Fuyu Persimmon Chutney

December 12, 2011

To my knowledge there are no holiday songs written about persimmons, but there should be. Persimmons hang on months after most fruit.  They wait for the frost to come before dumping their leaves and gloriously displaying their sweet orange lanterns hanging from naked limbs.  The fruit, sweet and flavorful when ripe, has an unpleasant astringent quality when eaten before they fully develop.   So I wait for it, because I love this fruit. It may be the last truly seasonal fruit, in that there is not enough demand to cause our friends in the Southern Hemisphere to begin shipping it here in the off season.  (I imagine it would be tough to sell a persimmon during the height of peach season!)

This year a friend invited me over to pick Fuyu persimmons from her tree. (Thanks A!) Fuyus are the short, squat variety that are eaten while firm.  They are not often cooked, but rather eaten raw in salads or on their own.  My mother-in-law, a fellow persimmon fan, introduced me to a recipe for using Fuyu persimmons to make a chutney.  The dense flesh retains its shape and color when cooked.  The chutney is seasoned with garlic, ginger, and mustard seeds that pop in your mouth with each bite.  The raisins and sugar balance the acidity of the apple cider vinegar and the red pepper flakes add a subtle bite.  I often serve the chutney with a soft cheese on an appetizer tray.  It also shines as a side to roast pork.  Jars filled with persimmon chutney make a welcome holiday gift.

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Sweet Potato and Bacon Gratin

November 21, 2011

Sweet potatoes are not very popular at my family Thanksgiving gathering.  There are a few of us that enjoy them, but by and large they are passed around the table and politely declined.  Even I, a professed yam lover, took years to warm to this tuber.  It was not until I had them roasted and unsweetened for the first time that I took a liking to them.  I think the added sugar is what gives sweet potatoes a bad name in some circles.  If you love those super-sweet marshmallow-covered casseroles, then more power to you, but I cannot stand them.  In my opinion, the key to a delicious sweet potato dish is to let the sweetness of the potato itself shine through and season it in a savory way instead.

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Pumpkin Coconut Pudding

November 19, 2011

Pumpkin pie is essential at any Thanksgiving feast, but to be honest it is not the part of the meal that I look forward to.  After a heavy meal of turkey, gravy, and of course stuffing, I find it hard to rally excitement for pie.  Generally I enjoy a few bites of the filling and leave the crust lonely on the plate.  This is what got me thinking about skipping the crust completely and making a pumpkin pudding in its place.

Pumpkin Coconut Pudding is a thick, silky coconut milk based pudding seasoned with traditional pie spices.  This rich pudding is familiar enough to satisfy the expectation of a Thanksgiving pumpkin dessert, yet different enough to stand out as something special.  Using coconut milk means that the pudding (without the whipped cream) is actually vegan, so you can safely serve to a mixed crowd including those lactose and gluten intolerant folks who seem to be cropping up in every family.  This pudding could not be simpler to make.  Heat the coconut milk and pumpkin, then stir in a slurry of spices and cornstarch to thicken it.  For a casual fare, spoon it directly from a serving bowl and let guests add their own toppings.  For a fancier presentation, spoon hot pudding into beautiful dishes or glasses and decoratively top before serving.  This may be a break in tradition, but who knows, perhaps I am not the only one who is happy to leave the crust behind.

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There is something magical about a recipe that can turn the simplest ingredients into something remarkable.  A recipe that causes one to dig through the dish looking for the secret ingredient, the one that turns an otherwise plain looking pile of beans and greens into something worth looking forward to.  This is such a recipe.  A deceptively simple list of parts come together into a whole that is bursting with flavor, texture, and depth.  If you pay any heed to the opinions of my son (and you should because eating is his favorite pastime- lucky for me), you should know that he likes this dish “to infinity!”

My husband brought this recipe home.  It was a rare valuable fruit from his long hours spent on the road, commuting and listening to the radio.  All Things Considered on NPR ran a series on how to feed a family for under $10.   This dish may look like college potluck fare (at least if you went to school in Oregon like I did), but the tastes are elevated well beyond.  Playing a lead role are the garlic cloves which are browned in ample olive oil, then mashed with bread fried in the same garlicky oil.  The toasted bread, sweet rich garlic, along with notes of saffron and cumin turn this simple dish into one worth planning a meal around.  The recipe below is modified from the original in a couple of ways.  Most notably, I subbed in kale for the recommended spinach.  Kale holds up well if you choose to make this a bit in advance, it is also more available this time of year. I have made it with spinach as well though and it is delicious.  The bean cooking method is simplified a bit and salt measurements are added.  This dish is a one-pot wonder that necessitates no sides, but do not forget a nice glass of wine to wash it down.

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Nothing says fall like winter squash… and apples… and walnuts, so clearly this is the perfect side dish to make NOW.  We are big fans of butternut squash around here, check out the Butternut and Black Bean Salad from last year.  This year though, somehow butternut squash never made it into the ground and we are the happily storing quite a few acorn squashes that took their place in the planting beds.  There are lots of fun ways to cook up these beautiful treats, but my favorite is to make Acorn Squash Rings with Apple Glaze.

Take care in slicing the squash, as that is as good a way as any to loose a finger.  It helps to take a small slice off of one side, then place the cut side down.  That will give the squash some stability as you hack into it.  Scoop out the membrane and seeds and they are ready to steam.  Do not forget to try on some squash glasses for size!  Note: at least with my kids, they are more likely to eat the veggies if they have a hand in making/playing with them! (For more ideas on getting kids to eat their veggies check out this post.)

This recipe is not mine and if you look you will find many versions on the web.  While that may be a turn-off to some, I say it is evidence of a great recipe that is worth sharing.  My version uses non-clarified butter and less of it, but otherwise it is basically the same.  The tender squash soaks in the sweet and tangy apple glaze and the candied walnuts add a pleasant crunch.  These rings look beautiful on the plate, making it great for a weeknight dinner or special enough for a holiday. My mother-in-law first introduced me to this yummy dish with asparagus laced through the centers of the rings (as you will find is the most common version.)    I opted not to include the asparagus this time (there is no chance of finding local asparagus in October), but love the way they make this into a truly elegant side dish.  If we have any squash leftover in springtime, I will definitely add them in.  The acorn squash rings are attractive enough to stand on their own, or fill the centers with a scoop of wild rice or stuffing.

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