Sexy Sides….(not obliques!)…for Thanksgiving Dinner. 3 Recipes, 1 Post

I love turkey and the nap that follows as much as the next person, but for me the meal on this big day is all about the sides.  Oozy green beans and burnt marshmallow topped sweet potatoes are no longer my thing.  Oh no, the heavy from-a-can sides are in the past; lets go fresh and pure.  Lets take the traditional foods & amp up the flavor factor & the nutrition.  I know what your thinking…..Thanksgiving/nutritious?  Huh, what, really?  Well, if I’m going to have copious leftovers to devour, my manageable potbelly does not need to turn into a  kettle corn sized drum.

Come and sit down at a table of very sexy sides…..

Lets begin with the sweets.  I’m not a marshmallow hater per say,  just more of a clean food lover.  This recipe is an evolution from my grandmother’s sweet potatoes and apples.  It was beautiful and had the simple ethnic tradition of our Hungarian heritage all over it.  But it was time to sex it up.  I made it less time consuming and created a rich comfort food side. Its buttery, smooth and has that intoxicating mix of salty-sweet.  This is quite possibly one of the most delicious things I ever made.

No marshmallows no mo! Butter pecans is where its at…keep it real!

Butter Pecan Crusted Smashed Sweet Potatoes & Apples

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  In a large stock pot boil 3 sweet potatoes and 2 large apples roughly chopped with the skins on – about 6 – 6.5 cups total.  Drain the sweets & apples once they are soft, add 4 tblsp butter, pinch sea salt, 3/4 tblsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg & 2 tblsp maple syrup. Roughly mash them with a potato masher, it should remain chunky but smooth.  In a small sauce pan over medium heat  melt 2 tblsp butter adding 3/4 cup chopped pecans, heavy pinch of sea salt and 2 tblsp brown sugar – stir to combine and coat nuts.  Place apple mixture in a square or round glass baking dish and sprinkle butter pecan mixture over top.  Bake at 375 uncovered for 15-20 minutes until the nuts brown & a crust forms.

I promise no one will miss the marshmallows…..

While most of us keep on passing anything green when it comes around to our plate, this dish should be tried at least once:  Roasted brussel sprouts.  I can hear you through the internet…”What?! Brussel sprouts?  Not a chance.  Those baby cabbages smell bad.” Yes, you are correct, they do smell bad, but I promise these baby cabbages taste soooo nice….(pssst, there is a secret ingredient).  Here’s how I do it:

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Pre-heat oven to 425 F.  Using 1 lb of brussel sprouts, cut off the bottoms and then cut in half.  Spread on a baking sheet and toss with 2 1/2 tblsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper and (here is my top secret ingredient)…nutmeg.  Freshly grated is best, but use what you’ve got, a heavy 1/4 tsp plus more for the finishing.  Roast uncovered for 20-25 minutes, tossing occasionally, until they are crusty brown on the outside and tender on the inside.  Sprinkle a pinch more nutmeg over top to finish.

This will put the “green” back on your plate.

The secret ingredient unveiled!!! Put the greens back on your plate!

And finally my Sassy Cranberry Sauce.  I don’t even need anything to eat this with.  Shamelessly, I consume it straight out of the bowl.  Its got zing, its got crunch, its got texture.  What it doesn’t have are those bizarre, unearthly ridges molded from the inside of an aluminum can.  This side has moxy & I surmise if you eat it, you will too.

It will sparkle in your mouth!

Many blessings to you this Thanksgiving & everyday you wake up.  I’m grateful you read my blog!

Sassy Cranberry Sauce

1 cup unrefined sugar

1 – 12oz bag cranberries

3/4 cup water

1 stick cinnamon

1/3 cup raisins

¾ c celery, chopped fine

½ c grated carrots

1 tblsp freshly grated ginger

Juice & zest from 1 orange

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Combine cranberries, water, sugar and cinnamon stick in a medium sauce pan and cook on medium high heat.  Once simmering stir in raisins through nutmeg.  Simmer, stirring often until it begins to thicken, about 10-15 minutes.  Let cool before serving.

Note: Cranberries are tangy to the 10th power so you need alot of sugar to balance that.  I tend to lean toward the less sweet so 1 cup of sugar was a bit much, you decide.

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Don’t Just Look At It…Eat It!!!!! Pumpkin Curry

Look at how cute and delicious I am. Eat me!

If I see one more recipe that calls for a can of pumpkin I’m going to lose it!!  Yes, of course, I know we are busy, but really, we know the difference in flavor from canned peaches to fresh peaches right?  Yes, we do, exactly my point.  And the last time someone sucked down a pumpkin spice latte or pumpkin flavored anything for that matter, did it actually taste like pumpkin?  My guess is probably not; most likely it tasted like cinnamon, cloves and ginger…no pumpkin to be found!  Did you know that pumpkin actually tastes amazing & not just in pie?!  Oh indeed it does.  And how about those seeds….all warm and salty and toasty.

Pure fall. Don’t waste a thing…eat those seeds!

What a gift to have pumpkins growing this time of year.  Eat them fresh & forget the can!

Pumpkin curry was the first meal I ate at my host family’s house in Fiji.  The pumpkin was familiar but done in a way that my palate had never experienced.  My host mom would always make it for me whenever I came home for visits and it will forever be a nostalgic food.

Pumpkins in Fiji! They are a kitchen staple.

Not in the mood to cook but want to try pumpkin?  Cut a cooking pumpkin (they call them “pie pumpkins”) into quarters, scoop out the seeds (toast ’em & eat ’em!), place the slices in a glass baking dish.  Bake them uncovered with cut side down at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  Pumpkin is finished when it is fork tender. Want savory? Sprinkle with sea salt and butter or olive oil.  Want sweet? Sprinkle with butter, honey & cinnamon.  Want curry?  See recipe below……

This recipe is exactly how my host mom made it except that neither of us measures anything so I did my best to note that.  I’ve made this recipe probably over 50 times and only ONCE did it actually taste just like hers (I actually called her rejoicing in my success).  This curry is warm, velvety and a gorgeous color.  In Fiji it was most often eaten with roti (unleavened flat bread) but here I made it with rice.

Prepped and ready to be curried…yummmm….

Eat it with your hands!!!

Kaddu ke Tarkari- Pumpkin Curry

(From the home of my Indo-Fijian host-mom, Sarojni Singh)

4 cups pumpkin, skin peeled, chopped into half inch cubes

1 medium white onion, chopped medium

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp ginger root, peeled

2-3 small chilies, (adjust quantity according to your heat preference & the type of chilli)

½ tsp fennel seeds

1/2  tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp mustard seed

Sea salt

1 1/2 tblsp coconut or olive oil (I chose a healthier oil as they only use soy or canola)

Optional: 2 tblsp chopped cilantro (mom doesn’t use, but I like it)

Pound garlic, ginger and chilies in a mortar & pestle with a heavy pinch of salt or chop very finely.  In a very hot skillet or pot add oil, then onion, fennel, mustard seed & cumin.  Saute until onions are browned & spices are toasted, about 2-4 minutes. Add garlic-ginger mixture and sauté for another minute, ensuring the garlic does not burn, lower heat if necessary.   Add pumpkin and cook covered on medium high heat until pumpkin has softened, stirring often.   Water is drawn out from the pumpkin as it cooks, so do not add any unless it seems to be very dry even after 20 minutes of cooking. Smash the pumpkin as it begins to soften with the back of a spoon. It should be a thick chunky texture when complete.  Add cilantro if using, stir to combine and salt to taste.

Note: There are alot of variations of this recipe and some people  also use cinnamon, turmeric or masala powder to spice up their pumpkin curry.  Sadly the pumpkins in the US are a bit different then in Fiji & sometimes they just don’t have the same umph of flavor.  If you find your pumpkin to be slightly lackluster then substitute half of the pumpkin for butternut squash.

Cheers!

Backseat Gourmet Series Continues….Did You Know Michigan Tasted So Good?

Here is how the conversation went:

Conor: “Hey Sara, how are you?”

Me: “Im cool, how are you?”

Conor: “I’m good. Do you want to come up to my parent’s beach house on….”

Me: (Excitedly & rudely interrupting) “Hell yes!  Whats the address?  And, are you near a farmers market?”

And so my back seat got packed up once again with my well loved hippie style back pack, a large bag  full of snacks (in the front seat) & several pages of directions thanks to Google maps.  And Conor’s beach house on Lake Michigan was not only near a farmers market it was surrounded by farms.  Acres and acres of apple and pear orchards, dairy farms and corn fields; nature at its finest.

The first morning there we awoke and hit the trail for a hearty 40 mile bike ride on an old railway turned bike path.  Our half way point was a dairy farm and restaurant called Country Dairy & Farm Store in New Era, MI.  The perfect place to re-fuel because with any food purchase you get a free bottomless glass of milk….there’s even a self serve dispenser!

Country Dairy & Farm Store…..they have bottomless glasses of fresh milk!!!

“Think you can handle the Brutus?”  Well with a taunting question like that I’m sure many try, I however still had 20 more miles to ride and wrestling with a 1/2 lb of beef topped with 2 kinds of pork and 3 kinds of cheese didn’t quite sound like it would sit nicely.  But Conor thought it would.

The Brutus Burger. Think you can handle it? 1/2 lbs beef, bacon, ham, cheddar, monterey and pepper jack cheeses.

The morning after an intense country bike ride one feels devoid of all calories & I personally feel the strong desire to consume everything that isn’t nailed down.  So thats pretty much exactly what I did, but consciously of course.  It was a delightful brunch, complete with a homemade gluten free oatmeal raisin muffin and cup of coffee – black.  Yes everything in that picture is all for me and truth be told I could’ve eaten more but I needed to save room for that nights dinner and dessert.  Especially dessert…who wants peach crisp spiked with cognac?

Ohio eggs, green beans, tomatoes and melon, homemade muffins, healthy avocado fats and a nice hot cup of black coffee. BLISS!

That evening Conor and I took a quick drive to get some provisions from a local farm stand.  I didn’t have a concrete plan in mind, more like a “cook what looks good” kind of plan.  And bless my eyes those Michigan peaches were ripe and ready and I seemed to recall an open bottle of booze that those peaches could go for a little swim in.

Putting it all together…don’t worry, the booze is in there, you just can’t see it.

This peach crisp is so simple and requires no cooking ability whatsoever.  And frankly if I wasn’t going to blog about it I wouldn’t have measured a thing.  The outcome is a crusty, crumbly, gooey, tangy dessert that will please everyone who takes a bite.  Good luck waiting for it to cool before you eat it…its almost worth the scalded tongue, correction, its definitely worth the scalded tongue.

The gooey, sticky, crusty final product. Ooohhh yeahhhh….

I realize that in most parts of the US peach season has just ended and my apologies for a late peach dessert, however this can also be made with apples which are beginning to flow in with abundance.

Enjoy!!

Michigan Peach Crisp with Cognac

Filling:

6-8 ripe, but slightly firm peaches, sliced medium

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tblsp flour ( I prefer spelt)

1/3 cup cognac

Topping:

1 cup oats

1 tblsp flour (again with the spelt)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tblsp brown sugar

1/2 stick cold butter, cut into small pieces

Pre-heat oven to 350 degree fahrenheit.  In a medium bowl combine peaches through flour and toss to coat.  Add cognac and combine gently.  Spray a 9×9 baking pan with non stick cooking spray or rub with butter.  Pour peach mixture into dish.

In a medium bowl combine oats through sugar.  Add butter cutting cross wise with 2 knives to break it into small pieces.  Pour oat mixture over peaches spreading evenly.

Bake for 25-35 minutes until oats are browned and peaches are soft.  Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.  This is killer with some whole milk vanilla ice cream…let it get melty on your dish..and then lick it up!

The Happy Haitian-Skillet Fish, Dirty Rice & Fried Plantains

You can take the girl (me) out of the islands but you can’t take the islands out of the girl.  I met with a friend from Haiti who is also a fellow salsa dancing-foodie, for the afternoon at the market and in the kitchen.  I’ve never been to the Caribbean but the food sounded similar to Fiji and to be honest I’ve been feeling a little Fiji home sick.  So off to the market we went to buy a whole fish (heads are yummy!), plantains, a coconut (yeah!) and our culinary accoutrements.

My Happy Haitian Friend, Anderson, teaching me some Caribbean cooking techniques.

While scraping my first coconut in America (awesome!) my friend prepped the fish.  Generously rubbing it with lime juice and swimming in a blend of green pepper, green onion and garlic, it quick cooked in the skillet while our dirty Haitian rice was simmering away.  I have never had rice like this before.  An unusual grey hue and full of flavor- why? Dried mushrooms.  The dried mushrooms are reconstituted in water and the rice is cooked in the shroomy water sans fungus.  Then in goes lima beans, shredded coconut and cilantro making it super vibrant and earthy!

Scoring the fish helps it from curling in the heat of the pan and it gives you a place to put more juice.  Rub that lime in!!

Our side for this most tasty Haitian lunch was…wait for it….fried plantains.  I don’t usually do a lot of deep fried foods but these are a guilty pleasure.  I don’t feel too bad though (not at all actually) because the rest of the meal is so healthy and  light.

Frying plantains using a traditional plantain masher.

Anderson used an interesting technique which included frying the sliced plantains on both sides, smashing them, then dipping them in salted water before they get fried a second time to give them that exquisite crispness. Upon my salted water inquiry his response was that it helps it from getting too dry. Duh.

I know they’re fried but they are so delicious!!

Citrusy fish, dirty Haitian rice and beans, fried plantains and sliced avocado- I’m happy to be kicking back island style in Cleveland.

Doesn’t get more Caribbean then that.

Haitian Skillet Fish

1 1-1.5 lb whole snapper (or other hearty white fish), scored on both sides

2 limes

1 medium onion, sliced into rounds

2 garlic cloves

1/2 small green pepper, core removed and roughly chopped

2 green onions

Sea salt to taste

Sauce:

Add garlic, green pepper, green onions and a pinch of salt in a blender or food processor with enough water to make it blend and form a thick but slightly watery paste.  Set aside.

Fish:

Slice limes in half and rub every square inch of the fish inside and out with lime juice.  Salt fish inside and out.  Place fish in a skillet (cut in half if needed to fit)  add 1/2 cup of green pepper sauce and sliced onions to the pan.  Cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes then flip and cover for the remainder of the cooking for another 3-4 minutes depending on the thickness.  Add cilantro for garnish if desired.  Then put on some Caribbean tunes and dance!

Grapefruit Shake-Up!

Did I ever tell you I grew up in the carnival?  Yes, it’s true, I am a third generation carnie.  But a few things set me apart like an education and having all of my teeth.  My grandfather started AJ Sunny Amusements in 1956 and the business was later taken over by my father and aunt.  I began working the midway at the age of nine doing small things like sorting money or making lemonade. However most of my time was spent taking advantage of living the life every child dreams of which consisted of eating French fries and cotton candy for lunch and cutting in line to pick whatever seat I wanted on one of our psychedelically painted rides.

Working the midway. So according to this picture I guess I started working when I was about 18 months.

We’ve all had the ubiquitous frothy lemonade shake-up in the large, waxed paper cup that we must hold two-handed for fear the bottom may drop out (tragic!).  We’ve watched a carnie (maybe even me) shake this refreshing summer beverage with enthusiastic vigor.

My palate has diversified since my steady diet of sno cones and funnel cakes and living in Fiji has helped that considerably.  With my carnival days behind me and being a Peace Corps volunteer my current chosen profession, I’m going to be honest….. it can be really challenging.  The harassment, unreliable public transportation, harassment on the unreliable transportation….. sometimes when I get home on a sweaty Friday afternoon a nice cool drink (with vodka) is critical to maintaining sanity while enduring third world living.  However, on this occasion I will have to gracefully decline for 2 reasons: 1. I am on a volunteer budget and 2. I’m not even sure if the local vodka here is meant for human consumption.

I dare your mouth not to water.

It is citrus season in Fiji now.  There are at least eight types of citrus I can think of but I’m sure there are more I have yet to discover.  Small, sweet n sour kumquats, meyer-like lemons, traditional limes, candy sweet mandarins and the list goes on and on.  A few are eaten out of hand but most commonly they are used to make juice.

I was missing the tangy taste of a grapefruit and lucky for me I came across the Fiji version of just that.  They are MASSIVE and can weigh 3-4 lbs.  I picked a hefty one, squeezed the bloody hell out of it & shook it like a Polaroid picture.  This drink is a refreshing deviant from the norm and is so vibrant in its flavor that it could pull you out of a cotton candy coma.

Is it a grapefruit? Is it a pomelo? I’m not really sure. But what I do know is that its delicious.

Getting excited about citrus!

Lets get real, this beverage would be award winning with a heavy splash of vodka (or gin).  Pair this drink with some caramel apples and Italian sausages and you’ve got a carnie party to attend.

Grapefruit Shakeup

1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
4 tbsp Sugar
4 tbsp boiling water
Ice

Makes 2

Make a simple syrup by adding boiling water and sugar together stirring to dissolve sugar completely.

Juice grapefruit and strain to remove any excess seeds and pulp.  Making one at a time, in a pint glass add half the grapefruit juice to half of the syrup, fill glass with ice and pour 8 oz. of water over top.  Cover the pint glass with either a plastic cup or traditional lemonade paper cup that fits snuggly over the lip.  Shake vigorously for 1 minute until it well combined and frothy.  Serve in either pint glass or paper cup.  Garnish with a grapefruit wedge if desired.