Memorize This Slaw

Posted by on Thursday Nov 13th, 2014

When I opened this series about Thanksgiving foods you could contribute to a dinner you weren’t hosting, I wrote that my family’s own Thanksgiving traditions rarely varied and so the whole series was kind of vicarious. That claim wasn’t entirely true, though: Some years we bake five desserts and some years six. Some years we stick place cards on gourds, some years on cookies.

And some years we make Uncle Brad’s Health Salad and some years we don’t.

First, you should know that health salad has no verifiable link to Uncle Brad. [ed: found the link. Uncle B liked it and asked for the recipe. My mom gave it to him with one modification: the copious measure of sugar was halved. The salad, therefore, was probably not that good.] We always thought he brought it once to our party, decades ago, but last I checked, he had no recollection of this. Anyway, the salad doesn’t seem too much like him: it’s plain, it’s not particularly festive, it’s arguably not worth the stomach space when there are biscuits and turkey skin available. That’s the reason, some years, we don’t make the slaw: we bet no one will eat any.

The reason the slaw appears, when it does, is that a forkful tastes fresh, though you can make the whole salad ahead of time, and the texture has that crunchy-raw bite that’s welcome on a plate of buttery and soft things–both on Thursday itself and through the indulgent long weekend to follow.

If you host or a attend a Thanksgiving dinner where you think such a thing as a salad would get eaten, I have another reason you should make slaw. You can commit this recipe to heart, right now. (It’s not exactly Uncle Brad’s recipe, or my mom’s, but the taste sits right with me.)

All you need to know is a proportion. For each half a cabbage, you want one apple, one carrot, one pepper and one onion. To dress the thing, equal parts: 1/4 cup each of oil, sugar, and vinegar, heated up with a touch of soy sauce and some minced garlic (or garlic powder as I discovered on a recent weekend trip). The hot dressing melts the cabbage in the most delightful way. Vary the flavor with spices or a hot pepper, if you like, but that’s really the whole recipe for a dish that you can shop for and whip up for people even far from your own (garlic powder-free) kitchen comfort zone.

Which is to say, while slaw makes an impact on the holiday table, knowing slaw by heart makes an impact on the people who are watching you cook, and if you care to impress them, well, there’s that.

Read more about Thanksgiving prep here.

Before they were sweet, pies were savory. The dough that bakes up into our beloved flaky crust was, way back when, merely a convenient holder of filling, a means for peripatetic medieval types to wrap up meat or vegetables and take them on the go. Sort of like a pop tart.

Now that a pie usually refers to the kind of double-crusted or meringue-topped thing of dessert beauty (or terror, if dough always seems to stick to your rolling pin), I love the idea of taking the pastry back to its roots in my holiday cooking this year–whether at Thanksgiving or Christmas, or sometime in between.

This is happening in two ways. One, we’re making savory pies, not sweet ones; and two, we’re choosing a rustic presentation over a perfect, fussy one. Put away your rolling pins and deep-dish fluted pie pans. This is going to be simple.

At your pie party, I envision an array of savory pastries, with crust and filling mixed and matched to suit your tastes. To add even more visual fun, play around with shapes, too. There are mini galettes, dough wrapped around filling that’ll disappear in three bites. There are long and skinny galettes containing bright seasonal vegetables; they’re to be cut into manageable squares for serving. Others are more or less round, like, well, pies. We can even pick and choose the name of these savories: galette, crostata, pie, tart, tartlet, pizette. Though some of these have specific meanings and others are sort of made up, a good diverse spread should have good diverse names – don’t you think?

The first recipe here makes a couple of Apple Crostatas. With a whole-wheat crust and a melted brie topping, the cute rounds make an awesome vegetarian lunch (with a green salad) if you’re not having a pie party or looking for a great starter for Thanksgiving.

But that’s not all. There’s a big Sweet Potato-Rosemary Galette with a rustic cornmeal crust that’s punctuated by delicious roquefort. Click over to ArtofCheese.com to get the recipe for these delicious, seasonal gems.

This post is sponsored by Lactalis, who provided cheese and compensation. All opinions, of course, are my own. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that keep BGSK delicious! If you’d like to enter to win $50 worth of your own Président cheese, visit ArtOfCheese.com, where you can download a coupon and enter the Pinterest sweepstakes, plus find more holiday recipes and product information.

Recently, I told my friend Taylor that re-imagining weeknight cooking in terms of formats and formulas, rather than exact recipes, would simplify his daily dinners. Meaning, if you know you love pasta, you should always have pasta and potential sauce ingredients around, the same way if you like to wear pencil skirts and silk blouses, you’ll stock good skirts, tops, and pumps, not go in search of one perfect outfit at the department store.

Once you get the hang of the method, it really is a more fun, more delicious, and less wasteful way to shop, cook, and eat than going nuts with planning Monday breakfast and Tuesday dinner and Wednesday leftovers and then penning perfect shopping lists. (You can read all my advice for Taylor here.)

One of my favorite formats is “the Franny’s vegetable format,” named after Franny’s, the greatest restaurant on Flatbush Avenue. Years before I moved to Brooklyn, the restaurant opened as a neighborhood pizzeria, albeit with a cheffy following. Now that there’s a cookbook and a spin-off, it’s more of a destination, but I live in the neighborhood and so for me, it retains the neighborhood vibe. Anyway, when I go there, I don’t always order pizza. I’d rather veg out on the vegetable appetizers, which are always rich and original because Franny’s unleashes the wood-burning oven on beets, sunchokes, and green beans to exquisite effect, then dresses them with vinaigrette, shredded cheese, and nuts.

And that’s the format, the Franny’s format: roast, dress, cheese, nut.

To bring the format to the Thanksgiving table, I rescued green beans from the casserole dish and threw them on the roasting pan instead. Of course, I don’t have a wood-burning oven, but the home oven does a solid job of blackening and shrinking the green beans until their flavor is condensed and their texture snackable (I can’t totally credit Franny’s for the green bean roasting thing–my immediate family is also obsessed). Cider vinegar anchors the dressing, bringing needed tang, which is balanced yet again with richness–in the form of Parmesan cheese and sunflower seeds.

You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to make this tangle of green beans, but if you’re a guest looking for a signature contribution to someone else’s dinner, this is a good option–not least because it scales well and tastes great at room temperature. And if you want to vary the vegetable, the vinegar, the cheese or the nut, do so: it’s all just a format.

Happy November!

One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is that everything is a tradition. Because we only make, serve, and eat the feast just once a year, my family doesn’t mess around much with the menu. The few parts of the meal that are up for debate, like dessert, well, it’s even a tradition to debate them.

Is one dessert for every two guests normal?–we ask this time and again.

Should we make the pound cake this year, even though no one touches it after dinner, because toasted slices make such divine leftovers?–that is a perennial question.

Though I have …

Natalie of Good Girl Style joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find ingredients, just cream and milk and sugar. Because who needs those packaged Halloween treats when you could have French custard?! Don’t miss her recent take on Marshmallow Crispy Treats.

There is little more sophisticated dessert than crème brûlée, and nothing more sure to please guests. Yet when creamy custard is topped with a caramelized sugar crust that’s infused with the intoxicating flavor of maple, when then you’re taking this already indulgent dessert to the next level. The maple melds well with the flavors of fall and these are the perfect way to end to a fancy dinner date, dinner party, or even for Thanksgiving or “Friendsgiving.” But no need to wait another month to make these desserts. Practice now (at your fancy Halloween dinner, if that even exists) to perfect the technique and the results will be just as tasty now.

If you’ve never used a kitchen torch, your broiler, or a water bath before, don’t be intimidated. Follow the directions and you’ll be sure to end up with a creamy crème and a perfectly brûléed crust. The water bath is important to coddle the custard as it cooks and ensure a creamy texture. You can substitute pure maple syrup for the flavoring or extract, but the flavor will be much more subtle. If you use your broiler instead of a handheld kitchen torch (available at kitchen stores), be sure to let the crust cool thoroughly to crisp up before serving. You may serve these immediately or, if preferred, refrigerate for up to 15 minutes to cool the custard once again.

Warm Spanish Olives with Salami

Posted by on Wednesday Oct 29th, 2014

The olive is a culinary gem. The green olive, rich and almost smoky, gets a run for its money from the cured black olive, with its buttery, mild flavor. I love both.

Good olives are a key hors d’oeuvres (also known as a pre-meal snack when there’s not a dinner party to follow), a “discovery” I made during a 2007 trip to Spain, when my sister Kate and I started every meal with a beautiful bowl of green olives. Seven years on, I almost always serve a bowl of olives at parties, with a tiny vessel for pits alongside.

Just because they’re wonderful on their own doesn’t mean you can’t cook with olives. Falling apart in a lamb tagine, olives are irresistible; likewise when slices of black olives deliver needed pungency to a seven-layer dip.

There are simpler preparations too. At Spain’s Great Match event, which I attended earlier this month, I got to try three simple olive preparations, any of which could be a side dish or an appetizer. Created by Cooking Channel host and culinary expert Annie Sibonney, there were: Spanish Green Olives with Oranges & Beets, Green Olives with Fresh Herbs & Vermouth, and Gordal Olives Stuffed with Piquillo Peppers & Marcona Almonds with Blue Cheese. Annie, who’s incredibly charming, says she keeps one or more of these in the fridge when she’s home in Spain, because friends stop by unannounced and she likes to feed them (a vision of hospitality I drool over).

Inspired by Annie’s simple, delicious way with the Mediterranean fruit—and by the fact that 22 percent of world olive production happens in Spain—I picked up some green olives and a good Spanish sausage at Despaña not long after the event (many of the olives you find at antipasti bars and in supermarkets are also from Spain.)

Together, my pair of ingredients could have sat alongside one another, and maybe some Manchego, on a cheese board. But I went one step further, baking my olives with cubes of the sausage, in a move sanctioned by Annie herself. Both sausage and olive grow softer, more melting, and richer somehow. The house smells great, and the dish is fun to present and then eat. It’s a surprising change from the norm, too.

This post is sponsored by Olives from Spain. All opinions—including my love for olives—are my own. See more about Olives from Spain here, and follow along on Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube. Thanks for reading!

Granola Nuts

Posted by on Monday Oct 27th, 2014

Last weekend, I ran around the field hockey turf at my high school, more than a decade after I first made varsity, in a last-minute alumnae game. Then all last week, I drove around northern California, visiting farms and other food producers. The common thread between the sporting life and the road trip? Hunger. And: its solution.

When we played field hockey in high school, snacks were never far away. Practice started with a granola bar, and games ended with orange slices and donuts. Likewise, before we set out on the road each day last week, I made sure the car was loaded with both gas and food. On the best day, we had cheese rolls and longan in the backseat, but at the minimum there were granola bars.

Granola bars: were they everywhere when you were growing up too? They served a purpose back at a time when I played field hockey daily, but as an adult desk-sitter, I mostly avoid the extra calories. When I snack, I skip the sugar and oats and go straight for the granola bar’s powerhouse ingredients, the nuts. Cashews, almonds, walnuts, peanuts: these are what pick me up when my blood sugar wanes and dinner’s still far away. 

But what if we put back in just a little of the granola bar, cross-pollinating granola and walnuts. Would we get granoluts? GraNUTola? Granola nuts? Whatever you name them, that’s where my mind soon went, to a recipe that combined the most nutritionally dense part of the granola bar with a little bit of what makes good granola so yummy. The proportion is key here; instead of appearing every now and then, the walnuts and almonds anchor every bite, and the addictive, salty-sweet olive oil-maple granola coats them.

Eat these for a filling snack that’s not as sweet or carb-y as a whole granola bar, or use them to top your oatmeal. My next move is to repurpose them as croutons on a butternut squash salad salad like this one.

Do you snack? What’s your favorite–salty or sweet?