This is a last-minute post for all you last-minute cooks!  If you’re still looking for Thanksgiving side-dish inspiration, these maple roasted acorn squash wedges are wickedly easy but delicious (and beautiful to boot).  The squashes get cut into wedges (which I promise is much easier than cutting into a denser squash like butternut) then brushed with maple butter and sprinkled with Aleppo pepper (which has a slightly sweet kick).  They become caramelized and sweet, with a subtle kick from the pepper.  If you don’t have Aleppo pepper, you can omit it, or even add a dusting of cayenne for some heat.  The wedges are fabulous on their own, or you can toss them into salads (think arugula, Pecorino, toasted nuts and possibly pomegranate seeds, if you’re feeling fancy).

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is just a dollop away.  I can’t wait to see family and smell turkey.  Bon appétit to you all!

 


Sometimes it’s the side dish that makes a meal.  This adaptation of a classic diner Greek salad is a star in its own right.  Pair it with simple salt-and-pepper grilled lamb chops or kabobs (lamb, chicken or shrimp), perhaps with a dollop of minty yogurt alongside, and you’ll have a lovely dinner that takes hardly any time to prepare.

Instead of the traditional romaine, I use thinly shaved fennel as the base for the salad, which provides a flavorful, sweet crunch.  Tossed with grape tomatoes, sliced cucumber, red onion, olives, feta and a handful of parsley and mint, it’s a lively, refreshing salad full of textural contrasts.  It can even be assembled ahead of time and refrigerated, making it a great choice for barbecues or potlucks.  If I have leftovers, I add chickpeas and eat it for lunch the next day.

Work and life have been really busy of late, and I’m grateful that my farmer’s market is in full swing.  With a refrigerator brimming with market finds (I can’t contain myself when faced with frilly fennel and crimson grape tomatoes), it’s easier than ever to let vegetables and salads take center stage.


I’m writing this on the first day of spring, but there are about six inches of snow outside my window.  As I mentioned in my last post, I have a dire case of spring fever.  My inspiration in the kitchen has been waning, sullenly stuck with winter stews while craving spring sautés.  Today called for serious measures.  Out came my daffodil-yellow striped shirt (totally inappropriate for these temperatures), and into the food processor went this pea and goat cheese spread for crostini.  It tastes of spring, even if winter stubbornly refuses to budge.

Peas (either garden fresh, or, in this case, frozen and defrosted) get buzzed with garlic, goat cheese, Parmesan, herbs and lemon juice for a creamy, vibrant spread that’s amazing slathered on garlic-rubbed toast, tucked into ravioli or even tossed with pasta.  It’s makes for a lovely appetizer (either on crostini or as a dip for veggies—think fennel spears, endives, radishes, baby carrots…), and it’s easy to whip together on a moment’s notice.

Close your eyes; take a bite; and forget all about the snow outside.

 

 


This is a last-minute post, but I wanted to quickly share this creamy Swiss chard gratin recipe before “T” day arrives!  It’s an outstanding side dish if you have any vegan and/or gluten-free friends coming to your Thanksgiving table—or if you don’t.  It’s make-worthy no matter your food preferences/allergies.  Oh, and it’s the easiest gratin you’ll ever assemble.  No fussing with a béchamel sauce—in this recipe coconut milk gets reduced with garlic and ginger and is thickened with cornstarch for a luxuriously creamy sauce that binds a delicious mess of Swiss chard.  It has converted many chard-phobics (i.e. those who are suspicious of Swiss chard and his green-leafed brethren) into chard-lovers.  I’ve been known to contentedly eat half of this for lunch with a spoon.  And did I mention that it can be made the day before?

Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

 


Although I love roasted turkey, when it comes to Thanksgiving, I’m a “sides” gal. When I was a kid, this meant swirling my green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, frozen corn, dressing and jellied cranberry sauce into a heaping forkful of bliss.  I’ve thankfully gotten over the swirl-and-smash-my-food phase, and we’ve transitioned from semi-processed to seasonal, made-from-scratch sides (although the frozen corn remains, at my Dad’s insistence).  This salad would a beautiful addition to any Thanksgiving table, either as a side, or as a starter.  Half moons of Delicata squash get brushed with maple syrup, Dijon mustard and sea salt, and are roasted until caramelized.  They’re a great side dish on their own, but they’re a showstopper on top of a tangled bed of greens (I prefer something slightly bitter, like arugula or baby mustard greens) and sprinkled with tart and sweet Pomegranate seeds, toasted hazelnuts and creamy goat cheese.  It’s a combination of textures and flavors that hits every mark on the palate.

The delicata squash can be roasted in the morning and left at room temperature (or it can be roasted while the turkey cooks), and the dressing can be made a few days in advance.  The hazelnuts can also be roasted in advance, and the pomegranate seeds can be picked out a few days before (in this video I’ll show you how to get those seeds out without making a red mess of yourself and your kitchen).  If you don’t want to mess with the pomegranates, you could swap in dried cranberries.

We spend Thanksgiving with my family or with James’s family, and to be honest, I hardly do any cooking.  My mom or my mother-in-law handles the bulk of the meal, and I must admit that I savor not being in charge.  It’s a rare treat for me to have a break from the kitchen, and plus, nothing tastes better than a mom’s cooking, no matter what she’s making.

I hope you have a wonderful and delicious Thanksgiving.  I have so much to be thankful for.

Oh, and if you need a few tips on that turkey, these videos I did with Fine Cooking magazine might help:

The secret to a juicy roast turkey

How to carve a turkey

How to brine a turkey in a cooler

 


If you’re looking for an easy, make-ahead Halloween meal, this Sweet Potato Soufflé Bake is just the ticket—it’s bright orange, autumnal and warming.  It’s one of James’s favorite dishes and is a meal in itself paired with a simple green salad.  It has an irresistible salty-sweet flavor, combining sweet potatoes with nutty Comté cheese, and a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg.  The texture is denser than a soufflé, but just as creamy and impressive.  And best of all, it can be completely assembled in advance, then baked off before eating.  Um-mmm, it’s a dish you’ll want to cuddle up with—comfort food at its most elegant.

To be honest, Halloween is my least favorite holiday of the year, probably since I’d rather be seated around a warm table enjoying a delicious meal than tromping from door to door in the cold (maybe it stems back to those Midwestern Halloweens of my childhood, when it was always way too cold for our costumes, and way too dark for my tastes—I’ve never been one for chainsaws and ghouls!).  I must admit that I’m excited to take Ella trick-or-treating for the first time this year, but probably only because I know we’ll be home in plenty of time for a festive dinner.

This dish is also a lovely side dish on the Thanksgiving table (now there’s a holiday I adore!)—it’s hefty enough to be a main course for vegetarians, but it’s also a delectable side dish with turkey and fixings (and did I mention it can be assembled the day before?!).  Oh man, I’m getting so excited just thinking about Thanksgiving.  But first, goblins and ghosts (and my little pumpkin).  Happy Halloween!

 


If there’s fresh corn available at the farmer’s market, I have to buy it.  It’s a compulsion.  For me, there are few foods as perfect as a barely cooked cob brushed with butter and sprinkled with sea salt (it’s the Midwestern girl in me).  But after the 6th week of corn on the cob, it was time for something new.  This pie—which is barely held together with eggs (it’s looser than a quiche, with more vegetables)—is the perfect way to use up late summer corn and tomatoes.  Best of all, since you don’t need to mess with making a crust, it’s really easy to throw together.  Sautéed sweet onions and corn cut get layered with nutty Comté cheese (or you could use Gruyère) and just enough eggs to tie it all together.   After it’s baked, the pie gets topped with a layer of ruby red heirloom tomatoes and another sprinkle of cheese, then is quickly broiled.  It’s summer on a plate, and easy enough for a working Wednesday.


The season for zucchini is upon us.  We don’t yet have a garden in our new house (it will require some terracing ingenuity—on the list for 2013), but in our old garden we were always overrun with summer squash come August.  We would schlep them off on friends, leave them on our neighbor’s stoop, and pretty much beg people to take them off our hands.  Regardless, squash was incorporated into nearly every August supper, from soups, to frittatas, to salads, to paninis, to pastas, to muffins…  You get the picture.  One of my favorite preparations, however, is simply to stuff them.  You can stuff zucchini or summer squash with nearly anything, ranging from ground lamb to quinoa, but one of the simplest versions is with cheese.  This garlic- and herb-laced cheese filling is made with either fresh ricotta or cottage cheese and is finished with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs.  It makes for a wonderful side dish with just about anything, or a lovely main attraction with a substantial salad alongside.To prep the squash, first cut it in half lengthwise.  Using a small spoon (a grapefruit spoon works great), scoop out the center seeds and some flesh, leaving a quarter-to half-inch wall.  Next, remove a small sliver down the back (skin side) of each half so that the “boats” lie flat on a sheet pan. The recipe below is for 8- to 10-inch squash, but this is the type of recipe you can play around with.  If your squash are bigger or smaller, make more or less filling and adjust the baking time.  If you have any squash blossoms, sauté them with the onions and garlic and add them to the filling.I’m now buying my summer squashes at the farmer’s market instead of growing them, yet somehow I still can’t resist bringing home an armload every week!


There comes a moment every summer when, after stuffing myself daily on tomatoes, peaches, berries, and watermelon, that I crave something, well, not so summery.  When I need a break from all the sweet juiciness of the season, I realign myself with a kale salad.  When thinly sliced, lacinato kale (also referred to as Tuscan or dinosaur kale) makes for a wonderfully assertive salad.  It’s a healthy, invigorating meal or side dish that will recalibrate your taste buds.

Lacinato kale has a surprisingly tender texture and pleasantly bitter flavor.  It benefits from a little bit of sweetness, whether that be a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar or some chopped fruit/tomatoes.  Since this salad was about giving me a break from summer, I opted for chewy dried apricots, which also added great texture.  To give even more substance and flavor, I added a good handful of chopped toasted walnuts and loads of shaved Comté cheese, although any nuts or cheese would work (think Parmesan, Pecorino or even cheddar).  The result was a complex yet balanced salad that hit every note—chewy, crunchy, nutty, tart, sweet, bitter.  It was a restorative yet delicious lunch for James and I, and for Ella, I finely chopped some of the kale and stuffed it inside a Comté grilled cheese sandwich.

While we often think of kale and fennel as cold weather vegetables, they’re abundant at my farmer’s market all summer.  To prep the kale, I remove the thick stems, either by tearing off the leaves or by folding the leaves in half and running a knife along the stem to cut it out.  I then thinly slice the leaves crosswise.  Fennel’s flavor is mellowed when it’s shaved on my trusty mandoline, but you can also slice it thinly with a knife.  It provides a refreshing counterpoint to the kale.   Since the kale and fennel are so hardy, the salad holds up wonderfully in the fridge and is even delicious the next day.

It’s a reviving taste of winter in the middle of summer.  Now I can face those mountains of tomatoes and peaches again…


Sunday nights are an institution in our house.  They are by far my favorite night of the week.  I decided long ago that rather than face the dread of having to go back to work, Sundays would instead become a celebration.  We plan a special family dinner, and it always starts with a martini for the adults (a tradition that I—and my brothers, for that matter—have carried on from my parents).  When James and I lived in Brooklyn in the pre-family era, Sunday supper was often an elaborate multi-course affair that we (read I) would spend hours preparing in our tiny alleyway kitchen.  Today, however, the meals are more often than not incredibly simple, especially in the summer when we’d rather be spending our days hiking, swimming or socializing than tied to the stove.

This coffee-marinated pork tenderloin is just the thing for these sultry summertime Sundays.  I actually developed the recipe for Father’s Day, when I wanted to do something special but simple since we were going to be out all day.  The pork gets marinated the day before, so all I had to do come dinnertime was make the Curried Carrot Coconut Rice (say that three times quickly!) and grill some veggies alongside the pork.  The pork was redolent of coffee (decaf, since I’m feeding a toddler), molasses, lime and soy, and it paired amazingly with the sweet, curry- and raisin-laced rice.

About that rice.  It’s addicting. It’s made in the style of a rice pilaf, but it has a higher vegetable-to-rice ratio so is a bit more moist than your standard pilaf.  I’ve since served it with curry-dusted fish, grilled chicken kabobs and on its own as a vegetarian side dish.  Delicious.  If you don’t want to monitor the stove while the rice cooks, you can transfer the rice/vegetable mixture to a rice cooker before adding the water—a useful trick if you have an errand to run or a child to chase.

James loved his Father’s Day meal, and Ella even instigated a celebratory dance party in the kitchen after dinner.  She wasn’t even influenced by a martini.