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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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Honor Thinking

22 Feb

Isn’t February just flying by?  It feels like just yesterday that Rob and I were sitting down to our fabulous Valentines Day dinner, rather than over a week ago.  I kind of wish it was just yesterday – we had the most amazing meal: Marinated Flank Steak, perfectly grilled (despite the pouring rain and 30+ mph wind gusts – our garage smelled like a steakhouse, but it was well worth the smell and safety hazard), sweet potato soufflé, roasted asparagus with hollandaise sauce, 36-hour fermented rosemary and citrus Fougasse bread, and finally a chocolate sponge cake with pinot-marionberry sauce.  Needless to say, we were weak at the knees, and not just for each other.

We had to get in as much quality time together as possible as Rob has had a funky schedule lately, and my week was filled with a trip to Portland.  Wednesday morning, six other teachers and I drove up to attend  a national Mathematics Leadership Conference put on by the Teacher Development Group.  It was simply an honor to be asked to go, as it was geared towards teaching us how to teach teachers to become better teachers.  The week was filled with fabulous research, mathematical practices and developments, and the over-arching mentality and high expectation to honor thinking.  By Saturday night, my brain was full… and so was my stomach.

We were fed like royalty!  Giant dinners, beautiful lunches, all you can eat (and I did) breakfasts, and a dessert table that was always at the ready with any pastry, cake, cookie, or puff a heart could desire.  There was so much food, and so much sitting, then more food – I started to hope that my brain’s energy was capable of burning calories.

Alas, algebraically proving a linear function did not quite accomplish the same results as a 5-mile run.  So on top of sleeping most of Sunday, I planed for a major detox.

In a few of my entries, I’ve mentioned my former vegetarian days and have fond memories of cooking many meatless meals.  Vegetarian cooking is what made me a cook – figuring out flavorful alternatives to protein and animal fat was a welcomed challenge, and I was always delighted when those enjoying my food would have the oh-my-gosh-there’s-no-meat-in-this-dish epiphany with only a few bites left on the plate (just ask my Irish mother-in-law).  But such that it was, after many years, pork belly (bacon, pancetta, etc.) brought me back to the omnivore world.

So this past Sunday morning, still sleepily in my PJs, I had to honor the thinking of my past and go back to enjoying my vegetarian days.  Wanting to really detox, I decided to nix dairy and limit bread as well, leaving my compilation of vegetarian recipes more veganized.  Carrot in hand, I knew I soon would be feeling cleansed, at least until a Bacon Butty sang my name.

With Tuesday rolling on through, so far, so good.  Even my meat-loving hubby has taken on the detox challenge (beer is mostly yeast, barley, and water, right?).  The last few days has provided us with a flurry of delicious fruit and vegetable smoothies, two rounds of leek broth that never got the opportunity to see the inside of the fridge,and experiments with Tahini paste.  But the most amazing dish so far has been a simple chard salad with a finger-licking roasted garlic dressing.  The hot bite of garlic just plain gives in to the long intense oven heat, leaving the cloves so sweet, caramelized, and wonderfully mushy.  Mushy garlic = yum.  Not exactly an equation for a linear function, but the answer to an insanely healthy vegan salad.

And tonight’s meal was another unbelievable flavor sensation… Chinese Peanut Lettuce Wraps.  Should detoxing really be this much fun?!

Raw Mushroom & Swiss Chard Salad (serves 4)

  • 5-7 stalks of large swiss chard leaves, washed, ripped off the stem and julienned into small “ribbons”
  • 1/4 c dried cherries, roughly chopped
  • 2 c crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

  • 1 head of garlic, sliced in half
  • 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Agave nectar
  • 3/4 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • about 1 tsp water
  • s&p

To make the vinaigrette, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Take the sliced head of garlic, and create a package, lightly folding aluminum foil around the garlic.  Reopen and add the water and a bit of s&p.  Lightly close the package, place on a sheet tray, and roast for about 30 minutes, until garlic is slightly browned and mushy (a pairing knife can be inserted into a clove and pulled out without resistance).

Once cooled enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their paper into a bowl.  Add the rosemary, white balsamic vinegar, agave nectar, and mix to incorporate.  Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil, whisking all the while.  Taste for seasoning.

Pour the dressing into a salad bowl, and assemble the salad ingredients in the same bowl.  Toss to incorporate.  Taste for seasoning.

Enjoy with some crusty buttered bread, or spiced croutons!

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