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Thursday, October 30, 2014


We all have our favorite side dishes that  absolutely must accompany roasted turkey on our Thanksgiving tables. For many of us, those familiar flavors are steeped in deep-rooted family traditions. For the past few years, Michael and I have spent Thanksgiving day alone in our house clad in pajamas drinking Beaujolais Nouveau while sliding holiday dishes in and out the of the oven like a choreographed ballet. Glorious organized chaos. That said, we've always had two very different notions and traditions that surround the side dishes that grace our Thanksgiving table. Because they're so deep-rooted, we can't eliminate anything and wind up having everything. Thanksgiving. One enormous brined, stuffed, roasted, basted, and glazed 15 pound  turkey  for two with 13 side dishes. Bliss.

Last year, Michael's sister invited us over for a family Thanksgiving meal. As any dutiful invited guest should do, I asked what we could bring to the feast. She requested brussels sprouts. Specifically, creamy blue cheese brussels sprouts with bacon, a dish she'd fallen head over heels for at an area restaurant. Interesting prospect. Unusual, yet interesting. While we love brussels sprouts, I'd never thought about serving them at Thanksgiving. That changed when we took our little show on the road over the hills and through the woods toting a restaurant riff on those beloved brussels sprouts. Everyone loved them, even the skeptical self-proclaimed brussels sprouts haters. With sweet sherry undertones tempering the soft pungency of the melted blue cheese, the earthy sprouts didn't compete or overpower the traditional food on the table. Their eccentric oddity actually complimented the familiar tastes of Thanksgiving. An accidental win.

It's funny, while I love brussels sprouts prepared just about any way possible, that particular method(with some tweaks and variations) has been my go-to preparation for them since that Thanksgiving day.

Pan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Gorgonzola Cream and Prosciutto.
Seriously, they were so simple and quick to throw together.  Perfect for a busy food day. Or even a lazy late night snack.

I clipped the root ends off of a pound of fresh brussels sprouts and sliced them in half. After heating vegetable oil in a large skillet over a medium high flame until it started to smoke, I carefully placed the brussels sprouts, cut sides down, into the sizzling oil. When they started to caramelize, I showered them salt and cracked black pepper before flipping them over in the skillet to sear on the other side. After adding a scant tablespoon of minced shallots, I deglazed the pan with 1/4 cup sherry combined with 1/4 cup chicken stock, covered the skillet, and let the sprouts steam for 3 minutes before removing the lid to reduce the stock. When the last drop of sherry-infused stock evaporated into an airy wisp, I added 1 cup heavy cream and 4 ounces of sliced gorgonzola cheese.  Within minutes, the pungent thickened cream enveloped the pan-roasted sprouts. Although that could have been enough, I took it one step further. I spooned the creamy sprouts into buttered gratin dishes, crumbled additional gorgonzola cheese over the sprouts, and slid them under a flaming broiler.

I pulled the gratins from the oven to calm the bubbling charred cheese before finishing with snipped chives and oven-crisped prosciutto crumbles.


A perfect Thanksgiving
party crasher.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ice Cream In The Pumpkin Patch

Make no mistake about it, we are ice cream people. Big time ice cream people. One year, in lieu of exchanging anniversary gifts, Michael and I pooled our money and bought a mack daddy tabletop ice cream maker. At any given moment on any given day, we'll have some form of ice cream tucked away in the freezer. I can practically make it in my sleep. Some folks might think that ice cream is a seasonal treat.  Seasonal, as in the summer season. Sure, there's nothing better than bellying up to a cooling cone, bowl, or carton of ice cream on a blistering hot day. That said, it doesn't have to be relegated to summer. Ice cream can be seasonally seasonal. Think about it. The possibilities are endless.

Kicking through the gravel paths at the farmers' market, stacks and stacks of sugar pumpkins lulled me into daydreaming about the upcoming holidays. Or, most importantly the food associated with the holidays. Thinking about the usual suspects, my drooling mind zeroed in on pumpkin ice cream. Why not? There'll be pies galore wherever we turn. Pumpkin soup might even enter the picture. Pumpkin scones. Pumpkins biscuits. Pumpkin rolls. Pumpkin muffins. Pumpkin everything. Still, surrounded by pumpkins smack dab in the middle of an urban pumpkin patch, I drifted back to ice cream. Pumpkin ice cream.  Eaten on its own, scooped onto warm pumpkin pie for a holiday double whammy, or dolloped into steaming hot coffee for a sweet creamy boost, pumpkin ice cream could possibly be the white-canvas flavor bomb of the

Because I'm not a baker, I've never given much thought to the debate surrounding the use of canned pumpkin versus fresh pumpkin. I have given a lot thought to  knowing where my food comes from as well as the faces behind the food. So, canned or fresh? Although it probably wouldn't have mattered, it's pumpkin season right now, for pity's sake. Why waste the riches?

Pumpkin Ice Cream.
Fresh Pumpkin.
It was probably as simple as opening a can. I halved a smallish Madison County sugar pumpkin (sometimes referred to as pie pumpkin), scooped out the seeds, reserved the seeds, plopped the two halves onto a baking sheet cut side down, and slid them into a preheated oven to roast for 1 hour before pulling them from the oven to cool.  When they were cool enough to handle, I scraped the soft yellow flesh into a food mill and turned it into a delicate puree. After a quick whisk, I slid it into the refrigerator to chill for a couple of hours.

Gosh, I've tried every ratio possible. In the end, I used my tried and true method. Using an electric hand held mixture (old school), I whipped 5 egg yolks with 1 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg. After heating 1 1/2 cups heavy cream combined with  1 1/2 cups  whole milk to a low simmer, I gradually mixed the warmed dairy with the egg mixture to temper the eggs before adding the combined mixture back to the simmering cream. When the custard was thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, I strained it through a fine mesh strainer, and added 2 teaspoons of thick Madagascar Bourbon pure vanilla bean extract before blending it with 1 1/4 cups of the chilled fresh pumpkin puree. Thinking it was still a bit grainy from the puree, I passed it through the mesh strainer again for a smoother consistency and slid it into the refrigerator to chill.

The easy part. I poured the pumpkin custard into the chilled ice cream canister, clamped on the lid, and let rip for 25 minutes before scooping the ice cream into a plastic container and tossing into the freezer to set up.

Gilding the Lily.
The seeds were a no brainer. I rinsed the seeds under warm water to release them from the fibrous pulp and dried them with a clean dish towel before tossing them with 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1 heaping tablespoon sugar, a dusting of cinnamon, and a pinch of sea salt. After a quick mix, I slid the seeds into a 350 oven for about 8-10 minutes to toast and caramelize.

Maple Spun Sugar.
Here's the deal, I might not excel at sweets, but I can spin sugar. Although it can be dangerously tricky, it's actually quite simple and fun. Now, I didn't want to go all croquembouche, spinning fine delicate sugar threads  all over the kitchen like a whirling dervish. I wanted sturdy shards of shatteringly crunchable spun sugar. Edible sugar glass.

I combined 1 cup sugar with 1/2 water, 1 tablespoon corn syrup, and 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup in a small cast iron skillet. After cranking the heat to medium, the sugar and corn syrup slowly dissolved into the water. Without stirring, I let the mixture bubble and rip until it reached the hard crack stage, 300-312  degrees on a candy thermometer. Working quickly and very carefully, I drizzled and twirled the molten maple sugar concoction over a non-stick silicone mat. It was a one shot deal. Spun sugar has a mind of its own. It waits for no one. Just before the melted amber sugar solidified into maple stained glass, I scattered a few candied pumpkins seeds into the lacy shards.

Pumpkin ice cream.
Candied seeds.
Spun sugar.
Decadent win.

Cheers to quiet daydreams
in the pumpkin patch.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Market Tagine

Caught under long cool shadows cast by the trees surrounding the Tuesday/Thursday market on a brisk autumn morning, I found myself quietly prowling for autumn/winter squash. It was easy to get swept away with the varieties of squash spilling from cardboard boxes and tumbling from truck beds. Although tempted by the assortment of cool stuff, this time of year I've always been a sucker for butternut squash. Lending itself to both sweet and savory applications, butternut  is probably the easiest squash to deal with and the most versatile. Typically, I roast seeded butternut squash halves cut side down, scoop the flesh into a blender, add a little stock, a few seasonings, and puree the hell out of it before mixing it with cream and  additional stock for a delicate velvety soup. Whether cooking for hundreds of people or for a quiet dinner at home,  I can't count how many times I've prepared and served that soup. Because it's a no brainer, lusty butternut squash soup has always been my go-to culinary transitional dance from summer to autumn.

This year, I changed things up. Armed with an armload of Casey County butternut and acorn squash,
I ditched my usual dance card.

The exotic tone of Moroccan spices are actually quite similar to the warming spices we play with this time of year. With that in mind, I danced down the silk road with an seductive riff on winter squash tagine. Tagines are North African ceramic conical cooking vessels as well as the meals that are stewed inside of them. Braised food within a braising pot. Low and slow. Although I used a tagine because I had one, any oven safe dish with a tight fitting lid would have worked beautifully.

Here's the deal, braised anything is rough around the edges. Cooked low and slow, whatever gets tossed into the pot (meats and/or vegetables) eventually breaks down and melts into a lovely concentrated essence of its former self. Deep. Succulent. Sexy. Although I love a down and dirty braise, I wanted to dial it back with a delicate bent. While I could have simply chopped the peeled squash for the tagine, I had a little fun and took it a wee bit further.

Butternut Squash Tagine.
An autumn vegetable stew.

I hacked the neck from the bulbous end of a large butternut squash. After slicing off both ends of the neck, I stood it on one end and used a very sharp knife to peel and square off the neck until it resembled a gorgeous orange brick before slicing it into very thin rectangles. Using a vegetable peeler, I peeled the skin from the remaining bulbous end, scoop out the seeds, split it in half, and sliced it into thin half-moons.

For contrast in color and texture, I didn't bother peeling the thin-skinned acorn squash. I simply halved it, scooped out the seeds, and sliced it into half moons.

Assembly. The fun part.
To give the tagine structure and form, I snaked the pave' ( paving stones) slices down the center of the dish before wedging the remaining half-moons to the side. To offset the inherent sweetness of the squash, I nestled a few salted sliced lemon halves wherever I could make them fit.

The Silk Road. Happy Dance.
I didn't want to drown the squash in stock. Typically, when braising, the liquid used should measure about halfway up the sides of whatever is being braised. After blooming a pinch of saffron in 1 cup chicken stock, I set the stock aside and slivered a medium sized shallot. I sauteed the paper thin shallot ribbons in a drizzle of olive oil over a medium flame. Just before the shallots turned translucent, I added 1/2 teaspoon each: dried ginger, turmeric, paprika, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin,  allspice, coriander, and ras el hanout. As the spices swirled through the softened shallots, I added a tablespoon of fiery harissa and deglazed the pan with the saffron-spiked chicken stock before adding 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1/2 cup diced dried apricots, 2 tablespoons honey, salt, and cracked black pepper.

When the dried fruit plumped in the reduced spiced stock, I poured the stock over the squash, dusted it  with citrusy sumac,  placed the conical lid onto the tagine base, and slid it into a preheated 350 degree oven to braise for 1 hour.

After an hour, drunk from the aroma, I pulled the tagine from the oven, removed the lid to release the steam, and let it cool a bit before finishing with fresh parsley and quartered fresh Black Mission figs.


With staggering layers of flavor and depth, the seemingly dainty tagine packed a crazy potent punch. Spicy. Sweet. Salty. Tart. Smoky. Like delicate edible sponges kissed with exotic perfume, the achingly tender squash absorbed the complex warmth of the aromatic stock and  fragrant  steam. Tucked beneath the fresh fleshy figs, speckles of plumped fruit countered the slight acidity of the lemons and heady heat of the harissa.

Stewed butternut squash.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Cusp

Yep, it's that time of year when confusion runs wild at the farmer's market. Not wanting the good times to end, it's hard to let go as the vibrant colors of summer slowly segue into the muted tones of fall. For a short time (the cusp), it's a crazy game of mix and match when gorgeous pumpkins, buffed chestnuts, decorative gourds, and leafy wild celery vie for the attention of a few late season plump tomatoes. Throw the dice. Bang the drum slowly. The colors are changing. We're dancing on the cusp.

That said, as the seemingly somber hues of winter squash, pumpkins, gourds, and green beans take over the farm tables, regal jewel-toned varieties of eggplant are still going strong. I've seen several varieties of eggplant (Globe, Thai, White, Graffiti, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian)  at the farmer's market. Smitten by their smooth purple skins glistening in the early morning light, I snagged a few bundles of slender Asian eggplant from Stonehedge Farm for a simple cusp season oven-roasted eggplant salad.

Farmer's Market Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Salad.
After rinsing a pound (total) of Japanese, Chinese, and Graffiti eggplant on the bias, I scattered them onto a sheet tray. Because they were so tender and fresh, there was no need to salt them. I pulled a handful of Henkle's Herbs and Heirlooms Red Zebra tomatoes from the window sill, quartered them, and tossed them with the eggplant slices before  tumbling a pint of whole Garey Farms cherry tomatoes into the mix along with slivers of Casey County candy onions.

After drizzling the tomatoes, eggplants slices, and onions with olive oil, I showered them with salt and cracked black pepper. I gave everything a quick hand toss and slid the sheet pan into a preheated 400 degree oven to roast for 45 minutes, turning the pan every 15 minutes.

I pulled the caramelized onions, collapsed tomatoes, and softened eggplant slices from the oven to cool.  When the fragrant steam lifted, I scooped them into a bowl, added 1/2 cup capers, a handful of halved fresh mozzarella bocconcini balls, purple basil leaves, quartered Green Zebra tomatoes, and fresh parsley before tossing the salad with a basic vinaigrette ( 1/2 minced shallot, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, salt, and Pepper).

As the roasted tomatoes melted into the earthy eggplant, the juices wrapped the slices with a slight sweet acidity that countered the sweet tart perkiness of the fresh Green Zebras. While the halved bocconcini provided firm creaminess, the capers added subtle briny crunch.

Dancing on the cusp with a simple eggplant salad.