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!

 

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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).
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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.

 

 

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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.

Vinegar & Salad Dressing

 

As you can see in the video above, making salad dressing is so easy you can practically do it in your sleep! In the video you can see a demo of what making dressing looks like, and tips on what vinegars to buy – and where to get them for cheap! But here are some quick refresher notes!

 

So many possibilities! Almost all bought at Marshalls ;)

 

The combinations are endless depending on the flavor of vinegar and herbs you choose.  Salad dressing is a simple ratio of 3:1, oil to vinegar. So let’s say you want to use 1/3 cup vinegar, you would need 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil (or another oil if you like, depending on the flavor you want). If you wanted to use ¼ cup of vinegar, you would use ¾ cup of oil.

 

1/3 cup vinegar, 1 cup oil

 

 

But we can’t just combine them and call it a day! That would be an unspeakably, tragically boring… and also they would separate. First we need to add salt and pepper to the vinegar. And you can throw in a teaspoon or two of anyherb you like – see what is in your fridge or garden, especially in the warmer months. It is actually a good way to use herbs that are wilting, or slightly past their peak because they are going to be finely chopped. If the fresh herb cupboard is bare, you can add a ½ a teaspoon or more of most any dried herb

 

 Pepper and Thyme

 

 

If you want a dressing that stays suspended/emulsified, add a teaspoon or two of dijon or whole grain mustard and mix well. It’s the same process we use to make mayonnaise. We are essentially forcing the oil and vinegar to mix against their will… cruel, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

 

Dijon and Whole Grain – either one works. We do not recommend using french's however ;)

 

This is how you add it... it's terribly difficult

 

Now you are ready to whisk in the oil, but do it very gradually or it will not combine properly.

 Gradually pour and whisk

 

You did it! As you can see, the dressing looks a little cloudy. That’s how you know the oil and vinegar are suspended and will remain mixed, at least for a little while. It won’t last forever, so if you aren’t pouring the oil on right away, be sure to give it another good whisk before you pour it on to salad greens.

 

 Pour it in a salad, or store it in a jar.

 

The great thing about dressing is that it lasts for days. Ball canning jars are great for storing and (little known fact) you can get them at Wal-Mart for just $6 for 12! If you store it, just be sure to take it out of the refrigerator about an hour before you use it so the oil has a chance to come to room temperature. Then give it a good whisk/shake, pour it over your salad and enjoy!

Fig Season is Here!

People often ask me if we sell figs or only teach classes that feature dishes made with figs. It’s fair question considering the names of this blog and my business, The Fig Cooking School, LLC. The truth is that the name was actually inspired by my three charming daughters, Francesca, Isabella and Gabrielle. But we also happen to adore figs and love cooking and baking with them when they’re in season, which is, sadly, oh so fleeting. We are now fortunately now in the height of fig season here in Connecticut and we’ve been cooking up a storm with them.

We thought we’d share with you one of our favorite recipes for honey roasted figs that is extremely versatile. Roasted figs on French bread paired with cheese and a bit of arugula and nuts make elegant hors d’oeuvres. They can also be used in a salad made of mixed greens, French string beans and fruits, or as a side dish with any roast in the early fall. Enjoy these recipes and tell us what you think. We’d love to get your feedback!

 

Honey Roasted Figs with Haricots Verts and mixed greens in a Shallot vinaigrette dressing

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • One batch of honey roasted figs (see above)
  • 1 pound of string beans
  • 2 cups mixed greens
  • 2 cups arugula
  • 4-6 ounces goat cheese, dolce Gorgonzola, or blue cheese
  • 1 large apple or pear sliced thin
  • ½  cup toasted walnuts or almonds
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, cherries or cranberries (optional) or another favorite fruit
  • 3-4 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • ¼  cup balsamic (either traditional or white) or champagne vinegar
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾  teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½  teaspoon pepper

Directions:

  1. Cut the ends of the French beans and place into pot of boiling water for just two minutes (do not overcook)
  2. Quickly drain string beans into pot cold water with ice. Let string beans cool completely in the ice water in order to prevent the string beans from cooking further.
  3. When cool, dry the string beans in a tea towel or paper towels
  4. Place walnuts on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 5-7 minutes until just slightly browned. Put aside.
  5. Wash arugula and mixed greens and place in a large bowl or platter along with the string beans.
  6. Add the fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts; toss gently
  7. Mix in a small bowl or measuring cup the shallots, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour over mixture and gently toss again.
  8. Arrange the figs on top of the salad along with the cheese, making sure that each guest receives some figs and cheese when served.

Basic Honey-Roasted Figs

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • 14 figs (about a pound)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh rosemary or thyme (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Slice figs in half and place cut side up on cookie platter lined with foil and lightly greased with olive oil
  3. Brush figs with honey and sprinkle rosemary or thyme evenly over them (herbs optional)
  4. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper
  5. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the honey begins to caramelize. Let figs cool to room temperature

Honey roasted figs with French bread

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • One batch of honey roasted figs (see above)
  • 28 thinly sliced slices French bread
  • 6-8 ounces of your favorite goat cheese, dolce Gorgonzola, blue cheese, St. Andre, or mascarpone
  • ¼ cup coarsely coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
  • 28 arugula leaves

Directions:

  1. Spread cheese on the French bread and place one arugula leaf on each one.
  2. Place one honey roasted fig on each bread slice and top with a few pieces of chopped walnuts