Countdown to Thanksgiving

Few will admit this, but preparing Thanksgiving dinner stresses people out. We are living with non-stop information overload and everywhere online, on television, and on billboards we see pictures of that annoying perfect turkey with all the flawless trimming and a relaxed happy host just waiting for their guests to arrive. Nope! We tell ourselves it doesn’t matter, but it’s hard not to feel a little judged because, well, you probably are being judged kind of a little, or maybe even a lot depending who is coming.  It’s like going to the hairdresser. Why we care what people think of our hair I’ll never know, but we often do!

 

EditedFigTart2

 

So when WTIC Fox News Connecticut asked me to do a Thanksgiving cooking extravaganza for the next eight weekdays in a row starting today, I jumped at the chance to show viewers and our blog friends just how satisfying and easy it can be to host Thanksgiving (Ironically, I’m not hosting this year, but that’s okay because after this series my family will have had about a dozen trial turkey day dinners!). Each day, I will share the recipes and the videos with you, and give you clever ideas meant take the stress out of the day (don’t carve the turkey where people can see you).
Editedkithenset

 

We’ll start with appetizers, starters, side dishes and dessert, and work our way up to taking the fear out of carving and what to do with all that turkey meat come day three of leftovers when major boredom sets in.

 

 

EditedSoup1

 

Yesterday, we made Butternut Squash Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Shallots and Fig Goat Cheese Caramelized Shallot Squares made with puff pastry. These recipes are both huge crowd pleasers and don’t require a ton of time or skill. Watch today’s video to learn how to make these winner recipes as well  (http://foxct.com/2013/11/18/try-a-new-thanksgiving-side-dish/)

 

 

Also, we’d also love to hear about your Thanksgiving success and disasters (especially if they’re funny.  What are your favorite and worst Thanksgiving memories?

 

 

 

Fig Goat, Cheese, and Caramelized Shallot Squares

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • 1 ready-made defrosted puff pastry sheet
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • 2 ½ cups of thinly sliced shallots (4 large shallots, or 6 small ones)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 12-14 whole dried figs (3 ounces)
  • 3 teaspoons honey
  • 5-6 ounces crumbled goat cheese
  • ¼ cup coarsely ground walnuts (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Roll out the puff pastry to a 10 X 13 rectangle. Poke a few holes in pastry with a fork (so it doesn’t puff up while baking.)
  3. Pre-bake the puff pastry until it is just slightly browned, about 5-7 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, melt the butter with oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the shallots.
  5. Cook the shallots on medium heat until they are soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently, especially if you are not using a non-stick pan.
  6. Add the salt, and season to taste with pepper. Set aside.
  7. Place dried figs in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and dry figs.
  8. Slice figs 1/8 inch thick, and then coarsely chop them (you should have ½ cup of sliced figs). Mix with honey and set aside
  9. Spread the shallot mixture evenly over the pre-baked pastry.
  10. Sprinkle the goat cheese, followed by the figs and the walnuts.
  11. Bake until the crust is golden and the cheese starts to bubble, about 15-20 minutes.
  12. Let cool and cut into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Crispy Shallots

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup olive or canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 ½ cups sliced shallots (6-12 shallots, depending on size)

Directions:

  1. Heat oil and butter in a 12-inch saucepan over medium heat until it starts to bubble.
  2. Reduce the heat to low and add the shallots.
  3. Cook until golden brown, about 30 minutes (add more oil if the shallots start to burn) stirring frequently.
  4. Remove the shallots with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels. Pat down to remove excess oil. Once the excess oil is absorbed, place the shallots in an airtight container and use to garnish soups, vegetables, potatoes, and sandwiches.

Butternut Squash Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Shallots

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 cups leeks, chopped
  • 1/3 cup shallots, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh butternut squash cut in 1-inch cubes
  • 1 can pure organic pumpkin puree (no sugar added)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cane sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger finely minced
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 Bartlett pear, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 5-6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup sour cream or crème fraiche
  • 4-5 tablespoons crispy shallots (see recipe below)
  • 1/3 pound pancetta, sliced thin (optional)

Directions:

  1. Heat canola oil in a 6-8 quart pot. Sautee shallots and leeks over medium heat until they are soft and glassy, but not yet brown, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the butternut squash and sauté for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the pumpkin puree and stir well.
  4. Add salt, pepper, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cayenne pepper. Stir and cook over medium heat for one minute.
  5. Add the pear and broth and bring to a boil. Once the mixture is hot, turn down the heat to a steady simmer on a low-medium flame. Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the pears and squash are soft.
  6. Puree in a food processor, or with an immersion blender (you may also use a blender, but be sure to let the soup cool to lukewarm first).
  7. Add sour cream and mix well.
  8. Fry pancetta (optional) in a small frying pan over medium-high heat, until crisp, and pat between two towels to absorb grease.
  9. Serve with crispy shallots and/or crumbled pancetta on top.

Caramelized Shallots

I was a bit of a rebel at cooking school, which was kind of surprising considering I was pretty much a nerd in high school. I was always asking a lot of questions, especially ones that began with “Why do we have to….?” One of the hallmarks of great French cooking, I learned very quickly, was that shortcuts were pretty much a no-no. We learned, for example, how to prepare mayonnaise and whip egg whites stiff by hand instead of using mixers or hand blenders just so we would know how if we needed to in the future.

 

Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

 

For chefs in a commercial kitchen this may come in handy on occasion, but I think every minute home cooks spend in the kitchen should be enjoyable. This means you should take shortcuts and even cheat a little sometimes. Otherwise, I know for a fact you will avoid certain ingredients, like shallots, which are tedious to peel since you need so many more them than onions, and slicing or dicing may them burn your eyes. You should never avoid such a wonderful ingredient such as shallots since they add so much flavor, being a little less bitter than onions and really sweet when caramelized.

 

Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

 

So I’ve come up with a an easy way to caramelize massive amounts of shallots with very little labor after being inspired by a  12-Hour Rabbit Bolognese recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Great Britain (a book by the way everyone should own). He just puts all the ingredients whole into this rabbit stew and the onions just fall apart and assimilate during braising. So smart. I thought that perhaps I could achieve the same results with shallots if I just peel large shallots, quarter them and slowly cook them in a bit of oil. It works!

 

Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

 

So what, you say?  Shallots cooked this way are a great replacement for onions in stews, or in pureed soups, mixed in with vegetables or mashed potatoes (see Stoemp). You could also add these to a pot pie, fill puff pastry cups with shallots and add a bit of goat cheese for a easy elegant appetizer, or again really use them anywhere you use cooked onions. Today, for example, I used them for a meatloaf. First I added a bit of cognac to the shallots, and let the alcohol burn off. Then I pureed them before adding them to the ground beef and other ingredients (you can also just chop them – fine or coarse – or leave them just the way they are).  There’s really no end on how you can use them.

 

Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

 

Do you have any go-to ingredient or spice that adds pizzazz to everyday meals? Let us know in the comments, below!

 

 

 

 

Caramelized Shallots 1-2-3

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • 8 large shallots, or 12 smaller ones peeled.
  • 4-5 tablespoons canola or sunflower oil (or another oil with a high smoke point)

Directions:

  1. Cut off the root of the shallots and quarter them
  2. Heat a medium size sauté pan and add 4 tablespoons of oil.
  3. Add the shallots and coat them with the hot oil. Break up the shallots with a firm spatula as they cook until all they have all fallen apart.
  4. Cook over a low-medium heat until the shallots start to brown, about 25 minutes. Add the last tablespoon or more of canola oil if the shallots stick to the pan
  5. Remove the shallots from pan and add to your favorite vegetable, stew, soup, or any place else you would use cooked onions. (You may chop or puree them as well.)

Persian Heaven in a Stew

Francesca is a very picky eater. She’d be happy to eat “yellow pasta,” penne with a little bit of kosher salt and olive oil, practically everyday. But like every kid, she can be unpredictable. Her eyes light up when I open the lid of the Dutch oven and she sees we’re having “fesenjoonie,” as she calls it. The actual name of this ridiculously delicious Persian khoresh (stew in Farsi) is fesenjan, and it is also one of favorite dishes of all time.

 

Saffron for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

 

We had the privilege of visiting Iran 10 years ago with when hubby Mark was invited to give a talk in Tehran. I foolishly thought before visiting that I had tasted all the great cuisines of the world, so I gave little thought to Persian food and spent most of the time reading about the great sites, such as the ruins of Persepolis and ancient city of Esfahan.

 

Square in Esfahan, Iran – one of the most beautiful places on earth | The Road Home

 

Dumb dumb me should have thought about the food. I probably had never tasted real Persian cuisine before and just assumed it would be in line with more familiar Middle Eastern foods, such as hummus and pita bread. I was so very wrong.

 

Saffron for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

 

We arrived in Tehran in the middle of the night, and almost instantly a whole world of spices, nuts, and fruits opened up to us. We stayed with relatives of our dear friends Vahid and Shahla Mohsenin and were greeted by mounds of perfect pistachios, dried apricots, and dates. This 3 a.m. greeting party was considered just a little nibble. The food essentially never stopped coming for the two weeks we visited this beautiful and baffling country.

 

A Traditional Persian Restaurant in the Hills Near Tehran | The Road Home

 

You will no doubt hear a lot about Persian food from Gabrielle and me. Persians are famous for their hospitality and it seemed there was a lavish dinner party every night once the word got out that there were Americans in town (fewer than 500 Americans were allowed to visit Iran at the time). Many dishes combine the same ingredients – saffron, rose water, orange water, nuts, pomegranates and dried fruits –in countless ways to create unforgettable dishes. Fesenjan, for me, combines all of my favorite Persian flavors. The blend of slow-cooked pureed walnuts, saffron, pomegranates, and onions with chicken creates an earth, nutty, exotic taste you can’t imagine until you’ve taken your first bite.

 

Pomegranate Juice for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

 

I’m not sure how Persian households eat this way all the time (and they seem to), because some Persian dishes take a little while to prepare. Not only is the investment worth it, but also keep in mind that any Khoresh, like most stews, usually tastes better a day or two later so they are perfect do-ahead company food.

 

Saffron for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

 

I became a fesenjan connoisseur while we were in Iran, and sampled many interpretations of this extraordinary dish all from Teheran to Yazd. When we arrived home, I immediately bought the classic Persian cookbook available in English by Najmieh Batmanglij titled, Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies. Her version of fesenjan inspired my own, which is quite different. I’ve substituted some of the traditional pomegranate juice, God help me, with wine! Alcohol is forbidden in Iran, but I think wine adds a lovely fruitiness to this exquisite dish. Before the Islamic revolution in 1979 very fine Syrah was produced in Shiraz, and so I’ve used a full-bodied Syrah in this dish. (Sadly the vines are now used to only to produce grapes.)

 

Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

 

Here is the recipe, and do let us know if your taste buds are as tickled as ours by this very unique dish:

Khoresh-e Fesenjan Ba Jujeh (Chicken Pomegranate Stew)

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • ½ pound (2 cups) walnuts finely chopped
  •  5 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 large onions peeled and thinly sliced
  • 12 chicken thighs, bone-in (approximately 5 to 5 ½ pounds)
  • 2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 2 cups Syrah wine
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 2 tablespoons grape molasses or sugar (optional)
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons toasted walnuts (optional)

Directions:

  1. Toast the walnuts at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  2. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a large pot or Dutch oven (8 quarts is ideal) over medium heat until very hot. Sauté the onions until they are glassy and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and let cool in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  3. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Add 1-2 tablespoons of additional oil and brown the chicken (you will need to do this in two batches).
  4. Remove the chicken from the pot into a medium bowl and set aside.
  5. Puree the onions and the walnuts in a food processor. Add 1 cup of pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron water and grape molasses (or sugar) and mix well to a creamy paste.
  6. Pour the mixture into a medium size bowl and add the remaining pomegranate juice and wine.
  7. Add the onion-walnut mixture to the Dutch oven and stir well. Add the chicken and gently mix again (if stirred to aggressively, the skin will come off the chicken).
  8. Bring Mixture to a boil and give the stew a good stir. If you are cooking the stew in an oven-safe Dutch oven or pot, cover and cook in the middle of the oven at 350 for one hour, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. You may also cook the stew on the stove top on low for an hour.
  9. Taste the khoresh sauce after the first hour. It should be sweet and sour and have the consistency of heavy cream. Adjust the taste by adding more pomegranate molasses for sour, and more grape molasses (or sugar) for sweetness.
  10. Stir the stew well again and place back in the oven until the chicken is thoroughly cooked the sauce is the thickness of heavy cream.
  11. Remove from the oven and let cool uncovered before refrigerating (covered) overnight. When ready to serve, re-heat in the Dutch oven at 350 degrees. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, heat on stovetop with a low-medium flame, stirring occasionally.
  12. Serve over basmati rice or, if you’re feeling ambitious, Chelow, a saffron steamed rice with a golden crust. You may also add sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and toasted walnuts (optional).

Thai Scented Asparagus Soup

Cooking for a living has begun to take over all of my thoughts. Isabella’s newly sewn pink dress isn’t an article of clothing, but a piece of watermelon. Everywhere I go I think about new dishes and ingredients, and there is no off button to press. Just dials on the stove to let me make more food. I feel like a composer sometimes, only instead of notes, I hear shallots, pancetta and fried chicken. It’s driving me crazy, really it is. I love love love teaching people to cook… but seriously. Enough is enough.

 

Thai Scented Asparagus Soup, with coconut, ginger, lemongrass and love | The Road Home

 

 

This recipe was born out of one of these fits of inspiration. We often teach a cream of asparagus soup in our spring classes, but I was making a Thai dish one day and the idea to infuse it with coconut, lemongrass and ginger just jumped into my head.  It has quickly become a family favorite and it worked out so well that I used it for my latest appearance on Connecticut Style. Although a video exists on WTNH, it was very fast, and we thought you’d appreciate seeing how to make this lively Asian inspired soup step-by-step, so here it is:

 

 Thai Scented Asparagus Soup, with coconut, ginger, lemongrass and love | The Road Home

 

We start with the freshest ingredients, which includes, lemon juice, lemongrass, ginger, asparagus and coconut milk,  but there are others as well, including yellow onions and chicken or vegetable broth.

 

Thai Scented Asparagus Soup, with coconut, ginger, lemongrass and love | The Road Home

 

First, we need to peel the lemongrass, an ingredient commonly found in Asian food stores and in some supermarkets, especially Whole Foods.

 

Thai Scented Asparagus Soup, with coconut, ginger, lemongrass and love | The Road Home

 

Then you have to cut most of the stalk away. We only want the part of the lemongrass that has purple rings.

 

Thai Scented Asparagus Soup, with coconut, ginger, lemongrass and love | The Road Home

 

Then – and really pay attention to this or the lemongrass with be tough and stringy – you have to smash it hard several times with a knife. Until it looks like this

 

Thai Scented Asparagus Soup, with coconut, ginger, lemongrass and love | The Road Home

 

 

Then put the lemongrass in a mini food processor with a teaspoon or two of oil until finely minced and looks like this:

 

 

Thai Scented Asparagus Soup, with coconut, ginger, lemongrass and love | The Road Home

 

 

Then you need to peel the ginger. You can peel it in many different ways by using a melon baller, sturdy spoon or vegetable peeler. Afterwards, finely  mince the ginger in a mini chopper as well. You can, obviously, do that by hand, it will just take much longer.

 

 

Thai Scented Asparagus Soup, with coconut, ginger and love | The Road Home

 

 

After sautéeing the onions until they are glassy, add the lemongrass and ginger and continue sautéeing until the ginger and lemongrass start to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the asparagus, salt and pepper and cook for another five minutes.

 

Thai Scented Asparagus Soup, with coconut, ginger and love | The Road Home

 

 

Add the broth (chicken or vegetable – we like to use vegetable when we’re cooking for a crowd, since then we can make this vegan and everyone can eat it!) and give the mixture a good stir in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven. Cook for 15 minutes and then puree the soup either in a blender (after letting the mixture cool) or an immersion blender right inside the pot, our preferred choice.

 

 Thai Scented Asparagus Soup, with coconut, ginger and love | The Road Home

 

Add a bit of lemon, give it a good stir, and serve. The great thing about this soup, next to the amazing flavor, is that it tastes great for several days and can certainly be made the day before company. And there you have it! Serve with a garnish of mint, or chives.

 

Thai Scented Asparagus Soup, with coconut, ginger and love | The Road Home

 

Click here to get the complete recipe written up on Food52!

Too many Pumpkins…

For most people the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving. Here the “holidays” as they are collectively known, begin in (very) early October. I don’t know why the color orange and October make me so happy, but I am a sucker for all things autumn and Halloween, probably because Halloween is about fun, not office parties. Instead, it’s about apples and pumpkin picking, and laughing at the hysterical decorations and costumes so many people come up with.

More lawns than ever are populated with monsters and graveyards and not-so-scary whimsy, like this monster and mermaid I found in Essex, CT.

Our house is always the most over the top in the neighborhood, but we’ve even outdone ourselves this year with a witch that projects on to our house. It’s pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself.

We are so into the season that my youngest daughter isn’t allowed to wear anything that isn’t orange and black or doesn’t have a witch or ghost on it. I’m really not kidding. Thank goodness she’s only five and thinks it’s a blast.

A little odd, perhaps, but I did the same thing with Gabrielle and Isabella and they turned out pretty normal.

But of course, this is a food blog, and no post about October would make any sense without talking about all the spectacular cozy foods of autumn. We love teaching light and fresh meals at the Fig Cooking School in the summer – a chilled borsht made with organic beets on a sticky day is superb – but nothing beats hearty stews, rich pies and crisps made with apples or pears, or really anything made with the vast array of squashes and pumpkins now in season.

The best pumpkin has to have the best stem...

Of all the fall foods and decorations I go especially crazy for pumpkins. I can’t get enough of them. Francesca has a fantastic book called Too Many Pumpkins in which Rebecca Estelle thinks she hates those beautiful bulky balls of orange until a truck spills dozens of splattered pumpkins in her yard. The next year there are hundreds of pumpkins and so she has to make dozens of pumpkin pies, cookies, muffins and breads for the townspeople so they don’t go to waste. In the end, the pumpkins bring her happiness and community… totally my kind of story.

If you ask Mark and the girls they’ll tell how they have to pull me away from the pumpkin patch. It’s an addiction, really.

And I like gourds and weird pumpkins too!

So obviously, some of my favorite foods are made with pumpkins. This gorgeous vegetable makes the most wonderful soups, muffins and pies and, when roasted whole, a beautiful, edible bowl for your favorite autumn stew.

Since it is such a busy time of year, I try to keep it simple and create recipes that are hearty and delicious, so we have more time to be outside apple picking or taking scenic drives. I’ve created a delicious but simple pumpkin-butternut squash soup using canned organic squash and pumpkin. It’s so easy you will never be tempted to by commercial soup again. I promise.

Hopefully it will become part of your regular dinner plans. When you make it, be sure to let us know!

Pumpkin-Butternut Squash Soup with Pears

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of leeks, chopped
  • 1/3 cup shallots, chopped
  • 1 Bartlett pear, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 can organic butternut squash puree
  • 1 can organic pumpkin puree (unprocessed)
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/3 pound pancetta, sliced thin (optional)

Directions:

  1. Sautee shallots and leeks until they are wilted, but not yet brown, about 5 minutes
  2. Add squash and pumpkin and stir
  3. Add one teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
  4. Add the broth, pears, sugar and cayenne pepper and bring to a boil
  5. Let simmer for about 12 minutes, or until pears are soft
  6. Add both the pumpkin and squash and cook for another 7 minutes on a low flame
  7. Puree in a food processor, or with an immersion blender (you may also use a blender, but be sure to let the soup cool to lukewarm first)
  8. Add sour cream and mix well
  9. Fry pancetta in a small pan over medium-high heat, until crisp, and pat between two towels to absorb grease
  10. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle chopped chives and crumbled pancetta on top