Monday, November 30, 2009

Potato + Caramelized Onion + Goat Cheese + Truffle Oil Pizza

I have more than a few food obsessions (mushrooms, bourbon, tomatoes), but pizza has always remained at the top of the list. When it comes to pizza, I'm sort of a purist about some things (the crust), but irreverent with others like the toppings. I have been known to make pizzas with quail eggs, purple cabbage, and cannellini beans -- though not all on the same pie. So, of course I believe that you should ditch the tomato sauce every once in a while and try something C-R-A-Z-Y.

Here is a great pie to try. I know putting potatoes on a pizza sounds like a starchy nightmare, but it is really, really, really good.

1 red new-potato (thinly sliced)
1 white onion (thinly sliced)
1/2 cup white wine
pinch of sugar
2 1/2 oz. goat cheese
2 oz fresh mozz
olive oil
white truffle oil
salt & pepper

Blanch potato until soft. Caramelize onion in a bit of olive oil, add sugar and wine, and allow most of the wine to evaporate. Top pizza with potato slices, onion, and then cheeses. Bake. Add salt and pepper. Drizzle generously with truffle oil.

The smell of the truffle oil hitting the warm pizza drives me into a frenzy. As you can see from the picture, we really could not help ourselves.

Friday, November 27, 2009

At The Table

This year, we were going for a fake-rustic, silvery French theme after past Thanksgiving motifs of flourescent brights, neapolitan ice cream, and pink everything...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad w/ Smoked Feta & Candied Pecans

The Wife, who not always loves her veggies, has fallen for the vegetable that is often the butt of the joke: the brussels sprout. She has had me make this salad three times since I made up the recipe just a few weeks ago. I can't say I'm surprised because this dish has it all: sweet, savory, smoky, and rich. A great dish alongside or instead of greens or green beans, it will be a very unexpected treat on your Thanksgiving table.

Serves 4

15-20 large Brussels sprouts (larger ones work best here)
2 cups whole pecans (roasted & salted)
1/4 cup sugar
4 oz smoked goat feta (smoked goat mozz works too)
olive oil
golden balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper

Start by tearing apart the Brussels sprouts. Cut off the stem-end and pull the leaves apart. This takes some time, but it's worth it. When you get to the core, just split it in half and throw it in with the leaves. Blanch the leaves in boiling water until they turn bright green. This will take about 10-30 seconds. Run the leaves under cold water to stop the cooking. Melt sugar in a large frying pan over high heat. (This is so cool to watch.) Once the edges of the sugar start to melt, stir the sugar until all lumps have disappeared. Remove from heat. Toss the pecans in melted sugar until coated. Transfer to a plate to cool. Cut feta into a small dice.
Now you are ready to assemble the salad. Place 4 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of vinegar into a large frying pan over medium heat. Once the dressing is heated through, place leaves into the pan, and toss the dressing with the sprouts. Transfer to a large plate. Sprinkle with cheese and nuts then salt and pepper. This wonderful dish is something you will add to your Thanksgiving meal for years to come. Brussels sprouts are no joke.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Red + White + Pink Thanksgiving

We're all about finding wines at a decent price that are also surprisingly good. I like to buy a few new bottles every month so maybe, just maybe, I can find something in the $8-$15 range that will be a go-to selection for pairing with dinner or taking along to a party.

We want to share a few new discoveries with you just in time for your Thanksgiving festivities -- our two recent favorites, a zinfandel and a riesling with tons of flavor, plus a rosé just for kicks.

Plungerhead, a 2007 old vine zin from Lodi, looks gimmicky but tastes big. The plastic cork is the color of a plunger, and there is a funny little guy with cask-legs akimbo on the label. But open it up, and it is shocking in its complexity: the zin has a great jammy smell with a full-on peppery wallop. Very rich and complex -- one of those red wines that is vibrant enough to stand on its own even before a meal.

Clean Slate, a 2007 riesling from Germany, has a balance of sweet and tart and an almost floral aroma. It's got that good minerally undertone in it that whites sometimes overdo; in this, it's pretty subtle. It comes across as very summery and layered with citrus, the opposite of a sharp, ugly chardonnay.

And even though it may be kind of out of season, we think you can't go wrong with Las Rocas rosé. Mild and layered, not cloying, and very crisp, it's great in hot weather, and it's a good, light first wine before the meal or an inventive last one with dessert.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sweet Potato Pie with Rosemary Cookie Crust

Everybody expects to have pumpkin or sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving, but it's always amusing that no one is able to tell them apart. We always have this same conversation every year at our table; however, we think sweet potato pie made with the real thing is the clear winner. We bought a half-bushel of sweet potatoes from Bennett-Burks Farm last month in order to have the pioneer-life experience of buying a lot for the winter and only eating that same item in different ways for months.

Also, our rosemary plants in the front flowerbeds are still going strong since we haven't had a frost, so we imitated Lindye's rosemary honey cookies for the pie crust. (Let us know if you need some rosemary or lavender this week; we'll leave you a bunch on the porch!)

4 rosemary sprigs, stripped
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup raw sugar
a pinch or two of salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup water
melted butter for pie pan

Place the bits of rosemary with the flour in your food processor bowl. Whir until the rosemary is just in flecks. Add sugar. While the food processor is running, pour in the oil and water, a bit of each at a time, until it comes together into one piece and clings to the sides. (Try not to over-mix it; it'll make the dough too tough.) Next, wrap your dough in waxed paper and let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Roll it out on a floured board, and then wrap it around your rolling pin loosely; this makes it easier to roll it out into your buttered pie pan. Use a fork to decorate the edges.

6 sweet potatoes, cooked 1 hour in a 350-degree oven
1/3 cup cream
1 container Greek yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/4 light brown sugar
1/4 cup of bourbon
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
a pinch of clove
pinch of salt

This is a good opportunity to mash the baked sweet potatoes aggressively so that you can alleviate some of your pent-up annoyance at the fact that you have a lot of hoops to jump through before Thanksgiving is really, finally HERE. Or you could just whirl all the ingredients in the food processor until your mixture is smooth and butterscotch-colored -- it's your call.

The last steps:
Par-bake the crust for 10 minutes. Pour in filling and let it cook for an hour. Test the middle with a skewer; if it comes out clean, your pie is ready to cool. You can make this a day or two ahead, and it tastes even better.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wine Pairing Notes & Thoughts by Michael Hughes

The Wife and I invited our close friend Michael Hughes over to enjoy our "Thanksgiving Preparedness Drill" meal with us the other night. Michael's blog, Midtown Stomp, is a great tool for anyone who wants to know more about wine in general and the Memphis wine scene in particular. Before he arrived for dinner I described what we would be eating and asked that he, in his vast wine wisdom, pick the perfect bottle to go with this meal. In his own words:

McCrea Cellars Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Syrah 2002 Red Mountain AVA, Washington

This was a stunning bottle when I last tasted it. Over the course of a few hours it expressed a firm graceful elegant grip that was a roller coaster of complex flavors. When you said that the main ingredients were chanterelles, apricots I initially thought of going French. Maybe a Bandol with earthy, wild, gaminess. However, I remembered I had this bottle & with it being 7 years old I figured it had softened up somewhat. When we first opened the bottle I gave it a sniff & immediately smelled a smoky, meaty aroma that was almost primal. What I love about syrah is the sensual, earthy expression that it has. It can be tannic & gripping but still be velvety & caressing. This McCrea had this all over it & then some. It matched harmoniously with your stuffed squash & mushroom/barley gravy because it too had earthy aromas & flavors. The savory umami that the dish had amplified this wild richness in the wine but it wasn't overpowering. I really think that there is magic in pairing wine & food. Sometimes they clash & sometimes they sing together but when a pairing really works it taps into emotions rather than strictly hitting the palate. This was one of those instances that was an incredible strong reminder of why I love what I do.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chanterelle + Apricot Stuffed Acorn Squash w/ Porcini Gravy & Fried Sage

**Easier, updated method available in The Southern Vegetarian Cookbook**
Every year I try to come up with a vegetarian dish that steals the poor turkey's thunder at Thanksgiving. Last year I made a wonderful, rich cassoulet; the year before it was a root vegetable stew in fennel stock served inside of a giant braised pumpkin. This year I decided on acorn squash paired with two of my favorite mushrooms: chanterelle and porcini. The addition of the dried apricots (thank you, Ben) to the stuffing amplifies the earthy, sweet flavor of the chanterelles. I sliced the squash to show off its beautiful scalloped edges. It makes for a particularly beautiful presentation. The unusual addition of barley to the gravy adds body and texture and the fried sage sends this dish over the top. You really should make this for your family's Thanksgiving meal. This recipe will be for one stuffed squash which will feed two to three, so adjust the number of squash according to how many guests you are expecting. Make extra -- even the omnivores will want to try this one.

For the stuffing:
1 stalk celery (finely diced)
1 small onion (finely diced)
1 "Not-Chick'n" bouillon cube
1 cup chanterelles (quartered)
4 dried apricots (finely diced)
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups brioche or white bread (torn into pieces)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper

Beat eggs and add bread. Set mixture in the fridge for an hour or overnight so the bread soaks up all of the egg. Sauté celery, onion, and bouillon cube in the butter until lightly browned. Deglaze the pan with the wine and reduce until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the chanterelles and apricots to the pan and warm through. Add salt and pepper. Chill mushroom mixture throughly before adding to the egg mixture.
Stuff the squash:
Using a sharp kitchen knife and plenty of caution, cut a hole in the stem-end of the squash just as you would a pumpkin at Halloween. Keep the stem. Scrape the seeds and membrane out of the squash. Stuff your stuffing into the cavity -- be careful not to leave any air pockets. Replace the stem and secure with toothpicks or bamboo skewers. Take a moment to poke a few small holes through the flesh and down into the cavity. This will help keep your squash from splitting as the eggs expand during cooking. Place inside a baking dish, cover with foil, and bake the squash in a 375 degree oven for about 2 hours. I rigged up a soufflé dish with some aluminum foil so the squash could bake upright so as to not squish one side as it bakes. Once it is done, remove it from the oven and place it in the fridge to cool. You will want the squash to be cold when you slice it so that it stays together. All of steps up to this point can be done the day before. Slice cold squash into 1 in pieces and place onto an oiled baking sheet. Drizzle each slice with olive oil and place into a 375 degree oven until the color of the squash deepens and it is warmed through.

For the gravy:
1/2 cup dried barley
1/4 oz dried porcini mushrooms (finely chopped)
1 "Not-Beef" bouillon cube
2 cloves garlic (minced)
3 sage leaves (minced)
1 teaspoon flour
cracked black pepper
olive oil

Cook barley according to package directions but add the mushrooms, bouillon, and sage to the cooking water. Make a roux by heating the olive oil in a pot, adding the flour, and cooking until lightly browned. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups of water to the roux and cook for a few minutes until thickened. Season with black pepper and add the barley mixture. Adjust the viscosity to your liking using water. Spoon gravy over the squash and top with sage leaves that have been fried in olive oil for just a few seconds.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Turnip + Sweet Potato Gratin

So, as promised, we are getting into some serious Thanksgiving food this week. We will kick it off with this delicious side dish of winter root vegetables. I came up with this preparation because I was looking for a way to serve turnips that was appealing. Turnips have a serious sour note that I like, but some people are put off by. So here I paired them with equal amounts of sweet potatoes. The sweetness from the sweet potato offsets the sourness of the turnip. They match each other well. Plus the orange and white striped gratin makes for a neat presentation.

1 large sweet potato (the one I used was the size of my nephew)
3 large turnips
4 ounces of goat cheese (or any semi-soft cheese)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk (or cream if you aren't scared)
1 palmful of fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic
salt & pepper

9x12 baking dish
mandolin slicer

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel sweet potato. Using the mandolin, slice turnip and sweet potato 1/8 of an inch thick. Drizzle a bit of olive oil into the bottom of the baking dish to keep things from sticking. Start layering in your root vegetables in a "fish scale" pattern. Do a layer of turnip and then a layer of potato until you have used all of your vegetables. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper in every other layer. The other ingredients go into a food processor and are blended until smooth. Pour mixture evenly over your root vegetables. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover, drizzle with olive oil, and bake a few more minutes to get some color on top. The result is a creamy and delicious side dish that looks as good as it tastes.
We had it for dinner last night with porcini-dredged tofu and mushroom gravy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Groundnut Stew w/ Kale + Sweet Potatoes

It has been a veritable kale storm around here lately. We love it, and it has been coming to us in abundance from our Whitton Farms CSA. This soup features kale two ways, braised and fried, along with sweet potatoes in a mash-up of more than a few African culinary traditions.

I got the idea from Burt Wolf's show about how much American foodways borrow traditions from Africa. He noted that it was widely believed in the United States that peanuts, native to Africa, were poisonous before being heralded as health food and, believe it or not, a good alternative to meat.

1 onion (diced)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger (microplaned)
4 cups vegetable broth
4 tablespoons peanut butter (chunky kind)
6 cups kale (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (minced)
1 large sweet potato (medium dice)
1 can red beans (rinsed)
salt & pepper (to taste)
cayenne pepper (to taste)
olive oil
1 tablespoon harissa (North African spice paste)
Sweat onion and ginger in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Once the onion starts to brown, add the broth. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender.

(You can find harrissa at natural foods markets or international food markets in your area. It is a wonderful, spicy paste with hints of clove and cinnamon.)

I served this with Israeli cous-cous and fried kale. Toss any big pieces of curly kale in a tablespoon of olive oil, and then stick it into a 350 degree oven until they are crispy -- it'll take less than 10 minutes. The result is super-cool: kale chips!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pignoli Amaretti

Go ahead and lose your inhibitions! After making these almond and pine nut cookies for the first time tonight, we've decided that hoarding pine nuts and using them sparingly is just too pious. You need to use about half a bag or so to coat these Italian cookies. Make up for it by food processing your own almond paste for them instead of relying on store-bought. They are not too sweet and have the coolest toasted, rich, marzipan-like flavor and light, chewy, smooth texture...the perfect pre-weekend splurge.

Pignoli Amaretti

1 cup whole or sliced almonds
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/2 c raw sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 c pine nuts

Blend almonds in the food processor two minutes until it forms a paste; add a little water if moisture is needed for the paste to come together. Add sugars and vanilla and pulse. Add egg and do the same. Next, add all dry ingredients and pulse again until just mixed.
Spread pine nuts on a plate. Use a small scoop to place dough on pine nuts and roll it around to coat. Cook at 350 degrees for 10 min. on a slipat-lined cookie sheet and let them cool.

Can I Get 3 More Followers?

That would give TCV 100 blog followers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sorrel and Arugula Pesto

I had sorrel for the first time yesterday. I can't even say that I had heard of it before then. My buddy Jill gave me some to try in my CSA bag this week. The flavor is like nothing else I have ever tried. It looks sort of like spinach, but the taste is entirely different. I would describe it as grassy, slightly bitter, and citrusy. From the 1st bite I knew I would have to try it in pesto. That is just what I did.

2 cups fresh sorrel
2 cups fresh arugula
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 small garlic clove
olive oil
salt & pepper

You will notice that there is no lemon. There is no need. The sorrel adds all of the citrusy flavor you need. The first four ingredients go into a food processor. Then add enough oil to get it moving. It should take a few tablespoons. Blend until everything is well incorporated, but not until smooth. Add salt & pepper to taste.
I served this pesto on a pizza with roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and goat cheese. You can get my pizza crust recipe HERE. While you are at it, read THIS STORY I wrote about my true and undying love of pizza.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Seared Fennel and Carrot Salad

There's gotta be sweet, savory, sour, and spicy in most dishes. We are liking balance above all else over here lately, and this simple, impressive little experiment was a hit. It splits the difference between a side dish and a salad, and it was perfect with arugula and truffle oil soufflés tonight. Here's how it went:

a fennel bulb, split lengthwise
2 carrots
2 tbsp. canola oil
5 dried Turkish apricots, diced
2 oz. Maytag blue cheese, crumbled
1 oz. sherry vinegar
drizzle of olive oil
fleur de sel and crushed pepper to taste, plus fennel fronds to garnish

Heat canola oil on high on stovetop. Place fennel and carrots, cut side down, into hot oil. Stick this in a 450 degree oven for 30 min. Arrange fennel and carrots on plates and top with crumbled blue cheese and diced apricots, which you just toss with sherry vinegar and olive oil. Garnish with fennel fronds and add your salt and pepper.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Banana Pudding + Meringue

Ah, banana pudding...The Wife fondly recalls this dessert as a constant in her family's refrigerator every week, a copious amount in a big glass bowl, always topped with clouds of singed meringue. Everyone ate it straight out of the container like wild wolves with magical spoon-holding abilities. You can make this whole deal from scratch, but it won't be as good. Rarely do we advocate throwing together a few store-bought ingredients as a recipe for dessert success, but she has cracked the code of banana pudding and wants to share it with you.

She uses Dr. Oetker's vanilla pudding mix in a box and prefers 2% milk, not skim. Wait 'til it cools to put the pudding together -- you can hurry it along with an ice bath under another bowl. Plain old classic, but not reduced-fat, Nabisco Nilla Wafers work best, of course, so arrange them on the bottom and sides of your bowl or pan. Organic bananas sliced into rounds are mandatory, too, at the bottom, and then just pour the cooled vanilla pudding over it all.
Please don't even think about using whipped cream on top. Instead, here is our hard-fought, always-fluffy meringue recipe:


2 egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
1/8 cup raw or powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Put packages of frozen fruit or vegetables all around your stand mixer's bowl to keep it as cold as possible. Pour in all ingredients and mix on high for 1-2 minutes in order to whip in lots of air. Once hard peaks form -- they should stand up on their own when you pull the whisk up -- spread this on top of chilled pudding. Using the back of a spoon, pull peaks up from the smooth meringue. Place meringue-topped pudding under a broiler for just a few seconds.

Tips: Watery meringue happens when cold meringue is added to warm pudding, so be sure they are close to the same temp.! Also, make it all ahead. It is so much better after a day in the fridge.

Mushroom and Barley Soup

I went to a great dinner at the Dixon called the Brewer's Feast. Dale Skaggs and Mike Lee paired handcrafted beers with each of four courses. The beer and the food were amazing. It got me thinking about what I would make for a beer dinner and the answer seemed obvious: barley. Beer is brewed from barley so it makes perfect sense to me. Here is what I came up with. Oddly enough I chose to drink wine with it.

10-12 oz small cremini mushrooms (quartered)
4 cloves garlic
2 large carrots (diced)
2 celery stalks (diced)
1 white onion (diced)
3 cups cooked barley
1 cup roasted tomatoes
2 bouillon cubes
1 tablespoon butter
red or white wine for deglazing (or beer)
2 bay leaves
4-6 cups water
olive oil
salt & pepper
First toss the mushrooms in a few tablespoons of olive oil and roast them along with the garlic cloves in a covered dish with the oven set at 300. Leave them in for 45 minutes to an hour. In a large soup pot over medium-high heat saute carrots, celery, and onion in some olive oil until the onion is translucent. Deglaze the pan with a half cup of wine. Add the remaining ingredients including the mushrooms and their juice to the pot. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

I served mine with a few warm chanterelles on top and a grilled cheese on rustic seed bread. This is the perfect meal for a cool fall night.