Amy writes: Last Saturday afternoon, Chris took the train into NYC for a bachelor party, and since I had no other plans, I decided to head out to the CT Wine and Food Festival at The Hartford Club. The event promised food, wine, and celebrity chefs and the proceeds went to the Arthritis Foundation, so it seemed like a good time in the name of a good cause. I attended the afternoon Grand Tasting, which ran from noon to 4. My friend Jolie graciously agreed to drop me off, and her husband would pick me up after the UCONN game got out, so I could taste as many wines as I could without worrying about driving home.
Life has been unusually crazy. School is, in a word, overwhelming. Winter Storm Alfred put a wrench into the normal flow of life and we still haven't quite recovered from that. Chris is in Florida this week, invited to watch the launch of the Mars Rover and attend an educators' conference at NASA. My mother hosts Thanksgiving and I'm headed there Thursday afternoon. All of which means, I'm pretty much not cooking this year. Still, I wanted to write a post, so... This post features some of my favorite fall recipes that I think would be fabulous for the Thanksgiving table. Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!!! I'm thankful for you, our readers!
Favorite Side Dish:
This year, Mom asked me to bring our award-winning (runners up in the 2010 Sweet Potato Bloggers Contest) individual Sweet Potato and Pancetta Gratins, which she has never tried. These are delicious, not only as a fall side dish but even for breakfast or brunch. Chris has been known to build an egg sandwich around them as well. A definite favorite, and what says "Thanksgiving" better than the sweet potato?
A modern twist on Grandma's classic bread stuffing, we love this stuffing we created with panettone. It has a great mix of sweet and savory flavors, and an added bonus is that it's made in the slow cooker so you have more room in your oven and on your stove-top for the rest of your dishes!
Gravy, in some form, makes an appearance at everyone's Thanksgiving right? This gravy is easy and delicious, and goes really well with turkey. We were finalists in the 2010 Food 52 "Your Favorite Gravy" Contest with this one; they created it in their test kitchen and there is a great photo of it there). It's a winner in our book!
Why have a plain old dinner roll when you can have light, cheesy, airy gougeres? Picking a seasonal cheese like maple-smoked gouda takes them to a whole new level and adds a classic French touch to the meal.
Personally, I'm an apple pie girl. And I use refrigerated crust. Baking disasters are my specialty, so on holidays and special occasions, I tend to focus on everything but the baking and ask other people to bring dessert. That said, I make one or two apple pies every fall, and this one is my usual go-to recipe. Do as I say and not as I do...use those crust protectors!
Favorite Ways to Use Leftovers:
Chris is a big fan of making our own stocks. Stocks vary widely in flavor because of the number of variables involved, but this one was one of our favorites, with its deep brown color and rich turkey taste. We used it as the basis for both pot pie and soup, and froze the rest. Don't throw that carcass away! Make stock! It's easy!
I'm not sure Jacques or Julia would call this a cassoulet per se; I know Bourdain certainly would not. Nonetheless, cassoulet is one of my favorite foods and while this recipe certainly needs work, it was a decent first try. Hearty and filling, it can barely be called a "leftover" meal. (photo by Joanne)
Not being fans of sugar substitutes, the only "substitute" we made to Rachel's recipe was to use real brown sugar rather than Splenda. Sweet, warm and full of gingerbread spiciness, this coffee reminded us of the coziness of the holidays, and is one we'll make again and again.
For our second attempt at pork belly, we were inspired by Cooking Channel's television show "Everyday Exotic" with Chef Roger Mooking. For each episode, Mooking chooses his "obedient ingredient" and creates three or four dishes highlighting that ingredient. You can find the recipes on the show's website. However, when we made this dish, we were living without Internet in the aftermath of Winter Storm Alfred, so our recipe is adapted from the show.
Pork belly, from which bacon and pancetta are made, is inherently tough, fatty and salty. The ultimate goal is to get the fat rendered into the meat which will make it tender and flavorful. This takes several steps (blanching, simmering, searing, roasting), but the result is definitely worth the effort.
We started the process, as Mooking did, by cutting the pork belly into 1-inch pieces and blanching them in boiling water for about 10 minutes. While the meat was blanching, we made a pickling liquid out of brown sugar, salt, whole cloves, whole peppercorns and apple cider vinegar. We brought half of this liquid to a low boil and simmered the pork belly pieces in it for a half hour. The other half of the pickling liquid we reduced to use as a glaze for finishing the pork belly.
"Agave Orange Meets Walnuts" -
sweet chewy orange peel with crunchy walnut pieces
We wandered in after running errands one recent afternoon, and we sure are glad we did. We met and had a delicious chat with chocolatier Diane, whose pride in her fine quality products was clear from the get-go. Diane informed us that she inherited her love of chocolate, as well as some of her recipes from her Canadian-French memere, and then studied in Belgium to learn technique. She uses organic ingredients (including sweeteners) whenever possible, only the highest quality dark chocolate, and dried fruits and nuts from a local supplier.
"Egyptian Jewel" -
a truffle of chocolate ganache, roasted cardamom,
nutmeg, cinnamon and orange peel
The "factory store," located in the Manchester Parkade Plaza, consists of a wide storefront with two cases full of a variety of chocolates; one case is entirely sugar free. Each chocolate is prettier than the next, made with many different shapes and molds. All are labelled with mouth-watering descriptions of the ingredients, so you can find exactly what you're looking for, or be tempted by the offerings. The flavor combinations are sophisticated as well as delicious.
"Hot and Smokey Caramel" -
dark-chocolate coated buttery caramel
with the spicy kick of chili pepper
and the smoky saltiness of smoked sea salt
We tried a dozen different chocolates and not one was a disappointment. Half-way through nibbling, we thought we ought to take a few pictures of some of our absolute favorites. Thank goodness we bought some doubles!
"Ginger Explosion" -
a truffle with candied ginger
roasted in cayenne pepper and cinnamon
Behind the storefront is the factory where Diane concocts and packages her creations. Her hand-made organic chocolates are gluten-free and vegan, and made without cholesterol, trans fat, corn syrup, or refined sugar. And they are some of the best chocolates we have ever had - and that includes chocolates from France and Belgium. This chocolate shop truly is a "treasure." We will be back, again and again and again!
We don't know the name of this one,
but it was a caramel with subtle vanilla and lavender flavors.
Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf Packets -
Sticky white rice with bits of roast pork
steamed inside lotus leaf for smoky flavor.
Easy ordering via check-list.
Chicken Feet with Black Bean Sauce -
Most likely braised, then fried, these had a gummy
but tender consistency and
Deep Fried Shrimp Rolls -
A crisp wrapper surrounding a delicately poached shrimp
with fresh, crunchy celery in the middle.