Sunday, November 20, 2011

Side Dish Sunday: Sweet Potato Pudding Cake

For an unusual take on sweet potato pie at practice Thanksgiving, we made this Jamaican-inspired sweet potato pudding cake with coconut milk, rum, and raisins.

It bakes up pretty dense, like a cheesecake, and is satisfying in small slices. Also like a cheesecake, it has to chill for several hours after baking and is served cold, so it removed "make dessert" from my last-minute pre-dinner list. A+++, great recipe, would bake again.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Side Dish Saturday: Stuffing 2.0

What do you put in stuffing?

Because we were making ours as part of practice Thanksgiving (that non-holiday weeknight when we make a full Thanksgiving dinner -- this year including a turkey -- for twenty-five), Jack proposed we try an agile approach, developing a minimum viable product and then adding features as time allowed.

The minimum viable product for stuffing is box stuffing, prepared according to package directions -- add water, seasoning packet, butter. (Having already tried both this year, I can advise you that Trader Joe's stuffing in a box is much better than Whole Foods's stuffing in a bag, which was all but dust when it reached us.)

Features are any additions to that basic stuffing -- onions, celery, mushrooms, apples, dried fruit, herbs -- which we might prep and add if we had time, according to customer feedback (the guests would be arriving by the time we started cooking it).

To develop a list of possible features, I searched for "stuffing" on Epicurious, copied the ingredient lists for the first fifty recipes, and used Wordle to generate a tag cloud. (I did a little data cleanup first, joining some two-word phrases like "olive oil," and a lot of discarding extraneous words, like "tablespoons," after.)

(See the results larger on Wordle or download the PDF.)

My technique innovation this year was making the stuffing in our giant rice cooker to free up the stovetop (and leave some psychological space in the kitchen). I browned onions and celery in the bottom far in advance, and then, ten minutes before I expected everything else to be done, added apples, dried cranberries, the stuffing mix, butter, and a kettleful of hot water, and turned it on. The rice cooker shut off when the water was gone (no danger of burning; no need to stir), and it kept the stuffing steamy hot until serving time.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Brussels Sprouts on the Stalk

I had stopped at Trader Joe's to buy a dozen eggs. But at the front of the store, they had fresh brussels sprouts on the stalk, with a sign next to them suggesting that you roast them as is (in one piece, without removing the sprouts).


It was fun to do. It's definitely a dramatic presentation. And it's especially mind-blowing for any of your dinner guests who haven't seen brussels sprouts on the stalk. (I was blase about that, and then I Googled to see a brussels sprout plant and had my own mind blown.)

A few caveats:
  • A whole stalk of brussels sprouts is longer than any of our cookie sheets and just barely fits diagonally in our oven. 
  • After the first fifteen minutes, I had to edit my stalk with some scissors to remove the sprouts that were overhanging the cookie sheet and burning. 
  • Very few of the sprouts actually touch the cookie sheet (even if you rotate the stalk every 5 or 10 minutes), so you don't get the nice roasty browning that makes, in my opinion, eating brussels sprouts worthwhile. (A good number of ours were burned leaves on the outside and mushy boiled-cabbage texture inside.)
P.S. The stalk: Some people say you can eat it like broccoli stems. But after roasting, ours was too hard to even break with a cleaver, and too big to fit in the kitchen wastebasket.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Butternut Squash Noodle Kugel

I should start by confessing that I have no idea what a kugel is. I may have had a taste of one off of someone else's plate once or twice in my life. (I'm pretty sure it was here, actually.) So I have no grounds for asserting that what we made tonight was in fact a kugel.

However. I roasted two butternut squashes yesterday, and no one, myself included, seemed excited about eating them. Today I wanted to use them up, but I was also hoping for something ... light? Something un-squash-like?

I was Googling for "butternut squash souffles" when "butternut squash kugel" turned up. That seemed promising ...

But beware! It turns out that "kugel" can be a synonym for "casserole." I emphatically did not want to make baked squash in a pie pan. I wanted noodles. (In retrospect, here's the kind of kugel I dream about.)

What I ended up making was something like this recipe, with double the squash, some whole milk poured around the edges before baking, lots of fresh sage and rosemary, and dried cranberries and walnuts on top instead of pecans.

What I liked about it
  1. It used up two whole butternut squashes.
  2. The big chunks of fresh sage and rosemary (from our just-moved-indoors herb garden) made the whole thing seem lighter and fresher.
  3. It had pretty colors! (Orange and green and cranberry.)
If I had it to do over, I would have
  1. Blended the squash (instead of leaving it in chunks) with some milk to make it a smoother, saucier consistency.
  2. Added some additional dairy -- cheese, cottage cheese, or cream cheese. (I was misled by some of the recipes I looked at being parve, containing neither milk nor meat).
  3. Had some egg noodles instead of plain ziti. Relatedly, checked how many eggs we had. (I put in the three we had, but that wasn't anything custardy about it.)
  4. Not burned the walnut and cranberry topping under the broiler. (The walnuts and cranberries pictured were added after the burned ones were removed.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Remarketing Borscht

Our farmers at Picadilly braved 18 inches of snow to bring us "borscht in a box" last week: beets, turnips, carrots, onions, cabbage, and potatoes.

We made borscht last year to use up our beets and cabbage and root vegetables, so I was pretty comfortable winging it as "vegetable soup that happens to contain beets and maybe is partially pureed" (how I make soup) this time.

But still, announcing "borscht" made the potluck guests uneasy. Housemates hovered in the kitchen to supervise what went into the pot. Some declared, bravely, their determination to try it. Another brought vodka.

We'd accumulated some beets and quite a bit of cabbage from previous weeks, so we made, um, sort of a lot. (Cf. the Canadian idiom "Cheap like borscht.")

Having a lot of unpopular magenta soup is not a plight unique to our refrigerator. In the Wall Street Journal, the borscht-making Gold family brainstorms new ways to sell their trademark project:
"It needs a totally new look to it," Steven Gold declares. "A sexy look." He advocates taking the word "borscht" out of the equation altogether. Call the product "Beet Smoothie," he suggests. "Power Beet Juice," offers Howard Gold.
And, in response, some (apparently earnest) suggestions on "making borscht cool again":
My key suggestion is to target babies and toddlers with a baby food (e.g. steamed and pureed beats) and a fun children’s borscht. This could be a very strategic move that makes beets and borscht a normal (and fun) part of childhood ... To target a very different audience than the Whole Foods crowd, I could imagine trying to get Borscht the official drink of an ultimate fighter or WWE wrestler. 
Jack, however, discovered the best marketing strategy for leftover borscht: combine it with cheese sauce.