The older you get, the more you realize how important it is to be grateful for all that life, God and the universe have given you. When I was a kid (though always grateful), I think I took for granted that I would always have a warm house, a full refrigerator, parents who loved and disciplined me, and a merry future with a great education, hopefully marriage and children, and a rewarding career. And, except for children, all of those things were always there.
As I enter the early years of my 5th decade, I realize how lucky and blessed I have been and am grateful for that and all that still remains. First and foremost, health. I’ve witnessed many friends, my age and many much younger, lose beloved friends and family members this year, many to horrific and hard to understand circumstances. I’m grateful to have two parents who are still vital and healthy, even as they both move towards their mid-eighties. I’m grateful for my beautiful house, a house that has become a home in the first full year it’s been lived in by me and my little pet family. It now houses memories and shadows of faces and good, well-lived and sometimes sad days past. I’m grateful for my bed, which I embrace every morning and thank “it” for proferring such a delicious night’s sleep. I’m grateful for my wonderful neighbors. I’m grateful for a steady stream of work in an unpredictable business. I’m grateful for the beauty of the world that surrounds me in Charleston, my adopted home of almost seventeen years. She still stuns me and silences me with the glory of her sunsets and the wisdom of her old soul. I’m grateful to have made it through months and days of mourning the dual loss of my beloved Tann Mann and Chutney Cat last spring. Days and months that felt like I was walking through milk (no, make that bechamel, cold bechamel and not a well seasoned one) wearing a blindfold on my eyes and shackles on my feet. Finally the blindfold and shackles fell, milk cleared to bright and eventually happy, and for that I credit God, faith, family and friends, and especially Mr. Purrfect, my slate grey and pure white Tuxedo cat who thinks he’s a dog, walks on a leash, and curls up on my back as I sleep. He also loves yogurt and a nice bit of cheese and has been the source of much amusement and joy since he entered my life six months ago. I’m grateful to my darling Michael (affectionately known as The Adorable One, or TAO), a constant rainbow of love and laughter who walked with me every step of the way, good and bad, this year and for several past.
Finally, I’m grateful for Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith, Sept. 6, 2016) which was a joy to create and write and I’ve loved watching people cook from it this fall and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it. The recipe that follows is one of my top three favorites in the book, and one of the top ten I’ve ever created for any cookbook or anyone. It’s perfect. The celery trifecta – celery root, fresh celery, and celery seeds – is the idyllic foil to the creamy potatoes and offer delightful little bites of texture and flavor in each bite. And, what goes better with celery and potatoes than turkey? This is THE consummate side for your table. Make it today or on Thanksgiving, refrigerate, and reheat it over a water bath while the turkey’s resting and everyone begins to toast the holiday, giving thanks for all they love and value.
Triple Threat Celery Mash
(Yields 8 servings)
1 large celery root, rough outer skin and inner skin removed and discarded , and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2 stalks fresh celery, trimmed, cleaned and cut into 1”-lengths (Note: Reserve any fresh celery leaves for garnish)
Water to cover
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Finely chopped fresh celery leaves for garnish
Place the prepped celery root, potatoes, and fresh celery in a medium pot. Cover generously with fresh, cold water. Add salt. Bring up to a boil over high and reduce to a simmer over medium/medium low heat. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until all ingredients are very tender when pierced with a knife or fork. Pour the potatoes, celery root, celery and water into a colander and drain well. Return to the warm cooking pot. Heat the celery/potato mixture over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, shaking to move around the pan and dry out the ingredients. Separately, heat the cream, butter and celery seed in the microwave or in a saucepan until warm and melted. Pour, in thirds, into the celery and potato mixture, mashing coarsely with a manual masher to combine and puree. Season with salt and pepper, tasting to adjust as needed. Serve hot, and garnish if desired with a few chopped celery leaves. (Note: The mash will store beautifully in a sealed container for up to 3 days. Reheat over water bath or microwave before serving.)
Love, Holly and Mr. Purrfect, The Cat who Thinks He’s a Dog
Recipe and Cookbook Giveaway
Here it is already. Time to tuck away the white shorts and Keds, pull out the grill, and celebrate the symbolic final hoopla of summer – Labor Day. When I was a girl living on our bucolic Massachusetts farm, it was a weekend to look forward to. Jammed with horse riding, touch football, and lots of burgers and dogs cooked (usually over-cooked) but always cooked with love by my darling Dad. For me, too, it was infused with the anticipation of returning to school. I loved going back to that elementary school, the smell of the paper and books, the sound of a pencil writing cursive on a piece of lined paper on a hard desk, even the slightly sweet, soggy spaghetti and meat sauce in the cafeteria. I remember laying out my first day of school outfit on my bed, right down to the knee socks and polished Mary Jane’s. Those were heady days!
This Labor Day weekend has a slightly heightened sense of joy, like back in those school days. My latest cookbook, Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith) will be released Tuesday. Available in bookstores near you and online, practically by the time you read this. The recipe that follows is one of my favorites, because it is packed with one of my favorite summer foods – summer squash and zucchini. Still beautiful in South Carolina this time of year, they’re reaching the end of their season elsewhere and soon will here, too. Though this dish requires just a bit more work than placing the squash on a grill, it’s a lovely do-ahead that will impress and pair with anything from a steak to barbecue.
Cheddar Two-Summer-Squash Mash
Yields 6 servings
Summer squash, slightly sweet and squeaks-in-your-teeth fresh at peak summer season, is one of my favorite summer treats. Often, I’ll saute either yellow summer squash or zucchini in a little olive oil wiht some red onion, finish it with a sprinkle of fresh basil and grated Parmesan, and call it a summer’s night. However, the two squashes marry beautifully together in this beautiful mash casserole, which resonates with the lemony freshness of thyme and squash flavor. The texture is airy and light, almost mousse-like, topped with a buttery panko bread crumb crunch. While you can substitute unseasoned traditional bread crumbs, panko celivers a crunch edge and it’s really worth having in your pantry at all times. The casserole is delicious hot, warm, or even room temperature.
2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) dice, about 3 cups (370 g)
3 medium yellow summer squash, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) dice, about 4 cups (495 g)
3 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk sour cream
2 cups (240 g) grated mild cheddar cheese
1 small shallot, finely chopped, about 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
Pinch of ground nutmeg
3 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
1 cup panko bread crumbs or unseasoned traditional bread crumbs
Pinch of ground black pepper and kosher or sea salt
Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C).
Place the zucchini and summer squash in a medium saucepan. Pour in enough water to barely cover and add 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the squash is very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain very well in a colander, gently pressing out any excess water, and return to the pan.
Mash with a manual masher until the squash is chunky smooth. With a wooden spoon, blend in the thyme, sour cream, cheese, shallot, pepper, remaining salt, egg, and nutmeg. Pour into a medium (2-quart / 2-l) casserole that has been greased with 1 tablespoon of the butter, spreading with spoon to even the top.
Melt the remaining butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the panko and seasoning and toss to coat. Brown the crumbs to a golden brown, being careful to toss and avoid burning. Spread the bread crumbs evenly over the top.
Bake for 45 minutes, uncovered, or until bubbly and golden brown. Rest 10 minutes before serving and garnish with some fresh thyme sprigs. This makes a lovely meal with a green salad and fresh bread and butter. The casserole can be assembled ahead, refrigerated, and baked just before serving.
I told you what I love about Labor Day. Now’s your turn to tell me what you love about this holiday and transition from summer into fall. Favorite memories, foods, thoughts – they’re all welcome. Please leave your comment here and I’ll pick a winner on Tuesday, book release day.
I look forward to hearing from you and please have a safe, happy and delicious holiday!
The holidays are moving at warp speed. I hope we all will take time to sit back and enjoy the ride and the reason. Cooking is a big part of my Christmas joy, and this recipe from my new cookbook (working title Mashed, fall 2016 release), is pure pleasure to make and eat. I call it “Christmas” Guacamole because two of its main ingredients (pomegranate and citrus) are in season this time of year, and the colors are red, green and simply luscious. Even better, this recipe is made in minutes, gone in less, and ridiculously healthy at a time when most of us need more of that. Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, I’m wishing you all that it be beautiful and bright and full of love and delicious food.
Christmas Guacamole with Pomegranate and Orange
(Yields about 2 cups or 16 appetizer servings)
The shimmering, ruby red and jewel-like arils of winter’s pomegranate shine against the backdrop of mellow green of creamy avocado in this so-good-you-cannot-stop-eating it holiday treat. Packed with three “super” foods and magnificent, fruity flavors, it’s also nothing to feel guilty about going back for more. Make up to an hour before serving (to prevent discoloration) and serve room temperature with best quality pita chips or toast points.
2 ripe avocadoes, halved and seeded
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 cloves garlic, smashed and very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon, best quality, fruity extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried (Valencia) orange peel
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Scoop out the flesh from the avocado with a soup spoon and mash, with a fork or manual masher in a medium bowl with the orange juice, garlic and salt and pepper. Fold in the orange peel, pomegranate seeds and fresh parsley. Serve immediately or tightly wrap (to the surface of the guacamole) with plastic wrap and serve within the hour. Garnish with a few more pomegranate seeds and fresh parsley.
Considered a super food for its high nutrient content, pomegranate can be purchased in its whole form during the cooler months, and increasingly, already seeded or juiced. The seeds are called arils and they look like little rubies. Getting them out of their tightly-knitted pockets can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort. An easy way to get to the fruit is to quarter the pomegranate each of the four “cores” will be revealed to peel back the bitter pith pockets and release the seeds. One pomegranate will yield one to two cups of seeds.
Bon appetit! Let me know what you think. I believe you’ll love this one. Merry, Merry, Holly.
I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized that Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is a little over a week away. October flew this year, with travel to visit my father who was ill (but thankfully is much better), a dreadful cold that lived in my sinuses for two weeks, and fast and furious recipe development for my newest cookbook baby (working title: Mashed) that will be released by my publisher Gibbs Smith in fall 2016. I wanted to share this recipe with you, because it’s one of my favorites from those yet developed for the book, but also because it’s a perfect ending for your Thanksgiving feast. I love the color and flavor sweet potato adds, and the grist of the grits melts into the pudding as it cooks. Delicious! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I think I’ll be making it again next week.
Sweet Potato Indian Pudding
(Yields 6 to 8 servings)
This rustic and gorgeous sweet pudding combines elements of the traditional Indian pudding I grew to know and love as a child in my native New England, with ingredients widely used in in my adult hometown of Charleston, SC and throughout the South – sweet potatoes and grits. The New England version skips the sweet potatoes all together and uses cornmeal as the “corn” element of the pudding, while this recipe adds the perfectly appropriate flavor and texture girth of mashed sweet potatoes and grits – a rougher, stone-ground version of cornmeal. The results are stunning. As southerners are apt to say, “It’s the best thing you’ll ever put in your mouth.”
It’s best warm with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on top. If you can’t find stone-ground grits, cornmeal or polenta will work fine. But, skip the instant variety. Longer cooking soaks up all the flavor of the pudding and melts the corn into one integrated bowl of perfection.
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups Half & Half
1/3 cup stone ground white or yellow grits (or substitute cornmeal)
1/4 cup molasses
2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
The day before cooking, prep the mashed sweet potatoes. Preheat oven to 425F. Scrub and pierce a large sweet potato a couple times with a knife. Bake until soft and skin is puckered, about one hour. Remove skin when cook enough to handle and mash until fine and fluffy. Reserve (refrigerate, covered, for several days).
On pudding day, preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 1 1/2 to 2 quart deep-sided baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Bring the Half & Half up to a simmer over medium high heat in a medium-sized pot. Do not boil! When simmering, whisk in the sweet potatoes, grits and molasses. Whisk, constantly, over medium high heat until thickened to a thin pudding stage, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, ginger and cinnamon until frothy. Whisk in 1 cup of the warm pudding mixture. Pour in the remaining pudding mixture and whisk to combine. Pour the pudding into the buttered baking dish. Bake on center rack for 40 minutes. Add the cold butter cubes, sprinkling evenly over the top. Reduce the heat to 325F. Cook 45 – 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The pudding will quiver slightly to the touch. Remove from oven. Rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Reflections and a Recipe: Feisty Chicken Drumstick Piperade
Some years ago, I was blessed enough not only to own a small home in a tiny village in southwestern France, I was doubly blessed to have the opportunity to visit for several months of those seven lucky years. Tucked away in the foothills of The Pyrenees and steeped in the tragic history of Le Pays Cathare, it was a tiny, pie-shaped home at the base of a crumbling old chateau in a pocket of a village called Chalabre. My French friends called it le maison du poupee, or a doll’s house. Sometimes I felt like a little doll working in it, especially working in my sliver of a kitchen with a view of rolling green hills, grazing cattle, and a tiny 16th-century church, tolling its soothing, soulful bells every hour into every day I spent there.
As much as I loved it, I would occasionally stray south of the border to neighboring Spain to buy red clay pottery, which brought me through and around Basque country. The language and dialect are unique and were foreign to my French-trained ears. Even though I couldn’t understand the language, I recognized and understood the faces of the villagers in the villages I passed through. Rows of stooped, elderly men lining short benches at the edges of cafes, sun-leathered faces and age-withered lips barely clinging to their omnipresent Gauloises cigarettes, and little old ladies clinging to well-used thatched baskets, hobbling through winding, ancient streets in floral, wrapped aprons on the way to the daily marche, all spoke to the time-worn traditions of the place.
Among other things, Basque country is home to the French Basque “piperade” (pronounced pip-errr-ahd), which derives its name from the French Gascon word for pepper, or “piper.” Traditionally, it is comprised primarily of peppers, onions and tomatoes, to mimic the red, green and white colors of the Basque flag. Because peppers have been haunting me for the past two months, both at supermarkets and farmer stands, I’ve been cooking quite a bit with them. Their diversity is growing, both in color and heat, and I enjoyed combining a bit of sweet and heat in this recipe, which is just hot enough to make you pucker, and sweet enough (with a dash of honey) to make you smile. I skipped tomatoes in this version, since I didn’t have any at home. Feel free to add one or two, coarsely chopped, after adding the chicken stock. It’s finished with a spray of fresh basil and parsley, and is as lovely served hot, as it is room temp or even cool for a picnic. Serve as is, or over rice, polenta, grits or creamy mashed potatoes.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 large chicken drumsticks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups mixed color sweet, baby bell peppers (about 8 total), halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large banana pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large jalapeno pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and very finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon local or wild honey
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon each, finely chopped fresh basil and parsley
Preheat oven to 350F. Pat dry the chicken drumsticks (or substitute same size pieces of other cuts of the chicken). Heat the 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 5 1/2 quart Dutch Oven (or another sturdy, oven-proof pot) over medium high. Season the chicken generously on one side with the salt and pepper and 1/2 of the oregano. When sizzling, add the chicken, seasoned side down in a single layer, in the butter and oil. Brown until golden, about four minutes. Turn the chicken, and season the uncooked side with salt and pepper and remaining oregano. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes until golden. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Drain off the cooking fat. Add a fresh tablespoon of olive oil, heat over medium low. Add the onion, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir and cook until just softened, about two minutes. Add the sweet peppers, banana pepper and jalapeno, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir, and continue cooking over medium low until softened, about three minutes. Add the garlic, lime juice, orange juice and crushed red pepper flakes. Increase the heat to medium high and reduce liquids by half. Add the honey, chicken stock and return the browned chicken to the pan, in a single layer. Bring up to a boil, cover, and place the pot in the preheated oven on the middle rack. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken once. Remove the lid and return to the oven, baking another 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and beginning to pull from the bone. Remove the pot from the oven and remove the chicken from the pot, reserving warm. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce the liquid by half, simmering over medium high for 6 to 8 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. At the last minute, add the fresh basil and parsley. Return the chicken to the pot and heat through. Serve immediately or cool, refrigerate overnight, and serve the next day hot, room temperature or chilled.