Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

For The Lazy Gourmet: Wild Alaskan Halibut "En Papillote" with Truffled Tarragon Butter, Roasted Asparagus, Yam "Gratin"



“The quality of life is determined by its activities.” ~ Aristotle

Far too often I hear friends say they never have the time or energy to cook for themselves or their families which I think is a terrible shame. Eating is something we do everyday. The fact is we must eat to survive. Though, personally, I prefer thinking of survival as a reason to eat - the so(u)l(e) purpose of life is to cast a light on good eating (but I am terribly biased, as well as ridiculously unreasonable). 
The London Times once did a few quick calculations and reported that the average person spends 6 years and ten months eating in his or her 70 year life time. That's approximately 3 681 641.36 minutes (YEP, over 3 MILLION minutes) or 1/10 of the average lifespan spent in this activity, why fill it up with foods generated by ConAgra and increase their already huge coffers?
At the risk of sounding like a Stepford Wife (remember them? *shudders*), cooking can be F-U-N!!! You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to luxuriate in a good meal shared, even if only once a millennium. And yes, I know... I know.... in this go, Go, GO!!! day and age, spending such time together seems to have become so rare that it is a luxury. However, nothing is more convivial than sitting around the dinner table, eating a delicious meal and enjoying each other's company. The family that dines together shines together (yes... I know... I know... but you catch my drift - make the time. It's your life - live it, damnit!). High quality ingredients cooked with very little effort make for very satisfying meals. These are the kind of meals I find myself making more and more lately. In fact, why not make it a regular feature of this column? Recipes with modest effort and maximal flavor. I call them cooking the Lazy Gourmet Way. 

Defining a "Lazy Gourmet" meal gets a little tricky because certain meals require minimal effort but a few hours of time (braises, large cuts of roasts etc.); other meals require minimal cook time but much more prep work and/or ingredients (stir-frys, salads, tartares, etc.) How to choose, how to choose? I finally decided that a "lazy gourmet" entree must have the finest ingredients you can afford, not much more than a handful of them (10 max), minimal prep, minimal cookware and take no longer than 20 minutes from start to finish, the maximal amount of time a starving woman (or man) can bear to wait before sinking their teeth into their nearest and dearest.

Folks, it doesn't get any yummier than this for a light, simple, elegant meal. Seriously, in the time it takes to order in a meal, you could have something fresh and delicious that will impress anyone for a special occasion, or just a nice treat for yourself. You deserve a break today and it sure as hell should NOT be from McDonalds!
For those of you less inclined to using those little heat-emitting appliances known as ovens, this meal (sans aluminum foil, unless you are looking to rival the Large Hadron Collider in generating a possible worldwide cataclysmic event horizon, ending all life on earth as we know it) could also be easily adapted for the microwave by wrapping the ingredients in paper towels, Glad plastic sandwich bags, or any microwave-safe plastic wrap.
I am going to make it even easier by providing little more than a basic outline in pictures. You get to color between the lines or outside the lines of this "recipe" yourself. With only about 20 minutes of active cooking time, you will have a meal that is delicious, nutritious and looks pretty on your plate! Now THAT is what I mean by quality of life and I bet good old Aristotle would agree.
Cooking "en papillote" is a classical cooking method in which you seal the food in a pouch and bake. The food essentially steams in the oven in its own juices, though you can add ingredients to flavor the food as I will here with just a few splashes of flavored liquids, herbs and aromatics. Various cultures use grape leaves, banana leaves, cornhusks, parchment paper, and other materials to encase tender, mild foods, which then take on the character of the seasonings they are bathed in. 
The keys to the technique are: 1) use fresh ingredients; and 2) preparation or mise-en-place which is very simple. Instead of parchment paper which is the traditional European method, I will use aluminum foil to wrap the fish, not as pretty, but very easy to do. It works beautifully with fish. My husband has a bit of cooked fish phobia, far too many Mrs. Paul's fish sticks were served to him during his formative years, putting him off the slightest whiff of "fishiness". While he has always adored sushi and sashimi for its pure pristine silken unctuousness, getting him to eat cooked fish has been a challenge, but the moist heat of the pouch keeps the fish's volatile oils from diffusing in the air. It really is the perfect way to foil the finicky eater's antipathy to all things cooked that are piscine. 
Let's talk a little bit about mise en place. When you're in a hurry to get dinner on the table, it's tempting to just turn on the stove and start cooking. But you'll save time in the long run if you spend a few minutes getting organized. Professional chefs call this mise en place, which literally means "put in place."
Mise en place is the secret that enables a restaurant to take your order and, ten minutes later, serve your meal fresh and piping hot. It all boils down to advance preparation. In a professional kitchen, the carrots are peeled, sliced and blanched. The stocks and sauces are made, the garlic is chopped, the meat is marinated and the water is boiling for the pasta. All that's left to be done is cook the meal. Once the prep work is done, the dish comes together easily. This concept translates well into the home kitchen. No matter how simple the recipe, taking time to organize your equipment and prep the ingredients will streamline the cooking process. That way, you won't be chopping the parsley for the sauce while the steaks burn, or rummaging around for the cheese grater (and the cheese) while the pasta overcooks. If you're preparing several dishes at once, mise en place is essential to prevent last-minute chaos in the kitchen.
Before you start chopping and dicing, read the recipe through twice to familiarize yourself with all the steps. The list of ingredients specifies simple prep work, such as zesting the lemons or melting the butter. The directions alert you to any tasks that must be done well in advance, such as chilling sugar cookie dough before rolling it out.



Wild Alaskan Halibut "En Papillote" with Truffled Tarragon Butter, Roasted Asparagus, Yam "Gratin"




Notes:

I have given directions for microwaving everything, but really nothing brings out the sweet caramelized goodness of veggies like roasting them in the oven & it really takes very little effort, plus you can cook everything into a regular oven at the same time. Not so when microwaving. Not only is it tastier to roast but it also retains the vegetables nutrients. The small amount of  fat actually helps your body absorb vitamins and minerals more effectively.

Substitute any fish of your choice for the halibut. The only fish I wouldn't use is a dense steak fish like tuna. Fresh tuna is far better eaten seared. Preferably rare. Well done tuna is good only between slices of bread after being mashed with mayonnaise.  
Truffle Salt can be found in specialty markets that purvey yummy grub or "upscale" supermarkets like Whole Foods. Yes, it is expensive (about $20 per 3.5 oz ), but a little goes a long way and it will last you for at least a year. It's unbelievable in mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, macaroni & cheese or just a little cappellini, parmigiano reggiano (parmesan cheese) & olive oil. Open the jar and breathe it in: earthy, musty, intoxicating. Highly prized white (or black) truffles are delicately blended with sea salt to bring rich umami to your cooking and dining. Just a small pinch is all it takes to impart flavor
Pure decadence was never so affordable.

Here are the ingredients, you can determine the quantity of each depending on how many people you wish to serve.

  • Vegetable broth, a couple of splashes
  • Dry white wine (or beer), preferably a couple of splashes from your own glass
  • Fresh Tarragon, a few sprigs, stripped and chopped
  • Halibut fillets (any white fish will do. Salmon and chicken also works nicely here. Times need to be adjusted for thickness of fillets. Generally if you can smell it, it's done, but allow about 15 minutes for a 1-1/2 inch tick fish fillet and 20 minutes for a chicken breast.)
  • Truffle salt (plain sea salt is fine) and freshly cracked pepper, to taste.
  • One large shallot, finely diced ( finely diced red onion and a minced garlic clove can be substituted for the shallot)
  • One fresh lemon, a couple of squeezes per fillet for seasoning the fish.
  • One bunch of fresh asparagus, tough ends snapped off (you can substitute any veggie you like obviously. Though for roasting nothing beats asparagus, seasoned with a bit of truffle salt, black pepper and olive oil)
  • Extra virgin olive oil, enough to drizzle over the fillets & asparagus
  • Butter, 4 Tablespoons, unsalted
  • 1/4 cup of half & half or heavy cream with a 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract added and well combined
  • Sweet potato, cooked (one per person), roasted for an hour in a hot oven or microwaved for 15 minutes on high and sliced into coins
  • Parmigiano reggiano, for grating over asparagus & yams.
  • Aluminum foil, if using oven; Plastic wrap or baggies, if using the microwave
  • Preheated oven, 450 degrees
  • Hungry people you love


Assemble all of your ingredients (your mise-en-place, as the pros say), like so:








Directions:


The Yams:
  • Preheat your oven at 450 degrees
  • Roast or microwave your sweet potatoes or yams (or other tuberous veggies) until done. (Can be roasted well ahead of time up until the day before).
  • Slice into 1/2 inch thick rounds and arrange them in either a roasting pan or heavy skillet.
  • Season with truffle salt & pepper, pour half & half/vanilla mixture over it & a couple of tablespoons of butter, cut into small dice & dabbed evenly over the potatoes.
  • Then set aside, while you prepare the fish and roast the asparagus.





The Fish: 


  • Place the fillets in a little pouch of their own, using either aluminum foil for baking or plastic wrap (or baggies) if you plan to microwave your fish or poultry.
  • Season the protein with truffle salt & freshly ground pepper to taste.
  • Add the aromatics: shallots, splashes of lemon juice, wine, fresh tarragon, a drizzle of olive & a 1/2 TBSP of butter per packet








  • Then wrap the little bundle up & pop into the middle rack of your preheated oven for about 15 minutes for a 1-1/2 inch thick fillet (Or about 3 minutes if microwaving. Remember to seal the baggie but leave a little room for air to escape; venting the baggie by poking a little slit through the top & placing the fish packet on a microwave-safe dish.)












The Asparagus:
  • Now prepare the asparagus by lining a shallow baking sheet with aluminum foil and seasoning with salt, pepper, fresh juice quickly squeezed from a lemon & tossing it all with extra virgin olive oil using your hands which are the best tool for tossing veggies and salads ever invented!





  • Add the asparagus and the yams to the top rack of the oven. Roasting the asparagus for about 7 minutes & the yams for about 15 minutes. (Or microwave them instead on a microwave-safe dish for 2 minutes after the fish is done).
  • The asparagus will be done before the fish. Remove them when you can smell them (about 7-10 minutes, depending on thickness of stalk) then grate a little parmigiano-reggiano over them, dusting them lightly.



When the fish is done, remove it from the oven, set the oven on broil, dust the yams with a little bit of the parmigiano reggiano and cook the yams under the broiler for a minute until they are nicely browned.


Arrange on a plate prettily and  eat it!
Will serve four very lucky-to-be-related-to-you family members. 

























Sunday, March 6, 2016

Curried Cauliflower Soup & Sympathy: A Cure For What Ails You






"To cut with a sharp knife a bright green watermelon on a big scarlet plate of a summer afternoon. Ah, is this not happiness?... The philosopher ought to be ashamed . . . ashamed that he wears spectacles, has no appetite, is often distressed in mind and heart, and is entirely unconscious of the fun in life."


 "Happiness is just a matter of digestion."


~Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living


Certain foods promise solace as much as they provide nourishment. Cream of tomato soup and a bit of toasted cheesy bread is panacea for what ails the many. The mechanisms behind these attachments are likely more psychological than they are physical, but if one believes that the mind controls matter, feeding that matter the baked macaroni and cheese that the mind associates with mental health and happiness is a good idea. Sustenance (like happiness) is a highly personal concern. Culture and nature are determinants. One man's grits is another man's dirt. Now how these associations formulate is still a question for neuroscience and psychology to explore, but a study conducted by Shira Gabriel, an associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York, Buffalo, shows how comfort foods may have a certain social utility for subjects with positive childhood memories, fulfilling their cognitive and emotional needs for "belongingness".

There seem to be implications for the social nature of such food preferences. The choices vary according to cultural divides, but align themselves rather neatly in subsets within certain demographic patterns. The study revealed younger people and women prefer snack foods to soothe their soulful woes, whereas middle-aged/older men seek heartier, heavier fare such as soups, stews, roast beasts and casseroles. The road to consolation has many on-ramps. However, much as I devote myself to conjuring my roasts and boils, I find my path off-road when it comes to the question of "comfort foods".

Happiness is a state of mind. It is an intrinsic quality/characteristic, not to be found outside of one's innerworld. One can live in abject poverty, be born without limbs, i.e. experience any of innumerable adverse conditions, yet still manage to find that seed of joy flourishing within oneself. Or conversely, one can live in relative comfort and be miserable. Not everyone is wired with receptors for all the frequencies and bandwidths that Happiness (with its capital H) emits. Though I personally like to believe we're all only a Planck length away from Happiness at any given time. Trite? Cliche? Mayhaps, but true and worth repeating since I find current society increasingly composed of perpetual toddlers, throwing tantrums and casting blame upon everyone and everything other than themselves. In fact, the pursuit of Happiness is now considered nothing more than banal bourgeoise servitude, a cog in the capitalistic machine. So wrong-minded a stance. Whining has now become our national pastime, instead. With this much I can agree: Happiness has nothing to do with materialism or consumerism.   "Things" do not make you happy. Not even delicious things. Only your mindset can create an environment in which to flourish in your "happy" place, if you learn to divorce yourself from the idea of a particular reality being a causal factor for delight. Circumstances may inform us, but they do not define us. Our psyches defy such boundaries. So do our hearts. 

Proust's bite of madeleine may have transported him back to a place in time where he was more carefree, in more beloved company, but it is not in itself an indelible vehicle for happiness. At least, not for me. Whilst I understand intellectually how food is endowed with restorative powers (every morsel you eat affects your body like a dose of medicine, setting off a chain of biochemical reactions acting for either good or ill) the emotional attachments to certain foods is something that eludes me, but - if Professor Gabriel's studies are any indication - that may be because mine wasn't the most nurturing childhood. So I don't have have a go-to dish for when my dol is drum, or when a Trump presidency seems imminent. I don't think of food that way. Although perhaps I should - considering the passion I have for all things culinary. The truth is when I'm sad or depressed, I can't eat or drink. I lose my appetite.

Professor Gabriel's study suggests the fact that I have so few charming idyllic childhood memories to recount, as well as strained relations with my mother, may explain why I have no "comfort foods". Frankly, my mother was never motherly; in fact, she was the opposite: she required nurturing. I was her babysitter for most of my life, though she didn't even have legal custody of me. The person (other than my husband) to take care of me when I was sick was my grandmother before a debilitating stroke took her away from me. I was 12. I was, and still continue to be, highly susceptible to respiratory and ear infections.

I do fondly recall Abuelita brewing up fresh cups of te de tilo, te de manzanilla - lovely flowery teas with fragrant aromas, adding syrupy miel de abeja (honey) and a lip-puckering amount of fresh lemon. Sometimes I'd take those dried tea flowers before they steeped and make sweet little bouquets out of them for my Barbie doll. They were so pretty. Fresh sancochos were also staples in my Abuelita's flu arsenal; although those sancochos were fairly regular fare, not necessarily prepared specifically to cure my many fevers and strep throats. In Puerto Rico, sancocho is considered a rustic dish. It is made with chicken and smoked ham (Sancocho de gallina), top round beef (sancocho), pork feet with chick peas (sancocho de patitas), or beef short ribs with chorizo. There are several versions and every household has its own take on sancocho, but a true Puerto Rican sancocho always calls for corn on the cob, a variety of tubers, guineos, sofrito, and sazón. Other vegetables and flavoring can include celery, carrots, ginger, thyme, parsley, bay leaves, orégano, wine, and rum. The hearty stew is served with a small bowl of rice, pique criollo, tostones, and bread - preferably fresh hot "pan de manteca" slathered in melted butter from the local panaderia. When my abuelita took ill, I was left in my grandfather's sole custody (for about 3 years until he died), and I mostly fended for myself. Grandpa spent most of his time stewed (but not with sancocho). It wasn't his fault, he missed his beloved Clara (my abuelita) and alcohol was his coping mechanism. Lipton Chicken Noodle cup of soups and the occasional can of Progresso Chicken Minestrone were my cold remedies. They were easy for me to heat up when I could barely stand.

Soups are still what I would objectively consider the go-to curative for me. I suppose if I really think about it - anything warm and liquidy is good for an ailing body, the simmering of the aromatics and vegetables in their own juices, water or broth are nutritious and soothing, loosening up congestion and clearing air passages, as well as replenishing the fluids lost from sneezing and wheezing. There is something supremely satisfying in the first sip of soup, the application of cool steel or porcelain to hot lips as warm broth flows from it on your tongue, the savory vaporous fumes wending their way through all those aching cavities crying for relief. It is a loosening, a relaxing, a succumbing to a flavor-filled savior. Of course, I prefer to make soup myself now, except for the occasional ordering in of Thailand's superb Tom Yum Gai and Tom Kha Gai, or an umami-rich Chinese Hot and Sour soup. The Asians have the right idea. The chilies in these soups are truly medicinal. Chili pepper contains an impressive list of plant-derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.There's an alkaloid compound in them, capsaicin, which gives them strong spicy pungent character. Early laboratory studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. It also found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese individuals.

Fresh chili peppers, red and green, are an excellent source of vitamin-C. 100 g fresh chilies provide about 143.7 µg or about 240% of RDA. Vitamin C is a potent water-soluble antioxidant. It is required for the collagen synthesis inside the human body. Collagen is one of the main structural protein required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps protect from scurvy, develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity), and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body. They also contain other antioxidants such as vitamin-A, and flavonoids like ß-carotene, a-carotene, lutein, zea-xanthin, and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidant substances in capsicum help protect the body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress, diseases, and other physically debilitating conditions. They are high in essential B-complex vitamins - vitamins that we can only derive from food sources. They are chockfull of potassium, iron, magnanese and magnesium, which helps to stabilize heart rate & blood pressure. I won't tout them as a miracle food, but when combined with other aromatics with strong anti-bacterial qualities like garlic, onion, ginger, and a squeeze of something citrus like lime or lemon, you've got a very tasty nutrient-dense germ-combatant. 

Now if you live alone or with a culinary-challenged other, you are not likely to be motivated to cook for yourself, but I am going to suggest a simple soup whose preparation requires minimal muss and fuss. It is the thing that my husband requests most when he is feeling unwell. Cauliflower soup. Silky, savory, yummy. Just olive oil, garlic, ginger, onion, cauliflower, store-bought Thai curry paste and stock. I sauté the aromatics, add cauliflower, let that all sweat together for a bit, add stock, bring it to a boil, lower to a simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, then purée with an immersion blender. Voila!



  Curried Cauliflower Soup 





 The milk-sweet, almost nutty flavor of cauliflower is at its best from December through March when it is in season and most plentiful in your local markets. It has a long history, originally said to hail from Asia Minor, making its way to Turkey and Italy about 600 BC. It garnered a place in French cuisine in the mid-16th century and was subsequently cultivated in Northern Europe and the British Isles. The United States, France, Italy, India, and China are countries that produce significant amounts of cauliflower. Popular in the court of King Louis XIV, the humble cauliflower provides a royal health boost to any diet. A versatile cruciferous vegetable low in calories, full of vitamins and minerals, one cup of it is high in the antioxidant vitamin C, potassium, as well as fiber and folic acid, said to be anti-carcinogenic - giving you lots of nutritional bang for your caloric buck. When pureed, it adds a creamy emulsion that is both palate-coating and hunger-sating. No cream or butter required to satisfy your savor jones. Sabroso!

 I serve it simply when I am using it as a restorative, but you can garnish it with myriad toppings from prosciutto crisps to parmesan tuiles with a dollop of mascarpone and a few snipped chives, or toasted cashews/ macadamia nuts with candied ginger, or a simple garnish of lime wedges and cilantro, or caramelized apples with toasted coconut flakes - this soup is a great base for any topping. Substitute coconut milk for vegetable stock to make this even creamier and more vegan-friendly, or use your favorite homemade/store bought chicken stock for an injection of Jewish mother's penicillin. For the more ascetic among you, plain water works just fine.

 You can leave out the curry paste altogether, if you are seeking something more emotionally-nourishing rather than curative, and swirl in grated cheddar or gruyere. Variations on the theme abound, but the fragrance of sauteed sweet vidalia onions wafting through your home combined with the pungent perfume of Thai curry and earthy cauliflower anointing the air is guaranteed to get all your chi (as well as your gastric juices) flowing. The aroma always sets my nostrils flaring, unable to focus on anything else, usually making my husband and I impatient for it, and we both dig our spoons into the pot - only to taste for doneness, of course!






Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pot)
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped (2 large leeks can be substituted )
  • 1 Tbs. Thai red curry paste (or Madras yellow curry powder, if you like a sweeter, milder flavor)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, minced or grated
  • 1 large head cauliflower, leaves removed, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cups low-sodium stock (I used chicken, but vegetable stock or plain water are fine)

Instructions:
1. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until soft and golden. Stir in curry paste, ginger, and garlic, and cook 2 minutes more, or until all the aromatics are well-coated in the curry paste & fragrant 2. Add cauliflower to the onion mixture and saute a few minutes more. 3. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, then blend with immersion blender in the same pot, or pour carefully in food processor or traditional blender until smooth. Garnish with your toppings of choice and serve! Will serve 6 people who need a little tender loving care.








Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sweet Rewards: Pumpkin Caramel Pot De Creme & Tokaji - A Match Made In Heaven





"Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love."
~Song of Solomon

Sweet fruit.  Redolent, intoxicating, its viscous juice coating our palates, stimulating our pleasure centers: injections of dopamine and serotonin course through our brains. No wonder we refer to such sensations as 'heady'. Heat gushes, flushing our skin, affecting our pulse, stirring our impulses. Our inhibitions loosen their ties and kick off their shoes. Is it love, lust, or just a glass of Trockenbeerenauslese? Ahhh... Maybe it's all three combined.

Dessert wines come in all varieties; from nations and cultures all over the planet: their grapes, growing, harvesting, fermentation and bottling practices vary. Fortified or non-fortified. Botrytised on the vine, or picked, laid out in sheets and sun-dried until raisiny, one thing they all have in common is a certain air of decadence, a propensity for ageing well, and an affinity with dessert.

There are classic pairings: chocolate with the black and red fruit of Port, Banyul, or Pedro Ximenex sherry; creme brûlée with the peachy essence, apricot nectar of Eiswein, Inniskillin, or Tokaji; pear or apple tatin with the caramelized but high acidity elixirs of  Sauterne, Gewurtraminer, Auslese, Riesling, and yes the improbably-long, tongue-tripping, syllable-strewn Trockenbeerenauslese. For those who are not fond of confections: dried fruits, toasted nuts, and ripe pungent cheeses pair well with all of the above. It's my preferred way to enjoy them, truth be told. The sweet white wines actually pair well with rich savory dishes as well, such as seared foie gras, lobster, etc. Neither my husband nor I are dessert people, especially not after dinner. Although, on the occasional morning with a jolting cup of java, it is a sweet way for us to start the day. I'll only eat my dessert at breakfast, but I'm more than willing to drink my dessert at night. Stoic of me, I know.

It would be impossible and unreasonable in the small space allotted to attempt to describe the many means and wines to drink your way to serendipity (not to mention deathly dull for all but the most avid oenophile). There are excellent extensive primers on the subject well within your mouse's ability to click, so I'll do my best spare us all the folly of too much information and focus on the most accessible choices instead.

One of my favorite poets and prose stylists, once quite rightly affirmed,

(Eat your chocolates, little girl,
Eat your chocolates!
Believe me, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolates,
And all religions put together teach no more than the candy shop.
Eat, dirty little girl, eat!
If only I could eat chocolates with the same truth as you!
But I think and, removing the silver paper that’s tinfoil,
I throw it on the ground, as I’ve thrown out life.)

~ “Tabaqueria” by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa

Nothing goes better with chocolate than Port. Now... Ports are a dessert wine from Portugal, prized and popular, both vintage and tawny (vintage port being grapes grown and harvested in one particular year which has been "declared" by the major houses and it is bottle-aged after spending a short period in wooden casks; tawny port is a blend of different vintages aged in barrels for 20 years, mellowing its fruit, making it less sweet, has no specific date designated to it. Tawny port is cheaper and more readily available for purchase), but it takes decades and decades for a vintage port to mature. I have had a glass of 1900 Dow's whose murky amber syrup was still tongue-gripping, even one hundred years after it was harvested. My husband's birth year 1955 produced magnificent wines from every wine-making region on the globe and truly exceptional vintage port with amazing aging potential. Still considered as drinking well now or having considerable further cellaring. Port will outlive its purchasers, but it is costly and not for the uninitiated palate. I remember serving a glass of 1963 Graham's to my step-monster-in-law. Coughing dramatically, she spit it out, accusing me of serving her Robitussin cough medicine. Needless to say,  I wished I had laced her glass with arsenic.  So perhaps ex-nay on the Port-ay for all but your most discriminating guests.

No, the wine I will recommend is easily quaffable for the virgin or untutored tongue accustomed to drinking Diet Fresca and rum, despite being afflicted with botrytis. Botrytis... Ah Botrytis... - sounds awful doesn't it?

"What did James contract?"
"Botrytis, poor man. It was a slow painful death. Every botry in his system swelled to the size of grapefruits. Terribly sad."

Fortunately for the savvy wino (& James) botrytis (technically called botrytis cinerea) actually refers to noble rot...   its nomenclature no doubt a harbinger of the trouble that the feudal system would eventually experience.

(Here is where I'll launch briefly into fungus and fermentation and horny monks getting drunk. Those of you bored by history can use this time to check your text messages. Come back in five minutes and meet me by the pumpkin caramel pot de creme recipe. I'll be waiting with my favorite red rubber spatula for you).

There are three key stories in the history of botrytis cinerea.  The first dates back to the Hungarian town of Tokaj in 1650 when the local winemaker (also the parish priest), Abbot Maté Szepsi, temporarily fled the town in fear of an Ottoman invasion.  The vintage was therefore delayed and some bunches rotted with botrytis.  The infected grapes were crushed separately and, much to the surprise and delight of the Abbot, turned into an extraordinary wine. Cowardice is its own reward.  The virtues of the mold were duly noted and it wasn’t long before the sweet wines of Tokaj and the surrounding region Tokaji became internationally famous as  “the wine of kings and king of wines.” and is my preferred form of liquid gold.

Moving along to 1775 and to the Rheingau region of Germany, Riesling, arguably the most versatile of grape varieties, was the dominant vine.  A messenger sent to give the order to start picking was delayed by highway bandits.  The messenger arrived two weeks late and found the harvest spoiled, and (being a cheap heartless bastard who was more than willing to have the less fortunate eat what he would never touch) had the rotten fruit distributed to the peasants.  The peasants decided to make wine out of it anyway and the rest is history.  Was it curiosity? Was it desperation? Does it matter? Necessity is the mother of invention, and no one learns how to do more out of necessity than the impoverished. The irony of these wines being amongst the most costly is not lost on me. Today German Rieslings are made in varying degrees of sweetness, the sweetest of which (beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese) are both botrytis affected.

Arguably the most famous incarnation of botrytised wine comes from the French district of Sauterne where it is made from Semillon with Sauvignon Blanc and small amounts of Muscadelle.  The process of botrytising Sauternes dates to 1847 and an accidental late harvest.  Botrytis cinerea affected the wines in such a way that it became known as, “pourriture noble,” which translates to, “noble rot.” Chateau d'Yquem being the most vaunted of the lot, a rare 1787 vintage Chateau d'Yquem fetched $100,000 from an anonymous American collector in 2006.

Let's talk about noble rot. Mold infects grapes on the vine, rotting them.  This is no exaggeration.  If you’ve never seen a botrytis infected bunch then imagine horrible, shrivelled, decrepit grapes, the likes of which you wouldn’t even dream of touching, no less putting in your mouth.  And yet, the world’s greatest sweet wines are made from these. But why does it make a sweet style?  

Botrytis grows on the skin of the grapes and effectively sucks the water out of the berries. Dehydrating them.  In doing so, it concentrates the sugars and flavors within the fruit.  Grapes, like any other fruit, accumulate sugar as they ripen.  Therefore, late picked grapes have not only given time for the mold to grow, but are high in sugar.  When the grapes are picked, only enough sugar is fermented out to result in a wine of approximately 12% - 13% alcohol with plenty of residual sweetness.

The conditions botrytis prefers are damp, humid environments.  Botrytis prefers thin skinned, tightly bunched varieties.  Thin skinned, so that it can penetrate the skin and access the berry’s moisture.  Tightly packed so as to spread more readily from berry to berry.  Semillon fits into both of these categories as does Riesling, so it’s little wonder that the majority of botrytised wines are made from these varietals.  Another variety particularly susceptible is Merlot.  Although usually a botrytis infected Merlot is thrown in the bin, dessert wine made from this variety is not unheard of.

 What separates the great botrytis wines from the rest is complexity of flavour and a fresh, acid finish. A brightness. Flavors to look for are honey, marmalade and citrus.  Acidity is essential to give the wine body - length and balance -  to avoid a short cloying experience with a sickly sweet finish.  The best news for the consumer of all things full of Yeats' warm south, full of the true and blushful Hippocrene - Longfellow's very Goblet of Life? Their beauty only improves score after score. Wish I could say that.



The dessert wine I will recommend to pair with our pumpkin caramel pot de cremes is Royal Tokaji.  It's an institution. It's noble. And it is inexplicably one of the wine world's best kept secrets. Tokaj is the region's name. Tokaji (with an i) is the wine itself. The letter "I" is a possessive. Both are pronounced TOE-Kye.


Formerly known as Tokaj-Hegyalja, the region is located in the northeastern corner of Hungary, a good 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the capital, Budapest. Its 5500 hectares (13,600 acres) of vineyards are woven around 27 villages and towns, such as Tarcal, Mád and Tokaj itself. Some of the wines are designated as Aszú . Aszú indicates that the wine is made of grapes infected with the botrytis fungus. Those grapes are pressed into a kind of paste, which is then added to a dry base wine (or fermenting must) to make Tokaji aszú. This wine can have a range of sweetness levels, which are distinguished on the bottle label by the number of puttonyos. The higher the puttonyos, the higher the wine's residual sugar. The top of the line Tokaji aszús are 5-puttonyos, with at least 120 grams of residual sugar per liter, and 6-puttonyos with a minimum of 150 g/l. While Tokaji aszú has variations of ripe, honeyed fruit tones that can range from pineapple and dried apricot to lychee and quince, and spice notes that may exude ginger and nutmeg, the wine is most often underscored by a rich, sometimes salty, volcanic minerality – thanks to the region's ancient volcanic terroir. France's Sauternes and the Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen from Austria and Germany are certainly amongst the world's stellar botrytized sweeties but, honey, Tokaji aszú just drips with distinction.

There are many makers in the region. The grande dame of Tokaji winemaking is István Szepsy from the village of Mád, with his 6 puttonyos aszú, szamorodni and stunning dry wines from superb mineral-packed vineyards such as Szent Tamás, Nyúlászó and Úrágya. Other greats include  Zoltán Demeter, Erzsébet Pince, Dobogó (Tokaj); Disznókő (near Mezőzombor); Gróf Degenfeld (Tarcal); Samuel Tinon (Olaszliszka) and Patricius (Bodrogkisfalud).

One popular house is called simply the Royal Tokaji Wine Company (also from Mád). It makes wonderful wine, the name is easy to remember and its provenance has an interesting backstory. This maker owns a unique combination of first- and second-growth vineyards that have always been privately owned. At one time, first-growth vineyards Betsek and Szt. Tamás were owned by Prince Rakoczi I. His vineyards were sold in the late 1660s to save the prince, who was involved in a conspiracy that would have otherwise cost him his life. His son, Prince Rakoczi II, was able to buy back the prized land in the 1700s. Three centuries later, these vineyards continue to be highly valued. The prices range depending on the seller and the growth from $19 to $50 for 500ml.

The growth regions are as follows:

"Szt. Tamás (SENT tahm-ash)

First growth

 Szt. Tamás Vineyard is located north of the Nyulászó Vineyard on south-facing slopes at nearly 220 meters (720 feet), overlooking the winery’s cellars. Named for the apostle Saint Thomas, the vineyard’s red volcanic-clay soil is high in iron oxide and has the ability to retain moisture well, a characteristic helpful in drought years. Wines produced from grapes grown here have a lovely, pure fruitiness, nice acidity and good ageability.

Betsek (bet-CHEK)

First growth

Betsek is named after an old Magyar family. Shaped like a crescent moon and facing southeast, it is located in what is known as the basin of the first growths. The Betsek terroir totals 89 hectares (219.9 acres). The area where the vineyard is located is typically cold — lower portions of the vineyard have been known to freeze in the spring. The black volcanic topsoil contributes to the mineral and lovely black pepper characters in the wine. Being at the bottom of the valley, the vineyard imparts a much more earthy character to the wine than the other first growths.

Mézes Mály (MAIZE-esh my)

Great first growth

Mézes Mály is one of only two vineyards in all of Tokaj to be named as a great first growth in the classification of 1700 (the other portion of the vineyard is owned by Hugh Johnson). It has since been referred to as “pro mensa caesaris primus haberi,” or “to be the first choice at the royal table,” — an honorable distinction likened to Château d’Yquem’s status in Bordeaux. Located on a south-facing slope, “Mézes Mály,” or “honeycomb,” is Royal Tokaji’s only vineyard with loess topsoil, providing the wines with honey and floral characteristics. These wines are softer than other Royal Tokaji wines grown in vineyards with volcanic-clay topsoil.



PUMPKIN CARAMEL POT DE CRÈME




This recipe is simple, and straightforward. No baking required.

A few notes:

Use room temperature eggs to prevent curdling.
This dessert can be served warm or chilled.

If you can, do use homemade caramel sauce as it has a deeper flavor and avoids the cloying aftertaste found in commercial caramel sauce. It is also less costly than store brands. The recipe for it is included below. I LOVE MAKING CARAMEL SAUCE!!! Pure alchemy! The moment that something so gray and grainy becomes fluid, golden & fragrant, bubbling like the molten core of this earth... is one that never fails to thrill me! Then you add the creamy white to its deep burnt amber & the silken ribbons flow... INCREDIBLE! Then I add a hint of rose salt and well.. the tongue doesn't lie...  A heart attack guaranteed with every bite! It is truly orgasm-inducing.

Serves 6-8 people

Ingredients:


Pot de Creme:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • ¼ cup plus sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup plus two tablespoons of pumpkin puree
  • ¼ cup homemade caramel sauce (recipe follows)
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon  nutmeg
  • 1/8  teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


Homemade Caramel Sauce:


  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 10 tablespoons of heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoons of kosher salt


Directions:


Pot de Creme:

In a medium saucepan, bring heavy cream and sugar to a boil, whisking constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Put aside and let cool for five minutes.
In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks.  Add ¼ cup of heated cream mixture to egg mixture and whisk to combine. Continue adding cream mixture in ¼ cup increments to eggs until the two are fully combined. Place fully combined mixture back in to a pot and cook over moderate heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the custard coats the back of the spoon, about 4 minutes. Add in pumpkin puree, caramel sauce, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until very smooth, about 1 minute. Pour the finished custard through a strainer. Pour into individual ramekins.

Refrigerate until chilled about 2 hours.
To serve warm: Let the pots de crème stand at room temperature for 15-20  minutes prior to serving.

Homemade Caramel Sauce:

1.  Add sugar and water into a saucepan over medium low heat. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Use a wet brush to remove any crystals that form on the side. Once sugar has dissolved increase heat to high. Now and then, using the handle give the pot a swirl to keep the mixture moving. Do not stir the mixture directly. The mixture will start to bubble after a minute. As the mixture darkens to a  deep amber color, approximately 5-7 minutes, add the butter and cream to saucepan. The mixture will bubble wildly. Whisk to combine (bubbles will subside upon cooling). Add salt and stir to combine.





Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Turkey? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Turkey! Thanksgiving Dinner for A Vegan’s Delight!!!







"So dull and dark are the November days.
The lazy mist high up the evening curled,
And now the morn quite hides in smoke and haze;
The place we occupy seems all the world."
-   John Clare, November



Ah November... with its golden daylight hours, short though they are and that Harvest Moon. I saw it last evening when I treated myself to a sidewalk cafe dinner at Luella's - a wonderful little neighborhood joint.

That moon hung heavily in the night sky, opalescent like a glimmering stone pendant dangling from the neck of a beautiful Nubian woman.

I sat under the canopy of a tree, the night lit only by one lone candle on an outdoor table at the sidewalk cafe beneath the starry sky. The air was balmy, redolent with Asian spices and the faint scent of motor oil from the passing cars. A trolley had just clanged past me ringing its bells, carrying its burden of clueless tourists aimlessly snapping their cameras at random sights and meaningless landmarks.

Yet the night was so glorious and I felt so fortunate to be alone with my thoughts,  I became filled with a yeasty benevolence toward all of mankind - even godforsaken tourists.

I raised my flute of sparkling rose' to them as they passed, clicking away.

I then realized that Thanksgiving was just around the corner and that it was time for me to post that Vegan blog I had promised my friend Mia ages ago.

Thanksgiving Dinner is a good place to start.

It's a tough time to be a turkey, though:





http://i63.photobucket.com/albums/h121/knowhimwell/comic4.jpg


Unless, of course, you're a turkey with Vegan friends. Then you have no worries!
Veganism is a diet and lifestyle that eschews the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.

Vegans do not eat any animal products.

None.

Not butter, not cheese...  hell... not much chocolate.
Life without ice cream???
So it makes you imagine they may not be the happiest people on the planet.
How could they be?

“A human body in no way resembles those that were born for ravenousness; it hath no hawk’s bill, no sharp talon, no roughness of teeth, no such strength of stomach or heat of digestion, as can be sufficient to convert or alter such heavy and fleshy fare.

But if you will contend that you were born to an inclination to such food as you have now a mind to eat, do you then yourself kill what you would eat. But do it yourself, without the help of a chopping-knife, mallet or axe, as wolves, bears, and lions do, who kill and eat at once. Rend an ox with thy teeth, worry a hog with thy mouth, tear a lamb or a hare in pieces, and fall on and eat it alive as they do.

 But if thou had rather stay until what thou eat is to become dead, and if thou art loath to force a soul out of its body, why then dost thou against nature eat an animate thing? There is nobody that is willing to eat even a lifeless and a dead thing even as it is; so they boil it, and roast it, and alter it by fire and medicines, as it were, changing and quenching the slaughtered gore with thousands of sweet sauces, that the palate being thereby deceived may admit of such uncouth fare.” ~ Plutarch

What a buzzkiller THAT guy was, eh? His Moralia is chockfull of such pithy little pronouncements.  Quite unlike Plutarch, my pal Mia. Mia is the nicest sweetest most upbeat person I know. Guess what? She's a vegan. I promised her a menu that she could enjoy and proudly serve to her meat-eating family. 

When I promised myself I would make a Thanksgiving Menu for Vegans I must say I was worried... but I love a challenge! And, believe me, creating a Thanksgiving meal without butter, or cheese or cream, not to mention the star attraction: The Turkey, is challenging. I have often concocted and served side dishes for vegetarian friends during holiday celebrations making delicious stuffings, lasagnes, and other casseroles with featured chestnuts, pumpkin and squash, but they all used butter and cheese. A celebratory meal without dairy? Seemed so unreasonable!

Well... I was astounded at all the options available to the dedicated homecook once you got out of the old mindset of needing dairy and meat to make food palatable. What I absolutely did not want to do was use so-called meat substitutes. They are rank, awful mealy things with little flavor, tons of chemicals , and besides, isn't the point of veganism (and vegetarianism) to get away from the  animal murder culture? Well, then? Why would you eat pretend meat? You shouldn't look for meat proxies or substitute, you should eschew the idea of all things fleshly. I should think the idea of any meat would be repugnant. Therefore I was determined to use fruits, nuts, vegetables and grains only, to recreate a cornucopia of autumn harvest goodness. I stayed away from legumes, though beans are lovely and hearty, they didn't feel particularly celebratory to me. I prefer not to use dairy substitutes like vegan "cheese" or  vegan "eggs" either -  although, perhaps, Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Spread is okay for those of you who feel you must use something "creamier" in texture than oil.

Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian and yes, even, Italian cuisine makes for delicious dairy and meat-free options, I really had to edit myself (nearly impossible for me ). I am offering only a few items that I think will make for an elegant, festive Thanksgiving. Dishes that are approachable, not overly time-consuming and still fall within the American holiday culinary paradigm.  I kept the dishes Mediterranean-based for the most part. For those of you who are not vegan but have vegan guests over for the holiday, any of these dishes will work beautifully for them. I would offer the pumpkin ravioli and the quinoa-stuffed acorn squash as entrees for them and try preparing either the salad, the caponata or the Brussel sprouts for everyone, so that your vegan guest can enjoy a side, too. Obviously, you can make lovely roasted sweet potato casseroles, or mashed yams with a vanilla-infused coconut cream, if you want more traditional side dishes with a twist, easy enough to make without my guidance. Sage, squash, chestnuts, fruits, root vegetables, mushrooms and nuts are the jewels of autumn. I chose to use those abundantly.

Thanksgiving is about being grateful for the lives we have and the relative bounty that our country does offer us. There are many in the world who are not gifted with our freedoms, nor our good fortune to live in a time and place where you can actually contemplate and plan what you're going to make for dinner.

Let's not forget that!


So my suggested menu for A Vegan Thanksgiving Extravaganza is as follows:







Creamy Chestnut Soup with Porcini Mushrooms




Avocado, Blood Orange, Fennel, Sweet Potato, Pomegranate, and Hazelnut Salad


Harvest Stuffed Acorn Squash


 Pumpkin Ravioli w/ Trumpet Mushroom, Chestnuts, Walnuts & Fried Sage Leaves 


Sicilian-style Caponata



Roasted Brussel Sprouts Ssam Bar-style


Pumpkin Pie - Vegan-style



*****



Creamy Chestnut Soup with Porcini Mushrooms 



Creamy without the cream, this beautiful luxurious dish is what the holiday feast is all about. Garnish it with one roasted chestnut, a few slices of the mushroom & a drizzle of your best olive oil and no one can say vegans don't really enjoy food.

This soup also makes an excellent base for a sauce to go over pumpkin or butternut squash ravioli, so double the recipe! You'll be glad you did.

A note on caramelizing onions or shallots:
 

Do it while the soup is simmering, slice the shallots/onions very finely, saute` them over low heat in a small pan, until they turn nut brown, don't add salt while they are cooking - salt leeches out water & will boil the onions instead of making them all brown and sugary. Do keep an eye on them, stirring occasionally, but don't stir too often. Just often enough to keep from burning. They contain about a gram of  naturally occurring sugars per tablespoon and those sugars will rise to the surface and provide a lovely lacquer. They will take 20-30 minutes, depending on the amount. Use one whole onion, or 4-5 shallots. The more better, they store readily, and are easily re-heated. 





Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup dried Porcini mushrooms 
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1 small parsnip, diced
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 bouquet garni (1 sprig each bay leaf, thyme, parsley tied together in a bundle with cheesecloth or else just bind them together)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups of vegetable stock (look for a high quality low sodium brand or make your own)
  • 1-1/4 lb. of coarsely chopped peeled roasted fresh chestnuts or 12 ounces jarred or vacuumed packed
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • caramelized onions or shallots (optional)
  • Fresh Porcini would be grand, of course, especially sauteed and added at the end as a garnish. They are costly but available this time of year, just one would do admirably and add immeasurably to the meal, or you can substitute fresh shiitakes, trumpets mushrooms, any wild mushroom, you like
  • Cashew Cream** to drizzle (recipe below)


Directions

  1. Combine porcini and 2 cups of water in a medium bowl. Let stand until porcini soften about 15 minutes.
  2. In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil and add carrots, celery, parsnips and shallots. Saute until tender & then add the bouquet garni and stock.
  3. Using slotted spoon, reserve a few slices for garnish, and transfer the remainder of porcini into sauce pan. Add the porcini liquid to the pan, too, but be careful to strain it well first, avoiding getting any of the sediment from the mushrooms into the pan.
  4. Add chestnuts, season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Working in batches, puree soup in a blender until smooth then return it to the sauce pan. If you have an immersion blender like I do you can blend the soup right in the sauce pan instead of transferring it to a blender. They are really handy tools and cost relatively little. Just be sure to get the cordless variety. Much more convenient to work with.
  7. Bring the soup back to a simmer after thoroughly blending then adjust seasonings to taste.
  8. Garnish with a drizzle of good quality olive oil or **cashew cream (recipe included), a chestnut, leftover or freshly sauteed porcini and caramelized shallots. 

Can be prepared a day in advance. Just don't garnish it until you are ready to serve.

** Cashew Cream 


Ingredients
  • Raw Cashews -1/2 cup
  • Water - 1/4 cup

Instructions:
Prepare cashew cream. In a blender or food processor, add cashews and water until smooth. Best done in a high-powered blender on the highest setting. Set aside until you are ready to drizzle it on the finished dish.

*****





Avocado, Blood Orange, Fennel, Pomegranate, Sweet Potato and Hazelnut Salad

A good starter: elegant, colorful using the season's fruits and veggies, making your holiday table festive, beautiful. Pomegranate seeds are loaded with antioxidants, add a nice juicy pop on your tongue and a bit of crunch. Very sensual. It's no wonder Persephone couldn't resist them and wound up back in Hades, but I digress.   If seeding*** them seems like too much trouble just, buy the loose seeds or skip them altogether, but do add avocado and orange supremes (slices of orange without the pith). It will give the salad a silky mouthfeel that you won't want to miss... 








Ingredients


  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled, roasted sweet potatoes (about 4 large ones)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp dried crushed red pepper
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Hazelnut oil (or Extra-Virgin Olive Oil)
  • 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp of dijon mustard
  • 1 Fennel bulb, sliced thinly
  • 1 Carrot, shredded
  • 8 cups lightly packed mixed greens: kale, arugula, escarole, spinach, radicchio or green-leaf lettuce - any leafy green you like. I used kale.
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts (which you will toast, then coarsely chop)
  • 2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, then cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 3 Blood Oranges, segmented and removed from their skins into "supremes". 
  • The seeds from one pomegranate (or a cup loose - some markets do sell loose pomegranate seeds for purchase.)
  • Allspice (ground)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Place hazelnuts on a lined cookie sheet, sprinkle a bit of of allspice on them and bake for about 5-7 minutes. Using a spatula, periodically stir the nuts, so they do not burn. Remove when fragrant. Then chop coarsely. 

3. Whisk orange juice, walnut oil, and lemon juice in large shallow bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Add greens, fennel bulb, carrots, walnuts, avocado, orange segments, and pomegranate seeds; toss to coat. Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper. Toss again. Spoon warm or room temperature sweet potatoes over salad. Toss lightly .



**Notes On Seeding A Pomegranate 
To seed a pomegranate, first you need to expose the seeds. Using a chef’s knife, halve the pomegranate across the equator. Next, use your knife to make small cuts in the membrane (the white part) in each pomegranate half. 

Working over a bowl, take a sturdy wooden spoon and hit the back of the pomegranate half several times. The seeds will fall out into the bowl. Turn the pomegranate and continue until all the seeds are extracted. 

OR

Submerge the scored pomegranate half in a bowl of water and gently pry it apart into sections. Working in the water, gently pick out the seeds from the membrane. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the membrane will float to the surface. Discard the membrane and fish out the remaining seeds. Drain them on a paper towel and pat dry. The seeds will last 3 days in an air-tight container.




*****






 Pumpkin Ravioli w/ Trumpet Mushroom, Chestnuts, Walnuts & Fried Sage Leaves 



Fried sage is one of those miraculous discoveries that you happen upon and wonder where it has been all your life. It's the secret lover you never knew you had. Crisp, savory, delicate, aromatic - it adds aplomb to any dish it graces, truly transformative, but is especially lovely when paired with this simple but elegant pumpkin ravioli dish. The busy cook needs one holiday dish that practically makes itself, and this pasta entree is such a one. Using the chestnut soup that you've (hopefully) already made as a base, buying your local market's uncooked pre-made vegan pumpkin or butternut squash ravioli saves lots of time and energy. Not every dish has to be made from scratch. In fact, not every dish should be, it is a culinary conceit to think that we can out-do a finely-produced ready-made product, so long it is of high quality. Every market carries vegan-style ravioli these days.

The addition of sliced jarred chestnuts, sauteed King trumpet mushrooms make this luxurious; although chanterelles, porcini, maitake (a.k.a. Hen of the Woods Mushrooms) would work beautifully in this dish. If those fungi prove to be a little too un-popularly priced  for your slender wallet, portobello mushrooms would be a more than suitable substitute. You want something dense and shroomy that you can slice thick and sear over relatively high heat. Clean your mushrooms by dampening a kitchen (or paper) towel with water and wiping to get rid of any excess debris. Dry thoroughly.

 A garnish of crumbled Italian Amaretti cookies or even plain old gingersnap biscuits atop the finished dish gives your palate an additional sensory thrill. Think of this dish as a holiday within a holiday.  



Ingredients:


  • 3 12-oz. packages of vegan-style pumpkin or butternut squash ravioli 
  • 1-1/2 cups of Chestnut Porcini soup (see recipe above)
  • 6-8 ounces of cleaned King Trumpet Mushrooms, sliced thickly, stems on
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 6 whole roasted chestnuts, thinly sliced
  • Extra virgin olive oil for frying - just have the bottle handy and pour enough to cover pan
  • 6 Italian Amaretti cookies (or Gingersnap cookies), crumbled
  • Fried Sage leaves*** (recipe below)


Directions:


  1. Heat salted water up in large pasta pot to a boil. Cook ravioli according to package directions, erring on the side of being al dente (Cook it a minute less than the package recommends, slightly undercooked is preferable to slightly overcooked. There is nothing outside of a limp handshake that is more off-putting than flaccid gummy ravioli. The ravioli will cook a bit more as you reheat it in the sauce anyway.)
  2. When pasta is done lift ravioli out of water using a slotted spoon, placing the pasta in a pre-heated pasta bowl. Set aside. Leave pasta water over a low heat in pot. You may need it to thin out the sauce later.
  3.  Heat a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the surface. Add a pinch of coarse salt to the oil. Add mushroom slices to the pan in a single layer, careful not to crowd them. If necessary, sear the mushrooms in batches.  Let them sear on one side without disturbing them for 2 minutes or so. Then flip them over and sear the other side until soft. Remove from pan. Add to the pasta bowl with ravioli.
  4. Using the same saute pan used for the mushrooms, add a bit more olive oil, saute shallots until translucent and aromatic. Add sliced chestnuts, brown slightly. Then add reserved Chestnut Porcini soup to the pan to reheat.
  5. When sauce is warm, add ravioli & mushrooms to the creamy chestnut mixture over low heat, gently combine. If the pasta looks dry, add a bit of the reserved pasta water, until the consistency of the pasta pleases your eye. Once the pasta is thoroughly heated and the sauce is incorporated, take off heat, place in warm serving bowl.
  6. Garnish ravioli with fried sage leaves, chopped walnuts & a very light dusting of crumbled cookies. Give the dish a light toss to incorporate the garnish, careful not to saturate the garnish or break the lovely sage leaves you so painstakingly fried to a perfect crisp. 


***Fried Sage Leaves:

Ingredients:
  • 1 bunch fresh sage, rinsed, dried, stem ends trimmed
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • Coarse salt (I'm into Red Himalayan these days)

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat until hot.
  2. Fry 6–8 sage leaves at a time until crisp, 2–3 seconds. Transfer with a fork to paper towels and sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Set aside as garnish. 




*****




Harvest Stuffed Acorn Squash





Serves 6

Consider this side dish the picture of autumn's bounty. Cranberries, apples, pecans and sage flavor a
delicious stuffing you eat while scooping out spoonfuls of sweet, tender acorn squash.












Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil
  • 2 cups cooked rice, barley or quinoa
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries, soaked in hot water and drained
  • 2/3 cup chopped sweet potato or carrot, steamed until just tender
  • 1/2 cup grated peeled apple
  • 1/2 cup pecans, rough chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 acorn squash
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Roasted red peppers, for garnish. Roast them yourself or buy prepared fresh from your favorite deli or the deli section of your market. Don't used the jarred variety. They are far too briny and limp. (optional) 
Directions
  1. In a small pan, sauté onion and garlic in oil over medium heat until so, but not browned. 
  2. Place in a large bowl and add rice, cranberries, sweet potato, apple, nuts, parsley, and sage. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Slice acorn squashes in half, and scrape out seeds and strings. Place face down in large casserole or roasting pan and fill with 1/2 inch of vegetable stock, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. 
  4. Remove, reserve any remaining stock, and place face side up in pan. Fill each cavity with about 1/2 to 2/3 cup stuffing. 
  5. Drizzle with olive oil and any remaining stock, and cover tightly with foil. 
  6. Bake until squash are cooked and slightly soft to the touch, about 30 minutes. 
  7. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes of baking.



    *****


     Sicilian-style Caponata 





    This eggplant-based dish has different varieties throughout Italy, most popular in the regions of Sicily, Naples, and Genoa. This recipe is for the vegan-friendly Sicilian Caponata. Eggplant, like mushrooms, is a truly meaty vegan choice. It is dense, chewy and absorbs the flavor of whatever it is cooked in admirably. Serve on its own as a side dish for the gluten-intolerant,  with warm crusty baguette for the bread-lovers, or over penne, even spaghetti squash - if you want another main course option. 


    Serves 3-4

    Ingredients:
    • 4 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 eggplants/aubergines, chopped
    • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
    • 1 large onion, diced
    • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 green bell pepper, deseeded and diced
    • 1 red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
    • 6-8 plum tomatoes, diced
    • 1 carrot, diced (optional)
    • 2 tsp fresh basil 
    • 1/2 cup green olives, pitted and chopped
    • 1/2 cup of Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
    • 1-2 tbsp capers
    • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp sugar
    • a few grinds of pepper
    • pinch of red pepper flakes
    • a splash of red wine or sherry vinegar
    • 1/4 cup of golden raisins (optional)

    Directions:


    1. In a large braising pan, over medium-high, heat the olive oil. Add celery, peppers, onions, red pepper flakes, and garlic, saute for 5 minutes.
    2. Remove aromatics from pan, set aside. 
    3. In the same pan add more olive oil, then add eggplant, let it fry in one layer for one-two minutes, before stirring. 
    4. Then add everything else to the pot, and simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes. Serve!


    ****



    Roasted Brussel Sprouts Ssam Bar-style



    Deep fried Brussel sprouts are a  popular dish at Ssam Bar in  Manhattan. They will be roasted  in a hot oven instead of fried. Too  messy. It will still give them that  nutty sweetness and caramelized  exterior.

     It's a great dish with Asian flair.  I would pair it along with the rest  of this Thanksgiving  extravaganza with any Alsatian Riesling or Gewurtraminer you like as long as it isn't a VT (Vendange Tardive).

    Those are really costly and dessert-like. Such unctuous honeyed viscous nectar is best appreciated on its own. 

    **Note:  Puffed rice can be made 3 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
 Dressing, without mint and cilantro, can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature and add herbs before using.
 Brussels sprouts can be roasted 4 hours ahead. Chill, uncovered, until cool, then cover. Reheat, uncovered, in a 350°F oven until hot, 10 to 15 minutes. The dish will be fine without the puffed rice, of course. It just adds another element of texture. 





    Ingredients:

    For the sprouts

    • 2 lbs. brussel sprouts, trimmed & halved lengthwise
    • 3 Tablespoons canola oil (Do not use olive oil. It has too low a flash point and will turn acrid and bitter in high heat)
    • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or butter substitute

    For the dressing

    • 1/4 cup Asian fish sauce (preferably Tiparos brand)
    • 1/4 cup water
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stems
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 1 (1 1/2-inch) fresh red Thai chile, thinly sliced crosswise, including seeds

    For puffed rice

    • 1/2 cup crisp rice cereal such as Rice Krispies
    • 1/4 teaspoon canola oil
    • 1/4 teaspoon shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice blend)

    Garnish: cilantro sprigs; torn mint leaves; chopped scallions

    Directions:

    1. Roast brussels sprouts:
Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third.
    2. Toss Brussels sprouts with oil, then arrange, cut sides down, in a 17- by 12-inch shallow baking pan. Roast, without turning, until outer leaves are tender and very dark brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Add butter and toss to coat.
    3. Make dressing:
 Stir together all dressing ingredients until sugar has dissolved.
    4. Make puffed rice while sprouts roast:
Cook cereal, oil, and shichimi togarashi in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking skillet and stirring, until rice is coated and begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally.
    5. Finish dish:
 Put Brussels sprouts in a serving bowl, then toss with just enough dressing to coat. Sprinkle with puffed rice and serve remaining dressing on the side


    *****



    Pumpkin Pie - Vegan-Style





    There are an incredible amount of truly delectable desserts that are dairy-free. Of course, one can enjoy eating a raw cool crisp apple or a buttery pear, or make a crumble with any fruit using a variety of grains and nuts mix it with a "buttery" vegan spread and bake it all in the oven, then serve with a delicious scoop of dairy-free frozen coconut "ice cream". Coconut Bliss is a brand that comes in innumerable flavors. But it's Thanksgiving, and to me, pumpkin pie is the classic dessert to serve on this holiday. The use of full fat coconut milk here helps to replace the dairy and is being touted as a healthier alternative by those who make it their business to tout. The health industry being what it is these days, I wouldn't dare suggest this was healthier, in 5 years experts may revert back to the mean and tell us coconuts and pumpkins are poisonous. Quien sabe? In any event, no one bakes a dessert with their health as their primary concern. Savor is what we are looking for. Satisfaction. Pleasure. Indulgence. I usually skip desserts, and prefer a bit of runny cheese with my glass of rotten grape juice,  Napoleon's Epoisses comes to mind as a first choice, as does a Neal's Yard Stilton, but on Thanksgiving? I want a slice of sweet, custardy, luscious, tongue-coating cultivar of the squash plant pie - after all, it is a native American. 






    Ingredients for the Filling

    1 can (15oz) pumpkin or sweet potato puree
    1 (13.5oz) can full-fat coconut milk
    1/4 cup rolled oats (20g)
    2 tbsp ground flax
    1/3 cup coconut sugar or brown sugar
    2 tablespoons of molasses
    2 tsp cinnamon
    1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 tbsp pure vanilla extract



    Total Time: 45m
    Yield: 1 pumpkin pie

    Instructions for the Filling: 

    1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
    2. Make Crust (recipe below) 
    3. Blend all ingredients together until smooth
    4. Pour into a prepared pie crust (recipe below) in a 10-inch round pan. 
    5. Bake 27 minutes (it will still be underdone after this time, which is desirable)
    6. Allow it to cool on a wire rack
    7. Refrigerate at least 5 hours uncovered for the pie to thicken and “set.



    The Crust:
    • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
    • 
1 tsp salt
    • 
1/3 cup superfine sugar of choice
    • 
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil (80g)
    • 
2-4 tbsp ice cold water 


    1. 
Preheat oven to 375F. 
    2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients. 
    3. Add oil and stir. Add water as needed until it just sticks together but is not gummy. It should look like coarse meal
    4. Press evenly into a 10-inch pie pan on the bottom and up the sides. This crust will not roll out well. 
    5. Put the crust in the oven and immediately increase the temperature to 350F. (The crust will rise, so either use pie weights during baking or poke holes in crust with a fork and just press the pie crust back down afterwards.) 
    6. Blind bake 15 minutes. Let cool.
    7. Add filling. Bake.








    Happy Thanksgiving!