Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Squash It!

More Thanksgiving Prep...

Thanksgiving is coming!  Prepared?  While it may be a little early to buy sweet potatoes, it is the perfect time to take inventory of kitchen equipment.  And here is a worthwhile reason:

A few years ago, friends of ours were hosting a group for dinner and they asked if I would prepare the meal.  Of course, it was my pleasure to do this -- I was completely in my element. This was especially true since these friends have the most incredible kitchen, complete with a very utile 6 burner Wolf range, two dishwashers, and the most stunning Bernardaud dishes and flatware.  But, when I started prepping the meal, I was shocked that their cookware, in particular their pots and pans, looked as if they had been purchased at a garage sale 35 years ago!  They were ostensibly useless, dangerously worn and cheap. To say the least, I was worried. I was feeding 20 people and this crummy cooking equipment would undoubtedly destroy any attempts at a well constructed meal.

Luckily, I was able to pull the meal together and everyone seemed pleased.  My gracious hosts heeded my advice and the very next weekend went to Williams Sonoma and bought the entire 20 piece All Clad set.

While there are many great cookware products, I am partial to All Clad. It is meticulously hand constructed here in America (suddenly feeling patriotic), is made to distribute heat evenly, and is the top choice for most home cooks and professional chefs alike.  Cuisinart makes a slightly more affordable cookware set, and has some socially conscience eco-lines that are worth exploring.

One more note (before I get accused of kicking in an open door) -- I have been to many homes with garages filled with pricey foreign cars, but the parents cook with paltry pots that have hazardously worn out non-stick surfaces.  It's interesting (troubling, really) to observe people who are more concerned about what gas they put in their cars than what is being put into their children's bodies.  Make sure you are cooking with quality food and quality cookware!

 Ok, enough on this!  Let's cook something!

Butternut Squash Puree

This is what you will need:

3 medium sized Butternut Squash
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon nutmeg (freshly ground)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Peel 3 medium sized butternut squash (buy them at your local farmer's market).

Carefully cut each in half and remove seeds.

If the squash is bright orange in the center, it will have loads of flavor. Cut the halves into generous sized cubes and rub each with olive oil.  Place onto a baking sheet.

Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes until soft (but not mushy).

Put the warm cubes and any of the oil drippings into food processor and blend in the maple syrup, brown sugar, cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Test for taste. If desired, add a touch more maple syrup and brown sugar for sweetness.

If you wish to leave as a side dish, place the squash into a baking sheet and heat in the oven for 30 minutes before serving.  If kids are around, add mini marshmallows to the top before baking.  For Thanksgiving, this dish can be made a day or two in advance.

Butternut Squash Soup

If you have a hankering for soup, mix 1-2 cups of chicken broth (preferably home made) with the squash puree in a saucepan and bring to the desired temperature.  Be sure to stir often as the soup tends to stick to the bottom of the pan.

I recently hosted a large dinner party and served this soup in demitasse cups/saucers to guests when they arrived at the door.  It was a huge hit and screamed autumn!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Thanksgiving Preparations

Thanksgiving is Coming!
Top Secret Mashed Potato Sausage Stuffing

Every other year, my entire family descends on us for a grand Thanksgiving meal at our home in Brooklyn.  For our daughter it is complete utopia -- with 10 cousins running around our townhouse for 3 days straight -- she couldn't be happier.  It's chaotic, noisy, boisterous; but it's plenty fun.

The beauty of Thanksgiving is that, aside from the turkey,  and if well planned out, most of the dishes can be prepared ahead of time, even certain mashed potato dishes! I look forward to presenting some of my favorite autumnal dishes in the coming weeks.

But first, at the risk of getting in a good deal of trouble from my in-laws, I am going to expose the family's top secret mashed potato sausage stuffing recipe. I have received so many requests for the recipe of this dish that, one way or the other, I am spilling secrets!  But, shhh -- you didn't get it from me!!

It's easy, but takes a little time. Here's how:

What you will need:

Potatoes (at least one, per person)
1 round ring of Italian cheese sausage (you can mix in a couple links of hot or sweet sausages too)
1 turnup (optional)
2-3 freshly made large mozzarellas
Large glass or ceramic Casserole Dish

Prepare a large bowl of mashed potatoes by peeling and quartering the potatoes. Boil them just to the point of softness (they are going to cook again in the oven so its best if they are not too mushy). I sometimes add a quartered turnip to the potatoes; it provides a nice subtle flavor and creaminess.

I prefer using a ricer to mash the potatoes, it mashes them evenly without over mashing. 

Add in butter, cream (or milk), salt and pepper.  Be generous with the butter and cream - it's ok if they are a little loose as the moisture will be baked out in the oven. Put them in refrigerator till cool, or overnight.  It is much easier to work with chilled mashed potatoes.

Remove the sausage meat from its casing and sauté in a large skillet.  Constantly stir to break the meat up, it should form a small pebble-like texture.  

I prefer to use freshly made whole milk mozzarella, but store bought or even low moisture mozzarella also works well. 

Build layers in a large casserole dish, starting with the chilled mashed potatoes...  

...then the sautéd sausage...

...then mozzarella.

Repeat this sequence of layers until the top of the casserole dish has been reached. The top layer should be potatoes.  If mozzarella is on top, this layer can be a bit tough.  If you wish to be extra decadent (and if no one has heart disease in your family) you can add a middle layer of artisanal  butter.

At this point, the casserole can be placed in the oven and baked for 1 hour at 350 degrees.  Or, it can be placed in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, or the freezer for up to 2 months.


If using quality fresh ingredients, this dish is fairly fool proof.

Consider trying this dish with sweet potatoes. Together, sweet potatoes and sausage pair quiet nicely.  Instead of mozzarella, use Gruyere cheese.