Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Preparations

This is just a quick, short post to say Happy Thanksgiving as I am knee deep in turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries and the like. I started all my prep work today and finished some of my make-ahead items (i.e. the apple cranberry chutney and a couple of desserts). Tomorrow will be quite hectic, but I look forward to everyone gathering at our house for some good food, good drinks and above all, good company.

Our "feast" will start off with some appetizers: tzulamas (a pork, currant and pistachio pie); kopanisti (a gorgonzola, feta and roasted tomato spread) with toasted pita triangles; mini pancetta cornbreads with a cranberry apple chutney; marinated artichokes; sliced cured chorizo; and cheeses. We'll then move onto the roasted turkey, of course; my family's traditional rice, ground meat and pine nut stuffing; some sauteed broccoli rabe; glazed carrots; beef bourguignon; and thyme roasted potatoes.

These are the days I am happiest: when our big family is gathered in one place to eat, drink, talk, laugh, reminisce of the past and hope for the future. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and a healthy and joyous start to this year's holiday season to everyone, all across the globe.

A Butternut Squash Pie (instead of the usual pumpkin pie) I made early this morning (6:00 a.m. to be exact) for my daughter's class to enjoy at their Thanksgiving "party."

That one butternut squash went a long way ... a panna cotta of butternut squash, ginger and coconut milk for our guests to enjoy after dinner tomorrow.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Broccoli Rabe

I'm hosting Thanksgiving Dinner in a few days and although I've been planning a menu for weeks, it was only this past week that I started experimenting with some lighter side dishes to complement all the rich accompaniments to join the turkey on our table.

My utmost favorite vegetable would have to be broccoli rabe and so the other day I thought of adding some greens to our Thanksgiving Dinner with this flavorful veggie. Saute these bitter greens in a bit of olive oil and some minced garlic and they make a perfect side dish as is--I can probably eat an entire bunch myself every day. But dress them with some toasted pine nuts, Marsala and a handful of raisins and these tender stalks are near perfection. Not to mention that they will complement any turkey dinner flawlessly.

Broccoli Rabe with Toasted Pine Nuts and Sultana Raisins
2 bunches broccoli rabe
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup Marsala
1/3 cup sultana raisins
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim broccoli rabe and rinse. Blanch in a pot of boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes until bright green. Remove from pot and plunge in ice water. Remove to colander and let drain.
Heat oil in a large skillet and add pine nuts. Cook until just golden and then stir in garlic. Over medium high heat, add Marsala and bring to a boil. Stir in raisins and cook for a minute more. Add broccoli rabe to skillet and cook until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Persimmon Walnut Cake in Orange Syrup

A couple weeks ago I brought home a large shopping bag full of persimmons that my uncle had picked straight off a tree in his garden, right there in the heart of good old Astoria. Every fall I am amazed at just how much fruit this tree produces (the photo you see above of what I was given is probably just a fifth of what my uncle had picked that day, not to mention how many persimmons various birds had feasted on prior to his picking them).

I love to eat them as is, but there were so many and as my husband and kids aren't thrilled with this fruit in particular, I really wanted to use a few in my cooking. So I started to look up recipes and found quite a few savory dishes, but what I was really craving was something sweet. So I got to thinking of a play on karydopita (Greek walnut cake) ... maybe a dense cake of persimmons, walnuts, cinnamon and other spices soaked in a sweet orange scented syrup.

This recipe features a good amount of ground walnuts but I use flour here as opposed to the ground rusks in a traditional karydopita, so I'm not labeling it as such. The pureed persimmons lend a subtle fruit flavor to this rich cake.

I'd like to send this dessert over to Ivy of Kopiaste, Val of More than Burnt Toast and Giz of Equal Opportunity Kitchen for their Time to be Thankful event. I am thankful every day for the amazingly beautiful, large and loving family I have. We are lucky enough to enjoy warm meals every day of the week and I only wish I could say as much for everyone in the world. Perhaps some day things will be different.

Persimmon Walnut Cake in Orange Scented Syrup
Makes one 10-inch round cake

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 to 5 ripe persimmons, pureed or mashed with a fork if very ripe
1 3/4 cups ground walnuts

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons thyme honey
3-inch strip of orange rind
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch round cake pan.

In a bowl combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, ginger, allspice and baking soda and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Slowly stir in the flour mixture. Add the persimmons and ground walnuts and stir until just combined.

Empty batter into prepared cake pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes or so.

While the cake is baking, combine the water, sugar and honey for the syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Spoon off any white froth that may accumulate and add the orange rind, cinnamon stick and cloves. Simmer, covered, over medium low heat until the cake is done.

Pour hot syrup over hot cake once it's removed from the oven. Cool completely and, if possible, let sit for a couple of hours--or even overnight--before cutting and serving.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Short ribs are one of my favorite cuts of beef. The other day I decided to stray away from my usual braising of the ribs with different vegetables and try them out in a specialty dish from Kerkyra, known as pastitsada.

I've tried many versions of this dish across Kerkyra, some made with rooster and others with beef. My favorites have never been based on which meat (I've enjoyed both the rooster and the beef) but always on the sauce. For me, the more the spices the better.

I made my version with loads of cinnamon and cloves, bay leaves and some red wine. The short ribs are quite a rich cut of meat and the hours--yes I said hours--of braising leave them so tender the meat just falls off the bone. Served with a side of penne, this is a meal my family loved.

Beef Short Ribs Pastitsada
Serves 6

5 pounds of beef short ribs
2 onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
6 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup dry red wine
1 box good quality chopped tomatoes (26.5 oz)
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

1 box of penne
3 tablespoons of butter
Grated cheese

Season short ribs with salt and pepper. In a large dutch oven over medium high heat, sear the short ribs and remove to a plate once well browned. Add the onion to the dutch oven and cook until soft, stir in the garlic and cook a minute more. Toss in the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and cloves and stir well. Add the red wine and deglaze until the wine is reduced. Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Season with the pinch of sugar, add some salt and pepper and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Add meat back to dutch oven. Cover with lid and transfer to a 325 degree oven and braise the short ribs for about 3 hours, until the meat is falling off the bone.

Meanwhile boil the penne until al dente. Drain pasta and then brown the butter in the pasta pot. Once butter has browned, add the penne back to the pot and toss to coat. Stir in some of the braising liquid. Top individual portions of penne with short ribs and sauce and sprinkle with grated cheese.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Creamy Parsnip and Bacon Soup

I love, love, love soups. And they are a great way to experiment with ingredients, which is exactly what I did the other day.

I've never cooked with parsnips; honestly, I don't think I'd ever even eaten parsnips before Monday. And I have eaten and cooked my fair share of vegetables, but this less than appealing, or should I say bland looking, root veggie never made the cut.

When I spotted some parsnips in our local fruit/vegetable market late last week, I decided it was time to take the plunge. So I bought quite a few not really knowing what I would do with them. Simply roast them with fresh herbs? Mash them into a silky puree? Then I saw some neglected bacon in the freezer that needed to be used up ASAP (Bacon? Neglected? I know it's weird, but you've got to think healthy sometimes.). So I started to imagine a hearty soup, a chowder of sorts. Bacon, parsnips, leeks, onions, a little flour, some stock, some herbs and a touch of cream to round it all out.

The result, as you'll see below, was more than satisfying. And parsnips will definitely make an appearance on our table more often.

Creamy Parsnip and Bacon Soup
Serves 6

1/2 lb bacon, chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, chopped
2 leeks, chopped
Thyme from 5 or 6 sprigs
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3 cups water
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup half & half

Heat a large pot and render the bacon. Add the onion, leeks and parsnips and cook a few minutes until the onions are quite tender. Season the vegetables with some salt and stir in the thyme and bay leaves. Add the flour and stir for a minute or two. Add the broth and water, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until the parsnips are fork tender. Stir in the half & half, bring back to a boil and simmer for a couple minutes more.

Season with additional salt and pepper and serve.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pumpkin and Coconut Milk Panna Cotta

With Thanksgiving coming up and my hosting this particular holiday for the first time, I've been planning a menu for weeks. I do that. A lot. Planning I mean. Lists, notes, schedules, etc.

Last week I was mulling over desserts. Between myself , my mother and my three sisters we always have the usual pies covered: pumpkin, pecan and apple. I've got to admit though that the pumpkin is never my favorite. And I always wish it would be. I love dessert, and I adore desserts that are creamy and rich. I know, it's bad. But it's not like I eat them all the time. Just some of the time. Okay, most of the time. Yet that pumpkin pie filling always lacks that certain creaminess I long for. I'm happy to say, however, I may have found a solution.

After making a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies for a breast cancer bake sale last week, I found myself looking for a way to use up the left-over canned pumpkin in the refrigerator. I'd also bought some coconut milk earlier in the week and knew I wanted to somehow combine the two. The result: Pumpkin and Coconut Milk Panna Cotta. The combination was everything I hoped it would be and with a bit of ground ginger, it went above and beyond any pumpkin pie I've tasted.

Pumpkin and Coconut Milk Panna Cotta
Makes 8 servings

1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup half & half (or heavy cream)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
1 packet gelatin
2 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Toast the coconut flakes until light golden and set aside.

Place powdered gelatin in a small bowl and cover with 2 tablespoons milk. Set aside until softened.

In a saucepan combine the pumpkin, coconut milk, half & half, sugar, salt and ginger. Stir well until the sugar dissolves then bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin mixture.

Pour into small bowls, ramekins, molds or glasses. Refrigerate at least 4 hours until set. Garnish with toasted coconut just before serving.