Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Bolognese has a First Name, it's D-E-L-I-G-H-T

Growing up in the Garden State  allows people across the country to make several inferences about you, if not always correct ones:
1) we all talk like Joe Pesci (or Snooki)
2) it's law that you call it "down the Shore"
3) we hate all New Yorkers (not true; only hate Staten Islanders!)
4) we all have a cousin in the "business"  (re: The Sopranos)
5) we all eat pork roll like it's going out of style
6) it's state law that every town must have at least one 24 hour diner (see above)

And finally, my least favorite of them all, and unfortunately the most common:
We're all Italian. Or, as we say here, I-Talian (you natives know what I mean!)
      As sorry as I am to disappoint you, I myself am from German and Polish heritage, as is a good proportion of the north Jersey natives. Suck it, Tony Soprano! Sausage rules!
     HOWEVER, I will give it to my Italian friends - they do make a mean sauce, and pasta is a dish of statewide prowess. I happen to have a favorite though, and my love began not here in my home state, but in a little Italian trattoria in South Florida...
...you see years ago, when I did college the first time (!), I paid a good portion of my way through hard work. This little place,  which I  shall leave unnamed for fear they might whack me for copyright infringement (damn Sicilians) made pasta dishes that would turn your stomach over crying Uncle before you even began. My love on the menu, however, was not your typical noodle. I was introduced, for the first time, to the gnocchi bolognese.
     If  you've never had one before, I highly recommend...a gnocchi is a tiny, pillowy puff of light and airy potato dough, boiled until  they just float, and usually sauced in brown butter and pepper, or used in baked dishes. They hold the line between dumpling and pasta in their own tiny universe of delight, a category of Italian genius all their own. In my trattoria, the gnocchi was not house-made, but the sauce certainly was - and this is where the story lies. Our gnocchi came smothered in bolognese sauce; here it was ground meat, pink like a blushing bride, laden with onion, garlic, and lust. It was meat sauce to the nth degree, and it was love at first bite. I ordered it nearly every day for the entire 4 years I worked there - needless to say, when I quit, I lost about 10 pounds. Just saying, it was THAT good.
     I immediately went to my bible, the Joy of Cooking, and looked up bolognese, and promptly made it. Was it the same? Not a chance! The JOY version used real cut meat, not ground, took hours, and tasted amazing....just not the same as my trattoria version.
     As I repeated this experiment, over and over, I slowly came to the realization...that it wasn't a real bolognese at all. The sauce they fed me was in fact a meat sauce mixed with vodka sauce, frozen peas, and sauteed onions; a line cook concoction. My idealistic Italian shattered around me like an amaretti cookie in a toddler's hands. It was  a fallacy, an elaborate hoax on the American consumer. I was, in a word, devastated.
     But like any good culinarian, I sludged on through recipe after recipe, hoping to recreate my love in  pure form, not a pre-fab one. I tried pork; I tried beef; I tried turkey. I ground fresh meat, used store-bought. I busted my hump to find the sauce I loved. And, I think I did it.
     Nowadays, I look back on that era of my life in hindsight splendor, the kind of idealistic visions you can only achieve from looking backwards on an otherwise ridiculous time in your life. But I will always remember my trattoria, and the nasty (but cute) Sicilians I worked for, and the smells and taste of Italian-American cuisine that shaped my early twenties. And I relish every bite of my bolognese sauce, ladled over steaming whole-wheat fusilli or spinach penne, for I have graduated the extra-calorie school of daily gnocchi. That, my friends, is reserved for special occasions only.

Ground Beef Bolognese with Spinach Penne

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 pound ground beef
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1 tbsp. dried parsley
2 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ c. red wine
½ c. chicken or beef stock
24 oz. canned diced tomatoes in juice
2 bay leaves
1 c. milk
1 large Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (optional)
8 oz. dry spinach penne, or similar fat pasta shape
grated Parmesan, for garnish
In a large sauté pan with high sides, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add carrot, celery and onion, cooking 1 minute. Add ground beef, basil, marjoram, parsley, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes; cook until beef is all browned but not dry. Raise heat to high, add red wine and stock, and reduce by half. Add tomatoes with juice and bay leaves; bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, stirring. Add Parmigiano rind if using. Cover pan halfway with lid. Add about ¼ c. milk every 15 minutes for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions in boiling salted water.  Drain without rinsing. When sauce is done, remove bay leaves and rind. Divide noodles among 4 shallow bowls, and top with Bolognese sauce. Pass grated Parmesan at the table to top. Serve hot.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Leftovers 102: Vegetable Neglect, and Why So Much Pumpkin??

WHAT??? I'm STILL eating leftovers??? You bet!
     Oh, dear friends of the food blog community, I have an insatiable appetite for turkey. I like it roasted, I like it plain with mayo, I like it in meatballs, in soup, in spring rolls. I could eat turkey until I sprouted wings and a wattle.
     This week is mental detox week in our home; i.e., the hubby and I are drinking and eating to our heart's content (I am preparing for a large move, so it's totally necessary!). In light of the low-effort movement, I chose to (finally!) clear the fridge of any lingering leftovers, from turkey day and beyond. In the dark, deep recesses of my crisper drawer, hiding beneath a clump of wilting kale and cellophane wrapped parsley, lay -*gasp!*- a small bag of brussels sprouts I had purchased and INTENDED to eat on Thanksgiving, but completely forgot about! I immediately felt sorry for the tiny cruciferous orbs of delight, as my fear was their imminent wiltedness and demise, and wasted food (I HATE wasting food).
     Let me guess - you hate brussels sprouts. Blame your mother for boiling the sh*t out of them. That is NOT how a b.s. should be treated!
     After a thorough inspection of my neglected veggies, I discovered that due to their remarkable vegetative lineage, the b.s.'s held up extremely well, and only needed a trim and a layer removed to find very edible stuff underneath. Yay! My dinner plate ideas included slapping a boatload of Hellman's on some turkey, eating it cold, and maybe adding some leftover pierogi (that's another blog entirely). Now I had a green veg - which always makes me feel better about eating half a pound of mayonnaise.
    I sliced the sprouts in half, then sliced up each half into narrow shreds. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan, saute a shallot, add sprouts on high, and stir-fry until crisp-tender. Yup, that's it, and they'd be great just like that...
....but I can't leave a good thing alone, you know. I made a vinaigrette from roasted walnut oil (my new fave), white balsamic vinegar, and Dijon. I chopped the turkey, stirred in the cooling sprout saute, just a touch of whole-berry cranberry sauce, and poured in the vinaigrette. Top with a few chopped toasted walnuts. Mmmmmmm, warm turkey brussels sprout "Waldorf" salad! The results were incredible, simple, and nutritious. I felt leftover-accomplished. And not so sorry now that I failed to roast the sprouts on Thanksgiving.

Roasted Turkey and Brussels Sprout "Waldorf"

8 oz. leftover roasted white meat turkey (or chicken), skin removed
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large shallot, sliced thin
1 pound fresh brussels sprouts
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. whole berry cranberry sauce
1 tbsp. mayonnaise
6 tbsp. roasted walnut oil
2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. whole grain Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. toasted walnuts, chopped

Chop the turkey into small cubes; add into a large bowl. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil on medium high and add shallot, tossing until fragrant. Meanwhile, trim ends of brussels sprouts and peel off outer leaves. Cut in half lengthwise, then cut into thin shreds. Add into hot pan,  turn heat to high,  and sprinkle salt all over, stirring and tossing until sprouts and shallots are beginning to brown in spots and are crisp-tender. Remove from heat and set aside to cool 5 minutes.
Once cooled, add sprouts to the bowl with the turkey. Add mayonnaise and cranberry sauce, and stir to combine. In a small bowl, whisk the oil with the vinegar and Dijon, and pour all over the salad. Sprinkle in the pepper, and toss thoroughly. Top with walnuts. Serves two.

Part Deux: Pumpkin Puree is like Refrigerator Torture.

So, as always, I made the quintessential pumpkin pie on turkey day. It is a personal favorite of mine, and as of late, is one of the three food groups that my daughter will eat (not the squash group - the sugary dessert group). If you, like me, have always bought the big can of pumpkin in the supermarket, you've inevitably been faced with leftover pumpkin puree. Unless you were smart and read the recipe on the can, which always seems to use the whole can...well, I don't.  I follow the Joy of Cooking custardy recipe, which I adore, and has always worked for me. So, as usual, I am faced with leftover pumpkin puree, the most useless of leftovers from Thanksgiving - even worse than lumpy gravy, which could at least be redeemed into open-face sandwiches. And yes, I know - I wrote the pumpkin soup recipe! Why am I not making that?? Believe you me, friends, I have plans for soup...as soon as I finish the soup in my freezer already!
     I decided instead to treat my loving family to a hearty breakfast, which is not a common occurrence in our home. I came up with waffles, since my nonstick iron is in rare use, and is easier to clean up than a pan or griddle for pancakes. They came out crunchy, chewy, sweet, and delicious - especially when topped with whipped maple cream! I recommend making a big batch, and freezing them. They make excellent and healthy quick breakfasts when you're on the run, heated in the toaster until warm (sans cream).

Harvest Pumpkin Waffles
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 c. stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1/4 c. old-fashioned oats
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 tbsp. melted unsalted butter
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 3/4 c. pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream
  • Have a heated and greased waffle iron ready.Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate medium bowl, combine eggs, butter, milk, honey, and pumpkin, whisking to thoroughly blend. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients; combine gently so mixture still has some small lumps. Stir in walnuts. Using a small ladle or cup measure, spoon about 1/4 c. mixture into center of hot iron. Cook to desired doneness - a light golden brown is preferred (follow the waffle iron instructions). Lay done waffles in a single layer on a baking sheet and keep warm in a low oven until ready to eat.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whip cream to very soft peaks. Whip in maple syrup gently to combine.
To serve, give each person 1 or 2 waffles, and spoon whipped maple cream over top. Drizzle with additional maple syrup or honey as desired. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Rubbermaid Brigade - Tackling Leftovers 101

This morning, I sat down to a breakfast of fried mashed potato cake topped with a cheddar omelet. Ah, Thanksgiving, how I love thy bountiful refrigerator harvest.
     I know what you're thinking...
Christine is up at 7 am??
     Very funny.
Yes, foodists, due to a toddler with an accident in bed at 5 this morning, I was up to make coffee and eggs early. Lucky me. Fine, need to get used to rising at a decent hour. But what made me smile was the notion that it's OK to eat fried mashed potatoes for breakfast. Why? Well, it's the Holiday Season! Eat, drink, and eat some more! Hooray, Hassah!
  It made me ponder the remaining leftovers that are lurking in Rubbermaid cloaks from Thanksgiving. Yes, there is the primordially delectable turkey/stuffing/mayo sandwich, of course, and mashed potatoes are good any time of day or night, but what to do with, say, that pound of cranberry sauce, or the gravy? Or the dark meat portion of the bird that NOBODY seems to eat anymore?
     And, did YOU use the giblets and neck?? Of COURSE you did!
See the steam? Our bird, hot from the oven!
It's been 6 days, folks, hard to believe December and Christmas (and Hanukkah) are upon us...time to get rid of that carcass taking up half the refrigerator, and make something useful! To start, I give you two simple recipes - first, a solution for leftover bits and pieces of dark and white meat (if you have any left) plus gravy and cranberry sauce, and then simple stock to make good use of the carcass. Because, as any good foodie knows, you simply do NOT discard a perfectly good animal carcass without culinarily sucking the life out of it!

Turkey Croquettes, with choice of sauce
1 c. milk
1 small onion, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
¼ c. unsalted butter
¼ c. flour
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
¼ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
4 c. shredded or finely chopped dark and white meat from a roasted bird (use your fingers and pick!)
1 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
¼ c. chopped fresh parsley
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
For coating:
½ c. flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. paprika
2 large eggs
1 ½ c. finely chopped fresh breadcrumbs, or panko (if you have leftover rolls or bread from T-Day, pulse in the food processor to make fine fresh crumbs)
Oil, for frying
Attach 1 bay leaf to each onion half using 2 cloves. In a small saucepan, heat milk and onions, bay leaf side down, until just steaming. Turn off and let steep 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, melt butter. Add flour, dry mustard, salt, and ½ tsp. white pepper, cooking 1 minute and stirring to smooth out. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly, to make a smooth sauce. Cook on medium heat, stirring, until sauce is bubbling and very thick. Add nutmeg, and taste to adjust seasonings. Pour into a shallow bowl and press plastic directly on surface.  Let cool 10 minutes.
In a bowl, combine shredded meat, parsley, tarragon, and red pepper flakes with the cooled sauce, mixing thoroughly. Taste and check seasonings, using additional salt and white pepper as needed. Press plastic onto surface of mixture, and chill for at least 2 hours.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven or deep fryer to 350 degrees F. In three shallow bowls, arrange first the flour, salt, white pepper, and paprika; then the eggs, beaten in the second bowl; the breadcrumbs should go in the third bowl.  Form the chilled mixture into little football shapes about the size of your palm, packing mix together tightly in hand. Roll first in the seasoned flour, shaking off excess, then the egg, and finally the breadcrumbs, pressing tightly to adhere. Place on a plate, and complete with the remaining mix. Fry the croquettes in batches of three for about 5-7 minutes, until the coating is a rich golden brown. Remove to paper towels to drain. Serve hot with one of the sauces.
Sauce options:
1) In a small saucepan, heat 1 c. leftover gravy with 2 tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard and 2 tbsp. heavy cream or sour cream; stir in 1 tbsp. chopped tarragon and season to taste.
2) Mix 1/2 c. leftover cranberry sauce with 1 tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard, 1/2 c. mayonnaise, 1 tbsp. minced shallot and 2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley.
3) Mix 1/2 c. mustard, 1/2 c. honey and 1/2 c. mayonnaise
**The last two options are also great sandwich spreads for turkey or chicken!

Turkey stock

1 turkey carcass, legs and wings removed from body, breastbone broken away from spine, all useful meat removed, plus any accumulated aromatics/jellied juices/roasted skin left on the platter (everything in the pot!)
2 stalks celery with leaves, broken in large chunks
2 large carrots, unpeeled, in large chunks
1 large onion, unpeeled, quartered
1 large bunch herbs - thyme, parsley, sage combo
2 bay leaves
20 peppercorns
5 cloves

Add all ingredients to a large stockpot; cover with water just over the carcass. Cover pot and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Skin off any fat and scum, and continue to simmer on low heat for 3 hours, skimming scum as needed. Have a small bag ready (for garbage) and another large pot at hand. Rest a fine colander on the empty pot. Using a ladle, carefully scoop stock through the colander into the clean pot; continue until you can't get the ladle past the carcass. Lift bones, veggies, etc. out of the stockpot into the garbage bag, and continue to ladle stock. When you get to the bottom, GENTLY pour the remainder through the colander - the goal here is a clear stock, so do NOT press on the solids. Discard any remaining ingredients. Cover the pot with stock and place in the refrigerator overnight.
   The next day, remove the stock from the fridge. The fat will have accumulated and solidified on top - discard this. Bring stock up to a boil, then reduce and simmer uncovered until reduced by 1/3. Voila! You made turkey stock!
At this point, there are several directions to go - here are your options:
1) make turkey soup - add leftover meat, fresh chopped vegetables, and herbs to stock; simmer until veggies are cooked through. Taste and adjust for seasonings. Keep in mind that stock is much lighter in flavor and body than traditional soup bases, so it is recommended to reduce the stock further to intensify the flavor - or you can cheat and add some chicken base or bouillon.
2) you can spoon the stock into 1 or 2 cup portions and freeze in zip top bags for convenient future uses in cooking.
3) you can make tiny, intense cubes of turkey goodness by continuing to reduce the stock until it's a mere 1/4 of it's original volume; pour into ice cube trays and freeze, then store in zip top bags. The cubes will not be able to be diluted to make regular stock, like a base would, but they are very valuable in intensifying and fortifying sauces, gravy, and regular soup. The flavor they infuse is incredible, plus they're easy to store.

Gobble, gobble, the turkey is kaput!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

SideKicks: The End of Our Thanksgiving Preparations

OK, It's the Final Countdown!! (do da do dooo, do do do do doooo..)
The turkey is in your fridge (- wait, did the significant other forget to take it out of the freezer??? Better get that in the coolbox NOW unless you want Turkeysicles on Thanksgiving !). It's taking up so much space you have no room for milk. It sits unassumingly in its plastic and mesh wrapping, plastic pop-up protruding in one spot, a complicated-looking plastic bit-and-string package hanging on the side - what the hell is THAT for?- and at some point on Thursday, you have to dig your ginormous roasting pan form the cabinet and MOUNT the thing in it, then realize you have no idea HOW to cook a turkey because God only knows you thought hosting would be a good idea this year just to show up your perfect sister-in-law WHO ALWAYS MAKES THE DAMN THING LOOK LIKE MARTHA STEWART, AND YOUR MOM IS ON THE PHONE COMPLAINING ABOUT YOUR AUNT WHO IS REFUSING TO COME UNLESS CREAMED ONIONS ARE SERVED AND THE USELESS OTHER HALF IS ALREADY DRINKING AND WATCHING FOOTBALL....
.....and then you get the bird in the pan and this THING falls out of its ass - what is THAT? Are those ORGANS?!?....
...and then you have it in the oven finally, praying that the Butterball Hot line WON'T have a 1 hour call waiting this season....
....and you look at the counter, bloodied by turkey and strewn with stuffing crumbs, and a slow, sad realization comes over you.
     You drank all the white wine before noon. NO! That's not it.
   You realize that, int the midst of writing the Black Friday shopping lists, thawing the miserable turkey, placating your hubby, and trying to maintain a normal week until Thursday, you didn't plan on side dishes. Sure, Aunt Harps-On-Everything always brings her crappy green bean casserole with canned fried onions, and Uncle Cigar-Chomper is reliable for a gallon (or more) of bourbon. But what about the rest of the group? Will it come down to a free for all on the fried onions (or the bourbon?), a feeding frenzy on your precious turkey leftovers, or a fridge raid for jelled cranberry sauce (you didn't read my first T-day blog?)? NO! Defeat is not an option! Starvation is not imminent! There will not be rationing on liquor!
   Follow this simple guide: get out a pen and paper, write down these ingredients, and get to the store NOW. You will make beautiful side dishes to soothe everyone's Thanksgiving nerves, the stores will NOT be out of stock on any of these, and you will emerge looking like a Thanksgiving Superstar. Screw the sister-in-law. Thanksgiving is yours!

Carrot Souffle with Crunchy Streusel Topping
Kids love it, and it's healthier than sweet potato casserole with marshmallows!

7 c. chopped carrot
2/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. sour cream
3 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
3 eggs

Streusel topping (optional)
1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
1/2 c. almond meal
1/2 c. walnuts
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 c. light brown sugar

 Cook carrots in boiling water 15 minutes until tender.
Add carrots and rest of ingredients into bowl of food processor; puree until smooth. Spoon into greased 2 qt. baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until puffed and set. If using streusel, scatter across top and return to oven for additional 10 minutes; otherwise just bake 40 minutes to begin with.

Maple-Glazed Parsnips

2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut in 1 inch pieces
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 c. maple syrup
pinch kosher salt

Boil parsnips in water for 8 minutes. Drain. Add butter to hot pan over medium heat and melt. Add maple syrup, salt and drained parsnips. Bring to a boil and cook until all liquid is evaporated and parsnips are caramelizing, about 10 minutes. Serve hot.

EZ Homemade Stuffing

8 cups of your favorite crusty bread, in 1 inch cubes
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped Golden Delicious apple
1 c. chopped celery
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
5 sprigs thyme
3 tbsp. thinly sliced sage
1 to 2 cups chicken stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have bread ready in a large bowl. In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium high heat. Add onion, apple, celery, salt, pepper, and thyme; cook until vegetables and apple are softening, about 15 minutes, stirring often. Stir into bread along with sage. Deglaze pan with 1 cup stock and add to bowl. stir to combine well, adding  up to 1 c. additional stock as needed to make bread just moist. Pour into a greased 2 quart baking dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until top is browned.

Broccoli Cheese Casserole with Mustard Bread Crumb Topping

4 cups fresh or frozen broccoli or cauliflower florets, or a mix
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. grainy dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 c. milk
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
2/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 c. Italian bread crumbs

Add broccoli into a greased 2 qt. baking dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tbsp. butter; add 1 tbsp. mustard, shallot, and garlic, and cook 2 minutes on medium high until fragrant. Add flour, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk to combine completely. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Turn heat to low, and stir in cheeses by handfuls, melting each addition before adding the next. Check seasoning, then pour over broccoli in dish. Melt 2 tbsp. butter and mix into bread crumbs with 1 tsp. mustard; spread over top of casserole. Bake 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.

Monday, November 22, 2010

POM Wonderful Party Recap; or, 9 Recipes to make up for my Slacking (#'s 18-10)

     As anyone who is close to me knows, I am a fan of the cocktail. My usual involves a delightful man named Jack, and his good buddy Coca-Cola, but as of late years, I've experimented with, and fell in love with, several new liquors and mixers which have expanded my breadth and understanding of basic cocktail elements. During these "studies", I dreamt of one small wish - to throw a great cocktail party.
     When I conjure cocktail party in my mind, it is a white Christmas. I am in a shiny A-line dress, my hair coiffed, wearing pearls and a brooch, delicately balancing a Martini in one hand while effortlessly setting the buffet table with the other. I am smiling, laughing, chatting up a girlfriend. My husband is wearing a suit, the guests glitter in candlelight. My daughter sleepily greets the 'grownups', then is shuffled off to slumber.  Sinatra and Dean croon in the background. Vodka flows like water, ice tinkles like jingle bells in the shaker. The table, wearing its best winter white, proudly displays miniature foods of all sorts, laden with butter and cream, toothpicks and tiny plates at the ready. We toast the air, the season, the food, and each other, everyone reveling in the indulgence of the moment, wishing it could last forever...'cause Lord knows we all have to go back to WORK at some point this week.
     My cocktail party dreams became (almost) reality this past weekend, courtesy of the fine folks at POM Wonderful. You know them: It's the blood red, slightly tart juice in the produce section, next to the overpriced smoothies and pre-cut fruit. Pomegranates have been a traditional holiday fruit for millenia, glowing alongside the kumquats, quince, and winter squash in many a fall display. What most people do not appreciate is their incredible culinary value. When you crack that leathery red shell, you are greeted with crimson juice running down your arm (or in our case, staining the countertops), and a mess of tightly packed, shiny red gems that seem to glow from inside.
These gems are the arils, the heart and soul of the pomegranate. Inside each is a tiny, hard edible seed. Popping an aril into your mouth, they explode with a juiciness and exotic floral tart note that cannot be equaled in the food world. There's no surprise that since ancient times, the pomegranate has been the stuff of mythology and lore. It is the star of many common beverages thanks to Grenadine, the sweet liquor mixer that is distilled from  pomegranate juice (bet you didn't know that!). Beyond its bar use, however, pomegranates are widely seen as only decorative. My goal for this cocktail party: to showcase the versatility, flavor, and fun of the pomegranate fruit.
     The pomegranates arrived: two huge boxes of softball-sized, pinkish-red fruit, many of whom had tiny cracks that began to seep a sticky, bloody juice. I immediately broke them down to arils, freezing a good portion, and snacking on the rest. I began my cocktail party layout: the goal was a retro-inspired, Rat Pack-esque throwback to the cocktail parties of yore. I devised a pom-centric menu that featured classic miniature cocktail buffet foods, rounded the table out with traditional homemade Chex mix and whole nuts, and mixed a few vintage cocktails with a pom twist. The wheels were in motion....

concentrating to make
the shot
      Unfortunately, my only time option was a Sunday night, due to my incessantly hectic work schedule. Doubly unfortunate, this is not a great time for any NORMAL person to attend a cocktail party, because they all need to be sober for work Monday morning! We threw the party anyway, a few guests came (although none in the sparkling retro duds I hoped), and the small group of us dined and drank until way past midnight, reveling in the spontaneity and naughtiness of such a feast on a Sunday night. What I did realize is that while the "perfect" cocktail party is certainly achievable with the right timing, patience, and planning, it is equally as enjoyable(and less stress) to just present a couple great friends with fabulous nibbles and drinks, and let the night unfurl itself. There was a hilarious rendition of Top Chef mise en place competition, involving two (tipsy) men and sharp knives...needless to say, I'm still finding juice spots on the ceiling! We also shot Pom Pong, using arils instead of balls (again...cleaning pomegranate juice from floor), and I vaguely remember my complete domination at Wii wakeboarding (!)...the point is, we did nothing 'classic', except to enjoy one another's company...and isn't that the goal of any great party anyway?

Sean thinks a whole pom is a good snack!

explaining a pomegranate breakdown to our contestants..who seem quite concerned.

     Since my embarkment on this 27 Days of Thanksgiving recipe spree, I've been sidetracked by events not in my control, so I apologize to my regulars for the lack of recipes. However, in retrospect, the recipes I created for the POM Wonderful party are easily incorporated into any holiday buffet/party, especially when hungry house guests are banging on your Turkey Day door at noon. They can all be made the day before, and reheated in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes. Pomegranates are a terrific seasonal fruit to incorporate something new to the Thanksgiving table...they're not just for Christmas decoration anymore! 
proper breakdown of a pomegranate

     My voluminous thanks to the fine people at POM Wonderful for the inspiring ideas, recipes, fruits, and juice, and giving me the opportunity to treat my friends to something special. Thank You! I'm a customer for life!
     With that, I give you 9 recipes to delight, intrigue, and toast your holiday guests, whether for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Enjoy!

Find out more at:

Watch our pomegranate-opening race at:

Mini Beef Wellington Bites with Pomegranate Glaze
L: Brie gougeres, R: beef Wellingtons

1 pound beef tenderloin, silver removed
½ c. buttermilk
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. white pepper
2 tbsp. white truffle oil
16 oz. POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
1 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, in pieces
8 oz. baby portabello mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 ½ tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. canola oil
1 small shallot, minced
1 tbsp. POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
¼ c. heavy cream
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg, beaten with 1 tbsp. milk
Cut the beef into 1 inch cubes. Place in a large zip top bag with the buttermilk, salt, white pepper and truffle oil. Turn several times to mix and coat; place in fridge to marinate.
In a small saucepan, bring 16 oz. of pomegranate juice to boil. Add the sugar, reduce heat to medium, and allow to reduce to just about ¼ cup. Remove from heat; stir in butter 1 tbsp. at a time, letting each addition nearly melt before adding the next. Set aside.
In a sauté pan, cook the mushrooms and shallot in the 1 ½ tbsp. butter and oil over medium high heat, stirring often. When all the liquid has evaporated from the mushrooms and it is thick, add 1 tbsp. pomegranate juice and cream, bring to a boil, and remove from heat. Stir in nutmeg; season with salt and white pepper to taste. Allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drain marinade from beef and pat dry. To assemble, lay out puff pastry 1 sheet at a time, cutting into 3x3 inch squares. Spoon 1 tsp. duxelles (mushroom mix) into the center of each square. Top with 1 cube beef. Pull corners of square up and around filling, pinching dough to seal. Place finished pieces seam-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet, about 1 ½ inches apart. Repeat with remaining dough.  Brush tops with the beaten egg and milk. Bake wellingtons for 10-14 minutes, until dough is golden and puffed, and juices run out the bottom.  Arrange on serving platter, and drizzle the pomegranate glaze over top.

Brie Gougeres with Pomegranate Scallion Salsa andCandied Bacon
1 c. flour
1 c. milk
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
¾ tsp. kosher salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
4 oz. Brie cheese, rind removed, cut into ½ inch cubes
6 slices pepper bacon
½ c. pomegranate arils
¼ c. chopped scallion
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
In a small saucepan, bring milk, butter, and salt to a rolling boil. Stir in the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. When the dough comes together, continue to stir until a film forms on the pan bottom. Remove from heat and place in a bowl to rest 5 minutes.
Stir in the eggs 1 at a time, making sure the egg is completely absorbed into the dough before adding the next (this will take some time).  Place the finished dough in a large zip top bag, and refrigerate until ready.
Cook chopped bacon over medium high until crisp and rendered. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Meanwhile, combine pomegranate arils, scallion, and cilantro in a small bowl; refrigerate.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut a corner off the zip top bag, and pipe 1 inch round lumps of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Take 1 cube of Brie and press into the center of each puff. Bake for 10 minutes, until  golden brown and puffy. Pace on a serving platter, and sprinkle pomegranate salsa and bacon evenly over the puffs. Serve hot.

Mini Chive Quiches with Pomegranate Arils

2 c. milk
2 c. heavy cream
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. white pepper
2 tbsp. chopped chives
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ c. pomegranate arils
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat milk and cream in a small saucepan until just warm.  Pour into a blender, add eggs and remaining ingredients, and blend until becoming frothy and tinted green, about 30 seconds. Pour into a 12 cup nonstick muffin pan (preferably silicone) to top. Place in oven and cook 20 minutes. Open oven and use remaining filling to top off the cups (they will have shrunk down). Bake an additional 15 minutes, until deep golden brown on top. Remove and let cool on a rack. Remove quiches and place on serving platter. Sprinkle with pomegranate arils and serve at room temperature, passing grainy mustard along side.
Sweet and Sour Turkey Meatballs braised in Pomegranate

2 pounds ground turkey
½ c. cilantro leaves
4 slices pepper bacon
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. white pepper
1 large egg
1/4 c. Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
1 jar (8 oz.) medium or hot taco sauce
1 can (15 oz.) whole plum tomatoes
1 jar (18 oz.) apricot preserves
1 c. pomegranate arils
½ c. POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
In a food processor, combine turkey, bacon, cilantro, egg, breadcrumbs,salt and pepper; process until turkey is a thick paste and bacon is finely minced. Form mixture into 1 inch meatballs with wet hands; place on a large plate in 1 layer, and refrigerate 30 minutes to firm.
Pour taco sauce, tomatoes, apricot preserves, and pomegranate arils and juice into the bowl of a crock pot, and turn it to High. Add meatballs into sauce, stirring gently to coat them all, then cover and cook on High for 3 hours. Check a meatball to make sure they’re cooked through. Spoon meatballs and sauce into a serving bowl, garnish with fresh arils and cilantro leaves and pass toothpicks for guests.
Pomegranate Parfaits with Cardamom Cream and Lavender Honey

1 c. heavy whipping cream
¼ c. sugar
½ tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. pomegranate arils
Lavender honey
Dried lavender blossoms, for garnish
In a large, cold bowl, beat the cream with sugar, cardamom and vanilla until soft peaks form. Have several parfait dishes ready. Spoon about 2 tbsp. arils into the bottom of each dish. Top with ¼ c. cream. Add a layer of pomegranate, and then repeat cream. Top with pomegranate and dried lavender for garnish, and drizzle each with 1 tbsp. honey. Serve cold.

POM Wonderful Granita
16 oz. POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
¼ c. sugar
Pinch salt
Bring juice, sugar and salt to a simmer, dissolving sugar. Pour into a 2 qt. glass baking dish, and place in freezer for 2 hours. Using the tines of a fork, scrape the forming ice crystals on top and stir into any liquid juice. Repeat the freezing and scraping in 1 hour intervals until completely icy, like a snow cone. Spoon into small dessert dishes, garnish with arils and serve.

2 oz. vodka
1 oz. POM Wonderful pomegranate juice


½ oz. sweet vermouth
1 twist orange peel
In a shaker, combine vodka, pomegranate juice and vermouth. Shake with ice, and strain into a glass. Garnish with the orange twist.
The Pom Collins
1 ½ oz. vodka
3/4 oz. POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
½ oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. simple syrup
Club soda
Shake vodka, pomegranate juice, lime juice and simple syrup with ice. Strain into a highball glass, and top with club soda.

Limoncello Pomegranate Soda
1 liter lemon-lime flavored seltzer
16 oz. POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
2 oz. agave syrup
8 oz. limoncello
Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher. Serve over ice. (You can also omit the limoncello for a nonalcoholic pomegranate soda).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

To Roll, or not to Roll..THAT is the Question! (recipes #21, 20, 19)

     For our family's annual Thanksgiving get-together, I have been placed in charge of pies. I could not be happier! The pie is the quintessential American holiday food -  beyond the turkey, that is. Without a pie, Thanksgiving would just be....well, savory. OK, so it wouldn't be THAT bad, and after all the bird and trimmings, who really has room for pie, anyway? I fully believe the institution of the pie at the Thanksgiving table is the sole reason our grandmothers insisted that the meal begin AT NOON, and stretch until the wee hours of darkness. You need that much time just to pass the dinner from your stomach to your intestines, to make room for pie!
     What I've learned through the years, and especially when my lucrative pie-making hobby funded my entire Christmas shopping one year, is that the vast majority of people are TERRIFIED of making a pie. There is the chance of a soggy crust, a dry crust, a tough crust, a burnt crust.
     Is the PIE really the issue? Or just the crust?
     It is NOT the pie itself that strikes fear into the hearts of potential turkey hosts everywhere, but merely the CRUST! And this is no surprise to me at all. Generations of pastry chefs have tinkered to find the perfect balance of sweet, savory, flaky, flavor, tenderness, thickness...if it's so hard for them to get it right, can you IMAGINE the difficulty for a pie novice? The crust is indeed intimidating (re: see the episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts two weeks ago, when Heather was voted off nearly entirely for her too-thick sable crust on tarts), but by no means is it unachievable.
     Now, I do not profess to be a professional baker, but I do have some pie crust skills up my sleeve. I happen to prefer a rolled crust on my pies, but have also entertained great success with a pressed-in-the-pan crust. I am giving you both here. I am also including my favorite apple pie recipe - PLEASE treat it with care, it is my baby!
   If you, like me, are in charge of this years' desserts,  I hope these will give you the confidence to present a pie to be proud of. Don't be afraid, take a deep breath, and make sure the butter is COLD...you'll do great, I know it!

Basic Fruit-filled pie crust - makes enough for 2 (9 inch) pie shells, or 1 double crust (9 inch) pie
2 3/4 c. flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2 1/4 sticks UNSALTED butter, cut into cubes and chilled (best done briefly in freezer)
1/4 c. VERY COLD orange juice
3 tbsp. ice water

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, salt, and spices to just combine. Add in butter cubes, and pulse 10 times, 1 second each time; dough should resemble coarse crumbs, the largest being pea-size. Drizzle OJ over the dough, turn machine on, and drizzle ice water in through chute while running. Process until it just begins to clump together, it will NOT be a ball - don't worry, just don't over process! It should only run about 10 seconds more. Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap. Gather dough into a ball, divide in half. Wrap one half in plastic tightly, pressing into a thick disk. Repeat with other half. Refrigerate 1 hour (can also be done day before, or frozen up to 2 weeks and thawed overnight in fridge).
  When ready to assemble pie (i.e., fillings are made and waiting, oven preheated), remove dough from fridge and let sit 5 minutes on counter. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out to 3/16 inch thickness (about as thin as a hardcover book's cover); don't worry if it's not perfectly round. You should notice large flecks of butter in the dough - this is perfect, it's what causes the flakiness in the finished pie. For greatest success, turn the dough 1 quarter turn after each pass of the rolling pin to prevent sticking, flip once or twice in the process, and make sure your board and pin are always floured. You should always be able to move the dough without it sticking! When dough is about 14 inches round, start at the far end of your dough, and roll up  (carefully!) onto the pin towards you, like a paper towel roll. Stop at the end. Place your pan underneath the dough, and slowly unroll into the pan. Use your fingers to gently ease the dough into the corners, and patch any cracks or gaps with trims of excess dough from the edges.
  Now, there are two options:
1) you need to make an apple-type pie, with an unbaked crust. At this point, chill this pan in the fridge for 5 minutes; then fill and bake immediately. If you are doing a top crust as well, chill the pie filling in the shell while rolling the top; place the top on, crimp the edges with your fingers, and bake immediately. Remember: cold dough, hot oven. Those are the pie maker's rules! If in doubt, put it in the fridge for another 5-10 minutes.
2) you are making a pumpkin-type pie, with a custardy filling. In this case you need to "blind bake" your shell - that is, bake it before you assemble the pie. Line the chilled shell with parchment paper or foil and fill with either pie weights or dry beans (please note: if you use the beans, you can never use them to cook and eat after this. Keep them aside just for pies.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake 20 minutes, remove parchment and weights, and prick bottom of shell all over with a fork. Bake an additional 5-10 minutes, until bottom is browned. STOP. For unbaked fillings, this is fine. If you are putting in a filling that needs to be baked further (like pumpkin), brush inside with beaten egg yolk, return to the oven and bake an additional 1 minute to set the egg glaze; this keeps the filling from seeping into the crust and terminating your pie efforts! Follow recipe directions for baking the finished pie.

As an aside, the traditional pie dough can be altered in many ways. If you wanted to make, say,  a savory quiche shell, you'd omit all but 1 tsp. sugar, use all water and no orange juice, omit the "sweet" spices, and perhaps replace them with 1 tsp. dried thyme. You could omit spices all together. The basic recipe- flour, salt, sugar, butter, liquid  - will remain the same. Use your imagination, and see what you can make!

This next crust is a tasty, easy alternative to traditional pie shells. It cannot be used for filled fruit pies, but can be used for meringue pies and custard pies; if to be baked again, please follow the egg-glazing instructions above as for regular pie crust. Also good filled with ice cream as a frozen pie!

Pat in the Pan Nut Crust - fills 1 (9 inch) pie shell or spring mold pan
1 c. walnuts
1 c. pecans
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine all ingredients in the food processor until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Pour into the pie pan. Using the back of a measuring cup or glass bottom, press the crust firmly onto the pan, going all the way up the sides. Bake 10-15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown but not burnt!. If the crust seems to be sagging down the sides halfway through cooking, you can ease them back up with the back of a spoon. Cool before filling (unless egg-glazing: see above).

As a *BONUS* to all my loyal followers, here is my traditional apple pie recipe.

Christine's Classic Apple Pie

6 large Golden Delicious apples
1 large Granny Smith apple
3/4 c. sugar
3 tbsp. flour
1 generous tsp. cinnamon
1/8 ground clove
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
turbinado sugar and additional cinnamon, for top

Peel, core, and slice all apples into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Place in a large bowl with sugar, flour, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and salt. Stir to combine well. Let sit for 15 minutes to soften apples, stirring to redistribute juices often.
Meanwhile prepare traditional pie crust, above.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Fill lower shell with apple mix; dot top with knobs of the butter. Moisten the crust edges with water; roll and place top crust, pinching to seal, then pinching between index and middle fingers with thumb to make a decorative crimp.Cut 5 small vents in the top with a paring knife to allow steam to pass out. Sprinkle the top with turbinado sugar and cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce oven to 350 degrees, and bake another 30-45 minutes, until fruit is tender when pierced, and juices are thick and bubbling through. Remove to a rack to cool completely before slicing - if you can wait that long, but I highly recommend it!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Happy....Tofurkey Day?? (recipe #22)

While I generously respect the views of vegetarians, having worked with animals for 11 years, I cannot understand why they feel the need to recreate meat in fake forms. Really, what does this tell us? The truth is - THEY REALLY WANT TO EAT THE MEAT. Otherwise what is the point of the veggie"dog", the Boca "burger", the seitan "chicken nugget"? If you're going veggie, then at the very least, be creative! There are so many incredible vegetarian options in the world without having to resort to imitation meat; other cultures have done it for centuries without missing the fake chicken nugget.
     But, perhaps my biggest nemesis in the fake foods world is the (ugh) Tofurkey. It first 'graced' our Thanksgiving table years ago, when our vegetarian cousin introduced it to the masses as his turkey option. I was immediately, simultaneously disgusted and insulted. Why, oh why, dear cousin, did you not IMPLORE me to create a vegetarian main dish worthy for you on Thanksgiving, this most Holy of Food Holidays????? As I've said before, I am on a  mission to do away with Tofurkey for good. It personally offends me on a visceral level.
     So, last Thanksgiving, I introduced an option to my veggie cousin. It was hearty enough for a main meal, rich enough to be a side to turkey (for the meat eaters in the fam), and contained all those savory fall flavors that ooze Thanksgiving. I was happy that it could stand on its own next to the stuffing, bird, and cranberry sauce, and I am bringing it back this year too. He did love it, as did everyone else. I hope it can please the veg-heads in your family, too. It is a bit more complicated than my other recipes, but comes together very simply with few ingredients (hint: you should invest in an inexpensive hand crank pasta roller...or work on your arm muscles and roll by hand). Enjoy!

Butternut Squash and Sage Ravioli
2 ½ c. all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 butternut squash, cut in half, seeds removed
1 c. fresh ricotta cheese, drained
                                                                                                                ¼ c. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
                                                                                                                 ¼ tsp. nutmeg
                                                                                                                ½ tsp. white pepper
                                                                                                               50-60 fresh sage leaves
                                                                                                                2 sticks unsalted butter
In a food processor, combine flour, eggs, 1 tbsp. olive oil and ½ tsp. salt. Pulse to form a dough ball. Remove and knead dough for 5-10 minutes, until it forms a smooth, silky dough. Wrap and refrigerate.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Rub cut sides of squash with 1 tbsp. oil and 1 tsp. salt. Place cut side down on baking sheet; roast 45 minutes. Scoop soft flesh into a food processor and process until smooth. Allow to cool in a bowl. Add both cheeses, nutmeg, and pepper, combine thoroughly. Place in a large ziptop bag. Refrigerate.
Have a cup of water handy with a pastry brush. Remove dough from fridge and let sit for 20 minutes. Cut into quarters. Working with one piece at a time, roll on a lightly floured surface to 1/16 inch thickness (alternatively, use a hand crank pasta roller on thinnest setting - you should see your hand through the dough). Use a 1 ½ inch biscuit cutter to make as many pasta rounds as possible. Lay one sage leaf on half of the rounds. Cut a corner off of the bag with the squash filling, and pipe about a teaspoon of filling on top of the sage. Brush around the edges with water, and top with another dough round. Press around filling to remove any air bubbles and seal the ravioli. Place on a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and ½ tsp. salt in a large saucepan over medium heat until becoming golden brown and fragrant. Finely slice remaining sage leaves and add to butter. Remove from heat.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Slide in ravioli in batches and cook until they float, about 2 minutes. Drain and add all ravioli to the brown butter, tossing to coat. Serve hot, topped with additional grated Parmesan cheese.

For My Husband on our Anniversary (recipes #24 and 23)

There aren't many things on the Thanksgiving table that I recreate year-round on a whim; roast turkey just doesn't make sense on a  sweltering August evening (unless grilled - another thing ENTIRELY). One of my perennial classics is my homemade mashed potatoes, which my hubby reveres as THE BEST EVER, though I contend that I have yet to find a really inedible mashed potato; even the box stuff can be 'doctored' to work. As an everyday food, mashed potatoes are about as comforting, delicious, and quick as you can get - 15 minutes to mushy goodness.
     The twist in my potatoes, which makes them just that extra something special, is that I use celeriac, or celery root, as a sub for some of the potatoes. Never heard of it? I bet you've passed it in the supermarket produce aisle, this knobby, dirty, ugly root that looks like a gargoyle's head buried underground for about a thousand years, then excavated and you're expected to EAT IT?!? How the hell do you even tackle it??

You might find it with the greens attached, but more than likely it will appear without. No fear. The greens are not true celery, but a close cousin; the root itself has been cultivated as the main focus here. However, if you DO get the greens, don't throw them out - cut off, freeze, and use in making soup or stock. They have incredible flavor still.
So, why try it? If you've never considered, I encourage you to start this Thanksgiving. Celeriac has a sweet, nutty flavor, like a celery that met a chestnut, had a baby, and then cooked and ate that baby. It is considered a root vegetable, so like your standard carrots and turnips, it stands up well to long, cool storage, making it a traditional winter staple food in the northeast and Europe. It is a unique, inexpensive, and innovative way to add excitement to your holiday table.
     Here are two ways to enjoy celeriac: first, my famous mashed potato a la Sean, and roasted celeriac. I hope you'll give this ugly duckling of the produce aisle a second look, and a new home in your belly. Enjoy!

Mashed Potatoes and Celeriac (to serve a crowd)

3 pounds Yukon Gold or other all-purpose potato, scrubbed and quartered
1 1/2 to 2 pound celery root (1 large), scrubbed
1 medium onion
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 cups milk
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 c. chopped Italian Parsley
kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Tackle the celery root: using a sharp chef's knife, stand the root on its flat end and cut the knobby skin away from the root, peeling all the way around. Use the knife tip to excavate out any dimples of dirt, then cut off top and bottom skin. Cut the root into chunks about the same size as your quartered potatoes. Put celeriac and potato into a large pot; cover with water to 1 inch above vegetables. Bring to a boil, cover pot and boil 15 minutes. Potatoes an celeriac should be tender when pierced. Drain and set pot back on a medium  burner. Melt the butter in the pot, add the garlic, and grate the onion into the butter on the fine side of a box grater. Saute 1 minute until just fragrant but not browning. Add back the potato and celeriac, and mash to tiny lumps using a potato masher. Add milk, starting with 1 cup, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to combine; add more milk as you find you need to make things creamy and smooth. Turn off stove. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper, stir in chopped parsley, and serve hot.

Simple Roast Celeriac

2 large celeriac roots, scrubbed
1/4 c. olive oil
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. white pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel celeriac as described in the above recipe, and cut into 1 inch chunks. Toss in a large bowl with the olive oil and salt. Roast on a sheet pan for 20-25 minutes, until beginning to brown, stirring halfway. Remove, sprinkle with thyme and white pepper, stir, and return to oven for 5 minutes longer. Remove from oven and serve.
* *For an extra special level of indulgence, drizzle with white truffle oil after removing from oven, right before serving.**

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On the 26th day of Thanksgiving, my true love fed to me...

...a delicious baked pear Brie!
   I know, I know, I'm a day late...and it's only just begun! No fear, bloggers....today I'm presenting Days 26 and 25 recipes, little brunch recipes that make a great addendum to your Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade annual watching ritual. At least in my house, it is. One of my fondest Thanksgiving memories was waking up early with my mom to watch the giant balloons invade the streets of Manhattan; the air in the house fragrant with turkey and mashed potatoes, with a hint of coffee wafting through. We clamored over each deliciously gaudy float, laughed uncontrollably when Snoopy or Spiderman inevitably escaped their captors and attacked the high rises, and clapped and celebrated when Santa finally made it to Rockefeller Square. There are a few childhood moments that I relish and want to recreate with my daughter, and the Thanksgiving Parade is one of them. Thanks Mom.
    So, for all the busy moms and dads out there whose kids'll be dragging them up earlier than Tom Turkey to wait for Santa to usher in the Christmas season, I present for you two simple, do-ahead hot pastries that can go great with either coffee, mulled cider, hot tea, or even a preemptive glass of holiday wine (my particular choice!). Make them the night before, freeze, and turn on the oven when you brew the coffee. You and yours will be rewarded with buttery, indulgent goodness that will fill you up, but not so much that the main meal will be spoiled. Enjoy!

Peppery Baked Pear Brie - serves 6-8
4 tbsp. butter
3 Bartlett or Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and diced
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 wheel Brie cheese (such as President)*
2 frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed according to package
1 egg, beaten

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Saute pears and brown sugar in butter until very soft and browned. Stir in pepper. Cool completely.
Lay puff pastry sheet on work surface. Mound all pears in center of pastry. Place wheel of cheese on top of pears, pressing slightly so pears reach edges of cheese.  Gently pull up sides and corners of dough to completely cover the pears, overlapping in a circle; pinch the top and sides together to seal. Flip over, wrap in plastic, and freeze. (Pastry can also be baked fresh).
The morning of, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place frozen Brie on a baking sheet, brush the top and sides with the beaten egg, and put into oven. Bake until pastry is golden and Brie is soft, about 35-40 minutes (tent with foil if browning too fast; if baking without being frozen, check at 25 minutes). Serve with Triscuits or your favorite sturdy cracker.

Blueberry Thyme Pinwheels - serves 6-8
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 block (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 cups frozen blueberries
3 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, loosely packed
1 beaten egg

Lay out 1 sheet of pastry on work surface. Spread half the cream cheese to within 1 inch of one short end of dough, and leaving a 1 inch border on the two long sides. Top cream cheese with 1 cup blueberries and 1 1/2 tbsp. thyme. Beginning at filled short end, roll dough tightly to unfilled edge, laying seam side down on baking sheet. Pinch ends to seal. Repeat with second pastry. (If desired, place in freezer at this point. Pastry can also be baked fresh)
Before baking, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice pastry in 1/2 inch thick slices and lay on parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with beaten egg. Bake for 13-16 minutes, until golden brown and puffy. Serve hot.

* I find my President Brie at Costco - it's the perfect wheel size for this recipe.