behind this season–cooking, shopping, reviewing, blogging. I have been meaning to share this recipe with you that Maggie and I cooked up a couple of weeks ago! Maggie had much success growing sweet potatoes this year, and we wanted to try some different recipes. And because sweet potatoes are so versatile—you can pretty much interchange them with winter squashes or regular potatoes in many recipes—this gives you a wide range of possibilities. We chose gnocchi. These pretty little knobs are easy-peasy to make, and make an artful accompaniment to the holiday table.

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There’s not a terrible lot of ingredients. I put a little minced rosemary to the dough, along with cinnamon, salt, and pepper. I like the additional herbal note that it brings. It complements the maple’s sweetness and is a natural partner with sage. Bake your sweet potatoes ahead of time, and have them scooped out, ready to go.

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Working with this dough reminded me of making biscuits—-it takes a similar light (and messy!) hand as you quickly work the potato, egg, and all throughout the flour, massing it into a pliable ball.

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Divide the ball into 4, and roll each into long logs. There is a rustic, non-uniform look to gnocchi that appeals to me. It’s also child’s play! Cut them into bite-size pieces–they are ready to cook.

These are quite tasty, especially after being napped in the savory-sweet brown butter. They are rich, too. I think that you’ll enjoy them alongside smoked turkey, or roast pork, even a baked glazed ham, tenderized under the wheel of a whacked-out caterer’s truck.

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SWEET POTATO GNOCCHI
2 Sweet Potatoes, baked, insides scooped out
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 Egg
4 T. Unsalted Butter, softened
1 t. minced Rosemary leaves
2 t. Cinnamon
Salt and Black Pepper

1 large pot for boiling the gnocchi

In a large bowl, place cooked and cooled sweet potato “meat” along with all the other ingredients and begin mixing them together by hand. It will be a little sticky at first, but continue working the dough, kneading, until it becomes a manageable ball. Beware not to overknead–keep a light hand! Cut the doughball into 4 pieces, and roll them into long log shapes. Cut into pieces.

If you are making these in advance, refrigerate until you are ready to boil them.

Drop the gnocchi into a large pot of lightly salted, boiling water. When the gnocchi float to the surface, (about 5 minutes( they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon or strainer to drain.

Dress with brown butter sauce and serve.

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MAPLE SAGE BROWN BUTTER SAUCE

6 T. Unsalted Butter
1/2 c. fresh Sage Leaves
2 T. Maple Syrup
Salt and Black Pepper

In a small skillet on medium beat, melt the butter. Shake and stir it around the skillet as it foams; you’ll notice the milky solids begin to get a toasty brown color. Add the sage leaves and continue stirring. When the butter gets bronzy, remove from heat and stir in the ample syrup.
Toss over gnocchi and garnish with additional sage.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetables | 29 Comments »




November 2nd, 2009

A Simple Autumn Supper

hero overshot pork

Now is the ideal time for these good things: pork and sage and honey poached pears and roasted sweet potatoes.

Have you ever grown sweet potatoes?

Earlier this summer, I found one abandoned in the back of my pantry that had sprouted and thought I might try my hand at it.

Following some instruction I found online, I submerged my forsaken one in a bowl of water. After a couple of days, the sprouts leafed out and had the makings of vines. I carefully snapped off these baby vines, (called “slips”) and placed them into a water-filled jar to root.

Again, growing quickly, threadlike roots formed, making 5 individual sweet potato plants. Over the 4th of July holiday, I moved them into their new home at The Hooper Garden. They grew vigorously, suffering only one setback of bunny munching, a tangle of vines competing for space with the wiley watermelon.

Last week a tinge of frost blackened many of the leaves, alerting me that it was time to harvest.

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It became a treasure hunt; I had no idea how these tubers grow, nor how deep! So, I began my cautious dig for these buried treasures, (thinking about the truffle seekers!) following the viney trail and its vast underground network of roots. What a wonder–there were lots of them, some GIGANTIC, some regular, some baby sized.

Nature offers some pretty incredible returns—here’s the math:
One sprouted tuber produced Five plants produced Twenty-five sweet potatoes. Impressive.

Looks like I’ll be making lots of sweet potato treats!

For my initial use, I wanted to make it a part of a simple autumn supper.

I generally don’t eat much pork, but I had a piece of boneless loin, a thick medallion that I had gotten from West Wind Farms. It seemed a natural to companion it with roasted sweet potato slices and my honey-poached pears. The sage plant on my front steps is flourishing, another cool weather cuisine associate, which I like to place directly onto the pork and sauté. Crispy sage leaves are delicious.

pork-pear ingredients

This entire meal takes about thirty minutes to put together. Roasting discs of sweet potatoes couldn’t be simpler—just lay them out on a baking pan, brush with a little olive oil, dust with salt and pepper, and roast for about 20 minutes in a hot oven, say 425 degrees.

roasted sweet potato chips

True, these are odd shaped. I had to cut away a blemish or two.

While the sweet potatoes roast, you can pan-fry the pork. After I rinse off the meat and pat it dry, I rub it with olive oil. Then, I place the sage leaves directly onto the meat, salt and pepper it, and then dust it in flour.

I heat some more olive oil with a little butter in a skillet. When that is heated, butter bubbly, put in the pork. I cook it about 7 minutes a side, let it brown, then flip and repeat. After it’s cooked, I deglaze the pan with some water, stirring the cooked-on bits. The small residue of flour will help this to slightly thicken.

in the skillet

Remember those honey-poached pears? Gently warm those on the stovetop.

Now, to assemble your plate:
Start with the sweet potato discs as your base.
Place the cooked pork medallion on top.
Spoon over the warmed pears.
Drizzle with your deglazed brown sauce.
Garnish with fresh sage.
Eat.

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And enjoy!

a good dinner

Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes | 11 Comments »