Tuesday, November 30, 2010

South Indian Local Spice

  Everyone on the bus is staring at me. I always managed to be the local attraction, despite the sari.

In preparation for my semester abroad in Madurai, India, I was given a crash course on customs and cultural differences; I learned to conduct myself as a respectable Indian girl. Upon arrival, my host family dressed me for the part—they wrapped me in vibrant saris with perfect pleats, sparkly stickers called bindis were placed on my forehead, and paisley swirls of henna decorated my body. My wanderings throughout the cavernous carved stone stalls of the Meenakshi Temple taught me how to barter and order sweet milky tea. I mastered the customary southern Indian head wobble, the respectful bow over hands pressed in prayer and only passed items with my right hand.

I stood out like a drag queen in church, and yet I felt my attempts to blend in with the locals were fairly successful—until I ate. With the first bite of my host mom’s cooking I was gripped by an intense panic that the inferno blazing inside my mouth was going to cause my head to spontaneously combust. My taste buds were under attack, my eyes burst from their sockets, a deluge of sweat washed over me.  The ability to pass chilies, so intense, from lips to stomach, would require months of pre-game training.

Riding a fresh wave of sweat, the bindi slid down my nose.

Stopping in mid-bite, jaws gaping; four dark brown faces stared at me with expressions of confusion and deep concern. Apparently, "turning pink and crying" while I ate was blowing my cover.

This post was entered into the Grantourismo - HomeAwayUK Travel Writing Competition for November on the topic, "Living Like Locals". We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

November Project: Thanksgiving Dinner

Mmmm, looks good. What's for dinner?

The Bourgaroni's fourth annual Thanksgiving Extravaganza

Herb Butter Roasted Turkey
Turkey Gravy
Port Cranberry Sauce
Marcus' Herbed Mashed Potatoes
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Annika's Sweet Potato Casserole
Jiff's Traditional Green Bean Casserole
Martin's Steamed Brussel Sprouts
Kai's Corn Bread (by Susanne)
Lowri's Celeriac and Potato Gratin

Pumpkin Pie
Earl Grey-scented Flan
Pecan Pie
Chocolate Pecan Pie

Whipped Cream
Vanilla Ice Cream

Whoa. That's a lot of food. But was it enough for 40 people? 

Ask Haiko - that's not a peace sign - it's a "second plate" sign. 

Enough food for seconds.. for 40? How'd you pull that off?

We put our army of kitchen bitches to work!

A table overflowing with old classics, first attempts, new favorites. A traditional American Thanksgiving prepared by one American, one half-American, five Brits, a Swede and numerous Germans. Guests who were well-versed in the tradition of dankbarzeit, or "thankful time", a new German word created for the occasion that translates as "Jiff's totally annoying insistence on a group of people, some of whom do not know each other at all, publicly embarrassing themselves by stating one thing, sometimes extremely personal, sometimes humorously removed, that they are thankful for", knew what to expect. For the novices, we put together a short film (imovie is soooooo awesome) with examples of things that one could be thankful for - if only I could figure out how to post it here.

In addition to being thankful for not burning the entire building down despite have three ovens going simultaneously all day long, I am particularly thankful for this community of people who gathered with us to celebrate one of my favorite American traditions. Thank you everyone! Same time, same place next year! Danke Schön!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November Project: Saibling meets Reisling

Click for larger
First off, HAPPY THANKSGIVING dear smashandsniff readers! I realize that all of you in the States as well as many of you expats are celebrating today and I wish you warm blankets, lots of tag football and Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade action to go with your turkey-stuffing-gravy-mashed-potato comas. I will be eating schnitzel tonight but FEAR NOT: I have 40 people coming over for Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday night. Yes, I said 40. And I will tell you all about it next week. But until then...

On Friday night, Susanne and I went to our local neighborhood wine shop, Weingut Wein, for a fabulous home cooked meal - with 15 other people. Jochen, our local wine expert, pairs the wines with his wife Inka's fine cooking and once a month or so they offer dinners in their wine shop, each course paired with one of Jochen's personally selected wines. This time the theme was Saibling (a fish that is a close cousin of salmon - my German-English dictionary is offering "char","fingerling" and "samlet" as translations - help!) meets Riesling. The saibling is raised in the "altes Land" here across the Elbe river in Hamburg by an older couple who harvest them from a chalk pond. It is a very particular way of raising the fish and as the couple will soon retire and has not yet found anyone willing to take over their chalk farm, it may soon be extinct, at least here. So Inka prepared an amazing four course meal with the Hamburg saibling and Jochen found the perfect riesling pairings.

A hot smoked trout ("forelle") with roasted potatoes and herb apple remoulade.

Inka prepares the plates while Jochen explains a bit more about the saibling harvest and the wines he has chosen to accompany them. I was so absorbed in food and conversation that I forgot to snap a photo of the second course, the cold smoked saibling with orange lentil salad. The fish looked and tasted like smoked salmon but lighter. And while I am not usually a lentil fan, these lentils were a perfect foil for the fish, slightly acidic and sweet.

The cassoulet of hot smoked saibling was similar to a minestrone, lighter than a cassoulet. The smoked fish with the vegetables was fantastic.

And the cold smoked wild salmon (the only fish originating outside of the region) with a dill mustard sauce paired with a very minerally riesling - "mineralisch" in German - it's one of those words that just works so well that I anglicize it, like, "paired with a very mineralish riesling" - and then, oh, wait.... mineralish... is that a... did I just make that up? Whatever, you know what I mean. The longer I live here, the more "Denglish" I speak. Na ja. 

The wine crate-stocked shelves served as the perfect and effortless (it is a wine shop after all) decoration as we sat with strangers at tables of four or eight. A couple looking for a romantic evening alone might not appreciate sitting at a communal table. But Susanne and I had a fabulous time with our tablemates - a lovely older couple who drank us under the table. 

Thanks Jochen and Inka for a lovely and delicious evening!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November Project: December Project

The season opener. First day of the Weihnachtmarkt season and of course I arrived early and stayed late, kids in tow. Whether they liked it or not. At first, they needed a bit of cajoling. Because it was cold. Like, suddenly really cold. But I had just the thing to get them in the spirit:

My favorite Gypsy Santa band. The same one every year. At the same stand. These guys kill it on a clarinet, an accordion and a tamborine. They draw the hard-core Weihnachtsmarkts enthusiasts like myself. But my kids weren't feeling it.

Amalia was mentally singing along to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". Henry on the other hand, shot me a look every three seconds that said, "Get me the f*ck out of here!" Every time the clarinet player took a step in his direction, winked, nodded or just blew, Henry twisted around and grabbed for me in utter desperation.

I realized that I was striking out here and it was essential that they have a good time if I wanted to get my glüwein on this season. There was only one thing to do:

They were toooootallly psyched about the carousel. And more than happy to oblige when a TV news crew showed up and asked if they would go around a few more times for a film shoot. What!?!? I have to drive the SUPER COOL TOTALLY AWESOME FIRE ENGINE WITH BRASS BELLS THAT I LOVE TO RING NON-STOP AGAIN!?!?! Awwwww Mom! Do I have to!?!??!

And just when they thought it couldn't get any better, the Tirolean bratwurst stand. Total contentment. If my plan is working, two budding Weihnachtsmarkts fans are in the making!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

As Local As I'll Never Be

I spent two years living with a family in a hut made of cow dung in Mauritania, West Africa. I learned to speak the village language, Soninké, enough discuss the Koran with my host “father”, shoot the shit with my teenage brother Moussa about American pop culture and talk to my moms about female circumcision. I worked in the millet fields, pulled water from the well and slept outside with my sisters.

The Peace Corps, in essence, is the ultimate exchange program. It’s an opportunity to live more local than you ever thought possible in the developing world, basically being adopted into a family.

One afternoon during the daily tea break, I made fun of Moussa with the requisite insult, “You eat beans!” Everyone laughed. “Ah, Laliya (my local name),” said my mom, Khujedji, “You really are one of us.”

“No she’s not," Moussa shot back. “If anything happens to her, they’ll fly her out of here and she’ll leave us behind.” Khujedji shushed him. But he was right. I had an out.

For me, this was novel; for them, it was real life. I might have lived in the same mud hut, but I would be evacuated if I became severely ill; I’d be flown to shelter in the event of civil unrest and I would never be dependent on a millet crop for my survival.

While I gained a better understanding of daily life than otherwise possible, I would never know what it’s really like to be local.

This post was entered into the Grantourismo - HomeAwayUK Travel Writing Competition for November on the topic, "Living Like Locals". We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

November Project: Bammy's Turkey Gravy

Thanksgiving 1974: Aunt Nancy, Bammy, and my beautiful Mother.
It has recently been brought to my attention that gravy can be bought in a can. Yes, in a CAN! And people buy those cans and serve gravy from them to people they don’t hate! Ok, I realize that I am sort of naïve about these things and rather than allow the reality of America’s laziness and loss of tradition seep into my consciousness, I happily believe that everyone takes the time to make proper gravy. And by proper gravy I mean the kind that is rich with layers of flavor and silky with the sweat and worry that goes along with making The Gravy.

Gravy is a major stressor. I cannot think of a more important condiment. If you are out of mustard, the sandwich is not ruined; salty crisp chips can be enjoyed without salsa. But Thanksgiving dinner without a thick deeply flavored slathering of gravy? Well, let’s be honest, it is a total failure. A savory gravy can save the driest, most desiccated turkey. I can understand not wanting to have that sort of responsibility, especially when most people will be lazing about with mimosas or enjoying a brisk game of touch football, oblivious to the culinary feats taking place in the kitchen. But consider the alternative: your friend offers to make it and brings over her “famous” fat-free, dairy-free, salt-free gravy (!!!) or worse Aunt Judy shows up with CANS of gravy!

It could happen, but don’t let it.

My grandma, Bammy, is a bit of a gravy nazi and won’t let anyone even think about making the gravy. Along with the mashed potatoes, gravy is her domain. Last Thanksgiving I followed her around the kitchen and diligently recorded a very sacred tradition: The Gravy. So pick up the whisk and take matters into your own hands—be the hero.


2 quarts water
Turkey neck and giblets
1 white onion, chopped
4 celery stalks, leaves included, chopped
3 carrots, peeled, chopped
5 sprigs parsley
7 sprigs thyme
2-3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons chicken base (bouillon)
Pan rich with roasted turkey juices and bits
6-8 tablespoons flour, sifted
Kosher salt and pepper
A few drops of Kitchen Bouquet- This is a very old school ingredient, and can be omitted (however, Bammy would NOT approve). She mainly uses it for color.

1. For the stock, combine the first nine ingredients in a pot and let simmer for one hour, or more.
Pass stock through a fine strainer and reserve the liquid. Trim off all usable meat from the neck. If desired, with a paring knife trim the giblets well. Cut neck meat and giblets into bite-sized pieces and add to stock. Discard all other vegetables and herbs. Cover and put in refrigerator; this step can be done a day ahead. You can use this stock and lots of butter to baste the turkey.
2.To make the thickener, combine the flour and two cups of the chilled turkey broth in a jar. With the lid on tight, shake vigorously until it is smooth with no lumps. (The stock cannot be hot, or else it will be lumpy.)

4. To make the gravy, bring the turkey stock to a low simmer. When the turkey is done, remove it from the pan to rest and skim off most of the fat—but not the turkey juices! Place the roasting pan over a burner or two on the stovetop over medium heat.

5. To incorporate the caramelized turkey bits and flavorful juices into the gravy, pour the thickener into the pan and bring to a simmer. Scrape up the bits from the bottom with a rubber spatula.

6. While whisking, slowly add the stock to the pan. Whisk continuously until all is added—don’t leave the stove, it is very important that you keep whisking! Return to boil and it will thicken to deeply flavored, silky gravy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over everything on your plate!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

November Project: Saturation Point, Brief Respite

 A few years ago, I spent several weeks traveling in India on my own. After my very first parantha breakfast, my first thali dinner, I was smittenly blissed out. Why have I not been eating only Indian all my life!?!? I thought to myself. The cardamon-scented biryanis, the rich butter sauces, the ubiquitous lentils, the spicy pickles. And a thali was the perfect way to try a little of everything. I ate at street stands (having been thoroughly warned not to), local hole-in-the-walls, and more upscale Indian-for-tourist type restaurants. But something happened around day ten: I wanted a pizza. I wanted pasta. I wanted a cheeseburger. I wanted anything that did not have a trace of cardamon, garam masala or nutmeg and for God's sake, NO LENTILS. 

Yesterday, exactly 17 days in to the November Project, I hit my no lentil point. No more squash, in any of it's lovely variations. No stuffing, no gravy, no root vegetables, nothing gratin. I needed something so completely different, Gegenteil, 180 degrees, several thousand miles and many different languages away from foods that are associated with a cornecopia. And hence, this simple but delicious pad thai recipe, for a change of pace.

(Make no mistake, the November Project will continue apace tomorrow - still have to share the world's best stuffing recipe, port cranberry chutney and spicy harissa carrots with you. And Smash has got a few tricks up her sleeve as well.) 

Shrimp Pad Thai by Mtlabor, courtesy of (who else?) Food 52
Serves 2
  • 1-2 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces thick rice noodles
  • 2 eggs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • small handful honey roasted peanuts, chopped
  • small handful cilantro, chopped
In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, 2 tablespoons oil, and tamarind concentrate. Stir until sugar is dissolved and set aside. (Jiff's note: mmmm Tamarind! So fragrant!)

Soak the rice noodles in hot tap water for about 20 minutes, or until they start to soften but not fully tender. Drain and set aside. (Jiff's note: I thought these noodles were too think. I will look for thinner ones next time. Also, make sure they are thoroughly cooked; mine were a little too al dente, which works better with Italian pasta that Thai - in my opinion.)
Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt in a small bowl and set aside. (There's lots of things to set aside, aren't there? Makes it easier in the end because the cooking of this dish is fairly quick).
In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil under high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the shrimp start to turn pink with browned edges. Remove shrimp and set aside.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to skillet. Add garlic, shallot, and jalapeno. Cook over medium heat and stir continuously for about 1 minute. Add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until scrambled, about 30 seconds. Add the egg noodles and toss with tongs to combine. Pour the tamarind/fish sauce mixture over the noodles and increase the heat to high, continuing to toss the ingredients with the sauce.
Add 1/2 of the chopped peanuts and cooked shrimp. Toss noodles for about 2 more minutes. Dish out onto hot plates and top with remaining peanuts and garnish with cilantro. Enjoy! (But remember, it's back to (Thanksgiving) tomorrow!)


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November Project: Just Trust Me On This One

Image via Sarah Shatz, Food 52

So, by now you have noticed a pattern. I confess: I am a serial Food52 user. But the recipes, 99% generated by home cooks and food bloggers are so well written, straightforward and do not contain a mile long list of ingredients. As I have already said, Smash is the trained chef. I am a food enthusiast and very amateur-at-best cook. I have never said I am a very good cook - but I love to do it. I love to create something that makes the entire house smell like home, that makes my guests swoon and that is simply enjoyed and then gone. A sort of Buddhist-like ritual. And Food 52, under the direction of the inspirational Amanda Hesser and Merril Stubbs, is powered by people who share this philosophy.

This Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic Galette is something I have earmarked, "make this after The Kitchen dinner and before Thanksgiving". And last night I did. And it was diiiiiivvvviiiine. Make this for Thanksgiving. Make this for lunch. Make this for company. Make this for yourself. It is simple in practice, complex in flavor and impressive on the table. It took me a bit longer to do because I had two cranky kids under foot but otherwise, it was piece of cake. Or, ahem, galette.

Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic Galette by lorinarlock
Serves 4 to 6
  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup semolina flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 10 cloves, garlic whole and unpeeled
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta
  • 1 cup grated fontina
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
To make the dough: Put the flour, semolina, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse to form a mixture that looks like small peas. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough sticks together (to test, remove the top and gather the dough in your fingers. If it sticks together without crumbling, it’s ready). Add the ice water while pulsing, until the dough comes together, being careful not to over mix. Transfer to a lightly floured board and shape the dough into a disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. 

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
To make the filling: Cut the squash into two pieces to separate the rounder part from the narrower section. Peel the entire squash, cut both parts in half and remove any seeds. Cut all four pieces into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Put in a large bowl and add the olive oil, chopped garlic and thyme. Toss to coat evenly. Spread out on one of the prepared baking sheets. Set the bowl aside. Sprinkle the squash with the salt and pepper. Put the garlic on the baking sheet and bake until the squash and garlic are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out the dough into a large circle about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to parchment paper–lined baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to use. 

When the garlic is cool enough to handle, peel and put in the reserved bowl. Mash with the back of a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in the ricotta. (Jiff's note: this roasted garlic is so sweet and fragrant without being pungent, it's dreamy.)
Remove the pastry from the fridge and spread the garlic-cheese mixture over the top, leaving a 1-inch border. Spread the squash over the garlic-cheese mixture and fold the edges toward the center of the galette. Sprinkle the fontina over the center of the galette. (Jiff's note: I think I used more than a cup of fontina; I operate under the "more cheese is always better" premise). Sprinkle the edges of the crust with the parmesan and bake until the crust is crisp and golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving.
Serve with a small side salad of some sort and a glass of Riesling and savor.

Monday, November 15, 2010

November Project: THE KITCHEN'S Thanksgiving-Inspired Autumnal Meal

Click image for larger
The Kitchen, pop-up kitchen, secret supper club, mobile guerrila restaurant of Hamburg struck again this weekend with their Autumnal Meal. 

The fall feast followed an American Thanksgiving-inspired theme, hence the deco included red table clothes and navy napkins with white stars, various varieties of pumpkins, overgrown cinnamon sticks and pomegranates. A fireplace was projected onto a white wall to give a warm glow and a cozy atmosphere in what is usually the back storage room of a lovely Swedish café. 

Preferring to incorporate the storage room feel into the decor rather than mask it, drink crates were stacked and used as podiums and serving tables and sekt bottles became an arty backdrop.

As usual, the chefs were too busy plating dishes to photograph them but a few quick snapshot were stolen. Above, the harissa carrots (recipe to follow) which were served in small ramicans on the side of the main course. This spicy Moroccan salad may have seemed like an odd pairing with the rich porcini gravy and earthy truffle mashed potatoes, but served on the side they offered a sharp palate cleansing finale to a rich meal and complimented the spicy chorizo in  our new absolutely hands-down favorite stuffing ever (recipe to follow). 

The dessert, a "crumbled apple pie a la mode" was a cross between a crumble and a pie. A pumpkin gnocchi starter meant that pumpkin pie was ruled out as a dessert choice; and pecan pie would have simply been too much after such a decadent meal. The sweet cinnamony apples were a perfect finish and the pumpkin seed oil over ice cream - you have to try. Nutty and light, tying everything together like a ribbon on a package.

The Kitchen wishes to thank ALEXANDRA and SABINE, above all, as well as the Larssons, Iris, Ingo, the Schmidts, Hakaka and everyone else who has assisted, fed, taste-tested, loaned, inspired, led, directed and just been there. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

November Project: Spiced Date Cake with Mulled Wine Mascarpone Cream

A cake made with dates and pecans is dangerously close to being a fruitcake. Honestly, I have never had fruitcake, but I am familiar with its legendary status as something you only give to people you hate or someone in need of extra bricks for their house. The dense brown cake, studded with bright green and red gelatinous gems is festive, but a hard sell on a buffet table. So, with the knowledge that you may turn up your nose at this unsexy sounding dessert - I present the absolutely delicious, Spiced Date Cake. It is moist and flavorful and redolent of the holidays: mulled wine, cloves, cinnamon, a hint of citrus, toasted nuts… Ok, so it’s a fruitcake.

The inspiration came from a walnut date cake my friend Sophia served with tea one afternoon. The cake was perfectly simple the way it was, but to me, it cried out to be messed with. I have added pumpkin, various spice mixes, other dried fruits, tinkered with the nut choice, etc. The inspiration for this version comes from Amanda Hesser’s Apician Spiced Dates in Cooking for Mr. Latte. I poached the dates before chopping them and adding them to the batter, then used the poaching liquid in the mascarpone cream. The result is a sophisticated and yummy dessert, perfect for the holidays. It’s not bad with breakfast either.
 **Added bonus: It is gluten free, so it will make your non pie eaters very happy!

Serves 9

2 cups red wine, a fruity, medium body wine works well
2 2" cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 cups dates
2 cups pecans
4 eggs
6 tablespoons muscovado sugar
1/4 cup rice flour
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
Pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and sugar an 8x8 pans or a 8” round.

2. Combine the first seven ingredients in a small pot. Bring to a simmer and gently poach the dates for about five minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the dates in the poaching liquid for about 20 minutes.

3. Toast the pecans in the oven, about 7- 10 minutes. After they have cooled, put them in a food processor and chop them until they are like sand, some larger pieces are ok, no need to pulverize them.

4. Remove the dates from the poaching liquid, taking care to leave all of the spices in the pot. Chop the dates very small.

5. Crack the eggs in to a bowl and beat them. Add dates, pecans, sugar, rice flour, baking soda, orange zest and pinch of salt and mix everything together.

6. Pour the batter into your pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. It will feel soft to the touch in the center, when it cools it will firm up.

7. Remove cake from the oven and let it cool before serving. Wrapped tightly in saran wrap and left on the counter, the cake will stay moist for 3 days.


Poaching liquid from Apician Date Cake Recipe
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup whipping cream
6 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
2 teaspoons powdered sugar
Pinch salt

1. Add honey to the poaching liquid, bring to a boil and reduce by half. Strain and allow to cool. Discard the spices.

2. Whip the cream until it has medium stiffness. Add mascarpone,1 ½ tablspoons poaching liquid, powdered sugar and salt. Whip for about 30 seconds- just long enough to incorporate all of the ingredients. Depending on the wine you used, you may want to adjust the sugar and poaching liquid. However, do not make it sweet. The mascarpone cream can be made 6 hours ahead. Prepare yourself for the comeback of fruitcake!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November Project: Polenta, Sausage, Apple Stuffing (gluten free)

I know I posted this same stuffing last year. But it is super rico and I am making it again this year, so I thought I would post it again. 

The stuffing that always tastes the best is the one that tastes like mom’s. I was never able to eat stuffing growing up because of a gluten intolerance. Then I hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner. Curious what all of the fuss was about, I decided to recreate my mom’s stuffing with polenta.

Carter protested loudly and insisted on making the Stouffer’s Stove Top Stuffing he grew up with. My brother, Brady, and sister-in-law, Christiana, came to visit for Thanksgiving that year. Brady had heard the rumor that I was getting “all fancy” with Mom’s stuffing and proclaimed that I was going, “TO RUIN Thanksgiving!” Needless to say, Carter’s box stuffing was not touched and not a crumb of the polenta stuffing was left. The crusty polenta squares are not just a substitution, but a welcome improvement on an already delicious dish! This stuffing is so good, even Grandpa won’t miss the bread!

Polenta, Sausage, Apple Stuffing

Serves 6 (as a side dish)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups homemade vegetable stock
1 cup dry polenta
½ cup parmesan cheese
1 cup celery, medium dice
1 cup white onion, medium dice
1 clove garlic, mince
¾ cup leek, medium dice
1 ¾ cup Granny Smith apple, medium dice
1 pound spicy Italian pork sausage, casing removed
2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh sage
1 healthy pinch of ground cinnamon

1. To make polenta: Bring vegetable stock to boil and season with salt. Slowly add the polenta and stir constantly for about 25 minutes. When the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, it is finished. Add the parmesan, stir until it is melted and fully incorporated. Taste and add salt if needed.

2. Grease a baking dish with butter and pour the polenta into the dish. Make sure the polenta is about an inch deep, and put into the fridge to cool for 2 hours. The polenta can be made and set a day ahead.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Once the polenta is firm, turn it out on to a cutting board and cut into 1” cubes. Grease a baking sheet with butter and transfer the polenta cubes to the baking sheet. Brush the polenta with melted butter and put in the oven until the polenta browns and begins to dry out, about 30 minutes. Check it half-way and flip polenta squares with a spatula to brown another side.

4. While the polenta is browning, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan. Add the sausage and break it up with a wooden spoon. The sausage bits should be the size of the polenta squares and smaller.

5. After some of the pork fat has begun to render, add the onion, celery, garlic and leeks. Stir occasionally. Season with salt.

6. When all of the sausage has cooked through, about 15 minutes, add the apples, thyme, sage and cinnamon and check the seasoning. Sauté for 5 more minutes; stir to incorporate all of the ingredients.

7. Combine the sausage mixture (along with all of the fat and juices from the pan) and the toasted polenta in a bowl. This can be done hours before serving.

8. Put stuffing inside of the turkey, or put the stuffing in a baking dish and put back into the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the sausage begins to brown.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November Project: Starter, Again

The final product: Gnocchi di Zucca e Amaretti con Sage Hazelnut Pesto.

Let's go back to the beginning.

Sage, Hazelnut, Ricotta Salata Pesto from melissav at Food 52
  • 1/4 cup sage, chopped
  • 4-5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup + 2 TB ricotta salata, crumbled or chopped until a medium fine crumble
  • salt
(1) Warm 3 TB olive oil, sage, and garlic in a small pan over very low heat just until the oil bubbles. Pour in a small bowl, reserving the garlic clove.

Side note: the above garlic clove is WAY too big. I would use about a quarter of it. My pesto was completely overpowered by the garlic. 

(2) Place the toasted hazelnuts in mini food processor along with the garlic clove and process until a fine crumble and add to the bowl (alternatively, you can do by hand or in a mortar and pestle).
(3) Add the cheese to the bowl along with 1-2 TB more olive oil and stir until combined and salt to taste. This is not a traditional pesto - more nutty than herby and not so much oil.
Another side note: ricotta salata is not just fresh ricotta that you salt. I wasn't sure what it was until the Segnora at my local Italian deli explained it to me - and told me that she doubted I would be able to find it anywhere in the city - unless I wanted to order 10 pounds of it from her supplier. I politely declined, called around, and eventually did find it. It is something akin to a peccorino - but not exactly.

As this is the case, I dropped the gnocchi out of the water and into a little sage butter before the pesto. If you are serving this as a starter, I recommend only six - eight smaller or medium sized gnocchi as they are quite substantial and you don't want people to fill up before the bird comes out of the oven.

The taste testers approved. Aside from the garlic and the portion size, their feelings about the plain pumpkin gnocchi vs. the pumpkin amaretti gnocchi were divided. It's what one would call a geschmacksache in German. A matter of taste. Though we all thought the amaretti were slightly denser in consistency - which can be corrected by adding less amaretti or less flour.

Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November Project: In Search of the Perfect Starter

 I have been trolling various cookbooks, websites and the annals of my own brain as well as asking family and friends and the greater www, for the perfect fall starter: one simple smallish plate that is visually gasp-inspiring and sensorily moan-inducing. Readers, what would turn you on?

For me personally, the answer would not be squash. Yet, I keep coming back to it again and again. I have ruled out a soup. I love soup, do not get me wrong and I personally enjoy soup as a starter but I cannot get over the feeling that soup is a boring starter. Send me hate mail. Tell me how wrong I am. I know, really I am on your side. But I just can't bring myself to do it. There is some sort of mental hurdle that stands firmly it.

But the squash hurdle is one I can navigate. I am going there.  With my mad scientist coat on I am going to combine two different butternut squash recipes to see how this might work: a Pumpkin Gnocchi recipe, adapted from a friend with Sage, Hazelnut, Ricotta Salata Pesto taken from the Caramelized Butternut Squash Wedges with Sage, Hazelnut Pesto from melissav at Food 52.

Jiff's Gnocchi di Zucca (e Amaretti)
1 medium sized Hokkaido squash - to yield 2 cups pumpkin puree
2 cups Flour
2 cups Parmesan cheese
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Nutmeg

1. Quarter your the hokkaido, scrape out the seeds and put them on a cooking sheet in the oven at about 375°F for 40 minutes or until soft. Scrape out the flesh and let it sit in a siv until it has cooled. Then give it a whirl in the food processor until smooth but not runny.

 2. While it is cooling, mix 1.5 cups of flour with the salt and nutmeg.

3. Make a little well in the center of the flour mixture and insert pureed pumpkin and Parmesan in the center.

4. Work the flour into the puree until you have a nice dough. 

Optional: to do the gnocchi with Amaretti, crush them up and throw them in with the flower mixture.

5. Cut the dough into 4 or 5 pieces and roll them one at a time into little stretches of rope. Cut the rope so that you have 1 inch pieces of pillowy-soft gnocchi.

6. Put them on a semolina dusted baking sheet or tray and stick them in the freezer for two hours or until you are ready to cook them.

7. To cook, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and throw them in. When they float up to the top, take them out. They are now done and ready to be dressed.

Tomorrow, to top them: Sage, Hazelnut and Ricotta Salata Pesto. And taste testers weigh in.