Thanksgiving Fever

We’ve managed to use the kids as an excuse for the last seven years but now our time has come. Thanksgiving will be at our house this year and we’re definitely getting Thanksgiving fever. I’m receiving an email every hour with a mashed potato recipe or reading a blog post boasting of the perfect brining method. The chatter is endless. The momentum that surrounds this day, the holiest of cooking holidays, is mind boggling.

Finally, I sat back, took a deep breath and broke it down.

Turkey, gravy, some form of potato (sweet, mashed or both), vegetable, another vegetable, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, which I count as optional since hardly anyone even eats it. Appetizers are fairly easy, we’re just talking some cheese, dips, and chips. Most guests can be counted on to bring a dessert, so I’m not even stressing about that.

Since I can do the sides ahead I’m fairly confident I can pull those off. If I screw a dish up I can remake it, not a problem. It’s really all about the #$^%$^% turkey. Sink or swim, there are no dress rehearsals. But before I even cook one I have to figure out all the other stuff. To brine or not to brine? Wet brine or dry? Organic, heritage, locally grown, antibiotic-fee? How many pounds??? Well, I did what any self-respecting home cook would do – let the experts do it for me! Some might say it’s a bit of a cheat but if the turkey can come pre-brined in a roasting pan already done for you – why not???

So the focus at our house will be coming up with some delicious sides that hopefully will become tradition. And I’m even getting the boys in on the action, they are responsible for a desert. More on that later in the week…

Sweet Potato Crumble (recipe serves 8-10)

Ingredients

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

3/4 cup mascarpone cheese

¼ cup maple syrup

2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 stick butter, cold

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cup walnuts, rough chopped into small pieces

Method

Place sweet potatoes in large saucepan and cover with water. Boil until they are fork tender. Drain and place in a large mixing bowl. Add mascarpone cheese, maple syrup, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mash or blend with a food processor until smooth.

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Spread the sweet potato mash in a large shallow baking dish and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the butter, flour, brown sugar, and chopped nuts until the topping is a crumbly texture. The best method is to use your fingers to work the butter into the sugar and nuts. Arrange the topping evenly over the sweet potatoes.

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At this point you can refrigerate the dish until the big day or bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until edges are bubbly and topping is crispy, about 35-40 minutes.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “The top is quite good”

Liam (age 5): “I kind of like it”

Dylan (age 5): “Not sure – top’s okay”

Hmmmm, hope the family likes it a bit better!

 

 

What do Superheroes eat?

The other night at dinner, one of the boys brought up an interesting question – What does Batman eat? Well, as you can imagine this sparked quite a philosophical debate. Matthew insisted that superheroes eat “regular” food, Dylan thought Spiderman only ate spiders, and Liam was adamant that Superman eats soup, all kinds of soup, but ONLY soup.

There were a few things they did agree on. Superheroes eat A LOT and they like to eat in restaurants. Although they were not sure where these restaurants were, you know the ones that serve spiders…

Growing up I preferred Barbie to Batman but who doesn’t remember Popeye and his spinach. I am not even sure my kids would know who Popeye is BTW. Wow, that makes me feel old! I remember my mother used to make a dish with potatoes (from a box) mixed with spinach (from a can) – and I loved it. I wanted to update the dish here using fresh ingredients. Here is our version:

Superhero Spuds

Ingredients:

2 large russet potatoes

Olive oil

Kosher salt & black pepper

2 strips bacon

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups fresh spinach, rough chopped

2 oz. Mascarpone cheese

1/4-cup milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub potatoes clean under cold running water. Poke potatoes with a fork several times. (This is important! If you don’t poke hole, potatoes will explode in oven.) Rub each potato with olive oil and season with salt. Place on a baking sheet and cook for approx. 1 hour 15 minutes. They will crisp on the outside and should give a little when pressed.

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Meanwhile cook the bacon in a skillet until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet and drain on paper towels.  Leave about 1 tbsp of bacon drippings in the skillet and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes and then add the chopped spinach. Sauté until spinach is completely wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.

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When potatoes are cooked allow them to cool and then slice in 1/2 and scoop out the centers, leaving about 1/4” border.

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Place the scooped out potato, mascarpone cheese and milk in large bowl and mash together. Add in spinach and bacon, reserving some bacon to sprinkle on top. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Fill the scooped out potatoes with the spinach/potato mixture and top with the reserved bacon. Heat oven to 350 degrees, place potatoes on baking sheet and cook until heated through and browned in spots, about 25-30 minutes.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 5): “Bacon makes everyone big and strong – more bacon next time”

Liam (age 4): “I am only eating the bacon and I like the skin, it tastes like chocolate”

Dylan (age 4): “Mommy made a BAD dinner tonight…”

Ouch, I guess I was too overzealous with the spinach in Dylan’s opinion. Everyone tried some so I would definitely make these again. Maybe cut down on the spinach and put almost all the bacon on top so they will think I added a lot more. Sneaky I know….

My Three Leprechauns

St. Patrick’s Day – what a great excuse to get the boys to eat something green!

Brian’s family is as Irish as you can get. His parents came here in their youth, got off the boat, settled in Queens and had four children, living the American dream. But they never lost their brogue. When Brian and his siblings reminisce about their mother’s cooking they all agree on one thing – too many potatoes! When we first met I made mashed potatoes thinking he would love them, being Irish and all. On the contrary, having had potatoes with every meal since the age of 2, it was the last thing he wanted to eat. He took about two bites just to be polite…

When contemplating a dish for St. Patrick’s Day, two things obviously came to mind, Guinness and potatoes. Clearly, I was going to stay away from potatoes, and beer didn’t seem to be a wise choice, considering my audience. So I focused on the green…

PEA PESTO PASTA

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups frozen peas

3 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted

1/3 cup, plus 1 tsp olive oil

3 slices Canadian bacon, diced (you can also just add some deli ham)

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, divided

1 Tbsp mascarpone cheese

1 Lb dried linguine

Salt & Pepper

 

 

Directions:

Boil peas in a small saucepan with lightly salted water for about 2-3 minutes until they are bright green. Drain well and set aside.

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Heat a small skillet and add the pine nuts until lightly toasted and set aside. (Toasting the pine nuts is optional).

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In the same small skillet add 1 tsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the Canadian bacon and let cook until caramelized. Remove and set aside.

Set aside 1/2 cup of the cooked peas. In a food processor, mix the remaining peas, garlic, pine nuts, 1/2 of the grated cheese, pinch of salt, until it becomes a smooth paste. Then add the olive oil until well blended.

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Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to directions, until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta-cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Over moderate heat toss the pasta with the pea pesto, reserved cooking water, reserved peas, Canadian bacon, and the mascarpone cheese. Cook for about 1 minute, and season with salt & pepper, to taste. Serve immediately, garnished with remaining grated cheese.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (Age 5): “THIS is NOT GREEN!”

Liam: (Age 3 11/12): “It is LIGHT green and too hard to eat”

Dylan (Age 3 11/12): “No, it is YELLOW, only the sauce is green!”

What??? They were seriously angry that I had promised green pasta and felt I didn’t deliver. After I profusely apologized Matthew ate it grudgingly; Liam and Dylan took two bites each. But if my kids are yelling at me that their food is not green enough I could care less how much they ate!