Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Short & Sweet Note on What to Bring for Thanksgiving Dessert

Isn’t it interesting that on Thanksgiving, when there’s a 16 to 20 pound bird to carve, savory sides to die for, not to mention gravy n’ stuffing passed down among generations that there could still be so much anticipation over who is bringing the dessert?

That’s why I’ve decided to make this post, the figurative “cherry on top” of a whole series of Thanksgiving related pieces I’ve done since November started. I thought about featuring a classic (and very special!) pumpkin pie I have on file—and you can e-mail me for it if you really want it—but overall, when I let the spirit of the season wash over me, I just couldn’t stop thinking about pecans, and the gooey, crunchy blended flavors of corn syrup and rum, which make party guests melt into the holidays (Note: don’t have any Captain Morgan? Bourbon makes a great substitute here, too!). When you make my Southern Pecan Pie, someone—you mark my words—a dinner guest is going to ask you over a pie wedge and some really good coffee if you wouldn’t mind sharing the recipe. Well, guess what? I grant you permission to pass this one out!

While Southerners swear no holiday is complete without a pecan pie, Americans nationwide are arguing the same thing about apple, so get ready to jot down my Deep Dish Apple Pie recipe, which is decadent fork-loaded testimony to the fact that, yes, ingredients do matter; make sure your Thanksgiving dessert is made with real butter and unrefined sugars and flour—no margarine, eggbeaters or refined sugar allowed this time!

It may interest readers to note that pecan and apple pies officially rank as favorite Thanksgiving desserts, and I use the word “officially” because Southern Living says so, putting them at #1 and #2 on the list. I did some more research, wondering just what it is about pie that makes it the dominant dessert choice on Thanksgiving Day. I went to the American Pie Council and wondered if it might lead to lining my windowsills with various cooling pies; it’s hard to believe there are as many as 20 different kinds of pie Americans enjoy on the day-to-day. Around the American Revolution, we coined the phrase CRUST, though it had been called something entirely different when the Egyptians introduced pies around 9500 B.C.

I don’t know about then, but I do know about now—there’s going to be an awful lot of pies out there that probably rival what the Pie Council is baking up for National Pie Day on January 23. Let me know what you serve next week, if you don’t mind. Leave me a comment—and if you have it in your head, you don’t want pie (gasp!), please let me know, and I’ll send you a guiltless recipe: pumpkin cheesecake made of tofu. Just promise to keep tofu out of your turkey recipe!

Happy dining, my friends!

Southern Pecan Pie

Servings: 6
Preparation Time: 45 minutes plus baking

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, chilled and cut into pieces (1 stick)
1 to 2 tablespoons ice water

¼ cup butter, room temperature (1/2 stick)
½ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

Place the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add ½ cup chilled butter pieces. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. With the blade running, pour 1 tablespoon of ice water through the feed tube. Repeat until the mixture comes together around the blade.

Transfer the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Gently form into a round disk. Wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out a pastry disk to about 1/8-inch thickness. Place the pastry into the bottom of a deep pie dish. Crimp the edges to form a decorative crust.

Pierce the bottom of the crust with the tines of a fork. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 375 degrees.

Use an electric mixer to combine ¼ cup room temperature butter with the granulated sugar until smooth and fluffy. Stir in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the rum and corn syrup.

Place the pecan halves in the bottom of the pie shell. Pour the filling over the top. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the filling comes out clean and the pastry is golden.

Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Deep Dish Apple Pie

Serves 8
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus baking

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ½ sticks butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk (save the egg white)
4 teaspoons ice water

1 (5 pound) bag granny smith apples
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of a food processor.

Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles course crumbs.

Add the egg yolk and pulse.

Add the chilled water 1 tablespoon at a time through the feed tube until the dough begins to clump together.

Remove the dough and divide into halves. Form each half into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate.

Peel and thinly slice the apples.

Sprinkle the apple slices with 1 tablespoon flour, 1/3 cup sugar and cinnamon. Toss.

Roll out one disk of pastry into a round about 1/8 inch thick. Place into a pie pan.

Mound the pastry with sliced apples.

Roll the second pastry disk into a round. Cover the apples, form a decorative crust and slit the top crust so that the steam will escape.
Brush the top of the pie with the egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water. Sprinkle with extra sugar. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling begins to bubble.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Potato, Potaaato…at Thanksgiving you can’t call the whole thing off!

3 Potato Based Recipes that Show There’s Hope Beyond Mashed Potatoes…

Come that last Thursday in November, there seem to be a million different side dishes designed to accent the bird; so how come so many folks serve the same sides year after year: mashed potatoes, cranberries, rolls?? I can get on board with it, sure. These side dishes are good—even great—but if you feel daunted on the dawn of Thanksgiving, armed with your potato peeler, mounds of spuds and no plans for them beyond mashed potatoes, it’s time to mix things up without using your Cuisinart. When I perused my file box, I found 3 different recipes featuring potatoes with elegant and festive ways to serve them, worthy of this November 25th, 2010.

But, first a little Potato 101
Potatoes are best at the local farmers market; I got a friend from California to loan me her photo of potatoes in every size, shape and color, including blue potatoes, easy to spot in the bag. Depending on the kind of tater it is, it responds best to either boiling, roasting baking or all of the above.

Yellow potatoes or Yukon Gold are considered "all purpose"—use them to cook easy recipes like mashed or baked potatoes.
Red potatoes are perfect when steamed, boiled, roasted or scalloped. Tip: Coarse salt rubbed onto the outside of red potatoes makes for a crispy skin.
Russets are high in starch—ideal for mashed potatoes and baking.
The white potato is low in starch, better for boiling and terrific in potato salad.
Fingerlings are also low in starch and MADE for roasting
Blue (or purple) potatoes contain medium starch, and taste a lot like a Russet; the basic difference being, they tend to cook a bit faster.

An Elegant Potato Dish Reminiscent of Latkes

Traditional latkes are usually served during Hanukkah as a side dish, so I thought why not roll out my version of Silver Dollar Potato Pancakes with Smoked Salmon for Thanksgiving? A cross between potato latkes and bite-size crab cakes, these savory bites look just beautiful in that silver chafing dish you’ve polished just for this occasion. You can serve them warm or at room temperature. You can even kick up this recipe by substituting shredded sweet potatoes for half of the potato mixture; then top it with grilled shrimp or seared scallops. Everyone will think you’re fancy…

I love this potato dish because it’s so pure—you can write down the ingredients on the back of a place card…

It’s not haiku…it’s a Thanksgiving Side Dish
12 to 18 small red potatoes
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons course salt
1 bunch fresh rosemary
Sour cream
Fresh chives

The taters in my Baby Rosemary Baked Potatoes should be about 3-inches in diameter; it’s fun to gather these guys because they should all be roughly the same size—not hard to do when you’re shopping red. Garnish with butter, a dollop of sour cream and fresh chopped chives…and viola…you’ll catch someone licking the serving spoon when it’s time to wash the empty casserole dish!

Baked Potatoes with Mushrooms and Fontina Cheese
The glory of this Thanksgiving side dish is that it can be prepared the day before, then quickly heated just before serving. There are many types of potatoes and all of them will work well in this recipe. But, the overall favorite potato for baking is the russet because it’s starchy and will have less moisture when cooked than other varieties. This side is a winner, and also features button mushrooms—something I blogged about a couple weeks ago and have been drooling over ever since. The cheese in this recipe makes everyone feel like they’re being honored, decadent and born to savor at the same time.

Make any of these three for the ones you love, and stay tuned for more holiday pointers!

Baked Potatoes with Mushrooms and Fontina Cheese

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus roasting and baking

4 large baking potatoes

½ cup butter (1 stick)
2 pounds button mushrooms, sliced (about 4 cups)
4 green onions, thinly sliced (about ¼ cup)
½ (8-ounce) package cream cheese
½ cup sour cream
1 ½ cups Fontina cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons fresh garlic chives, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Scrub the potatoes and pierce each on with the tines of a fork. Place onto the rack in the oven and cook until soft, about 45 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms. Cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the green onion. Cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Remove the cooked potatoes from the oven. Cut the hot potatoes in half. Scoop out the potato leaving ¼ inch shell.

Place the potato in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in the cream cheese, sour cream and the remaining 6 tablespoons butter. Season with salt and pepper.

Mix in the mushrooms and ¾ cup cheese. Fill the potato jackets with the potato and mushroom mixture and place onto a baking sheet.

Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and fresh garlic chives. Bake until the cheese melts about 30 minutes.

Silver Dollar Potato Pancakes with Smoked Salmon

Yield about 2 dozen
Preparation Time: 45 minutes

6 large baking potatoes, peeled and shredded (about 6 cups)
1 medium white onion, diced (about 2/3 cup)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Olive oil for frying

½ cup sour cream
8 ounces smoked salmon, thinly sliced
Chopped fresh dill

Place the shredded potatoes and diced onion into a bowl. Add the flour and stir. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in the egg and parsley. Form mixture into 2-inch (1/2-inch thick) rounds.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Cook the potato pancakes (in batches) until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and cook until the other side is golden, about 3 minutes more. Use additional olive oil as needed. Transfer the pancakes to paper towels to drain.

Top each potato pancake with a slather of sour cream and a generous slice of smoked salmon. Garnish with chopped fresh dill.

Baby Rosemary Baked Potatoes

Servings: 12
Preparation Time: 10 minutes plus baking

12 to 18 small red potatoes, about 3-inches in diameter

¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons course salt
1 bunch fresh rosemary

Sour cream
Fresh chives

Heat the oven to 375 degrees

Rub each potato with olive oil and sprinkle generously with coarse salt.

Place the potatoes into a large, shallow baking dish.

Place rosemary springs on top of and around the potatoes.

Roast until just soft, about 30 minutes. Remove rosemary sprigs before serving.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Swiss Chard is the cold weather crop of the season—enjoy it at as no-hassle dish before Thanksgiving’s got you running in high gear

Who doesn’t love veggies, too pretty (well…almost!) to eat? That’s Swiss chard for you—with its big leafy greens and ruby red stems, it looks right at home in a decorative copper pot—but that would be a crime! Thanks to Vitamins C, E & K, Swiss chard promotes lung health and is, perhaps, the best tasting member of the cruciferous veggie family—at least IMHO!

Some people call it Swiss, just to differentiate it from the French spinach; its other varieties are Rhubarb chard (green leaves, red stalks), Ruby chard (both red leaves and stalks) and Rainbow chard, which features a bouquet of all the varieties in stems of yellow, orange, pink and red. I know, I know…isn’t this so pretty, just to talk about, let alone eat??!

Swiss chard makes your cooking POP! (Effort not included)
For this chef, all varieties of chard, once they’re cooked, taste remarkably similar. Other foodies recommend using every part of the chard—stems and all—in your cooking. First, you’ll want to soak the big chard leaves in a sink full of water to get the dirt off, pat them dry with a kitchen towel, and gently separate the leaves from the stems. Blanch the leaves in a pot of salted boiling water for just 2 minutes before you sautee them. Set the stems aside, and chop them into 1-inch pieces; these should be sauteed before the leaves because they take a little longer to cook. I’ve found that chard is a beautiful and simple side dish for fish or pork (famous chefs advise not to “mess the chard too much—just use a little shallot, garlic, splash of white wine and whisper of butter…”)

Why it’s the Reason for the Season
This early November, Swiss Chard is extra large and billowy, so I’ve decided to declare it my cold weather crop of the season—in other words something fun to mess with right before Thanksgiving! Since chard is resilient to frost and available all year round—looking particularly hearty in produce aisles right now—I’m encouraging my fellow foodies to notice it, and purchase it, along with other winter root veggies lookin’ gorgeous right now—think ruby red beets.

But you know me—while I applaud the simplicity of Swiss chard, I also refuse to leave my foodie fans without a more elaborate way to enjoy this veggie of the month. My PEPPERED PORK PINWHEELS Stuffed with Swiss Chard, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella features 2 pounds worth of fibrous, vitamin and calcium loaded chard, and has been a Morgan family favorite for a long time. The filling is moist, full of goodness, and the pinwheels are GORGEOUS on the plate. Serve this dish with smashed potatoes and get used to the wonderful, albeit broken record sound of your kids asking for it again and again.

My other dish, in which you could say Swiss chard definitely “plays a roll” is my BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND SWISH CHARD ROLL-UPS with Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Sauce; everyone’s going to love coming to the table for this one, since it is, essentially, lasagna with butternut squash, a half pound of swiss chard and an open invitation to use b├ęchamel (translation: creamy, buttery white) sauce if you’re feeling decadent.

With New Year’s resolutions still a couple of months away, I say why not? Besides, in these dishes, with the beauty, simplicity and nutritive powers of Swiss chard to balance things out—you’ve got the perfect excuse to get cooking!

Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard Roll-ups with Sundried Tomato Basil Sauce

Makes 4 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
6 medium plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise (about 1 pound)
1 cup minced oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup homemade chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the lasagna:
8 lasagna noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch squares (about 2 cups)
1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup homemade chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
1/2 pound Swiss chard, washed, dried, stems removed, leaves torn (about 2 cups)
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
½ cup reduced fat ricotta cheese
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
1 large egg, beaten

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, wine and 1 cup chicken broth and reduce the heat. Simmer the sauce for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper. Use a hand held blender (or food processor) to emulsify the sauce. Keep warm.

Cook the noodles in salted, boiling water until just al dente. Drain and place on a baking sheet that has been coated with vegetable oil spray.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat. Add the squash and onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in ¼ cup chicken broth and Swiss chard . Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the chard is wilted and the squash is soft, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly. Stir in the Gruyere cheese, ricotta, 1/3 cup Parmesan and egg.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour 1 ladle of the sauce into a baking dish. Lay out 1 lasagna noodle on your work surface. Spread 2 tablespoons of the filling over top. Roll up the noodle and place, seam side down into the baking dish. Repeat with all of the noodles and all of the filling. Spoon the remaining sauce over the top. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Bake the roll-ups until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbling.

Peppered Pork Pinwheels stuffed with Swiss Chard, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Makes 6 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 35 to 45 minutes

For the filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
2 pounds Swiss chard, washed, dried, stems removed, leaves torn (about 8 cups)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ounces reduced fat, grated Mozzarella cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup minced oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained

For the pork:
2 (12 to 14-ounce) pork tenderloins, tri-flied
2 tablespoons Dijon style mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil

Place one tenderloin onto a cutting board with the thick end facing away from you. Place your free hand on top to steady. Starting at the thick end and working horizontally, use a sharp knife to cut a slit about ¾ of the way through the bottom third of the meat, from right to left. Do not cut all the way through, leave attached. Open the tenderloin. Cut a slit from the center of the meat, from right to left again, ¾ of the way through toward the thick half. Do not cut all the way through. Open up the flap. You will have 1 large piece of meat. Repeat with the second tenderloin. Invert the second tenderloin, so that the thin end is placed next to the thick end, and overlaps slightly. Cover with plastic wrap. Use a meat mallet to pound the meat to an even thickness of about 1/2-inch. The two overlapping tri-flied tenderloins will yield a rectangular piece of meat about 10-inches by 12-inches. Place the cutting board, with the tenderloin covered with plastic, into the refrigerator to chill for at least 15 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add half of the Swiss chard. Cook until wilted, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the remaining Swiss chard and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature.

Remove the tenderloin from the refrigerator. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the meat. Cover with the Swiss chard mixture. Top with sun dried-tomatoes. Carefully roll up the tenderloin around the filling. Secure with toothpicks.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush with mustard, and coat generously with pepper. Place 1 more tablespoon olive oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Brown the pork tenderloin roll, beginning seam side down, on all sides until golden, about 5 minutes total. Place the pork roll into a baking dish. Bake until the meat is still moist and the juices are clear, about 35 to 45 minutes.

To serve, remove the toothpicks from the roll. Cut into 1 ½-inch slices.
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