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Turkey Day Trials 2016

16 Nov

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Here we go again, folks!  It’s Turkey Day Trials, 2016!

I’m going to invite the teacher to the blog for a moment and grace all of you with a brief history of the tradition.  Turkey Day Trials dates all the way back to November 2010 with culinary experimentation to prepare for the most anticipated foodie day of the year.  It started with prepping for the first Thanksgiving I prepared, lead to grocery store meltdowns, microwaved turkey breast, Kindergarten Turkey cooking (ironically, the frustration of being volun-told to cook for an elementary school “feast” taught me how to make the best bird), appetizers and dips galore, berry mistakes, and finally, comfort food leftovers.  There have been ups and downs, but all have been fun (except last year when I had the stomach flu and could barely scarf down the stuffing).

Clearly, I love Thanksgiving.

So this year’s Turkey Day Trial kind of happened on accident.  By my husband.

Yes, credit is due where credit is due and Chef Robert II (Chef Robert I is my dad.  And it’s pronounced Ro-BEAR by the way) came up with a most fantastic, keep in the fridge all season long, use on everything Pumpkin Butter.  It’s really amazing.

The other day, I just happened to add a bit of spice to that Pumpkin Butter and used it with some braised greens and mushrooms, making one of the best accidental Thanksgiving-worthy-yes-it-will-be-on-my-fancy-table-this-year side dishes ever.  Yes, I said it – EVER.

Sig (the dog) would disagree, but pumpkin by itself isn’t all that flavorful.  It’s a little musty and calls for brightening.  Sweetness and warm spices give pumpkin its quintessential autumn flavor, and in this recipe, water is added to turn the clumpy pumpkin into that silky, smooth, glazy texture fruit “butters” are known to embody.

The Pumpkin Butter is easy: 1 can of pumpkin puree, 1 c of water, 4 tbsp sugar, ¼ c brown sugar, ¼ tsp each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkin spice.  Mix all together in a sauce pan, and heat until the puree and the water have formed a smooth, silky consistency.  That’s it! 

Now, I did mention that I spiced this baby up.  To ¼ a cup of the Pumpkin Butter, I added 5-6 dashes of my favorite hot sauce: Tapatio.  Honestly, the chili spiciness mixed with the sweetness and nutmeg-y goodness is a flavor I can’t get enough of.  Granted – important note from Chef Robert II here – if you are going to use this Pumpkin Butter in coffee for an excelled Pumpkin Spice Latte, please omit the Tapatio.  That would just be silly.

So, onto the Turkey Day Trial side dish.

Southerners loooooove their braised greens.  Collards, actually, and I just can’t jump on that bandwagon.  This isn’t for lack of trying – I’ve had collards every which way.  But I simply do not like them, Sam I am.

But, in an accidental mix up of wild mushrooms and kale, a bit of sherry vinegar, plumped dried cranberries, and a drizzle of salt and honey, I found a sturdy cooked greens dish that could kick the chlorophyll out of those darn collards any day.  Also, it speaks heavily to my Scandinavian roots and Pacific Northwest taste buds, so there’s that for the sake of full disclosure.

Kale, basking in its endless superfood limelight, is softer than collards but still cooks well keeping integrity (it doesn’t disappear like spinach) and offering a bit of sweetness.  The mushrooms, oh the mushrooms, when those buggers are cooked till they just can’t be cooked anymore, they are amazing.  Browned, nutty, addictive; they taste like the smell of the woods next to the ocean after it’s just rained.  It’s a trick I’ve learned from my mom – let the mushrooms be.  Well, my mom and Paul McCartney.

Then – wait for it – I drizzled the Spicy Pumpkin Butter over the greens.

Un.  Bel.  Ievable.

I turned that one dish into a couple different things (Thanksgiving leftover ideas coming!  Hint hint, wink wink!).  I poured the greens on top of creamed barley for an earthy grain bowl, and I also pulled out a breakfast by shmearing some cream cheese on toast, topped with the greens and pumpkin butter, then “garnished” with a fried egg.  Again – delicious.

Time is running out on Thanksgiving countdowns, but luckily these gems are no fuss.  Rob’s Pumpkin Butter and my Mushrooms and Kale are perfect for your holiday feast.

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Mushrooms and Kale
(makes a lot, but you’ll need a lot)

  • 1 bunch curly kale (usually 7-8 stalks are in a bunch), leaves only, thinly sliced
  • 1 pint crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint chanterelle mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ c sherry vinegar
  • ¼ c water
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated is better, but do just a bit less)
  • ¼ c dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp really good local honey
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • s&p

In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add all the mushrooms and DO NOT yet season.  Stir the mushrooms, let them absorb the butter, and then finally release their own juices (without the help of salt).  Once the mushrooms start to caramelize, lower the heat to medium-low, and stir occasionally, letting the mushrooms brown, and then brown some more.  Once they are fully caramelized (and considerably smaller) lightly season with s&p.  Turn up the heat to medium, and pour in the sherry vinegar to deglaze the pan.  Once the vinegar has reduced to almost gone, add in the water and the kale.  Season with a bit more s&p, nutmeg, and add the cranberries.  Once the kale has cooked (it will wilt a bit, still look wrinkly, and have a dark green color), and the cranberries have plumped, turn off the heat.  Drizzle over the honey, and serve. 

Enjoy!

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Now THIS is a Pie

9 Jul

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It could be a club, or organization, of sorts. The I-hate-it-when-I-make-HUGE-mistakes-at-something-I’m-good-at club. Can anyone else join? Or at least stick their head in to see what all the fuss is about?

With humbled conviction, I can say there are four things in life that I’m really good at: cooking, teaching, writing, and yoga. I guess we could bump it up to five things if eating is an area in which to excel. Or maybe even six if driving too fast is considered, but for arguments sake, let’s keep it at four. So when I completely, utterly, remarkably destroyed a pie on the 4th of July, I went down the list of excuses.

“I’m not a baker.”
“This was just plain silly to try.”
“It probably wasn’t going to be good anyway.”

North Florida backwoods fireworks boomed with each doleful attempt at an excuse. Then, right as Rob came over to give me a supportive hug, inevitable frustration took over.

“What the hell! What the hell was I thinking?!” I hissed at him (because he was near).

Rob’s arms quickly – and understandably – released as mine over-exaggeratedly flew around, and my mom graciously admitted that she wasn’t that hungry anyway, and my dad echoed the sentiment. Our progressive summer holiday dinner, where our house was the dessert stop, literally stopped.

Sigh.

This has happened before. Where I mess something up in the kitchen, and have to swallow verbal shrapnel for fear others in the vicinity will call the nutty-farm to pick me up over a failed pork roast. Or from-scratch citrus butter. Or seared scallops. Or fig pizza. But the best thing about these mess ups, is that I get to try again having always learned something.

That did sound a little afterschool special-ish; however, it’s true. With the scallops, for instance, don’t put a hard-plastic handled pan on a grill. It may just break completely off sending scallops flying all over the porch (sorry, Mom). And with the citrus butter, adding too much citrus breaks the clotted cream. Add a bit of salt and sugar instead. With the figs, well, just don’t add them to a pizza, and never ever yell into the oven at a pork roast because it won’t cook fast enough. Lesson learned: the pork will ignore you, and you’ll look like a raging moron.

Well, this latest mistake was a dessert mistake. I’m not particularly a sweet-toothed person, most of which I attribute to the fact that my mom couldn’t let go of the chimichangas while pregnant with me. Though in the summertime, I love, love, love Smores. So what better perfect summertime pie than a Smores Pie?

I planned the layers of the pie perfectly: graham cracker crust, then milk chocolate custard (in true Smores Hershey style), melted marshmallow, and then a meringue topping torched to resemble the most perfect, campfire-toasted mallow. Here was the problem: the custard needed to be baked at a certain temperature (preferably in a water bath), and the meringue needed to be baked at a different certain temperature to ensure the egg whites get fully cooked, yet still set to a fluffy, airy, topping. Here’s what went wrong: I double baked the custard in order to cook the meringue, which completely separated both the melted marshmallow and the custard, resulting in a soupy, gloppy, broken, slimy, inedible mess. Really. Not edible. Not exaggerating.

After the flailing arms breakdown, the 4th of July came and went, and the 5th of July was upon us with friends coming for dinner and to watch the Women’s World Cup Championship. So rather than wallow in kitchen disaster pity (like I am honestly still doing with the pork roast – seriously folks, it hasn’t been attempted since), I decided to try the pie again.

The deep breaths in the kitchen were audible. I reviewed: graham crust? Fine. Custard? Creamy and light. Melted mallows? Genius. Problem: Bleeping meringue. Solution: make a thick whipped topping instead. To get the toasted campfire flavor, cook the graham crust just a bit longer locking in some carbon flavor. Result? Pie perfection.

Our guests loved the pie, Rob loved the pie, I loved the pie – it was smores-y, creamy, dreamy, and everything summertime sweets should taste like. But, mostly I loved it because I had tried again and succeeded after an epic, epic fail.

Lesson learned: try again. It should be a kitchen motto, really. Even with food that turns out fantastic. Try again. It will be great again, or maybe even better! So with that, I’m sending summertime love and a sweet, sweet, do-over Smores Pie!

Enjoy!

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Smores Pie

  • 6 full Hersheys milk chocolate bars, chopped
  • ½ bag large marshmallows
  • 2 full sleeves honey graham crackers
  • 6 tbsp + 2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ½ tsp good quality sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • ¼ tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 c + ½ c heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 tbsp confectioners sugar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract, divided

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using a food processor, crush up the graham crackers with 6 tbsp of butter, and ¼ tsp of Kosher salt. When finely ground, pour the grahams into a pie dish, reserving ¼ c of the grahams for topping at the end. Using hands or the bottom of a measuring cup, firmly press the grahams evenly across the pie pan, and up the sides. Bake for 7-10 minutes.

To make the chocolate custard, pour the chocolate into the top of a double boiler (or use a glass dish over a pot of boiling water. NOTE: do not let the water touch the bowl, or it will burn and separate the chocolate). Heat up the ½ c of heavy cream for 30 seconds in a microwave, or over the stove. Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate and stir.

While the chocolate is starting to warm, using a hand mixer, beat 3 egg yolks with 1 tbsp of sugar and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. Vigorously beat the egg yolks until they are fluffy, pale yellow, and form a smooth falling ribbon when falling off the beaters.

Once the chocolate has started to melt, mix it together quickly until smooth. Remove the top bowl from the heat, and place on the counter.

At this point, the eggs need to be tempered (if you immediately add room temperature eggs to the hot melted chocolate, you will curdle the eggs – yuck). While vigorously whisking the eggs with one hand, use the other hand to slowly ladle a stream of the melted chocolate into the eggs. Do this with 2-3 spoonfuls, or until the bowl with eggs feels warm (and may steam). Then, while continuing to whisk the chocolate, pour the egg mixture back into the bowl of melted chocolate, and completely combine. At this point, add the sea salt and the cayenne pepper to the chocolate, and mix thoroughly (it may sound strange, but the salt and hot pepper add a dimension to milk chocolate that is lacking on its own – it makes the flavor more rounded, while keeping the integrity of the milk chocolate smores taste). Pour the custard into the pie pan and place the pie pan on a sheet tray. Place the tray in the oven, and carefully pour the hot water left over from the double-boiler, onto the sheet tray making sure no water gets into the pie (this is called a bain marie and the hot water steams to help cook the custard evenly). Bake the custard for 35-40 minutes, until firm, yet still a little jiggly in the middle.

After the custard has baked, remove it from the bain marie and let it cool to room temperature.

Once cooled, start to make the gooey marshmallow layer by putting the marshmallows in a microwaveable bowl with the 2 remaining tbsp of butter. Heat the marshmallows in the microwave for about 20 seconds, or until the marshmallows just start to expand. Quickly remove the bowl from the microwave and stir the mixture until the butter and melted marshmallows combine to make one mixture. While still warm and pourable, evenly pour the marshmallows over the custard.

Put in the fridge to set for anywhere from 1 hour to overnight.

Just before serving, whip the 2 c of heavy whipping cream using a hand, or stand mixer. When just starting to get bubbly, add the vanilla extract and the confectioners sugar. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form.

Dollop the whipped cream on top of the pie, making a fluffy design, and sprinkle the remaining graham cracker crumbs on top.

Enjoy!

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