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Monday, November 29, 2010

And so goes another Thanksgiving weekend. And with extreme nonchalance I'll give you a recipe at the very end of the feast.
The thing is, in almost 10 years since I've moved to this foreign land, I've never dared to play around with the dishes of this tradition, also because my friend (the same one that years ago was spoiling us by pulling chocolate chip cookies out of the oven every other day), I was sayin', my friend, moved by compassion, always invites me to her T -Day, and I usually save myself bringing a crostata or a pumpkin pie, bought at the last minute at the French bakery close to my house (I know, these French know their stuff, we have to admit...).

This year, however, I've decided to be a much more polite guest, and with great pride I get down to work and try to contribute myself to the Mission Turkey. Virtually, and sensationally late, but the important thing is to participate, as someone once said... I almost want to commit myself, and promise that in the coming days weeks, when everyone will be thinking of heart-shaped cakes and pink ravioli for Valentine's Day, I will show up candid and innocent with some other dishes that usually never fail to appear on Thanksgiving table: sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, maybe even a pie (um... maybe...). And then, let's admit it, this way I can speed things up and in November 2011 I'll capitalize on it by linking wildly to the past :-)
But don't be fooled, you still won't see me struggling with the turkey (I mean THE Turkey, THE maximum weight, THE 20 Pounder, the perfect one, bloated, juicy, which, along with milkshakes, pompom girls and laundromats, has been in the settings of all our American dreams, from Happy Days to Fame), yes, THAT turkey... not yet. You must be joking, I can't do it. I may be a Girl In The Kitchen, but my name is not Martha Stewart. Preparing that turkey is like getting a green card, and I'm not ready, that's all.

But now no more talking, here is the first entry of my new category, Thanksgiving .
And to you all, thanks for being here.

for a cast-iron skillet of 8" diameter

cornmeal 140 gr.
all-purpose flour 125 gr.
butter 100 gr.
sugar 80 gr.
eggs 2
buttermilk 235 ml.
baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
salt 1 pinch

For the record, cornbread is popular all year round and not just during Thanksgiving, and it's very common all over the U.S., although it's more traditionally associated with the cuisine of the southern states. There it's usually made using only cornmeal flour, with no sugar nor baking powder, and it's cooked in a cast iron skillet, thoroughly greased with butter, oil or lard, and heated in the oven before the dough is poured in. The result is a very grainy "bread" that crumbles easily (so much so that it's often eaten with a spoon with the addition of milk or buttermilk), it's not too sweet and has a pretty crunchy brown crust.
In the northern states on the other hand, cornbread batter is more like that of muffins or other quick breads (such as pumpkin bread or banana bread), the bread is soft and sweet for the addition of wheat flour, baking soda and sugar, and it's baked in the oven like a regular cake.
What I'm offering you is the Yankee version, with the addition of wheat flour. I prefer it because crumbs that fall all over are not for me, but at the same time I like it just a little sweet and cooked in a cast iron pan. But nothing against increasing the sugar, varying the proportion of the two flours, and preparing it in a regular baking pan (if square, even better).

Preheat the oven to 350, thoroughly grease a cast iron skillet and keep it warm. In a bowl, mix cornmeal, all-purpose flour and salt, and set aside. Melt the butter in a pan and let cool slightly, then mix it with sugar. Add the eggs, stirring until they're blended, then mix in buttermilk and baking soda. At the end add the flour mix and stir just until you get a sufficiently homogeneous mixture. Pour the batter into the hot skillet (or in a regular baking pan previously greased) and bake at 350 for about 30 or 40 minutes.

Roasted Grapes

Monday, November 22, 2010
Roasted Grapes

Here I am with the lazy recipe of the week. I know this should belong to the column For Dummies, but because of the famous marketing's laws, I decided it's better to introduce it as a minimalist recipe. It's so chic!
I could go on and say that the roasting process intensifies and celebrates grapes' inherent sweetness, at the same time creating a new taste and texture, with sweet and savory notes that make them an unusual but perfect addition to cheese plates, salads, and meat dishes.
Persuaded? Not yet? Well, you're quite difficult today. Just take these cooked grapes, throw them on some cheese, on a piece of bread, in between two rocket leaves, and stop whining.

Roasted Grapes

Roasted Grapes

black grapes, small and seedless about 1 lb.
olive oil 1-2 tablespoons
salt, pepper, fresh thyme to taste

Wash grapes, drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper, and few fresh thyme sprigs. Place grapes on a baking pan, and bake at 400 for about 15-20 minutes, until they are tender and wrinkles start forming.
Ehm, yeap, that's it...over and out.

Squash, Bell Pepper & Coconut Milk. Thai Inspired.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Kabocha, Bell Pepper, and Coconut Milk Soup

Soup. One more time. Again, orange. Again, squash.
This time though, no butternut squash. Instead, I chose a kabocha, which may sound like a bad word, but in reality it's the name of a Japanese squash, small (well....of course, it's Japan style), round and very sweet. I'd even say that to me kabocha is no doubt the perfect squash, the real Cucurbita Maxima, the Rolls Royce of all squash.
Stuff that'll make all Cinderellas out there red with envy.

Kabocha, Bell Pepper & Coconut Milk
a (little) Thai Soup

for 4
kabocha (or other squash), cut in pieces about 1.5 kg
yellow bell pepper, large 1
onion, small 1
red Thai curry paste about 2 teaspoons
coconut milk 1 can (about 350 gr.)
lime 1
olive oil, salt, pepper, ginger, lemongrass, pumpkin seeds to serve to taste

My weekly soup is somewhat Thai inspired. Just as I've already experimented here, I started from a base of Thai curry paste, this time red, to which I added extra ginger, lime and lemongrass, just to make sure that the Thai effect be nice and strong.

Place cut squash on a baking pan lined with parchment paper, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake at 400 for about 45 minutes, until squash is soft. Peel it, cut the flesh in small pieces and set them aside. Meanwhile, roast bell pepper on the stove, peel it, discard seeds and white parts, and cut it in pieces.
Heat some olive oil in a large pot, sauté the chopped onion, about 2 teaspoons of curry paste (the exact amount depends on how spicy and hot the curry is, it's better to start with 1-2 teaspoons, and then add more at the end, if necessary), a small piece of fresh ginger, grated lime peel, and some chopped lemongrass. Cook for few minutes, until curry paste has dissolved, then add the vegetables. Pour in coconut milk and lime juice, bring to boil, and then puree everything with an immersion blender until soup is nice and smooth.
If needed, dilute it with some more water and add a little more curry paste. To serve, sprinkle each bowl with a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds.

Pecan and Fig Stuffed Quails

Sunday, November 14, 2010
Pecan and Fig Stuffed Quails

And so it happened that one fall afternoon Fate gave me four quails, poor them. And pitiless as Agamemnon, I decided to sacrifice them to this blog, like modern Iphigenias bound to propitiate some kind of Goddess' wrath.
But this time, as testified above, no divine intervention came to rescue the victims.

Well...what can I say? There's always a first time. But due to my poor familiarity with such mystical experiences, I'd like to add that most likely this whole thing won't happen very often. But...Oh My Goodness, these quails are really tasty.

Stuffed Quails
with Pecan & Figs

serves 2 (a little hungry) people

quails 4, already cleaned
(...so what? Are you kidding?)
dried figs 7-8
pecans 1 handful
onion 1/4
garlic 1 clove
brandy 2 tablespoons
orange, juice and peel 1/2
bread crumbs 1-2 tablespoons
honey 2 tablespoons
olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh thyme to taste

Rinse quails, pat them dry with kitchen towel and rub them inside and out with salt and pepper. Mince onion and sauté it in a little bit of olive oil with the garlic clove, peeled and cut in half. After few minutes add chopped figs, brandy, 2-3 tablespoons of orange juice and grated peel of half orange. Season with salt and pepper and cook for few minutes until figs gets soft. Discard garlic clove. Let the mixture cool down a bit, then add toasted chopped pecans and bread crumbs. Adjust the taste with more salt and pepper, if needed. If the stuffing is too dry, add a little more orange juice or olive oil. Place about two tablespoons of stuffing inside each quail, without filling them too much, tie their legs with kitchen twine and place them in a baking pan.
In a separate bowl, mix 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons orange juice and few fresh thyme sprigs. Brush about half of the mixture over the quails and bake them at 400. After 10 minutes, brush them with the rest of the marinade and bake for 20-30 minutes longer, until quails are nice and brown.

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Soup

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

Forgive me, but this post is not going to be translated. Whatever I'm saying in the Italian version makes sense only in Italian, where Butternut Squash becomes Zucca Violina (literally: Violin Squash, due to its particular shape).
Gosh, these Italians! They find the way to be romantic even with a squash.

Oh well, you may not get me ranting about nothing this time, but you still get the soup. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Soup
serves 4

butternut squash 1
sweet potatoes, medium size 3
onion 1
garlic 1 clove
vegetable stock, olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, fresh ginger to taste
yogurt and pecans, to serve to taste

Cut squash in half lenghtwise and discard the seeds. Place it on a baking pan lined with parchment paper along with the sweet potatoes, whole, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 for approximately 45 minutes, or until squash and potatoes are tender. Let them cool down a bit, then peel them and cut them in pieces.
Meanwhile, mince the onion and peel the garlic clove ans saute them with a little olive oil in a large pot. Add the chopped vegetables, season with cinnamon and nutmeg, cover with the stock and bring to boil. Puree the soup using an immersion blender, put the pan back on the stove and adjust the taste with salt and pepper. Add some freshly grated ginger, if you like it spicy, or a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup, if you prefer it sweet.
To serve, decorate each bowl with a little bit of yogurt and sprinkle with toasted and pecans, coarsely chopped.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Pomegranate and Hazelnut

Sunday, November 7, 2010
Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Pomegranate and Hazelnut

What if I started a new weekly column? I could call it Lazy Sunday Cooking, or, better yet, Recipes for Dummies. What do you think?
Yes-yes-yes-yes-yeeeeesssss? Well then, let's begin!

P.S: Before I start ranting about the extremely difficult execution of this recipe, I must confess that I am a sucker for the use of fruit and/or nuts in savory dishes. I'm just telling you, en passant, in case one day you had this great idea of inviting me over for dinner.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts
with Pomegranate and Hazelnut

for Dummies

Brussel sprouts about 2 lb.
pomegranate 1/2
hazelnut, peeled 1 handful
red onion 1/2
garlic 2 cloves
salt, pepper, olive oil to taste

Wash Brussel sprouts, cut the hard ends and discard the outer leaves. Cut the bigger ones in half, and leave the smaller ones whole, so that you'll end up with pieces of pretty much the same size. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoon olive oil, salt, and pepper (if you'd like, you can also add a couple of tablespoons of pomegranate syrup, and if you're not that lucky to have a Middle eastern specialty store around the block, well, you can always make it yourself; don't worry, it'll still be a Recipe for Dummies).
Place Brussel sprouts on a baking pan lined with parchment paper, add garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half, and the onion, sliced thinly.
Bake at 400 for about 30-40 minutes, until Brussel sprouts are roasted on all sides.
Meanwhile, roast the hazelnuts in the oven for few minutes, rub them with your hand to eliminate the inner skin as much as possible, and chop coarsely.
Mix Brussel sprouts with pomegranate seeds and hazelnuts, and serve.