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
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.
Holly will join Nathalie Dupree and a few other local authors at this festive book signing taking place on Charleston’s popular Second Sundy on King as well as Mother’s Day. Come on by and join the fun. Holly will be signing all of her titles from The French Cook series, and more.
Rutabaga Gratin Recipe and Simmergreat Product Endorsement/Discount
Always something of a rebel, I grew up loving foods most people don’t like or at least think they don’t like just because it seems like nobody else does. For me, these rebel roots translate to an enduring love of root vegetables – including turnips, parsnips, and rutabagas. Being winter and very early spring vegetables, I always start thinking about them in February, which is when I bought my last rutabaga. It survived a move and a couple months of waiting on my counter before I finally put it into the delicious recipe that follows. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about how root vegetables, especially parsnips and turnips, are becoming hot in culinary circles. For added proof of the trend, I ran into James Beard awarded superstar and local chef Mike Lata at Harris Teeter several weeks ago with a bunch of parsnips in his hands, that he intended to put to use in a pasta dish.
As if that wasn’t enough inspiration, I have a pound of fresh spring potatoes in my pantry, so I decided to do as the Swedes do, and pair the rutabaga with some potatoes and cream. But, rather than puree them, I layered very thin slices in a gratin and bound them with Half & Half infused with lots of fresh thyme, black pepper, mascarpone, sour cream, butter and a nutty Parmesan finish. The results were fabulous – sweet, creamy, nutty, crunchy, smooth bites of root vegetable goodness, just in time for spring and Mother’s Day.
(Note: It’s very important to cut through both the outer skin of the tough, waxy rutabaga, as well as the inner skin, which is about 1/4″ thick. Discard these and then proceed to slice the rutabaga whisper thin, so thin you can practically see through them.)
Well-Thyme Rutabaga and Potato Gratin
(Yields about 8 servings)
Equipment needed: One 5-quart, shallow gratin or casserole dish (about 2″ deep, one foot long, and 8″ wide)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter to coat the pan
For the cream mixture:
1 1/2 cups Half & Half
1/2 cup whole sour cream
1/2 cup mascarpone
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (leave whole)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 large rutabaga, peeled, quartered and very thinly sliced (about six cups)
2 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish
Preheat oven to 375F. Spread the 1 tablespoon of butter evenly along the sides and bottoms of the gratin dish. Combine the Half & Half, sour cream, mascarpone, garlic, thyme, seasonings and remaining tablespoon butter in a medium sauce pan. Whisk together over medium heat-low. Bring up to a gentle simmer and cook to infuse the flavors for five minutes. Remove from the heat. Discard the garlic cloves. Whisk in the Dijon. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Arrange half of the sliced rutabaga in a tight, overlapping single layer in the bottom of the gratin dish. Add a second layer of tight, overlapping sliced potatoes. Cover with half of the cream mixture, distributing evenly. Top with the remaining cream mixture, spreading with a spatula to distribute evenly. Press the top lightly with your fingertips to “tighten” the layers. Sprinkle a dusting of salt and pepper over the top. Cover with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan Reggiano and bake anther 45 to 50 minutes, or until the top layer is golden and slightly crunchy and the rutabaga yield easily to a knife when pierce. Rest 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with a few fresh thyme sprigs. Delicious with roast chicken or pork, or a salad for a meatless meal.
New Product Endorsement – Simmergreat
If you’ve ever cooked with me, or taken one of my classes, you know that great knives and great pans aside, I’m not much of a gadget girl when it comes to cooking. However, I recently discovered a truly great product that made me wish I’d known about it back when I was simmering all of those soups and daubes for The French Cook – Soups & Stews last year. During that time, I struggled getting a steady simmer rate on my aging, moody gas stovetop. Simmergrate is an ingenious contraption that sits above your low gas flame and magically tempers your pot to a steady simmer. All you have to do is put it over the flame, place the pot (any pot) on top, set your burner to low and voila, you’ve got an unwavering simmer. I used this when I was simmering the cream for the recipe above. I didn’t touch the dial once, and no scorching, boiled over cream. It’s still on my stove where it will remain for many future uses, whether it be roasting peppers, making sauces, and more. It even works on a gas grill. I’m a fan and I think you will be, too. Perfect for home cooks, professional chefs and anyone who enjoys cooking. Perfect for Mother’s Day, too. If you visit Simmergreat and make a purchase, once it is in your cart, click on the coupon code and type in “holly” and you get a 10% discount on your total purchase. Happy simmering!
Don’t forget to visit www.simmergreat.com.