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Turkey Day Trials 2013

16 Nov

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We’re starting again!  The best time of the year – Thanksgiving!  Such a wonderful holiday filled with the smells of warming cinnamon spices, the joyous laughter of friends and family, and The Dog Show.  Really, it’s such a great day.  And like always, I’m trying to prepare early.

Rob came home yesterday from his deployment (yay!), so he’ll be around for the Thankful festivities, and all the Turkey Day Trials that will ensue over the next 2 weeks.  What a great husband – one of the first things he asked me after getting off the plane (literally, we are standing at baggage claim) was, “How are the Turkey Day Trials coming?”  I think he enjoys this just as much as I do.

For the big day, Rob will be contributing his now-famous-among-my-family mashed potatoes.  No trials there.  It is a dish with which not to be messed.  As with pigs in a blanket, gin and tonics, and football, some Thanksgiving things are just expected, and Rob’s potatoes are one of them.  Although we may have to make sure an extra pair of oven mitts is readily available.  While cooking his welcome home dinner last night, I asked him to try a piece of tortellini, handing it to him with my fingers straight from the spoon out of the boiling pot.

“Put that down!”

“Oh come on!  You don’t have asbestos hands like me?” was thus my attempt at flirting involving boiling hot substances.  Sad, I know.  I put down the little round pasta.

“No,” Rob gently tries to pick up the pasta, drops it, picks it up again, and then blows on it with disproportionate vigor, “I don’t have asbestos hands.  I have soft, delicate Pilot hands.”

I’m so glad he’s home.

But I digress.  Even though the potatoes are perfection already, that doesn’t mean I can’t mess with other things.  Like butternut squash, for example.  Butternut squash is fun, beautiful, funky (as in the cool hipster way, not the smelly way), simple and sweet.  It is a favorite to salads, soups, and starchy roasted vegetable platters come this time of year.  As an appetizer, I always make an Apple Bourbon Butternut Squash soup on the Day de Turkey, but thought I would experiment a bit this year.  So with a big, sharp knife in hand, I dove in.

Whether in soups, salads or just on its own sprinkled with a bit of sea salt and cardamom, my favorite way to prepare butternut squash is to roast it: diced smallish, high heat, olive oil, s&p, and often with an herb or spice.  The caramelization of the squash’s natural sugars brings out a subtle sweetness similar to a rosé wine.  Not at all over-powering, but leaves a touch of I-want-some-more-of-that on your tongue.

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Almost every time I entertain, I have a dip of some sort, really, because people love to dip things.  And in some company, double-dipping is perfectly acceptable.  So my “go-to” is a lemony white bean dip that is much more subtle tasting than hummus, and as smooth as pate.  It is always elegant, easy, and gone by the end of the evening.  So as this Thanksgiving will be filled with wonderful entertaining, I thought of this dish, and the unexpected marrying of it and the butternut squash.  Simply roasted, then puréed with the buttery white (cannellini) beans, with a touch of garlic, spice and rosemary, LOTS of olive oil, and voila: a new Thanksgiving appetizer.  It’s perfectly fine just like this, especially still warm from the roasted squash, but I put some stilettoes on this dip and brought it to the next level.  Spooning a bit of the dip into an ovenproof dish, I sprinkled over the top a bit of red pepper flakes, freshly grated parmesan regiano, and a drizzle of olive oil.  After being under the broiler for about 3-4 minutes, the crusty, bubbly, golden crust is irresistible with some crusty French bread.

I want some right now!  Maybe I’ll slather some dip on a piece of thin, whole-grain toast, and fry and egg on top – the possibilities for this spread are endless!

Turkey Day Trials are off to a good start!  I’ll keep you posted with more to come!  Enjoy the start to the season!

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Roasted Butternut Squash and White Bean Dip
(makes about 20 oz)

  • 1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • the top half of a small butternut squash (the part without the seeds), peeled, then diced into ½- inch pieces, about 2 c uncooked
  • 1 good-sized clove of garlic
  • 1 small sprig of rosemary
  • about ½ c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp regular olive oil (for cooking)
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Taking the diced butternut squash, toss with the tbsp of olive oil, the rosemary sprig, and a 3-finger pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper.  After all the pieces are coated, spread the squash evenly on a baking sheet.  The rosemary will crisp up in the oven, and add a great flavor.  Place in oven for 10-15 minutes, turning the pieces once, until the top and bottom of the squash is a beautiful, dark golden color. 

Then, pour the beans, the garlic clove, and a few tbsp of the extra virgin olive oil into a food processor.  Pour in the squash, including the cooking oil, which has now been flavored by the squash and rosemary.  Take the leaves off the rosemary (they will come off very easily and most likely crumble in your fingers), and add to the food processor.  Add just a pinch of s&p, and pulse to get the mixture started.  Then, while the processor is running, pour in a steady stream of the rest of the extra virgin olive oil.  You’ll see the  spread become creamy and very smooth. 

Taste for seasoning (I always find at the end, after adding all the olive oil, I need to add a bit more s&p).  Enjoy with pita chips, crusty bread, or mixed vegetables. 

**To make the broiled spread: heat your broiler to high, spoon some of the dip into a ovenproof bowl, and sprinkle some red pepper flakes, good parmesan cheese, and olive oil on top.  Broil until bubbly and golden. 

Goes GREAT with an earthy Pinot Noir, or bubbly Brut.  Enjoy! 

Not Just for the Holidays

26 Jan

Back in high school, way back when, I had a boyfriend that was often a main figure at our dinner table.  He acted as an older brother to my sister, Jenn, messing around with her like any good brother would do.  I specifically remember one instance where they were throwing a nerf ball back and forth in the house, and my mom happened to come in between a pass, thus receiving a clean shot right to the behind.  “Nice block!” Zach exclaimed leaving my mom open-mouthed and laughing at his reaction to hitting her in the butt with the ball.

But aside from the memories of the older bro role to my sister, the many, many football games, and the giggling effects of a silly high school romance, I remember our Hors d’oeuvre Dinners.  OMG, Zach loved them.  Anytime I told him that my family was having hors d’oeuvres for dinner, we would hear his old, rusty El Camino pull up the drive within minutes.

Even without Zach’s enthusiasm, I knew how fun hors d’oeuvres were – or “deserves” as Jenn called them.  Growing up hors d’oeuvres meant pigs in a blanket, fresh veg, nuts, hot crab dip, Ruffles chips, shrimp cocktail, and the ever-special A&W Cream Soda (when I become of-age, that cream soda seemed to get a bit stronger and was served in a martini glass… not quite sure what happened there).  Sometimes the food items would vary and change a bit but there were always the expected, and appreciated, staples to nosh on.

The best things about the Hors d’oeuvres Dinner were that 1) my mom was only cooking for a matter of minutes (thus able to enjoy in the fun), and 2) it meant we got to eat with little plates and fancy cocktail napkins crowded over the living room coffee table, usually during a great football/basketball game, movie, or previously agreed upon TV show.  Simply put, hors d’oeuvres for dinner was a treat, one we never took for granted.

Although now, I’ve put my own twist on the meal.  Rob picked up the love of the tradition in the first creamy dip into guacamole and first flaky bite of a pig in a blanket (both of which, surprisingly, he had never tasted before meeting me).  Keeping true to tradition, we always have our staples: nuts, good cheese, and sliced red peppers.  But I’ve started mixing it up a bit with doing things like spicing up the nuts, adding my BBQ spice to popcorn, making rustic crackers, boozing up olives, and marinating dried fruit.  We have even given degrees of intensity to our Hors D’oeuvres Dinners by labeling them as a “good spread” or a “European Dinner” (the latter is a lighter meal, consisting of a bread, some fruit, and usually some cheese with wine). A few days ago, I even jazzed up Rob’s favorite hors d’oeuvres staple – pigs in a blanket – by taking some sweet veal sausage (seen in the pictures to the right), wraping it in a mustard and caramelized onion dressed puff pastry, kind of like a sausage en croute.  But as far as I’m concerned, he can keep all the little piggies and their flakey outerware – my new fave, hands down, are my boozy olives.

Let’s go back to that martini that sneakily replaced my innocent cream soda.  Unarguably, the best thing about a martini is that last green olive left in the bottom point of the glass, perfectly balanced and macerated in the last sip of smooth, and by that time salty, vodka (I prefer vodka martinis over gin – Scandinavian, remember?).  That olive just sits there, waiting to be stabbed by the accompanying colorful plastic sword toothpick, and then devoured.  Seriously, is your mouth watering yet?

Well, with the pressure of the mathematical education of small people held in my hands, a Tuesday night isn’t exactly my ideal time for enjoying a martini.  But then, like a giant pimento slapping me across the face, I found the loophole!  I can still enjoy the olive without the drink!  So, I poured some vodka, lime juice, olive juice, and a few red pepper flakes into a dish, popped the concoction into the fridge, and awaited the tasty treat to work it’s marinating magic.

Two hours later, I had hit the jackpot.  The spicy, boozy, briny, tangy jackpot.  Let me just say, martini olives are not just for the holidays anymore!  But martini and hors d’oeuvres lovers beware: only indulge in a few (it would be a shame to get tipsy off of olives, though I can see why one may be tempted).

Though we have, and always will have, our Hors d’oeuvres Dinner staples and go-tos, it has been a blast coming up with new tastes that give us an indulgence during the week.  Rob and I still carry on the tradition of eating with small plates, fancy napkins, and sitting in front of a good flick, but we are still continually adding more to the menu.  Especially mid-week, when we feel we deserve it…. hey, maybe that’s how Jenn came up with the “deserves” phrase.  (Or maybe it really just was the speech impediment.)

Enjoy!

Boozy Olives (inspired by a recipe in Canal House Cooking Vol. 3, and the enjoyment of eating the last olive out of my martini glass).

  • 1/2 c green, pimento stuffed olives
  • 1/2 c vodka
  • 1 tsp olive juice
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients together, and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  Serve with a bit of the marinating liquid (and, of course, the little sword toothpicks).

Marinated Figs

  • 1 c dried black mission figs
  • 1/2 c white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 c champagne
  • 1 bay leaf

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan.  Bring to a quick boil, and then simmer on low for 15-20 minutes, letting the liquid reduce until syrupy.  Let cool (can sit at room temperature for hours), and serve with the marinating liquid.  And a fancy cocktail napkin.

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