Giving Thanks

Today is that one day of the year when you wake up at 7 a.m. to make a pie.

It’s the day when you set a timer at least 12 times so you don’t burn the bread. It consists of at least three separate moments when you think everything is going to go wrong. The kitchen is filled with smoke. You don’t know which wine is yours. A baby keeps on opening the oven, you’ve made way too much mashed potatoes and, woops, you’ve run out of plastic wrap and the aluminum foil is running low.

“Are we out of butter?!”

“The pie has to set for at least five hours!”

“Wait, you don’t have a potato masher?”

“WHO DRANK ALL THE WINE?!”

But then you set up the dining table with the special napkins your mom brought all the way from Hawaii and somehow the stuffed acorn squash is still warm, the pickled carrots didn’t come out too spicy (despite the jalapeños) and you’re eating just in time for the sun to dip below the San Francisco horizon.

And the Patriots are demolishing the Jets.

I’m thankful for it all.

Let’s start with the quinoa stuffing. It would’ve been vegan if not for my sautéing everything in butter. Lots and lots of butter.

A touch of cranberry sweetness and spritz of nutmeg.

While the quinoa is soaking up flavors like parsley and sage in a big ol’ pot, it’s time to half roast some acorn squash.

Roast them face-down in a shallow bath of vegetable broth. The meat will soak up the juice and get super soft and yummy.

Then you flip ’em over and roast them with the stuffing inside. I put more butter on top. It was a good idea.

And then I got to thinking about a serious pie.

Pie crust starts with butter and flour. And ends with sugar.

My brother said that for Thanksgiving, the house should have at least three pounds of butter. Good thing, because there were a few moments when we thought we were out. But we weren’t. There was so much butter. There’s still so much butter.

Boston doesn’t have Okinawan sweet potatoes. And in Berkeley, California, the grocery store calls them “Hawaiian.” I just call them delicious.

So. Purple.

The filling tastes like marshmallows. Not even joking. Be careful.

Oh. Let me talk about haupia for second. It’s a Hawaii staple. It’s coconut. Coconut jell-o. Coconut custard. It’s good. That’s all that matters. And it’s going on top of this pie.

Thanksgiving just got so real.

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash.

2 cups quinoa, cooked with 2 cups water and 2 cups vegetable broth
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup dried cranberries, soaked in hot water and drained
2/3 cup carrot, chopped
1 1/2 cups mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
4 acorn squash
1 cup vegetable stock
lots of butter

In a large and deep skillet, preferably a pot, sauté the onions and garlic in about 2 tablespoons of butter until just translucent – don’t let it brown. Add the carrots and mushrooms and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the quinoa, cranberries, herbs, salt and pepper and cook for another 10 minutes, until the quinoa has absorbed all of the flavors.

Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Lay them face down on a baking sheet and pour about 1 cup of vegetable broth so that the entire pan has a thin layer of stock. Roast uncovered for about 15 minutes. Pour out the vegetable stock (I’d save it for some soup later on) and flip over the squash. Stuff with the quinoa mixture and top with a thin slice of butter (told you there’s a lot of butter). Cover everything tightly with tin foil and throw into the oven for another 30 minutes, until the squash is fully cooked.

Makes 8 halves.

Okinawan Sweet Potato and Haupia Pie.

For the crust:
1/2 cup butter, cold and chopped into small squares
1 1/2 cups flour
1/8 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, chop the butter with the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press into a 9-inch pie pan and bake for about 12 minutes, until just slightly browned. Set aside (you can even make this the night before you need it).

For the Okinawan sweet potato filling:
1 1/2 cups Okinawan sweet potatoes, boiled and whipped or mashed
6 tablespoons cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons evaporated milk
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In an electric mixer, whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix until fully incorporated. Add half of the sweet potato and mix completely before adding the rest. Toss in the evaporated milk, vanilla extract and salt before whipping to a nice and creamy filling.

Smooth into crusted pie pan and bake for about 30 minutes.

Set aside and let cool completely before adding the haupia.

For the haupia:
1 can (13.5 ounces) full fat coconut milk
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4 cup sugar

Whisk the dry ingredients in a small bowl before adding the water.

In a saucepan, heat up the coconut milk and slowly add the sugar mixture, continually whisking until it thickens into a custard-like consistency. Pour on top of the sweet potato layer (there should be about 1/2 inch of room) and smooth over with a spatula.

Let cool completely before covering with a plate or plastic wrap and chilling in the fridge. Let the haupia set for at least five hours before serving.

Makes enough for 12 slices. Surprisingly, there are leftovers.

Review: Red Lentil

Real talk, guys.

Sometimes I don’t cook. Sometimes I forget to go to the grocery store. Sometimes I order in. Sometimes a pizza from that hole in the wall around the corner sounds like a good idea. Usually, it’s not a good idea.

There are also times when I cook at 11 p.m., when the lights are dim and all I have in the pantry are rice and beans. And kimchi. Smorgasbord doom.

That’s how life rolls. Sometimes.

But at least there are still restaurants like Red Lentil, which I had the pleasure of reviewing some time ago and feel as though it’s my duty to pay Chef Pankaj Pradhan my respects.

Sesame encrusted seitan strips are little pockets of teriyaki, smoky and charred yum on my tongue. Considered an appetizer by the menu, these morsels could easily be munched as an entree because the serving sizes are massive. And talk about soft and juicy – I don’t know why I ever liked chicken.

Seitan is a testy subject with most meat eaters. One of my fellow comrades once told me the first time he ever tried “satan,” as he insists on calling it, he wanted to spit it out. Truth be told, this form of gluten is usually chewy, gummy and bland, but the folks at Red Lentil fry it up to perfection.

Chef Pradhan really has the beet. These thin beet-potato latkes are filled with Granny Smith apples and thyme dates before they’re pan fried. With a side salad, apricot marmalade and cilantro vinaigrette, this gets another vote for potential entree or shareable side.

I call this a pile of cauliflower smothered in sweet-and-spicy tomato sauce that would send any meat lover over the edge. Dubbed the Gobi Manchurian by Pradhan, this Indian-inspired dish has chunks of peppers and onions (love me some veggie chunks) while the cauliflower is battered in chickpea flour. Even my brother, who would rather eat Taco Bell than make his own stir fry, thinks vegetarian dishes like this are uh-ma-zing.

Whoa, vegans. Stand back. Vegan Belgian waffles are here to fill your belly for hours. I don’t care if you eat the fluffy housemade soy whipped cream first (I know I did), or if you save it for last – I guarantee you will find a way to stuff every last cubic inch of your stomach with this pile of breakfast delights. It’s crispy, it’s sweet, it’s light and airy – dance party in my mouth. My only qualm about this dish is that melon never belongs in a fruit salad. But that’s just my own meh-ing problem.

Hey wait. Did I mention all of this was given to me at once? I swear to all things delicious that I didn’t eat it all in one sitting. But I might’ve finished it over the course of a day. Zero shame.

You. Don’t. Even. Know. How amazing this vegan carrot cake was. Unless you’ve been to Red Lentil. Then you probably know. Squishy, smooth-as-butter-but-doesn’t-actually-contain-butter morsel of carrots made fresh every single darned day. Don’t get me started on the raspberry sauce. I might explode.

Spicy Vegetarian Chili with Goat Cheese Biscuits

It’s one of those cut-myself-shaving because I haven’t-touched-a-razor-in-months kind of days. You know, the good-lord-am-I-really-that-white morning. Wow-I-need-to-work-out afternoon.

And an ice cream evening.

Blissful denial gets me through the toughest times.

Especially butter denial. After years of no meat, some evil warlock in the back of my head tells me during just about every meal that I deserve butter. That butter has a lot of calcium. Butter is good for you.

It’s really not.

But don’t tell the biscuits I told you.

What’s the harm in butter when complimented with a platter of vegetables, right? says the evil, high-cholesterol dude in my brain.

Black beans, chickpeas and kidney beans. A lethal combination. They really are a magical fruit.

I get apartment-smell envy. It happens when I come home from work around 6:30pm and my vegan neighbors are cooking something divine that I know is good for them. So I demolish a bag of Triscuits seconds after entering the kitchen.

But then I spend a few hours chopping, sautéing, stewing and simmering and feel loads better. Because then the entire neighborhood smells like chili and buttered biscuits and no one but my friends can have ’em.

I’m not sure if that’s the dude talking or just me.

Oh. Hot. Damn.

The cast iron skillet gets preheated in the oven and slathered in a load of butter. Then more butter gets drizzled onto the raw biscuits.

I know. Cardiac arrest. It might be worth it?

True Life: I over-mix sometimes and things come out flat. But still amazingly stupendously onolicious.

You + me = us.

Spicy Vegetarian Chili with Goat Cheese Biscuits

For the chili:

1 yellow onion, diced
4-5 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 habañero pepper, de-seeded and minced
1 zucchini, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
15oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
28oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable stock (or cheap beer)
2 heaping tablespoons chili powder
1 heaping teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
1/3 cup barbeque sauce
2 more cups vegetable stock

Heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the peppers and zucchini and saute for another few minutes until they are slightly soft. Add the garlic, habañero and all of the spices and cook for a few minutes before adding 1 cup of stock or beer for a rapid searing. Make sure you scrape off all the spices from the bottom of the pan.

As soon as the liquid stops simmering, add the canned tomatoes, barbeque sauce and additional vegetable stock and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Top with cheddar or Monterey jack cheese.

Serves six.

For the biscuits:

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, for the pan
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted for a glaze
4 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup buttermilk (or regular milk)

Preheat the oven and cast iron skillet to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter and goat cheese, making sure not to over-mix. It should resemble coarse meal.

Make a well in the mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Using a fork, lightly fluff until no pockets of flour remain.

Take the cast iron out of the oven and melt one tablespoon of unsalted butter until the pan is completely coated. Spoon about 1/4 cup worth of batter dollops into the pan, leaving about half an inch of space between every piece. They will bake into each other. It’s okay.

Bake for about 17 minutes or until the top turns golden brown.

Makes about 9 biscuits.

Breakfast Burrito

Top five anything without thinking ready, set, go!

1. Flossing – because then I can whistle through the tiny hole between my front teeth

2. Hot laundry – it’s like using a blow dryer without the split ends

3. The Way You Make Me Feel, Michael Jackson – forever in my top five

4. Crusty bread – with olive oil, dried rosemary and cracked pepper

5. Packages in the mail – presents year-round!

I like to keep my words on their toes, even though I write close to 4,000 everyday.

Food-service gigs have come in handy over the years. Within an hour of waking up, I can catch up on work, swallow a cup of tea, put away the dishes, inhale a bowl of Peanut Putter Puffins (oh my god I know – delicious) and prepare the day’s lunch. And snack (hint: it’s a bag of Puffins). Check it, what?

And sometimes, when I’m brave enough, I can make a super burrito.

These mesclun greens will one day be growing abundantly outside and I will never have to purchase salad again.

This burrito is on a whole wheat tortilla with sour cream, mesclun greens, grape tomatoes, one fried egg (over-easy), extra sharp cheddar cheese and a dollop of Floridian hot sauce from the downstairs neighbors. They went on vacation and I watched their cats.

Listen. Some mornings I press snooze twelve times. Other mornings I hop right on out in a super duper ball of energy and great hair. Not many people can make breakfast burritos everyday. Besides super heroes. But they don’t have a sense of humor.

It’s all about the give-and-take. The day-by-day.

 

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

As a child reared in the 21st century, I have taken extreme pride in my tech-savvy nature.  Web design?  Pshaw.  System troubleshooting?  Easier than key lime pie.  Camera glitches?  I’m your lady.

I’ve got the MacBook, the Canon 40D with a few great lenses, a handful of iPods thanks to a partner in crime that finds all of our possessions for free, and mostly on the ground, and other audio gizmos that tend to make me quiver with their amazing treble.  I read photo catalogues on the toilet.  Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, beware.

Nerd to the max.  I know it and love it.

But let me be real with you.  I sport a tiny, egg-shaped Samsung cell phone that I once flaunted in high school.  It doesn’t have a camera.  The front screen is busted.  It has BubbleSmile for a game.  I kind of love it because it forces me to look up while I’m walking down the street or driving.  I make eye contact with people on the train (er, well, with the ones that aren’t giggling on their smart phones).  And you know, there’s a sort of adventure in finding a restaurant in the city by walking around.

But friends! I’m getting an iPhone.  I might get sucked into it, Tron style.  If I disappear for twenty years, you know where to look.

I’ll welcome myself into the 21st century by shaping gnocchi pasta with the back of a fork and giggling furiously because each piece looks like a chubby, squashed face.

I’m nervous about the A.I. feature on the new iPhone.  Just yesterday I got a phantom call from my dad.  He said he didn’t even have his phone on him.  Siri wants me.

Also, I’m admittedly archaic in the kitchen.  I don’t have a mixer.  Just hands.  Once, I whipped egg whites into stiff peaks with a potato masher.  It took me an hour.  I may have carpal tunnel syndrome.

I’m going to start giggling soon.

Gary Larson has a perfect comic to describe these.

Hi-lar-i-ous.

Listen, I was pretty skeptical about this gnocchi business.  It seemed really hard.  I’d been meaning to make them for weeks, and when my sweet potato started screaming at me to do something with it, I caved.  But these were surprisingly easy.  And, more importantly, they worked.  So don’t listen to the little voice in your head telling you they’ll fall apart in boiling water.  They won’t.  They’ll float up to the surface with their little pudgy faces.

And you will eat the little faces with parmesan cheese.

If you don’t want to eat these munchkins to your face all at once, they’re freezable.  So you can have them for a midnight snack.  Or breakfast.  All food can be breakfast.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi.

1 large sweet potato (about 1lb or more)
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt

Stab the sweet potato all over with a fork and microwave for about 15 minutes, flipping it over every 5.  If you want to use the oven, still stab the potato, but bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes.  Once the potato has cooled, scoop out the meat and mash until smooth.  Add the flour, egg, parmesan cheese and salt, and mix until a dough starts to form.  Knead with plenty of extra flour (it will be sticky) until you can shape the dough into a ball.

Divide the dough into four equal parts and roll out into thin ropes.  Cut little pieces off the rope and shape each by indenting with the backside of a fork.

To cook the gnocchi, bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil and carefully add the dumplings.  Let them cook until they float to the surface, about 3-5 minutes.

Sauté the gnocchi in a pan with olive oil, butter, and a pinch of ground sage until slightly browned.

Top with parmesan cheese and Italian parsley.

A feast for 4-5 people.