Wednesday, November 21, 2018

And We’re Off to the Races!!!!...

What’s cooking? Butternut Squash with Royal Trumpet Mushrooms and Holiday Hummus

I don’t know how this happened, but someone has posted a list of tasks for me to accomplish.  As if I didn’t have enough to do, now I also have to...

1. Make a chart.
2. Clear out the fridge.
3. Dry-brine the turkey.
4. Set the table.
5. Get some candles.
6. Get my mise en place.
7. Gather my timers and Post-It Notes.
8. Figure out ways my guests can help.
9. Butter the turkey.
10. Buy a box of zip-lock bags.

Just a little joke, folks. I hope yesterday’s list was helpful. Today’s post will be mercifully shorter, mostly because the Kitchen Goddess is reaching that state of mind that causes her prince to hide out in his office.

How lucky we are that we can take the time to focus on a giant meal for friends and family? Back in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, my little church in Summit, NJ, was connecting with a church in a Louisiana neighborhood whose congregation had been hit hard. We held a dinner to benefit that church, and I volunteered to set the tables. For centerpieces, I decided to focus on what would be lost if you lost everything. I started with a table to show canned and boxed foods, but as I gathered some for the display, I realized what a small part of “everything” that is. So on another table, I piled sheets and towels; another got books and CDs of music. On another, I made a display of family photos. One table even had piles of toilet paper, toothbrushes, and packages of soap. It’s amazing when you think about it that such insignificant items can mean so much when they’re lost.

According to a TED talk I heard recently, by Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar, it’s not happiness that makes us grateful – instead, gratefulness actually makes us happy. So the key to happiness is grateful living. Which is why, every year, as I get into the postings around Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of how grateful I am that you are reading this blog. It’s a small thing, but meaningful to me.

Ok, enough of philosophizing and back to cooking.

I know most of you are well into the preparations for Thanksgiving. So today’s dishes will not likely end up on your table. But that doesn’t stop them from being good ideas for another day. Because you know what will happen after Thanksgiving? We’ll all have another meal to cook!

And now I feel much better because Food & Wine Magazine just sent me an e-newsletter with “28 Next-Level Thanksgiving Vegetable Side Dishes.” Today! Well, well, look who else is running behind.

The first of today’s dishes was a real surprise to me, mostly because I couldn’t find either of the main ingredients and had to punt. The original recipe called for kabocha squash with black trumpet mushrooms. And as hard as I looked,... no kabocha today. At least, I looked sort of hard... for a good 5-10 minutes, until I spotted my old fave, butternut squash, already cut in nice, neat cubes. I decided to call a squash a squash, so into the cart it went.

I made more of an effort for the black trumpet mushrooms, because they sounded so cool, and you know what a soft spot the Kitchen Goddess has for strange, cool foods. The produce guy at Whole Foods told me they’d have some Sunday night after they unpacked their latest shipment. But when I returned around 9pm, what they had was black truffles – for a mere $90 per ounce! Not at all what I wanted. They had Royal Trumpet mushrooms (a.k.a. King Oyster mushrooms) instead, and those looked sufficiently cool that I bought some.

The dish is exquisite. Beautiful for starters. Earthy and slightly sweet from the butternut squash, a light nutty flavor from the mushrooms, and a noticeable tang from the Madeira. Woof. So this punt was a field goal. My prince and I will not wait for Thanksgiving to polish it off.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Royal Trumpet Mushrooms and Madeira

Adapted from a recipe by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby in their book, Vedge (Workman Publishing) 

Serves 6.

To trim the mushrooms, just remove the fibrous base.
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut in ¾-inch dice (about 4 cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
½ pound Royal Trumpet mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed and sliced ⅛-inch thick
½ cup chopped shallots (2 medium-sized)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 large cloves)
½ cup Madeira
½ cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
Here's how they look sliced.
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Toss the squash in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of the oil, and half the salt and pepper. Line a large baking pan with baker’s parchment and spread the squash out on it in a single layer. Roast 25 minutes, or until fork-tender.

While the squash is roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large sauté pan at high heat, until the oil shimmers. Add all at once the mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and remaining half of the salt and pepper. Stir together well, then cook 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, while the mushrooms brown.

Once the mushrooms are reasonably brown, pour in the Madeira and use a spoon to deglaze the pan. Continue cooking for 2-3 minutes, to reduce the Madeira by half.

Kitchen Goddess note: Deglazing is a cooking technique – typically using wine or vinegar or stock – for removing and dissolving browned food residue from a pan. The residue acts to flavor sauces, soups, and gravies. My teacher at the Culinary Institute told the class that not making use of the “fond” (the name for that residue) would land you in culinary hell.

Add the stock and the rosemary, stirring another 1-2 minutes, until the liquid becomes syrupy.

Transfer the squash to a serving dish, and spoon the mushroom mixture on top. Serve immediately.

* * *

My Louisiana grandmother loved to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” She was a stubborn woman. This next dish reminds me of that phrase, as it represents a way to get your friends and family to eat beets. My hubby, who holds strong feelings against beets, admitted that this hummus is “not bad,” which is as high a praise as a beet dish is likely to get from him. “In the end,” he continued, “it’s still beets.”

I love beets, but I was disappointed in my first run at this dish. It had a nice texture but was a bit bland. So I checked my Flavor Bible for possible adjustments, and found that balsamic vinegar is a recommended pairing with beets. I had a bottle of White Lemon Balsamic Vinegar in my pantry, and after adding only 2 tablespoons to the mix, it seemed like the angels sang. A good sign. Now I give it to you. And I’ve changed the name, to make it easier for you to fool your guests.

Holiday Hummus (Roasted Beet Hummus with White Lemon Balsamic)

Adapted from

2 medium beets
1 19-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Juice and zest of 1 large lemon
2 tablespoons tahini*
2 tablespoons white lemon balsamic vinegar (or plain white balsamic vinegar)
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Garnish: toasted black and white sesame seeds, roasted and salted sunflower seeds

Kitchen Goddess note on tahini: Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds, and a feature of many Middle Eastern dishes. You can only buy a giant economy size container of the stuff, but that’s okay, because it lasts forever. Mine had actually separated – the oil from the solids – but as I had little recourse at that time of night, I threw the whole mess into my Vita-Mix and blended the hell out of it. That worked perfectly, so I scooped what I wasn’t using for the hummus back into its container and sent it back into the fridge for my next use some six months from now. Must try to make hummus more often.

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Without washing or peeling the beets, roast them in a covered oven-proof container for 45-60 minutes, or until they are tender enough to be easily pierced with a knife. Remove them from the oven and let them cool.

When the beets are cool, rub the peel off and cut the flesh into large chunks. Add the beets to the bowl of a food processor.

Add the rinsed and drained chickpeas, as well as the garlic, to the food processor, and pulse until the texture is not quite smooth.

Add the lemon juice/zest, the tahini, the balsamic, and the salt/pepper, and process continuously until the mixture is smooth. While the processor is running, slowly drizzle in 3 tablespoons of the oil and continue to process until the mixture is very smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve the hummus with toasted black and white sesame seeds and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds. Drizzle on the final tablespoon of olive oil.

And my wishes for a happy and grateful thanksgiving to you and yours.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Kitchen Goddess Tips for a More Stress-Free Thanksgiving

What’s cooking? Roasted Carrots with Turmeric and Cumin, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

It’s that time again. The food day of all food days. You think you’ve got it all under control ... until you don’t. Uncle Harvey will call to say he’s bringing his nephew who just showed up on a business trip from Wisconsin and isn’t it great that he can stay for the big dinner? Or Darla, who was going to bring the pumpkin pie, texts you that she’s got chills and a fever, and will be spending the day in bed. Shit happens, as they say.

So the first thing you have to remember is that, in the words of the great Gilda Radner, “It’s always something.” Pour yourself a glass of wine and try to relax while you figure out how many of the gears in your Thanksgiving machine have to be adjusted. In my case, there’s always an appetizer I can delete. A few other thoughts on maintaining sanity:

1. Make a chart that includes every food you’ll be serving, including the ones being cooked by other guests. Assign days when you’ll cook them, what dishes they’ll be served in, and which utensils you’ll need for serving. These sorts of decisions – if made at the last minute – will cost you precious energy when you realize you’ve put the green beans in that bowl you were saving for the mashed potatoes.

2. You’re going to need all the room that’s possible in your fridge, so find a large cooler and move all the condiments from your fridge into the cooler. You won’t need most of them for this meal, and you may decide that the 2-year-old mango chutney can go straight into the trash. Add a couple of large zip-lock bags of ice to keep the chill, and you can move that cooler to the basement or garage or laundry room – wherever you have the space.

3. Whether you’re wet-brining or dry-brining or not brining your turkey, let it sit for its last 24 hours in the fridge without any covering at all. This air-drying technique produces extra-crispy skin on the cooked bird. If you’re still trying to decide on the brining question, take a look at an excellent piece by Kim Severson in The New York Times last week, “The Rise and Fall of Turkey Brining.” 

The group favoring dry-brining over wet-brining includes an impressive number of food scientists (e.g., Kenji López-Alt, Harold McGee, and Christopher Kimball) and other food stars like Ruth Reichl and Ina Garten, so the Kitchen Goddess will this year be trying her hand at the dry-brining method. I’ll let you know...

4. Set the table Wednesday night. That way, when you wake up on The Day, you don’t have to worry about it. And if, like the Kitchen Goddess, you are still winding things up with a couple of dishes when the guests arrive, at least it will look like you’re ready.

5. Don’t forget the candles – they create a mood that’s friendly and warm. Besides, everyone looks better in candlelight; it’s prettier and more flattering than electric light. And candles are a symbol of hospitality and hope. I direct you to a past post – HERE – with all you need to know about adding candles to the scene. Tealights in particular can be used in glasses or containers of all sorts, so even if you don’t have candlesticks you like, you can add candlelight to the table.

6. Remember the mise en place. Much of your chopping and measuring can be done the day before; put the chopped veggies or other ingredients into zip-lock bags and label them for when you’re ready to do the actual cooking. It’s by far the most efficient way to work.

7. Assemble a gaggle of timers for the multiple dishes that will all be at different stages, and Post-It Notes to help you keep track of which timer is working for which dish. These are the sorts of issues that prompt moments of crazed hilarity– or unladylike language – for the Kitchen Goddess.

8. Let your friends and relatives help. Most of them are happy to have something to do rather than stand around watching you, and the camaraderie it generates will add to the festive atmosphere. So have a couple of tasks in mind that you can lay off to the first volunteers.

9. Skip the basting. It’s a needless distraction. Rub the turkey inside and out with seasoned butter, add orange or lemon slices, an onion, and a couple of handfuls of herbs, and stick it in the oven. Take it out when it’s done.

10. Everyone loves leftovers, so have ready a box of quart-sized zip-lock bags your guests can use, so you won't be eating the meal for the next week.

And now for some ideas to fill in the blanks in your menu. The KG took a stroll down memory lane, checking out dishes she’s posted in years past. Here are four of her best (click on the title to link), followed by two fresh ones.

Asparagus Coins with Chive Oil and Parsley Water – One of my all-time faves for its unique look and fresh taste. Cooking time is very short; do the prep the day before.

Smashed Carrots with Feta and Mint – This one is making an appearance on the KG’s Thanksgiving table. Gorgeous, delicious, and different, and easy to make ahead.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Tangy Whipped Cheese Sauce – A delicious way to eat cauliflower – nutty and sweet – and you can make the cheese sauce the day before.

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Leeks – Another dish that will grace the Kitchen Goddess’s table. Bright and colorful, and a great mix of flavors. The beans can be steamed a day ahead.

If none of these ideas tickle your fancy, here are a couple of new thoughts: Roasted Carrots with Turmeric and Cumin, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta. These are both easy, and need little monitoring as they cook. And my prince has given both dishes a thumbs-up, even though he says, “In the end, they’re Brussels sprouts.”


Roasted Carrots with Turmeric and Cumin

Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman in The New York Times.

Serves 6.

10 medium carrots (just under 1½ pounds), peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or mild chili powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Preheat the oven to 425º.

Cut the carrots in half lengthwise and crosswise. For the thicker carrots, cut lengthwise into quarters. Slice the carrots crosswise into pieces 2-3 inches long. Your goal is to have the pieces be more or less the same thickness, so that they reach a level of uniform doneness in the roasting. (At the CIA, the saying is, “Look the same, cook the same.”) Put the carrots in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper, and thyme leaves. Hang onto that bowl for later.

Heat a heavy baking sheet (traditional quarter sheet pan, about 9x13 inches) in the oven for 3-4 minutes. Remove the hot pan and distribute the carrots on it in a single layer. Roast 25-30 minutes, stirring the carrots midway. When the carrots are tender, they should also be lightly caramelized.

While the carrots roast, place the cumin and coriander seeds in a small saucepan or skillet over medium/medium-low heat and toast 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan or stirring until you can smell their aroma. (Don’t let them burn!)Transfer the seeds to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and pulverize to a fine powder. Add the ground spices to a small bowl along with the soft butter, turmeric and Aleppo pepper (or chili powder) and stir until well combined.

Kitchen Goddess note on the spices: It is perfectly acceptable to use already ground spices, but do heat them a bit in a skillet or saucepan before adding them to the butter. Starting with the seeds simply gives you more flavor. But don’t go buying coriander seeds or cumin seeds just for this recipe – try them if you use those spices frequently and want to get stronger flavor.

Remember that large bowl? When the carrots have finished roasting, transfer them to that bowl and add the spiced butter mix and most of the mint. Toss gently, until the butter and spices are well distributed across the carrots. The carrots will need salt, so adjust salt and pepper seasoning to taste. The carrots can be served immediately or set aside and served at room temperature. Sprinkle the reserved mint on top.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, January 2001.

Serves 4.

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
3 ounces pancetta, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons water (if needed)
Garnish (optional): 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

Prepping the sprouts

Prepping the pancetta
Preheat the oven to 450º.

In a medium-sized bowl, toss the prepared sprouts with the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and salt and pepper. Transfer the sprouts to a quarter sheet pan (9x13 inches), and spread in a single layer with the cut side of the sprouts down. Sprinkle the pancetta around and on top.

Roast in the upper third of the oven for 25 minutes, or until the sprouts are tender and have begun to brown. Remove all to a serving dish. If any brown bits (called the fond) stick to the pan, add the water and stir/scrape to remove them, then add that to the serving dish.

As you know, the Kitchen Goddess has an irresistible urge to garnish. For these lovable sprouts, she drizzled pomegranate balsamic vinegar (though plain balsamic would also do) and tossed some pomegranate seeds on top. Extra delicious, if you ask me.

Kitchen Goddess note: These sprouts needn’t be served piping hot, but they'll get a bit mushy after a night in the fridge. My recommendation is to prep the sprouts and pancetta the day before, then pop them into the oven a half hour before you plan to serve. In fact, you could assemble the baking pan, with sprouts, olive oil, lemon juice/zest, salt/pepper, and pancetta, then wrap the whole thing tightly with cellophane wrap and refrigerate it overnight. Take it out 30 minutes before roasting, to let everything come closer to room temp. Where there’s a will,...

The Kitchen Goddess will be back tomorrow with two more dishes that might fill in some holes in your menu. In the meantime,... start your engines!