Posts filed under ‘autumn’

Pan-roasted mushrooms, revisited

Pan-roasted chanterellesFinding a delicious recipe is wonderful. Finding a way to simplify its preparation but still retain every bit of the deliciousness is even better.

I first posted the recipe for pan-roasted mushrooms nearly two years ago; I’d got it from a LiveJournal friend, and found it among the most tasty mushroom side dishes I’d ever encountered.

But, as written, the recipe called for cooking the mushrooms in small batches until they’re dried and caramelized, then giving them a gloss of butter, garlic and parsley … then wiping the pan clean and starting all over again with the next batch. Which, let’s face it, is kind of a pain in the butt if you’re cooking a lot of mushrooms

This afternoon, looking at a bag of lovely chanterelles I’d bought from The Mushroomery via Corvallis Local Foods, it occurred to me that it should be possible to streamline the prep without losing any of the flavor, by simply roasting all the mushrooms, moving them to a bowl, and then giving them all the garlic-butter treatment at once.

So I did. And I’m hear to tell you that – served with leftover roast chicken reheated with a bunch of late cherry tomatoes from my garden and good bread to mop up the juices – the mushrooms were exactly as delicious as I remembered, and a whole lot easier to prepare.

If you love mushrooms, you need to try this, whether you do it with wild mushrooms or tame. If the ‘shrooms are a touch dried out, as mine were, all the better. The result is chewy, dare I say meaty, savory, and rich with the gloss of butter and garlic. You won’t be sorry.

Pan-roasted Wild Mushrooms, Revisited

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • Wild (or domesticated) mushrooms, cleaned and thickly sliced
  • Fresh-ground pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Unsalted butter, about 1 tbsp per cup of cooked mushrooms
  • Garlic – at least 1 fat clove per above
  • Fresh Italian parsley, minced – a generous handful, ditto

Method

In a large skillet, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Heat the pan on high until the oil shimmers but does not smoke, and glides easily across the pan when tipped.

Add a layer of mushrooms, one at a time, so they don’t touch. Season with fresh-ground pepper and a pinch of kosher salt.

After about 1 minute, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking – without stirring the mushrooms – for 3-4 minutes. Using tongs, turn the mushrooms and cook for 3 more minutes, until they’re browned and fairly dry. Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon.

Repeat for each batch of mushrooms, adding olive oil if necessary.

After all the mushrooms are cooked, wipe out the pan with a paper towel and return to medium. For each cup of mushrooms, add a tablespoon of butter, (at least) a clove’s worth of minced garlic and a handful of parsley. Stir until the butter is all melted and the garlic is turning golden (but not burning!), then return the mushrooms to the pan. Toss with the buttery mixture until heated. Remove from heat and serve, hot, as a side dish with just about anything.

Leftovers keep just fine in the fridge.

October 9, 2010 at 7:52 pm 2 comments

A surfeit of beets

Borscht!Some people get flowers on opening night of a play. I got beets.

No kidding: My friend (and the stage manager of the show I’ve been directing) came into an excess of beets and, after asking if I liked them (oh, yes!), brought in a bag of beets bigger than my fist, probably 2-3 pounds worth.

Young beets are great for raw preparations: julienned atop a salad, thinly sliced and sprinkled with a little salt. Older beets need cooking to transform their woody texture to something tender and delectable. And other than just roasting and eating them, my favorite thing to make with big o’l beets is a big ol’ pot of borscht.

Or borsht. Or borsh, or even barszcz, depending on which Eastern European language is describing this hearty vegetable soup. The “authentic” recipes are as varied as the cultures they come from, and you can find internet flame wars on various cooking sites involving people who swear that their grandmother’s recipe is the One True Borscht/Borsch/etc., and all others heretical nonsense. There are recipes that call for beef, recipes that call for pork, recipes that call for no meat at all. Some say cabbage is required, some say potatoes, and some even say you don’t need beets to make a borscht.

If you’ve read me long, you know I’m not a purist. I’ve made borscht with and without cabbage, carrots, potatoes, meat; I’ve even made it with duck leg confit because I had some on hand. I always use beets – without beets, I’d call it vegetable soup and be done with it. But otherwise, like many good dishes, my borscht is a matter of what’s fresh, what’s local and what’s in the larder.

Roasting the bonesThis time I went the whole nine yards and started by spending Saturday making a big pot of home-made beef stock, beginning by oven-roasting a couple of pounds of “soup bones” –  meaty beef shanks that the butcher had sawn in short lengths, the better to expose the tasty marrow – from Heritage Farms NW.  There’s nothing like rich, flavorful homemade stock to add depth and character to a humble soup, and this may be the best batch I’ve ever made. I wound up with four quarts of stock; half of it went back into the pot this morning to make the borscht, and the other half is in the fridge, awaiting further reduction tomorrow evening to produce demi-glace, the syrupy, concentrated essence of beef that’s one of the serious cook’s best friends.

Stock isn’t hard to make. It does require attention – you don’t want any part of it to scorch or burn, because that adds an unpleasant bitterness to the stock. And you do want to simmer it long enough to reduce the liquid by a good deal and concentrate all the rich flavors – otherwise you might as well make your soup with water. Here’s a great little step-by-step tutorial for the uninitiated. Don’t be put off by what seem to be many, many steps; none of it is hard or even particularly labor-intensive, and the results are fabulous.

However: You could also make a perfectly good borscht with stock-inna-box, or even a good beef concentrate (Better than Boullon is a staple of my own kitchen). Vegetarians, look for mushroom stock if you can find it; good vegetable stock if you can’t. Just please, please, don’t use bouillon cubes – they taste of nothing much other than salt, and your soup will wind up much too salty.

The borscht itself is easy as can be, and (once you’ve got stock) pretty quick to make; it’s also infinitely adaptable to suit your own tastes and those of your diners. Except, perhaps, the ones who are averse to beets – and if they’re willing to try it, they may be surprised.

Beefy Borscht

Ingredients

Borscht ingredients

  • 2 pounds of fresh beets, trimmed and scrubbed
  • Olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp butter (or more olive oil)
  • 1 cup carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped onions (or shallots, or leeks)
  • 4-6 cups thinly sliced cabbage. I like to use purple, because it intensifies the hue of the final dish, but green is fine.
  • 2-6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Some potatoes, peeled or not, and coarsely diced (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh dill, or 1 tsp dried. Additional fresh or dried herbs as you prefer
  • 4-6 cups beef (or vegetable) stock
  • Cooked beef from the stock-making, shredded – or sliced sausage, diced pork chops, or other meat that won’t require long cooking. (Optional, but it turns the soup into a hearty meal).
  • Leftover rind from a hunk of good parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Juice of two limes, or a few tablespoons of red-wine vinegar.
  • Salt (if needed)
  • For garnish: sour cream, sprigs of fresh dill

Toss beets in olive oil, put them on a baking sheet and roast in a 350F oven for 20-30 minutes, until they’re tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool, then rub off the skins and trim off any tough bits near the stem. You can roast the beets the day before; if so, refrigerate overnight. When it’s time to make borscht, cut them in bite-sized pieces.

In the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot or dutch oven, melt butter or olive oil until it sizzles. Add onion and carrots; sautee, stirring frequently, until onion is softening. Stir in the cabbage, garlic, potato (if you’re using it; I don’t), herbs and meat, and add stock to the pot to generously cover all the ingredients. If you happen to have a rind of parmesan on hand, toss that in – it will melt into the soup, adding an extra touch of tang and umami to the soup.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until carrots are tender. Stir in the lime juice or vinegar (I prefer lime, but vinegar seems to be traditional). Taste to see if salt is needed. If your stock is home-made, it probably won’t be (the natural saltiness of beef gets concentrated in the stock-making).

Ladle into bowls, garnish with a swirl of sour cream and a sprig of fresh dill. Serve hot, with crusty bread to mop up the bowl. Serves a bunch, and like so many soups, it’s even better the next day.

This soup freezes beautifully, especially if you leave out the potatoes (I’m never happy with how potatoes fare when frozen). Half the batch I made this morning will go into freezer containers for cold-weather meals!

October 3, 2010 at 1:12 pm Leave a comment

End-of-the-season stews

Autumn harvest still-lifeOur farmers’ market is … diminished. With just three weekends left this season, the number of vendors was down sharply this weekend, filling just half the municipal parking lot where the thing is held. It always makes me a little sad, and fills me with “hurry up and buy stuff before it’s all gone” fervor.

On the bright side, lots of the produce available now keeps well, with a little care. Apples, garlic, hard-skinned winter squash can last for a month or more, unrefrigerated, if you keep them in a cool, well-ventilated place. I’m reminded of the tornado shelter at my grandfather’s north Texas home – I’m not sure he ever used it to shelter from the weather, but his wife called it the root cellar, and stored vegetables and home-canned goods there year-round, because it was dark and cool and dry.

Root cellars have gone out of fashion, but I’ve kept apples for months by wrapping them individually in newsprint and setting them in a big, shallow cardboard box, not too closely crowded and unlidded, down in the garage that occupies half the daylight basement under my 1908 home. And I don’t think I’ve ever had a winter squash go bad on me, even sitting for 5-6 weeks in the basket on my kitchen counter. They’re pretty much built for storage.

This weekend, though, I’m focused on the short term, not the winter ahead. I’m in rehearsals through December, which means I leave the house for work at 7:30 in the morning and don’t get home till after 10 at night. If I don’t spend my Sundays cooking, I’ll spend a whole lot more money than I want to eating during the week. So I’m getting back in the habit of preparing good, hearty dishes that reheat well and lend themselves to portioning into containers I can carry to work for lunch and dinner. I try to come up with strong-flavored dishes, packed with nutrition and taste, so I don’t get bored before the week is over.

Stews serve the purpose – and also lend themselves to slow simmering while I go about my other weekend domestic maintenance.

Here’s what’s on the stove today: A rich autumn stew of pork, winter squash and apples, and a spicy vegetarian chili that’s quick to make and wonderful served over brown basmati rice or homemade cornbread. The first is almost entirely made with food I bought at the market yesterday; the second uses local turtle beans I put on to soak before bed last night, but could just as easily be made with canned black beans. These are both nutritionally dense, low-fat dishes, and easy to adjust to suit your own tastes.

The number of servings depends on how hungry people are and whether you’re serving the stew as a one-pot meal or a dinner course.  It looks like I’ll get 6-7 meal-sized servings from of each pot of autumn goodness. With cornbread and rice, I’m set for the week.

End-of-the-Season Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 acorn squash (or other winter squash of your choice
  • 1 lb lean pork, cut in cubes. Most stew recipes call for pork shoulder; I tend to buy tenderloins (because they’re small enough for one person). But you could just as easily use the meat off a few thick-sliced pork chops. Just trim off most of the fat so you don’t wind up with greasy soup.
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2-10 cloves of garlic, minced (I’m using a whole head’s worth, but I love garlic and got a lot of it at the market).
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cups good chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary (or 1/2tsp. dried)
  • 1 tsp minced fresh sage (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled (if you want) and cubed
  • 2 large carrots, sliced into discs
  • 2 tart apples, cored and cubed

Method

Preheat oven to 350F. Cut the squash in half; use a spoon to scoop out the seeds surrounding fiber. Oil the cut halves and place the squash cut-side down on a baking sheet. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until the skin can be pierced by a fork. Remove from oven, let cool enough to handle; peel off the rind (it will come off easily with your fingers) and cut squash into cubes. This can be done the day before.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat remaining oil over medium-high heat. Dredge the cubed pork in flour and cook in small batches until browned on all sides. Add the garlic and onion, lower the heat if needed to keep it from scorching, and continue cooking until the onion has softened. Add stock and stir to free any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add salt, rosemary and sage, potatoes and carrots. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add apples and squash. Return to a simmer, then cook, uncovered, until potatoes and apples are tender, about 20 minutes more. Taste, correct seasoning, and serve.

Black Bean Chili

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup applesauce (mine’s homemade)
  • Spices: This is where you get to shine. I like a lot of cumin in my chili, and I like heat; I still have fresh herbs in the garden. You know what you like. If your spice cabinet is modest, a couple of tablespoons of commercial chili powder would work. Here’s (approximately) what I used:
    • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
    • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
    • 1/2 tsp dried ground chipotle pepper
    • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
    • 1 tsp fresh oregano (1 /2 teaspoon dried)
    • 1 tsp fresh rosemary (1/2 teaspoon dried)
    • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme (1/4 teaspoon dried)
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 cups black beans, soaked overnight (or two cans of black beans, drained and rinsed)
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste (I’m using my oven-roasted tomato goo)
  • 2 -6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms (optional, but they add a nice heartiness to the dish. I’m using chanterelles)
  • Vegetable stock or water to cover.

Method:

In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, combine the applesauce with all the herbs and spices. Stir until well-blended. Stir in remaining ingredients, adding just enough stock or water to cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it’s not thick enough for your taste, stir in a handful of cornmeal late in the cooking. Serve with cornbread and your favorite chili toppings (chopped onions, grated cheese, sour cream, etc.)

As with most chilis, this is better the second day – and I’ve found the heat doesn’t fully develop until then, so don’t get carried away if it doesn’t seem spicy enough to suit your tastes.

 

November 1, 2009 at 12:39 pm 3 comments

Down from the trees

Plum tartEven 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

Ingredients

  • 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)

Method

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.

September 20, 2009 at 7:14 pm Leave a comment

Weekend cooking: Carnitas with chipotle-lime sauce

Carnitas

Carnitas with Chipotle-Lime sauce

As fond as I am of dishes that can be thrown together at lightning speed, sometimes it’s nice to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon cooking, especially when it’s the sort of cooking that lends itself to watching a movie and knitting while it mostly takes care of itself.

Yesterday I defrosted a boneless pork shoulder roast I’d bought from Wood Family Farms. I wasn’t in the mood to leave the house, so I figured I’d see what I could do with ingredients I have on hand; thanks to a summer of shopping locally and putting things aside for winter, there’s lots of good stuff in my larder and the big freezer downstairs – including a supply of dried chiles of assorted varieties.

Pork shoulder takes a little more effort than, say, tenderloin. They tend to have a good deal of fat layered with the muscle, and the meat is on the tough side; a moist cooking method such as braising or stewing gives much better results than just throwing the whole thing in a hot oven.

Years ago, a friend from Mexico taught me her mother’s method of making carnitas, those bite-sized mouthfuls of pork that are so tasty wrapped in tortillas or served over rice. It involves simmering the cut-up meat in liquid for a couple of hours, a process which renders out most of the fat – and then, when all the liquid has evaporated, briefly frying the meat in that rendered fat. The resulting morsels are tender, flavorful and succulent, with crispy edges.

This is not a fast dish; it’s a simmer-all-afternoon dish. But the prep is minimal, and that gives you lots of time to concoct a spicy sauce and a couple of simple side dishes to serve with the carnitas. The result is a hearty, warming, exceedingly satisfying cold-weather meal, and the leftovers are great wrapped in a warm tortilla.

Carnitas with Chipotle-Lime Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lb. boneless pork shoulder*
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled*
  • A few black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp cumin seed

Method

Slice the raw pork into 1-2″ thick slabs, and cut those into cubes. Do not trim away the fat!

In a wide, heavy pot – a cast iron Dutch oven, for instance, or an enameled cast-iron casserole – combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to very low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until all the water is evaporated (1 1/2 to 2 hours). When nothing is left but the pork and the simmering melted fat, increase heat to medium and allow the pork to fry in its own fat, turning occasionally, until browned (5-10 minutes). Remove from heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the pork to a large bowl, draining off the fat as you do so.

Make sauce while pork simmers:

Chipotle-lime sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 small or 1 large dried chipotle chiles*
  • 2 large, mild dried peppers (I used an ancho chile and a dried paprika).*
  • 1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped*
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa (or, if you’re lucky enough to have cacao nibs on hand, substitute those)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Juice of two limes

Method:

Remove the stems from the dried chiles; split open and remove seeds (unless you want a very hot sauce)

In a small, non-reactive saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add chiles, onion and garlic. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until peppers are soft.

Meanwhile, toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet; cool and grind with cocoa or cacao nibs (I keep an old coffee grinder just for grinding spice; you can also use a mortar and pestle).

When chiles are done, transfer them along with the onions and garlic to a food processor with a slotted spoon; reserve cooking liquid. Squeeze two limes into a measuring cup and add enough cooking liquid to make one cup. Add to food processor and process until pureed. Taste, and add salt if needed (the resulting sauce should be smokey/tangy/spicy and a little salty). If sauce is too watery, return to cooking pot (after discarding remaining cooking liquid) and return to burner to simmer and reduce.

To serve, toss pork pieces with a few spoonsful of the sauce to coat, and spoon a little more onto the plate.

I had this tonight on brown basmati rice with a combination of black beans and dry-toasted sweet corn (Just spread frozen corn in a pan and toast over a medium heat, stirring now and then, until it begins to brown, then add black beans and stir till heated. It was tender, delicious – and not at all fatty, thanks to the long slow cooking.

Depending on what you serve it with and how carnivorous the diners are feeling, this should feed 4-6 people nicely.

(* Indicates locally grown ingredients)

November 23, 2008 at 9:49 pm Leave a comment

Thanksgiving sides

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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.

November 19, 2008 at 7:18 pm Leave a comment

More mushrooms

Pan-roasted wild mushrooms

Pan-roasted wild mushrooms

I’m a fool for mushrooms: Sauteed, stir-fried, stuffed and baked, sliced raw in salads – heck, I even have a residual childhood fondness for canned mushrooms, in certain applications (on pizza, for instance).

Back when I first moved to Oregon, I fell in with a group of rogue mycologists. My second or third year here, they lured me out into the woods and taught me how to identify a few choice edible mushrooms: Morels, which grow on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range each spring, and chanterelles, which pop up in the fall in the damp rain forests that flank the Coast Range. Besides being utterly delicious, both have the advantage of being very easy to identify; once you’ve been shown the real thing, the chance of mistaking an unfriendly mushroom for one of these two is virtually nil.

Of the two, chanterelles are easier to find, and when we get a nice, damp fall like this one, more abundant. And for years, hunting your own was the only way to acquire these gorgeous, meaty, orange-fleshed fungi. Thankfully, just as my knees have started getting too creaky for serious mushroom foraging, others have started doing it for me, and bringing the fruits of their woodsy labors to the local farmers’ markets. While “free” was a good price, $15 a pound isn’t bad, and a pound of wild mushrooms goes a long way.

One of my favorite things to do with wild mushrooms is to pan-roast them, a slightly laborious process that produces results far superior to a standard sauté, concentrating the woodsy mushroom flavors and adding a touch of caramelized sweetness.

If you can’t find or afford wild mushrooms – or if you’re nervous about them – this dish works well with domesticated mushrooms, too, particularly the more flavorful varieties: Crimini, Portobello, shiitake. In a pinch, I’ve made it with plain old white supermarket mushrooms, and it’s still pretty tasty.

Don’t be put off by the long process description. It’s easy to do, it just takes a while (or a multiple skillets) to make a big batch.

Pan-roasted mushrooms make a great side dish; they’re heavenly piled on top of a good steak or lamb chops, scattered on a home-made pizza, spooned over toasted rounds of French or Italian bread as an appetizer, or stirred into an omelet*, a risotto, or a bowl of home-made soup (onion soup with pan-roasted mushrooms=win!)

Credit for the method goes to Van Donegal, who posted it six years ago in a LiveJournal cooking community. He adapted it from Tom Colochino’s Think Like A Chef, and I’ve added a few twists of my own. Recipe evolution.

Pan Roasted Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • Olive Oil
  • A half-pound or more of flavorful, meaty mushrooms
  • coarse Kosher Salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • unsalted butter
  • fresh Italian parsley (optional, but very nice)

Method

Clean the mushrooms (a big, soft paintbrush is handy for this job) and trim off any soft or buggy spots. Slice thickly.

Mince 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, omitting the bigger stems.

Smash, peel and coarsely chop the garlic. (The smashing, with the flat side of a chef’s knife, not only makes the garlic easier to peel, but releases all those aromatic oils).

In a large skillet on medium high heat, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat until the oil shimmers but does not smoke.

You’re going to be working in batches. Don’t try to rush it by overcrowding the pan.

Add only enough mushrooms to cover the bottom of the pan without touching each other. Add a liberal pinch of kosher salt and several grindings of pepper.

After 60 seconds, reduce heat to medium low. Do not stir. Cook mushrooms for about 4 minutes, then turn them individually. They should be browned on the cooked sides, and shrinking visibly. About two minutes after turning, add the garlic. At three minutes in, add 1 Tbsp of butter; once it melts, stir the mushrooms to coat with the butter-garlic mixture. When nicely browned, add a generous amount of parsley, stir, and remove the mushrooms to a heat-proof dish. If you like, hold the dish in a pre-heated 200-degree oven while you continue cooking additional batches.

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, turn the heat back up to medium high, and repeat the procedure for the next batch.

Serve piping hot. If you plan to add these to a recipe later, refrigerate them until time to use them; they’ll keep for a couple of days in the fridge, covered. Chanterelles and other meaty mushrooms also hold up surprisingly well if you spoon them into a freezer bag, press out all the air and freeze them.

A half pound of raw mushrooms will yield about a cup, cooked, depending on the variety.

* Tonight’s dinner: An omelette made from free-range market eggs, pan-roasted ‘shrooms and some coarsely grated Rogue Valley Creamery rosemary cheddar. Sublime.

November 11, 2008 at 9:23 pm Leave a comment

Market season: Not done yet

Chanterelles

Chanterelles

Our little farmers’ market traditionally closes the weekend before Thanksgiving, and while the number of vendors has dropped sharply, there’s still wonderful autumn food to be had. Yesterday it was wild mushrooms – one vendor literally had bushel baskets full of chanterelles, and another was offering more unusual varieties. I should have brought more cash. But at $15 a pound, I did score two pounds of lovely, orange-fleshed chanterelles, my favorite autumn mushroom. And I had enough money for a pound of ground lamb.

The mushrooms got spread out on newspapers to dry out enough so I could brush away the pine needles and forest duff, then separated into paper bags: One containing the largest mushrooms, which I’ll slice and dry in my food dehydrator tomorrow night; one to make a batch of pan-roasted mushrooms*, and one, along with the lamb, for tonight’s dinner (and this week’s lunches): A white-sauced lasagna of mushrooms, lamb and pumpkin. Which in the oven as I type this, and filling the house with savory autumn smells.

Pumpkin and wild mushrooms – or stronger flavored tame ones, such as Crimini or Portobello – are gorgeous together. Think of a pumpkin-mushroom soup with lots of garlic, or a creamy pumpkin-mushroom risotto. Adding lamb might be considered gilding the lily (and indeed, there’s no reason you couldn’t convert this to a vegetarian dish by omitting the lamb and using more mushrooms ), but I’ve had Morroccan and Afghan dishes that combine pumpkin and lamb to wonderful effect. So, feeling experimental and having a long Sunday evening to play in the kitchen, I came up with this.

Lasagna with pumpkin, lamb and wild mushrooms

Lasagna with pumpkin, lamb and chanterelles

Lasagne with pumpkin, lamb and wild mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 small pumpkin (edible variety) or large butternut squash
  • 1 lb lean ground lamb
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 stick), divided
  • 1/2 pound chanterelles or other flavorful, meaty mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed of any bad spots and sliced lengthwise
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh sage, minced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta (2 cups)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 20 oz. fresh mozarella cheese,
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 cups flavorful vegetable stock
  • Olive oil
  • 1 package no-boil lasagna noodles

Method

Preheat oven to 350F

Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out fibers and seeds (you are saving your pumpkin seeds to toast, right?) Oil the cut edges, and place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, until flesh is tender but not too soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool until you can handle it without burning your fingers. (Do not turn the oven off unless you plan to wait a while to finish the dish).

Meanwhile:

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the ground lamb, breaking it up as you go. Stir in half the fresh herbs. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked lamb from the skillet and set aside.

To the juices in the skillet, add 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter and allow it to melt. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic, stir well and reduce heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms are cooked. Stir the cooked lamb into the mushrooms and remove from heat.

Mix ricotta, eggs and half the parmesan. Slice the mozarella on the diagonal into pieces about a third of an inch thick.

In a small pan over medium heat, melt the remaining stick of butter and whisk in the flour to make a smooth roux. Gradually add the stock, whisking all the while, and the rest of the herbs. Simmer until it is thickened (This is a sauce velouté, the non-dairy version of a bechamel), remove from heat.

When the pumpkin is cool enough to work with, use a paring knife to cut around the stem and blossom ends, then grasp the peel and pull it off; it should come away easily. Slice the pumpkin radially into half-inch-thick crescents.

Assembly:

Brush a little olive oil in the bottom of a 9x13x2-inch baking dish, and layer as follows:

  • The ricotta mixture
  • Layer of noodles
  • The pumpkin pieces, arranged to cover the noodles
  • Half of the sauce velouté
  • Layer of noodles
  • The lamb and mushroom mixture
  • The ovals of mozarella, distributed evenly over the lamb.
  • Layer of noodles
  • Spoon the rest of the sauce velouté over the final layer of noodles and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Cover with oiled foil.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking for 25 minutes, or until top is nicely puffed and browned. Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes to firm up before serving.

Like all lasagnas, this one can be assembled a day in advance and then refrigerated until time to bake.

Makes 8 servings.

*I’ll blog the pan-roasted mushrooms recipe in the next day or two, when I make it. It’s a little fiddly, but produces delicious results.

November 9, 2008 at 9:39 pm Leave a comment

Brussels sprouts even (my) mother could love

Roasted Brussels sprouts

Nutty roasted Brussels sprouts

I’ve been thinking about my mother, and how she evolved from a feed-four-kids-and-a-picky-husband cook to a downright adventurous – and highly skilled – one over the course of her life.

The signs were there early: She was still in her 20s when, as a young military wife, she hauled 5-year-old me and my 3-year-old brother off Itazuke Air Force base and the neighboring Japanese town, Fukuoka, to explore a world that must have been downright alien to a girl who was reared by her grandmother on a north Texas dirt farm in the Great Depression. But explore she did, every mom-and-pop restaurant she could find, leafing through her Japanese-English dictionary and pointing to to order interesting-looking dishes, even when she wasn’t sure what they contained. And anything she sampled, we clamored to sample, too.

Thus it was that before I started school, I was gobbling raw fish and pickled daikon and wasabi and hot pink ginger and savory noodle soups and just about anything else put in front of me – while at home we adhered to a comfortably predictable routine of meat loaf, mashed potatoes, southern fried chicken and frozen fish sticks on Fridays.

In those days (the mid 1950s), military commissaries stocked a limited range of fresh vegetables – carrots, green beans, occasional fresh peas or exotic cauliflower – and my mother treated them all pretty much the way her grandmother had: Boiling them to into submission, usually with a hunk of salt pork. Little wonder I was no great fan of vegetables, since they all turned out more or less the same, faded, mushy and tasting of nothing much beyond salt. Pretty much like canned vegetables, come to think of it.

At Thanksgiving, her repertoire expanded to include items not normally part of our menu, but demanded by the Better Homes & Gardens holiday sections, which substituted for the traditions mom had not grown up with. Among them, Brussels sprouts – cooked the same predictable way. She made them every year, and every year none of us – including her or my dad – did more than shove them around on the plate. Personally, I thought they were the grossest things I’d ever tasted, and didn’t understand why I should waste valuable capacity better spent on perfectly good turkey and yams and pecan pie.

And that’s pretty much how I felt about Brussels sprouts all my life. Until several years back, when the oven-roasted vegetables boom hit, and I came across a recipe for sprouts roasted with pine nuts. And went “hmmmm…”

It turns out that roasted Brussels sprouts have almost nothing in common with the watery, limp, bitter-fetal-cabbage sprouts of my childhood. They’re nutty, toasty, sweet and crisp around the edges, and (to my tastes) absolutely delicious.

Now, I’m not the kind of cook who, faced with a dinner guest’s food aversion, says “Oh, but if you just try my take on (whatever-it-is), I know you’ll love them. Here, have just one bite…” I think that’s rude. But I can tell you this: I’ve put these sprouts on the table in front of some real sprout-haters – including my beloved – and some of them have not only tasted the dish of their own free will, but later confessed having bought Brussels sprouts to roast for themselves.

I suspect everyone reading this knows about oven-roasted vegetables. But a sprout aversion has kept you from trying this one, give it a second thought. If worst comes to worst, what the heck: It’s just one more dish of uneaten Brussels sprouts, which is kind of a holiday tradition of its own.

Nutty Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients:

  • Fresh Brussels sprouts (if you can find a local source, buy them on the stalk; they stay fresher that way) at least 6-8 per person
  • Pine nuts (or coarsely chopped pecans, filberts or blanched almonds)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt

Method

Preheat oven to 350F. Rinse the sprouts well, pull off any wilted or bruised outer leaves. Cut small ones in half, larger ones in quarters. Place in a bowl with chopped nuts (about a tablespoon per serving. Drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss to coat. Spread out on a baking sheet, sprinkle very lightly with sea salt and roast for 20-25 minutes; midway through the roasting, turn sprouts over. They’re done when they’re tender but not limp, with caramelized bits on the cut surfaces.

I usually serve them right away, hot, but if you’re making a big Thanksgiving dinner you can set the roasted sprouts aside, get on with the turkey, etc., and return them to the oven for perhaps five minutes while you carve the bird.

November 6, 2008 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

Confession: I hate pumpkin pie

Roasted pumpkin

Roasted pumpkin

I know, it’s almost un-American. And a little illogical, since I’m a huge fan of pies in general, pumpkin and other winter squashes, and the usual pumpkin pie spices – cinnamon, nutmug, cloves, ginger.

But so many of the pumpkin pies I’ve encountered – and even made – have turned out heavy and wet and so sweet as to disguise the subtle flavors of the squash. Not very appetizing, frankly.

I blame canned pumpkin, in part. It always seems so high in water content, no wonder the pie filling so often winds up turning even a perfectly good pie crust into sodden mush. Using whole pumpkin helps, as long as you get a variety that’s bred for eating, not carving, cook it simply and blend it to a puree. But pumpkin pie still isn’t high on my list of favorite desserts.

Still: Pumpkin, spices – nothing to dislike there. So every year when pumpkin season rolls around, I experiment with other ways of combining them in not-pie form. I’ve made pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin custard, pumpkin fudge and cute little puff pastry turnovers folded around diced cooked pumpkin and drizzled with caramel sauce. All tasty.

This year it’s ice cream. I have a second-hand Donvier ice-cream maker, the sort with the metal cylinder you keep in the freezer and then pop into its plastic housing whenever the urge for ice cream strikes. It’s very handy, and way less fuss than traditional churn-till-your-arm-falls-off freezers.

As usual, I looked at a bunch of recipes, borrowed a bit from this and a bit from that, and came up with what a rich, flavorful ice cream that has all the good qualities of pumpkin pie, and none of the objectionable ones. I chose an eggless ice cream base, because it makes a slightly softer ice cream that doesn’t fight back when you’re trying to scoop it, doubled the spices other recipes called for and reduced the sugar, because I wanted the pumpkin to shine through. And to give it added texture interest, added nuggets of pralined pecan for a little sweet, nutty crunch – and turned the pumpkin seeds into a spicy garnish. The resulting ice cream is rich and spicy, not too sweet and very pumpkin-y, and would make a great Thanksgiving dessert. Even alongside pumpkin pie.

Spicy pumpkin ice cream

Ingredients

  • 1 small pie pumpkin
  • Light-flavored oil (I used peanut oil)
  • 6 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice (optional)
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1 Tbsp bourbon (or good vanilla)
  • 2 cups heavy cream

For praline

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 cup pecan pieces

Method

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare the pumpkin by removing the stem and quartering the squash. Use a big spoon or ice cream scoop to remove the seeds and fibrous material; set aside. Lightly oil the cut surfaces, place on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes or until flesh is very soft and edges have begun to brown, turning the pieces once during cooking.

While the pumpkin is cooking, make the praline:

In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar and 2 Tbsp water. Stir to blend and bring to a boil. Without stirring, continue cooking over medium-high heat until the sugar melts and turns dark golden-brown, about 5-7 minutes. Watch carefully at the end, and when done, remove from heat. Add pecans, stir to coat and turn out onto a piece of buttered foil or a silicon banking sheet. Let cool completely, then peel off the foil/baking sheet and break into nuggets . A rubber mallet or the handle of a heavy tableknife is useful for this task. Set aside.

When pumpkin is very tender, remove from oven, allow to cool, and remove the peel (it should come off the flesh easily; if not, use a spoon to scrape all the good pumpkin from the skin. Allow pumpkin to finish cooling to room temperature.

Using a wand blender or food processor, puree pumpkin flesh until smooth. Add the sugars, spices and bourbon, and stir well to blend. Whisk in the cream and pour the mixture into your ice cream maker. Chill according to manufacturer’s recommendations.*

When the ice cream is almost firm, stir in the praline pieces. Spoon the finished dessert out of the ice cream maker and into a lidded freezer container; return to freezer overnight to allow it to “cure.”

Pumpkin ice cream

Spicy pumpkin ice cream

Serve with a garnish of spiced pumpkin seeds (see below). Makes about 1 quart.

* If you don’t have an ice cream maker, it’s possible to make ice cream in a steel mixing bowl or even a baking pan: Just pour the mixture into the metal container, put it in the freezer and every 15 minutes or so take it out and use a rubber spatula to scrape the frozen bits from the side and bottom into the center of the mixture to break up the ice crystals. Continue this procedure until thoroughly frozen. The texture won’t be as smooth, but it’ll still taste good.

Spiced pumpkin seeds

Ingredients

  • Pumpkin seeds (however many your pumpkin holds
  • Oil
  • A couple of teaspoons of sugar
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger (any or all of these)

I never throw pumpkin seeds away. Cleaned and toasted, they make tasty snacks and garnishes. The only difficult part is cleaning them completely of the fibrous material that they grow in. I dump them into my big colander, set it in a bowl of water and go them with both hands, squeezing the seeds from the stringy stuff and tossing it into the garbage disposal as I go. Once you get most of the orange stuff out, you can rub the rest out through a coarse strainer. Lay the seeds out on a dish towel, pat dry with another.

Preheat oven to 250F. Toss the seeds with a small amount of oil to coat, then toss with sugar and spices. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the seeds are crisp, dry and golden brown. Cool, then store in an air-tight container until ready for use.

October 27, 2008 at 9:42 pm Leave a comment

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