Posts filed under ‘dessert’
The Willamette Valley is not a huge peach-growing region – the season is brief, the potential problems from weather and pests are many, the delicacy of the ripe fruit can make transporting it to and from the markets a challenge. But a few hardy growers make the effort, and when the time comes, I seek them out.
Jeannine and Tom Thieme at Firstfruits Farm grow 22 varieties of peaches, and I’d be hard-pressed to say which are my favorites, other than “the ones they have at the farmers’ market now.” This week it was rosy Early Lorings and fragrant, white-fleshed Raritan Roses, and I bought a half-dozen of each.
The minute I got home I ate the first one, standing on the back porch, juice dripping down my chin and splattering my toes (really!). Then I turned half of the rest into a quick, easy peach salsa to take to a friend’s barbecue, where even a guy who professes not to like peaches gobbled it up with enthusiasm.
(My salsa was just diced peaches, a couple of diced lemon cucumbers, diced red onion, a few serrano peppers seeded and minced, dressed with lime juice and a drizzle of honey. But really, you could substitute peaches for tomatoes in your favorite salsa recipe and not go wrong – although I’d use lime juice for any vinegar the recipe might call for).
Today, realizing that the ripe fruit would rapidly turn into overripe fruit if I didn’t do something with it, I made peach cobbler.
Google “peach cobbler” and you’ll find a gazillion recipes. Eliminate the ones based on canned peaches or pie filling (yuck), and you still have a lot to choose from. Some are more like what I’d call a crisp, a crumble or even a pandowdy.
I am a daughter of the South, though; the cobbler I learned at my mother’s knee was sweetened fruit encased in a rich Bisquick batter, tender at the core with a sugary crackle on top. And that’s the the sort of cobbler I still prefer.
Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone. For instance: I’m fond of the affinity peaches have for ginger. So today’s cobbler incorporates lots of ginger, in three forms. It’s terrific – sweet and peachy, with bursts of ginger zing. And I’ve greatly reduced the sugar from the 1-2 cups most cobbler recipes call for to just 1/2 cup, because really ripe peaches are plenty sweet on their own and I want them, not the sweetness of the dough, to star. If you have no local source for ripe peaches and must make do with what’s in the supermarket, you may need to ratchet the sugar back up a bit.
Triple Ginger Peach Cobbler
- 4 cups fresh peaches, peeled* and sliced, set in a colander to drain off excess juice (reserve the juice)
- 1/4 cup candied ginger, diced
- 1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
- 1 1/2 cups Bisquick
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 cup sugar
- Enough milk to make 1 1/2 cups when combined with the juice from the peaches
- A handful of ginger snaps, crushed to coarse crumbs (I used Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Snaps because I had them on hand).
Preheat oven to 350F
Place a large baking dish on a cookie sheet (in case of spills). Place the butter in the bottom and stick it in the oven while you prepare the cobbler.
Combine drained fruit and candied ginger.
In another bowl, combine Bisquick, dried ginger, sugar, peach juice and milk. Stir well to get rid of any lumps.
When the butter is melted, remove baking dish from oven. Pour in the batter. Spoon the fruit-and-ginger on top (the batter will rise up through the fruit as it bakes).
Bake for 30 minutes, then sprinkle the crushed ginger snaps on top and bake for another 15 minutes. Test with a knife to make sure the batter is baked through (the knife won’t come out clean because of the peaches, but you should be able to tell if there’s any raw batter left in the middle. If so, give it another 10 minutes or so.)
Serve warm, with or without ice cream. Leftovers, should you have any, make an excellent breakfast.
* You know how to peel peaches, right? Fill a good-sized saucepan with water, bring to a boil and immerse the peaches for no more than 60 seconds. Remove from water with tongs or a slotted spoon, run under cold water and use your fingers to slip the skin right off.
I’m the kind of cook who sees no contradition between a love of the home-made and a love of expedient shortcuts. I’d rather spend an hour making an excellent risotto with boxed stock from the supermarket than spend an entire weekend simmering, straining and clarifying soup bones and trimmings for a measely quart of home-made.
Or pie: While I’m perfectly capable of making a tender, flaky crust from scratch – hell, I learned it at my mother’s knee – I also think frozen supermarket pie crusts are one of the small miracles of modern life; they let me throw together a tasty pie or quiche on a whim, or on a busy evening, without dragging out the flour and fat and rolling pins.
So I’m here to tell you: If you want to make this pie with a refrigerator-case crust-inna-box, you go right ahead. The food police won’t show up on your door, and whoever you’re feeding likely won’t know the difference if you don’t tell them.
ON THE OTHER HAND … this from-scratch crust, which I’ve made several times without failure, is good. Really, really good. Good enough to be more than just a container for the tart, juicy local pie cherries I got this week; I crisped up the trimmings with a light sprinkle of sugar and can’t stop nibbling them.
What makes it good – what makes any pie crust good – is the combination of a light hand and nice, cold fat – in this case, pure lard and high-quality unsalted butter. Trust me, pie crust is not the place to cut corners on fat. Yeah, you can make a pie crust with Crisco or vegetable oil (or even olive oil). But it will never be as shatteringly crisp and flaky and flavorful as one made from honest-to-god animal fat. And while I’ve tried a crust that purported to be fat-free, it was also free of flavor and texture; it might as well have been cardboard. If you absolutely cannot have fat, then skip the crust, bake the filling in a naked pie pan and call it a baked fruit compote.
I happen to have a quantity of first-rate leaf lard (the delicate white fat from around a hog’s kidneys) in the freezer, frozen in half-cup portions. I will admit to having gone all pioneer woman this spring: I bought five pounds of fat from Heritage Farms Northwest, cut it into chunks and simmered it all one afternoon in my stock pot to render out the pure lard, just to see if I could. You don’t have to go that far; rendered, packaged lard is available in most supermarkets in the cooler where they keep the butter. Try it, either alone or in combination with butter. You won’t believe how much better your pie crusts taste.
Why is that? Well, for one thing, lard is all fat, unlike butter, which has a fairly high water content; an all-butter crust will taste great, but it will probably be tough, too, unless you go for a pate brisee-style short crust where the fat is more evenly blended into the flour.
As the sainted Harold McGee explains it:
“The methods for making American-style pie dough produce a crust that is both tender and flaky. They disperse some of the fat evenly into the dough, separating small particles from each other, and some coarsely, separating different layers of the dough from each other … the dough is rested in the refrigerator to rechill the fat and let the water become more evenly distributed, and then is rolled out. The rolling stretches the dough and thus develops some gluten, and flattens the fat chunks into thin sheets. The combination creates the layered texture … In the oven, the sheets of fat, trapped air and steam from the dough water … all help to separate the dough into layers and give it a flaky texture.”
– Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking
The way my mom (and her mom, and generations of moms before them) achieved this was to use her fingertips to rub about half of the fat into the flour, and then two dinner knives to cut the rest into the mixture in pea-sized chunks. But mom was baking in a world without food processors. I use mine to achieve the same ends – and better, really, because the fat doesn’t get melted by the heat of my hands – by pulsing in half the butter and lard until the mixture resembles fine corn meal, then adding the rest and pulsing just a few times to chop the fat into pea-sized chunks.
Here’s the pie I’m feeding my friends this afternoon. I rose early yesterday to make the crust before the house got hot, then spent a pleasant half-hour on the shady front porch pitting cherries with my cheap little mechanical pitter; everything went into the fridge, and then I baked the pie early this morning. The crust is based on a recipe I found on Epicurious.com for the “Best-Ever Pie Crust” and they aren’t exaggerating. The filling is one I’ve improvised over the years to the point where I don’t need a recipe to make it, but I took the time to note amounts, etc. this time around so you can recreate it – or add your own personal touch.
Cherry Pie to Die For
For two crusts
- 2 1/2 cups pastry flour*
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp sugar (optional)
- 1/2 cup chilled, unsalted butter, cut in cubes
- 1/2 cup chilled lard, cut in cubes
- 5 Tbsp ice water (or more, as needed)
In a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar and pulse to blend. Begin feeding cubes of butter and lard into the processor, pulsing on-and-off until about half the fat is incorporated and the mixture is beginning to look like coarse cornmeal. Add the rest of the fat and pulse just a few times to cut it into pea-sized chunks. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly distributed.
Dump the mixture into a bowl and, using a fork, begin to toss in the ice water a tablespoon at a time until the dough begins to clump together. Depending on the flour, the air temperature and the weather, it may take more than five tablespoons; if so, add more a teaspoon at a time; you want a dough you can form into a neat ball, but it shouldn’t be wet.
Divide dough in half, form into balls and flatten each half into a disk on a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap and refrigerate at least an hour (or up to three days in advance). If necessary, let rest at room temperature for a few minutes to soften before you roll it out.
Sprinkle a large cutting board or pastry cloth with a small amount of flour and roll each disk to about 1/8″ thickness.
Here’s a tip from Harold McGee: Let the dough rest for 20-15after rolling it out to allow the gluten sheets formed by rolling to relax; that makes it easier to shape the crust without stretching it, which in turn prevents the crust from shrinking when it bakes.
Transfer crust to a pyrex pie plate (the easy way is to roll the circle of dough up onto your rolling pin and then gently unroll it into the plate). Press gently into plate, trim and crimp the edges as you please (unless you’re making a two-crust pie, in which case see below). If your recipe calls for a prebaked crust (this one doesn’t), prick it all over with a fork before baking. and weight it down to prevent bubbles (a handful of dried beans on a piece of tinfoil is as good as expensive pie weights).
Use the second disc of dough to make a lid for your pie, or a second pie, or freeze it for later.
* Pastry flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose or bread flour, but more than cake flour; that helps produce the tender, flaky result you want in a pie crust (or biscuit), as opposed to the chewiness you get in good bread. I used whole wheat pastry flour, grown and ground by Stalford Seed Farms in Shedd. This flour is ground fairly coursely, and the resulting dough was a bit crumbly, so I had to do some piecing to get it in the pan. And the strips for the lattice topping kept breaking – so rather than fuss with them and risk turning the dough tough, I just arranged them randomly on top of the filling. What the heck: It’s all about “more tasty crust,” and I’m not entering it in the county fair or anything.
Sour Cherry Filling
- 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
- 3-6 Tbsp cornstarch (depending on how juicy your cherries are
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 5-6 cups of fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted. You want enough to mound a bit in the pie crust, whether or not you’re going to put a top crust on. I like sour pie cherries, but feel free to use your favorite variety; just adjust the sugar and lemon juice to the level of sweetness/tartness you enjoy
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice (for tart cherries) to 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (for sweet cherries)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract OR almond extract, or 1/2 tsp of each
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1 Tbsp milk, for glaze
Whisk together 1 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large bowl to blend. Stir in cherries, lemon juice and vanilla/almond extract; set aside.
Preheat oven to 425F.
If you haven’t yet done so, roll out one portion of pie crust and transfer to a pyrex pie pan (you can use the cheap metal ones, but they aren’t as deep and, I think, produce an inferior crust.)
Spoon the cherry mixture into the crust, mounding slightly in the center. Dot with butter. Now you can either
- Roll out the second disk of dough, cut in strips and make a traditional lattice top crust (here’s a nice little photographic how-to).
- Do a standard top crust (don’t forget to cut some vents so the steam can escape)
- Get creative – use a knife or cookie cutters to cut shapes from the second sheet of pie crust and lay them on top
- Leave it open-faced and freeze the other piece of dough for later.
If you do top the pie, finger-crimp the edges together for a tight seal. Brush the top (but not the edges) with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar if you like. To keep the edges from overcooking, I fold a long piece of foil into a narrow collar and wrap it loosely around the rim of the pie; remove it 10 minutes or so before the pie is done.
Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375F and bake until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown, about 1 hour longer. Transfer to a rack (or an unused stove burner) and cool completely. Serve with vanilla (or lemon!) ice cream.
Tart-sweet, with a crisp, tender-flaky crust and the smooth sweetness of ice cream: It tastes like summer to me.
Even though I didn’t get a vegetable garden in this year, I still have some tasty things in my own back yard: Herbs, mostly done for the season; the raspberries I ate half the summer – and now, a good crop of Italian prune plums from the ancient (and, alas, ivy-infested) tree by the back fence.
I’ve eaten my fill of plums straight from the tree, and now it’s time to do some baking. Plum tarts are easy as can be, and pretty to boot. This is a variation on an ongoing theme, using what I had on hand, and absolutely delicious. You could easily substitute your favorite custard for the simple yogurt preparation – or use more plums and pack them into the crust without a custard base at all for a densely fruity tart.
Backyard Plum Tart
- Pie crust to fill a tart pan. Paté sucree is lovely, but refrigerator-case pie crusts work just fine, too.
- 6-8 plums, washed, pitted and cut in slices
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1 Tbsp flour
- 1/4 cup plus 6 Tbps sugar, divided
- 3/4 cup plain yogurt, drained*
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp almond flavoring (or vanilla, if you prefer)
- 2 Tbps butter, melted
- 1/4 cup apricot preserves (optional, for glaze)
Preheat oven to 400F Roll out pie crust to fit in 13″ tart pan. Prick with a fork and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.
While the pie crust is baking, mix 6 Tbsp sugar, ground spices and flour; toss the plum slices in this mixture to coat.
In a bowl, mix drained yogurt, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, egg and flavoring until well blended. Spread on the baked crust. Arrange the spiced plums in concentric circles on top of the yogurt mixture. Drizzle melted butter over the fruit.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until custard is set and the plums are browned and bubbling.
Melt preserves in a small pan and brush over the fruit while still warm.
Serve warm or at room temperature (with or without ice cream!)
* Drained yogurt: Fold a length of cheesecloth and fit inside a strainer, with the excess fabric hanging off the edges. Set strainer over a bowl. Spoon plain yogurt (I like Nancy’s) into the cheese, fold the cheesecloth over the top and put the bowl in the refrigerator to drain for several hours until the yogurt is nice and thick. I often do this with an entire container of yogurt and use the resulting “yogurt cheese” as a tangy substitute for cream cheese.
… but I’m slowly starting to get back my sense of smell. Having learned way more than I ever wanted to know about anosmia, I’m thankful that my doctor’s initial diagnosis – a lingering, low-grade sinus infection left over from an awful cold I had in April and May – appears to have been the right one.
It’s been very little fun being unable to smell – or, really, taste – much of anything. Takes the fun right out of eating and cooking, I tell you; I haven’t even bothered going to the market for the past month.
That said, I do have one just-in-time-for-the-season treat to recommend, courtesy of my friend Lisa, who blogged about it:
Since I still can’t cook by taste, as is my habit, I made this last week following the recipe to the letter (well, OK, I used my food processor on the biscuit crust, and I did follow the advice of some of her commenters and drained the tomato slices before putting them in the shell, with a layer of cheese on the bottom to help seal against sogginess).
And then I invited a friend over for dinner, because while I knew there was nothing about this recipe I shouldn’t like, and it certainly looked wonderful, I couldn’t tell if it tasted as good as it looked – although the biscuit crust was wonderfully flaky and crisp.
My dinner companion, however, deemed it “fabulous.” And had seconds.
(Don’t be put off by the mayonnaise – it merges with the tomato-corn mixture and – again, according to my friend – isn’t identifiable beyond “yum!”)
During the flavor hiatus, and particularly while on the antibiotics that appear to have killed off the sinus ick, I’ve found myself drinking a lot of Reed’s Extra Ginger Ginger Ale. I’m not much of a soda drinker, but ginger calms my stomach and stimulates my appetite, and Reed’s is pungent enough I could almost taste it.
However, it’s spendy, and the bottles aren’t refundable in Oregon. So I rummaged around my bookmarks and found a recipe for home-made gingerale that I’d been meaning to try.
Since one of the things I like about Reed’s is its citrusy base, I altered the recipe a little and came up with something pretty doggoned tasty, at a fraction of the cost of the bottled stuff. If you’re a ginger fancier, try it out. It’s very refreshing – and it also works as a great base for my favorite warm-weather adult beverage, the Gin Gin Mule.
- 1 hand ginger, about 4 inches worth, sliced into 1/8″ disks
- Juice of 4 Meyer lemons
- pinch salt
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup brown sugar
- Seltzer water
Combine ginger, lemon juice, salt and water in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Stir in sugar until it dissolves; allow to cool. Pour into a glass jar and refrigerate.
When you want ginger ale, mix a standard shotglass of the ginger syrup with 1 cup seltzer; serve over ice.
I was a little short on ginger last time I made this, so I substituted an inch or so of galangal I had in my freezer, sliced. It adds a lovely floral zing to the syrup.
“When denatured in acid conditions, with relatively little casein around, as in cheese whey, lactoglobulin molecules … bind to each other and coagulate into little clots, which can be made into whey cheeses like true ricotta.” – Harold McGee, “On Food and Cooking”
I’ve been having a week of dairy experiments. It all started with a pint of heavy cream bought as a treat for guests who take their coffee light (I take mine black). They didn’t use much of it, so I decided to use the rest to make créme fraîche, that thick, tangy, cultured cream that’s far superior to sour cream in almost any use.
It’s as easy as can be: Heat a pint or so of cream until steam rises from the surface and bubbles form around the edge, stir in a few tablespoons of cultured buttermilk, pour it into a glass jar and let it sit on the counter, loosely covered, until it’s thick (roughly overnight). Refrigerated, créme fraîche keeps for a week to 10 days, and can be substituted for sour cream in virtually any use; it also makes a superior base for cream sauces, because the culturing prevents it from separating and curdling when heated. And it’s lovely on a biscuit, with just a dab of jam.
However, that meant buying buttermilk, which around here comes in nothing smaller than a quart container. I don’t drink buttermilk. I do bake with it (buttermilk biscuits are wonderful!), but I wasn’t in a baking mood.
So I decided to experiment, and that led me to ponder the wonders of milk and milk products, and how the same basic ingredients, treated differently, can produce remarkably different results.
I could write a treatise on the subject, but I’d rather point readers to Harold McGee and his fascinating book, “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.” First published in 1984 and revised in 2004, McGee’s is not a recipe book, but it’s the text for the cook who wants to know why and how food behaves the way it does, from “why do beans cause intestinal distress” to “why can’t I make a decent meringue on a stormy day?” And the very first chapter is all about milk.
In short, McGee tells us that how milk behaves in cooking is based on its complex chemistry of microscopic fat globules and protein bundles, along with dissolved salts and sugars, vitamins, minerals such as bone-building calcium, and other compounds suspended in the water that makes up most of the fluid. The most important components to cooking are fat, protein and milk sugar, or lactose. (I’m among the majority of adults who no longer produce the enzyme necessary to digest lactose, and am grateful for the over-the-counter tablets that allow me to enjoy dairy products without unfortunate consequences).
A serendipitous aspect of milk is its relationship with a friendly little bacteria known as Lactobacillus. The bacteria renders milk slightly acidic, which helps keep it from spoiling – but it can also be introduced to fresh milk to increase the acid level and create cultured milk products such as yogurt and fresh cheeses.
I’d like to say a word here for whole milk, and against the reduced-fat varieties that threaten to crowd it out of the supermarket dairy cases. Drink 2 percent or skim milk if you must, but understand that cooking with it will produce inferior results. The *behavior* of milk in cooking depends to a large degree on its fat component, and how the tiny globules of fat suspended in the liquid interact with other ingredients. Among other things, McGee points out, “Interactions between fat globules and milk proteins are … responsible for the remarkable tolerance of milk and cream to heat.” A sauce made with cream can be simmered and reduced to velvet smoothness; make the same sauce using low-fat milk and it’s likely to curdle and develop a grainy texture.
Enough chemistry. On with the buttermilk cooking. My little Donvier ice cream freezer has been sitting empty in the freezer for far too long, and the notion of buttermilk ice cream seemed appealing. I had a bunch of lemons in the fridge. So I tweaked my standard ice cream base recipe to come up with:
Buttermilk-Lemon Ice Cream
- Juice and zest of one large, well-scrubbed lemon
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 4 large egg yolks
In a small, non-reactive saucepan, combine lemon juice, half the sugar, and the finely grated lemon zest. Heat over medium-low heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Take off heat and allow to cool.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the buttermilk, cream and remaining sugar. Heat until steam rises from the surface and tiny bubbles appear at the edge of the pan, stirring occasionally to keep the bottom of the pan from scorching. Remove from heat.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until well-blended. Keep whisking and slowly drizzle in about a cup of the hot milk mixture to warm the eggs. Pour yolk mixture back into the saucepan of milk, return it to the burner on medium-low heat, and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture has thickened slightly.
Strain into a bowl and place in a bowl of ice water to cool. Once cooled, whisk in the lemon syrup and stir well. Transfer to ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Makes about a quart of tangy, lemony ice cream that reminds me of lemon cheesecake. I can’t wait for strawberry season so I can try this again topped with fresh local berries!
I still had just over two cups of buttermilk remaining. What to do, what to do? A friend recently described a method for making home-made ricotta cheese, using lemon juice to acidify the milk and transform it into curds and whey. Hm. Buttermilk is acidic, too. Google revealed several recipes for buttermilk ricotta. Oh, hell, yes.
This is so easy you’ll wonder why you never tried it before:
- Four parts whole milk, or part-skim milk plus cream. Do not used ultra-pasteurized milk products for this recipe; the prolonged heating of the pasteurization process will prevent it from making curds. Reduced-fat milk will curdle, but it won’t produce enough cheese to bother with.
- One part cultured buttermilk
- Pinch of salt
Have ready a large bowl and a strainer lined with dampened cheesecloth. (Have you tried to find cheesecloth in a supermarket lately? I couldn’t – so I used a Handiwipe ™ having run it through the washing machine to get rid of the fragrance the manufacturer insists on adding to the things. Worked like a charm.)
In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine all ingredients and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly until the milk begins to steam and curds start to form. Stop stirring, but continue heating until the mixture reaches 175F and has formed fine curds. Remove from heat and pour carefully into the cloth-lined strainer. Allow to drain until most of the whey is drained off, then gather up the curds in the cloth and hang it from the faucet, or from a spoon laid over a bowl, to continue draining until it’s as dry as you want it. Pack into a clean refrigerator container. Keeps as long as commercial ricotta, but tastes sooooo much better.
The amount this makes depends on a lot of variables – the fat content of the whole milk, the acidity of the buttermilk, and other factors that are hard to judge in advance. I used a pint of buttermilk to two quarts of whole milk, and got almost two cups of cheese – enough for the artichoke-and-pea lasagne I plan to make tomorrow night.
What about all that whey? I confess that I tossed it, but there’s still a good deal of food value there, and I’ve used it before to enrich home-made soups, or to substitute for water in bread recipes.
These recipes would be even better with fresh, whole, local milk. Midway Farms, on Highway 20 between Albany and Corvallis, sometimes carries local milk. I’ve also heard that several local farms offer fresh goat’s milk, which also makes a nice ricotta, but I haven’t investigated.
Four weeks till the Albany Farmers’ Market opens!
I don’t really enjoy cooking turkeys. My oven is too small, for one thing; for another, as a solo cook with diminishing upper-body strength, I find wrestling the heavy, slippery bird – out of its bag, in and out of the brine, on and off the roasting rack – difficult and fraught with peril. And then there’s the carcass problem: To make stock or not? If so, when? And given that I still have turkey stock in the freezer from last Thanksgiving, is there really any point?
So when my friend Ellen volunteered to roast a turkey for our three-couple Thanksgiving feed, I was delighted. It means my oven will be free on Thursday – and it means I get to cook side dishes. And honestly, for me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides: Dressing, sweet potatoes, whipped potatoes, gravy – lots of gravy, please! – and an array of vegetables and relishes … all the lovely, rich, kitchen-intensive dishes I rarely bother with the rest of the year, when my cooking tends to one-dish meals with maybe a vegetable or salad on the side.
And when several cooks are pitching in, each bringing the dish without which it would not be Thanksgiving for them, the odds of discovering something new, or a new variation on something familiar, is high.
So. I’ve offered to make baked dressing (although Ellen will likely stuff the bird as well, but nobody objects to two varieties), sweet potatoes, smashed potatoes … and a pecan pie, because I need pecan pie on Thanksgiving, whether anyone else does or not.
The dressing and sweet potatoes will be variations on old favorites, tweaked just enough to have new interest without offending the tastes of anyone who’s got their heart set on the standards. And yes, containing local ingredients, from the final weekend of our farmers’ market, local farmstands and my garden: The yams, potatoes and onions, the herbs, the mushrooms, the eggs.
Cornbread dressing with sage and wild mushrooms
- 6 cups cornbread (I like this flourless Epicurious recipe, which is solid and less sweet than my usual recipe. It makes about 12 cups; I halve the recipe.)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 3 Tbsp butter
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 pound fresh wild mushrooms (chanterelles), coarsely chopped
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-3 stalks celery, diced
- 2 Tbsp fresh sage, minced, or 2 tsp dried
- 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced, or 1 tsp dried
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced, or 1 tsp dried
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2-2 cups low-salt chicken stock
- Salt and pepper
Bake cornbread the day before and allow it to cool completely. Cut into 1-inch cubes and place in a big mixing bowl.
Melt 1 stick of butter in a large skillet. Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic and stir well to coat with butter. Sautee over medium heat until the onion and garlic are translucent and the mushrooms have shrunk and absorbed most of the butter. Remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle.
Preheat oven to 375F. Add the mushroom mixture – including any liquid in the pan – celery and minced herbs to the cornbread; use (clean) hands to toss well (I don’t know any other good way to do this). Taste; if salt is needed, add some now, along with a good deal of black pepper, and toss again.
Beat the eggs with a fork and add to the dressing, tossing again to coat. Melt the butter and drizzle it over the dressing, toss again. Finally, add stock, slowly, stirring to combine. You should wind up with a very moist mixture. Heap into a 9×13 baking dish or large casserole and bake until lightly browned and crisp around the edges, about 45 minutes. If the rest of the meal isn’t ready (does anyone actually manage to get everything ready to serve at once on Thanksgiving), cover loosely with foil, slash a vent in the top to let some of the steam escape and set aside until dinner is ready. If necessary, tuck it back in the oven to reheat while you carve the turkey.
Maple Sweet Potatoes with Candied Ginger
- 4 pounds sweet potatoes (use canned if you must. But they won’t be as good)
- 1/2 cup real maple syrup (Tip: If you like a stronger maple flavor, see if you can find Grade B syrup)
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 3 Tbsp candied ginger, chopped
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) cut into pieces
Preheat oven to 375F. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch chunks. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil; add sweet potatoes. Once water returns to a simmer, parboil for about 5 minutes. Drain.
In a small saucepan, combine maple syrup and allspice. Bring to a simmer.
Place sweet potatoes in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle candied ginger over the top. Pour on the hot maple syrup, and dot with butter. Bake for about 45 minutes, until yams are tender. Can be kept, covered, on the counter until ready to serve.
This is less sweet than the standard candied sweet potatoes, and the ginger and allspice add a nice zing. If you like it even less sweet and more zing-y, substitute chopped fresh ginger for the candied ginger. If you have a bigger sweet tooth than I do, try combining the candied ginger with an equal amount of chopped pecans, a couple of tablespoons of flour and a half cup of brown sugar and sprinkling that over the top for the last 15 minutes or so of cooking for a crunchy, streusel-like topping.
You’ll note that these two dishes call for the same oven temperature. The recipes I based mine on called for a 350-degree oven for the dressing and 400 for the sweet potatoes; I split the difference and adjusted the cooking times so I can bake these at the same time, one on the bottom oven rack and one on the top. Midway through cooking, I’ll swap racks so they cook evenly. Of such adjustments are big meals made.
The pie? I’ll bake that the day before. From my mom’s recipe – the one printed on the label of the Karo syrup bottle.