Monthly Archives: November 2011

A New Thanksgiving Tradition–Sweet Potatoes Anna

My family loves Thanksgiving–regardless of the number of folks at the table, we definitely go all out with cooking. For example, this year we had a very quiet Thanksgiving, with only my parents and myself. My mom told me she bought a small turkey since there were only three of us…at only 16 lbs!

One thing I really enjoy is the balance between tried and true old recipes and more experimental fare. This year, I was able to contribute a couple of new recipes to the table. I recently saw this lovely recipe on Food52, which was appealing for a couple of reasons. First, I’m definitely of the opinion that sweet potatoes and marshmallows don’t mix. Also, I just can’t stomach sweet potatoes from a can (Why the can? They are so easy fresh!). And this looked like a creative way to present sweet potatoes that didn’t involve a potato masher.

The recipe is also ultra simple–just sweet potatoes, butter, and port-soaked prunes. Yes, I did say prunes! Stay with me here. It totally works! The prunes give a lovely sweetness that is the opposite of the typical cloying thanksgiving yam approach.

Also, if you care about aesthetics (as I tend to do), try to buy the long cylindrical sweet potatoes, rather than the more stout and stubby variety. This allows you to cut them into coins, vs. more lumpy bumpy slices. I had a couple of each, and ended up saving the lovely coins for the top and bottom, and buried the imperfect ones in the center.

I modified the recipe from the original in a couple of ways. We are trying to be judicious from a caloric standpoint, so I cut the butter in half. I can’t quite imagine how you would need a 1/2lb of butter, but feel free to add more as you see fit! It seems to crisp it up a bit more, based on the pictures in the original recipe, but it could be I didn’t let it cook long enough to crisp up. It tasted great this way, and I don’t think I missed it. I also didn’t take the time to clarify the butter, and it didn’t seem to make a difference–I’m all about efficiency on Thanksgiving!

Also, I found that the cup of port called for in the recipe wasn’t really necessary to soak the prunes. I’d rather save my port for drinking, so I used just a few tablespoons of port to cover the prunes. Otherwise, the recipe is lovely, and I’ll definitely give credit where it is due, to Sarah Shatz, who posted the recipe on Food52.

Sweet Potatoes Anna with Prunes

Serves 6-8

5 sweet potatoes (long cylindrical is best)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 tbsp port wine

10 prunes

salt and pepper to taste

Chop the prunes into 4-5 pieces each. Place them in a small bowl, and cover with port wine, about 2 tbsp. Let them soak for 20 minutes, then drain off any port that has not been absorbed by the prune pieces.

Heat the oven to 450°. Melt the butter in a small bowl, and brush the bottom and sides of a pie pan with a layer of the butter. Peel and thinly slice the sweet potatoes, placing the coins of sweet potato in rings to cover the base of the pie pan, stopping after each layer to brush it with of the butter.

Sprinkle the prunes over about every 2 layers of potatoes–I ended up with about 6 layers, so layered on the prunes in two rounds. If you want to use salt, feel free to dust on some salt and/or pepper every level or two. My dad is trying to reduce his salt consumption, so I decided to avoid the salt entirely. I planned to add it at the table, but I didn’t even miss it–the sweet potatoes are so flavorful as they are (and the butter doesn’t hurt…).

Finish with a layer of sweet potatoes, and then brush on the remaining butter. Pop it into the over for 45 minutes to an hour. You should check it after about 30 minutes, and if it is browning more than you’d like on top, cover it with foil to finish. Take it out when it begins to crisp on the edges. Our oven was in high demand, so it was pulled out right at 45 minutes…in the future, I’ll probably try for more time to get it a bit crisper.

When it is done, let it sit out for about 5 minutes to set. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert onto a large plate or platter. You’re ready to serve! The flavor is definitely sweet potato, but with a sophistication you don’t often see on Thanksgiving. The port flavor is very subtle, and I’m sure you could substitute bourbon or rum instead, or even fruit juice if you didn’t want alcohol.

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The Food52 Potluck

This particular potluck was a gathering to celebrate the Food52 cookbook’s launch, and it included an amazing cast of characters. There was Amanda Hesser, the former food editor of the New York Times, and author of the Essential New York Times cookbook. Merril Stubbs, the co-founder with Amanda of Food52, who is an amazing recipe tester and food writer, was the other guest of honor.

We gathered to congratulate the many local cooks who were included in the recipe collection, and to share food that was lovingly prepared by these fantastic Bay Area cooks. The day was such a joy–I always love spending time with people who are as crazy about experimenting in the kitchen as I am.

I mean, take a look at this charcuterie and cheese basket–this was contributed by our hostess for the day, Lynda of the blog Taste Food. She made pork rillettes, candied bacon, pate, and more. Wow! The day was fantastic, and I took tons of photos. This will be a picture-heavy post, as I’ve not got much time, but I wanted to make sure I could share some of these lovely food photos with you. Here goes!

Pickles, pickles, pickles!

Salad with pomegranate seeds, persimmons, and hazelnuts. Wow. That was one good salad!

This was a sausage and kale dinner tart–so delicious–it was a great combination of salty sausage and healthy kale. Here’s the recipe!

This was a fantastic pot roast served with acorn squash.

Desserts were lined up and ready to be put out for round two. Here are the recipes for the Applesauce Cake with Caramel Glaze and the Tangerine and Almond Shortbread Tart. The tangerine almond tart (on the left) was amazing–crispy and chewy, and the tangerine flavor really marries well with the almonds.

One of the other fantastic cooks being celebrated, Susan of the blog The Wimpy Vegetarian, slices her lovely apple tart.

Susan also brought her Pear & Rosemary Pate de Fruit, which was delicious with cheese!

Tiffany of the blog Still Simmering (shown in the top photo with her camera) brought incredible Pine Nut Brittle with Rosemary, which was actively in a competition on the Food52 website. She later won as the “Best Holiday Confection”, and I understand why. Yum!

We had a great time chatting with Amanda, who is in the center in grey–for someone who is a well-respected author, journalist and food entrepreneur, she is incredibly humble and genuine.

Merrill was also so sweet–she is very pregnant, and was still flitting about and meeting everyone.

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Filed under Dessert, Main Dishes, Party food, Salads, Travels

Pesto Chicken Skewers

I recently was invited to a potluck lunch. I love cooking for friends, and I especially love cooking for foodie and food blogger friends. I’ll share more in a later post about the event, which was a cookbook launch party for the Food52 cookbook, a crowd-sourced cookbook created by the community at Food52.com. Suffice it to say, it was a discerning crowd.

I had another commitment the morning of the event, so was a bit concerned about creating a recipe that would re-heat well and travel well, especially since I had committed to making a main dish. We also had been told that most of the eating at the party would happen in a casual way, mingling and standing, instead of sitting down. So I also wanted to create a main dish that would be portable and easy to eat.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had just cleared out my garden of basil and made pesto. So I decided to use the pesto to marinate chicken and veggies and thread them onto skewers. It would be easy and portable! I began by buying whole chicken thighs, and took the opportunity to use the leftover bones and trimmings to make a quick stock, combined with the carcass from a rotisserie chicken I had purchased earlier in the week. I always like having stock around, and ended up making a quick onion soup with that stock, which I’ll post about soon.

I chose thighs because I knew that I’d be re-heating the chicken, and was concerned that chicken breast pieces would dry out. I also took the time to brine the thigh pieces, just to be sure that they stayed moist. I cut each of the thighs into about 3-4 longish pieces, putting them into a ziploc bag. I then tossed in about a tablespoon of kosher salt and filled it with water, then stored in the fridge overnight. If you have time for the step of brining, it will help the chicken to stay moist and tender, but it’s definitely not necessary.

When you’re ready to cook the skewers, drain the chicken and place it in a bowl. Add a few tablespoons of pesto to the bowl and mix, adding more as needed to lightly coat the chicken. Leave it to marinate at room temperature as you cut up the vegetables. I used mushrooms, red bell peppers, red onions, and asparagus. You just need to cut the vegetables into appropriate sizes for threading onto the skewers. To marinate the veggies, add a few tablespoons of pesto to the bowl, and add enough olive oil to loosen it so that it will cling to them. Then toss the cut vegetables with the pesto to coat.

You can see in the photo above that I had three bowls, and found that effective for sorting and threading the skewers. I typically added a mushroom quarter at the bottom, then the first piece of chicken, and then a couple of other pieces of veggies. It seems to work best to only put one of each item on the skewer at a time, to allow for more even cooking (due to different shapes and sizes). I then add another piece of chicken, then another vegetable or two.

Since I was making a lot of skewers–about 4 lbs of chicken, and an equal amount of vegetables–I decided to start them on the grill pan, cooking as I was assembling the skewers. I cooked until there was some browning on each side (but not cooked through), and then transferred to a large pyrex dish. I then kept all of the skewers in pans until they were done with the initial browning, before finishing all at once in the oven. This kept the early skewers from being over-cooked in the oven if I had placed them in the oven as I went along. I finished them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

If you’re transporting them to a party and will have oven access, they can be chilled before the final oven time, then finished at the event for about 30 minutes (due to the chill of the fridge, they will need more time). They are also delicious cold, so don’t worry if you can’t warm them right before serving. I like to serve with a bowl of pesto on the side, to add a little bit more on the plate, as you can see below.

I should know better than to bring 8 lbs of food to a potluck where 20 people are cooking…It’s a good thing they make great leftovers! I used the leftover (de-skewered) pieces to make a quinoa salad and a lovely Sunday brunch frittata.

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Basil and Hazelnut Pesto

It has been a while since I’ve posted…and what a couple of weeks it has been! I sprained my ankle, started a new job, spent 3 fantastic days in Portland visiting my sister and her family, and generally did not have much time for cooking or sharing. I am finally getting back into action, and one of the first things I needed to do was take stock of my garden. In addition to pulling out sad tomato plants and planting some new Tuscan kale starts, I rounded up the last of my basil. I was surprised to find so much basil still growing in early November, and it’s likely that  a few cold evenings would put that to an end. It wasn’t pretty–there were holes in the leaves, and I picked off more than a few snails. But that’s ok–it was a perfect candidate for pesto!

Pesto is one of those recipes that is elegant in its simplicity. Basic ratios allow you to be flexible and use the products you have on hand, and the quality of the component ingredients seems to be the most important thing. The first thing you need is greens/herbs. Basil is the traditional one, but I’ve used arugula, spinach, parsley, or even fennel fronds. Feel free to use a combination–fresh and seasonal is the key. I harvested a combination of Italian basil and Thai basil, so that’s what went into mine.

The next typical component is nuts. I chose to use hazelnuts for my nut component, though pine nuts are the traditional choice. I’ve also used walnuts and cashews. I have been in love with hazelnuts lately–I’ve been playing around with nut butters, and my last batch of hazelnut-cashew-sunflower seed butter was fantastic! So hazelnuts it was. The other ingredients are more stable. Parmesan, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper. Again, quality is key. I like grating my own fresh Parmesan instead of using the pre-grated. It stays much fresher, and I think you can get much better quality cheese for your money buying whole. I get mine at Costco for about $10 per lb (Trader Joe’s is great, too), and it keeps for months in the fridge.

As for olive oil, I don’t use anything too fancy for something like this, but definitely want to know what I’m getting. Unfortunately, labels can be pretty misleading. Many bottles say “imported from Italy”. They don’t say made in Italy, because many producers ship inferior olive oil from other countries to Italy, package it in Italy, then ship it from there. This allows them to say that it came from Italy. Pretty sketchy, huh? I like to buy olive oil that says “made in Italy,” which means it came from there, or California olive oil. Greek and Spanish oils can be great, too, but I prefer the more subtle flavor of Italian extra virgin olive oil for pesto. I also prefer unfiltered oils, when I can find them.

Finally, I actually have a lot to say about salt. I completely stopped using traditional iodized salt for cooking a couple of years ago, and have never looked back. It has a harsh flavor and lacks the nutritional value of more traditional salts. My favorite salt for cooking is Celtic sea salt. It is harvested from the coast of Normandy in France, and dried using traditional methods that keep the natural mineral content high. It adds a lovely flavor to all of my cooking, and comes in various ways. I use their grey salt for most of my everyday cooking–it has large crystals that melt in hot foods. For baking, I use the finely ground salt, and for finishing, they have a lovely fleur de sel. It costs a bit more than traditional table salt, but its flavor and health benefits are certainly worth the extra cost.

Now that we’ve gotten through all of that, the recipe is pretty simple.

Basil and Hazelnut Pesto

  • 1 cup hazelnuts
  • 2 cups packed basil leaves (remove all stems, as their texture is not pleasing in pesto)
  • 3 garlic cloves (or more or less to your taste)
  • ~ 1 cup olive oil (add until desired texture is reached)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • sea salt to taste (1/2 tsp of grey salt is about right for me)
Begin by toasting the hazelnuts in the oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Let them cool, then rub in a kitchen towel to remove any loose skins. It is not necessary to remove all the skins. It is important to let the nuts cool before you blend them, as otherwise they will be more likely to become nut butter than the crumbled texture you want for pesto. I grated the Parmesan and prepped the other ingredients while I waited for the nuts to cool. Next add the nuts, garlic and salt to the food processor and pulse until they reach the texture shown above–make sure you do not pulse too continually, as you want a bread-crumb like texture. Then add the basil leaves and pulse until they are incorporated. Finally, add the other ingredients and pulse until they are combined. The lemon juice is optional, but will help to keep your pesto from turning brown, as well as adding a bit of acid. Feel free to add more olive oil if you want a looser texture. I tend to store it in the thick state you see above, then add oil if the recipe calls for a looser product, as when using in pasta.
I store the pesto in mason jars, and freeze all but the current jar. This recipe makes about 1.5 pints–more if you add more oil. It tends to keep for at least a month in the fridge, as long as I cover the top layer with olive oil. I love to use it as a spread for sandwiches, an add-in to eggs, or a topping for pasta. It also is a great marinade for meats. I used it for a chicken skewer I brought to a potluck yesterday, and will share that recipe soon.

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