The Best Thanksgiving Stuffing I’ve Ever Made! 

Grand Mariner Apricot and Sausage Stuffing. 

This recipe is adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook. One of the first cookbooks I ever purchased. Co-Authors, Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso Miller were hot on the gourmet carry-out scene in 1980’s. They really kicked off the “Artisan” food trend!

From that birthed, The Silver Palate Cookbook in 1982. An instant success! This book helped cement America’s interest in quality cooking and helped acquaint cooks with purchasing much-needed  “gourmet” ingredients.

Pioneers, if not legends for their Manhattan, food-to-go and gourmet ingredient boutique ! One of my favs!

You’ll Need:

1 cup diced dried apricots

1 1/2 cups Grand Mariner

1 cup unsalted butter

2 cups coarsely chopped celery

1 large onion, chopped small dice

1 lb bulk pork sausage

1 lb herb stuffing mix

1 cup slivered almonds, toasted

2 cups rich chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dry sage

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Here’s How:

Place the apricots and 1 cup of the Grand Marnier in a small saucepan. Heat to boiling. Remove from heat and set aside

Melt ½ cup of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery and onion and saute for 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

In the same skillet, cook the sausage, crumbling it with a fork, until it’s no longer pink. Remove from heat and add to the celery & onion mixture.

Add the stuffing mix, apricots with the liquid, the almonds. Stir to combine.

Heat the remaining 1/2 cup butter and chicken stock just until the butter melts. Pour over the stuffing mixture and add the remaining 1/2 cup of Grand Marnier. Stir well to moisten the stuffing, adding the thyme, ground sage, salt and pepper to taste.

Bake stuffing in a large buttered casserole at 325’F degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Note: Enough to stuff a 21-24 pound bird with a small extra casserole on the side.

Now, should you stuff the bird is the question!

Happy Holidays

Hassleback Potato Casserole

Acclaimed food science writer, J. Kenji López-Alt has developed this sort of “mash-up ” ( if you will ) of a classic French gratin, and a beautiful Hassleback potato recipe. The idea is to stand the slices of potato vertically, rather than laying them flat. This ensures each serving receives both a creamy potato serving and a crispy edge in each bite.

This is my adaption.

You’ll Need:

4 to 4 ½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick slices with a sharp knife of on a mandoline 

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup chicken stock

3 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, leaves removed for the stem

Kosher salt and black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes

2 cups finely grated Gruyère cheese

1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 bunch chives, chopped for garnish

Here’s How:

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400’F degrees. Combine cheeses in a large bowl. Transfer 1/3 of cheese mixture to a separate bowl and set aside for garnish.

Add cream, stock, garlic and thyme to the cheese mixture, and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, add white pepper, and red chili flakes– stir to combine.

Add potato slices and toss with your hands until every slice is coated with cream mixture, making sure to separate any slices that are sticking together to get the cream mixture in between them.

Prepare a 2-quart casserole dish with butter. Place on a high sided baking sheet.

Pick up a handful of potatoes, organizing them into a neat deck stack, lay them in the casserole dish with their edges aligned vertically. Continue placing potatoes in the dish, working around the perimeter and into the center until all the potatoes have been added. The potatoes should be very tightly packed. If necessary, slice an additional potato, coat with cream mixture, and add to casserole. It is important the potatoes are very tight.

Pour the excess cheese mixture evenly over the top of the potatoes in the casserole dish until the mixture comes halfway up the sides. You may not need all the excess liquid.

Cover dish tightly with foil– sprayed on the inside with non-stick cooking spray. Transfer to the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until the top is golden brown, about 45 minutes longer.

Carefully remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and return to oven. Bake until deep golden brown and crisp on top, about 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven, let rest for a few minutes,  garnish with chopped chives and serve.

Enjoy!

The Brussel Sprout Files!

Below is a formula sure to make your Brussel sprouts are a success no matter what flavor profile you’re after. Sweet, salty, or tangy!

Brussel sprouts are aggressive in flavor. You either love them or hate them. So many ways to cook them too– from baked chips to chopped salads. At my home we love our sprouts pan-fried with crisp pancetta– caramelized with lots of butter and my homemade infused olive oil, & lots of crispy fried garlic cloves.

Brussel sprouts caramelize naturally. On special occasions we make a few variations. Addition of maple syrup, or a sprinkling of brown sugar with a handful of candied walnuts will make your family roar! Sometimes we like to add crispy bacon, a nice citrus finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and lot of lemon zest– then an good dousing of parmesan cheese. I add a fair amount of fresh cracked black peppercorns!

Here’s How : 

To properly sauté brussels sprouts, you’ll need a fair amount of fat in the skillet. While bacon is a classic pairing, use your families favorite flavor. Ground pork sausage,  Italian sausage, apple sausage, duck fat, or –If you’re a vegetarian, good quality olive oil is perfect. As mentioned, I use pancetta. So delicious and I love the little crispy, crunchy salty nuggets. How much to use is up to you- I personally like a lot of Pancetta floating around in my dish- so I use a least a pound or two ( shhhh) per stock/stem of Brussel sprout! about 40- 50 spouts.

If using something like bacon or sausage, start by browning the meat in a very large skillet  – I use two of my largest skillets, and split the recipe between them. (Brussel sprouts contain lots of water– so, if you over-crowd the Brussel spouts in the pan, they will steam not caramelize. Tragic.)  Always halve the sprouts and trim the root-end clean.

Sauté the pancetta or your choice of fat, over medium-high heat. Render the fat. Once the meat is cooked, remove it with a slotted spoon set it aside for later addition. Add the halved brussels sprouts to the fat, shaking the skillet so that as many as possible landing cut side down or use tongs to ensure the sprout is positioned for optimum caramelization. Now, step away from the pan. Resist the urge to move them around. Distribution will prevent them from cooking through and becoming crispy golden brown  and delicious. They need to stay in contact directly with the surface heat. Cook until they have a nice  brown sear on one side, about 8 to 10 minutes. If a knife runs easily through, they are done.

Just before removing from the heat, add in  your favorite seasonings–like chopped garlic, sliced onions, fresh thyme, sprinkling of brown sugar, maple syrup, honey  or lemon juice  with lots of zest. Return the sautéed meat you rendered the fat from and toss to coat nicely. Cook for an additional 1- 2 minutes. If making an addition of candied nuts, now is the time to do so. Toss well and serve. (The candies nuts will remain crunchy if not added to the cooking process.)

Salt and pepper. Serve!

Steaming Method: 

Clean Brussels sprouts and slice in half lengthwise. Fill a large stock pot with about 2 inches of flavored stock and water combination– place a metal steamer basket on top. Bring the water to a simmer, add the brussels sprouts to the basket, season with salt and pepper and cover. Steam until the brussels sprouts are bright green and just cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the lid from pot and let them cool slightly before removing. I like to shock my sprouts in cool ice water so they retain a bright green color. Then right before serving I dunk in hot boiling water or toss quickly in a pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper until warmed trough. About two minutes. See my method here for retaining color and nutrition in steamed veggies.

Baking Method:

Halve brussels sprouts (or quarter them, if they are especially large), making sure to hold on to any leaves that fall away (these get the crispest) and toss with plenty of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and scatter them onto a rimmed baking sheet, making use of every inch. Brussels sprouts contain a good bit of water, and if they’re too crowded on the tray, they’ll steam instead of brown. If you need to use two or three sheet pans, do it.

Roast in a hot pre heated 450’F degrees oven, tossing every 10 minutes or so, until the outer leaves have begun to almost char, and the innermost part of the sprout is just tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Finish growing by making sure the cut side of the sprint is face down on the baking sheets surface so they get nicely caramelized. While they caramelize well on their own, tossing the sprouts with a tablespoon or two of maple syrup, honey or light brown sugar will give them a bit of holiday flavor. Remove from oven– add your favor flavors to finish, like lemon zest and fresh thyme, or fresh rosemary, or pine nuts with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese — toss well and return to the oven for an additional five minutes. Remove, set aside to cool. You can even toss with a bit of reduced balsamic reduction –. Whatever flavors you’ve decided on — enjoy– it’s all you!

I’d love to hear about your favorite way to make Brussel sprouts. Leave me a message and tell me how.

Happy Holiday!

Tired of Playing Fowl on Thanksgiving?

You will absolutly fall in love with this Umami stuffed butternut squash so much, it just might persuade you to reconsider poultry this holiday season! Not only is it vegetarian… it’s fancy! 

You’ll Need: 

1 cup fresh pecans, chopped

1- foot long butternut squash

1 Japanese eggplant about 8-10 inches in length

1 zucchini, about 10 inches in length

1 white onion, cleaned and roughly chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, divided

1 shallot, coarsely chopped

1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, coarsely chopped

1 celery rib, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup sundried tomato packed in oil, squeezed of excess oil

1 tablespoon good quality olive oil

1 bunch fresh thyme, divided

8 oz. unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or honey

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

2 eggs

1/2 cup Japanese bread crumbs

1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine and divided

1 teaspoon ground sage

Kosher salt and white pepper

Here’s How:

Preheat oven to 325′ F Degrees. Toast the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until fragrant and slightly darkened, 10–12 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop and set aside.

Increase the oven temperature to 400′ F Degrees. Drizzle the baking sheet with good quality olive oil.

While the oven is getting up to temperature, carefully cut butternut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the interior, leaving about a 1/2″ border on all sides and creating a divot deep enough to fit the eggplant halves inside. Discard the stringy guts, reserving all the solid meat filling, and the seeds for roasting.

Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and scoop out and reserve the interior, leaving about a 1/4″ border on all sides and creating a divot deep enough to fit delicious filling inside, which will go inside the butternut squash- follow me?

Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, scoop out interior for the vegetable, leaving behind a fairly-wide mote down the center to fit the remaining filling.

Place squash halves cut side up, on a prepared baking sheet. Using a fork, be sure to pierce insides of squash and zucchini halves to release steam. Using a sharp knife, make shallow crosshatch marks inside of eggplant, being careful not to pierce through the skin. Season all with salt and pepper butter and a drizzle of maple syrup or honey then set aside.

In the bowl of your food processor, combine the garlic, shallot, onion, mushrooms, celery, squash, and eggplant filling. Working in batches, if needed, pulse the food processor until finely chopped but not to a paste. Add sundried tomatoes and pulse one final time.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large high-sided skillet over medium-high heat, add the vegetables from the processor, and a few thyme sprigs and the ground sage. Cook until the mixture begins to brown, and almost all the moisture evaporates- about 5-8 minutes. Taste, and adjust season with salt and pepper. 

Remove from the heat to a large bowl and allow the vegetable mixture to significantly cool. Remove the thyme sprigs and discard. Crack in the eggs, ricotta, Parmesan cheese, panko, a small handful of chopped parsley, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. 

Using an ice cream or portion control scoop press about 3/4 cup vegetable mixture into each half of the butternut squash until the interior is fully coated using the back of the scoop or spoon press the combination into and up the sides making room for the eggplant to fit. Sprinkle with the toasted pecans and then add the eggplant cut side up and repeat the filling process, including the pecans. Now add the zucchini and repeat to fill with vegetable mixture, continue the nesting process with each halve until you have filled the whole butternut squash with all the vegetable halves layered with stuffing- just like your famous lasagna.

Using kitchen twine. Slip under one squash half, then top with the second squash half, so that the cut sides face each other. Now press together and tightly tie the twine around squash to secure it for the oven. 

Brush the exterior of the stuffed butternut squash with melted butter and maple syrup then season again with salt and pepper. Wrap the squash tightly in aluminum foil and place it in the center of a low-sided baking dish to prevent it from rolling. 

Roast the squash until it is tender to the touch, about 90 minutes to 2 hours. 

Remove foil and let rest at least 10-20 minutes.

Remove twine and place it on a cutting board. Cut into 1″ thick disc with a serrated knife, transferring to serving plates as you go. Spoon warm herbed or salted butter over slices, garnish with more pecans and serve with warm maple syrup.

Happy holiday!

Beautifully Creamy, Delicious… Ugly Soup.

Celeriac.jpg

Celeriac, also called turnip-rooted celery, or knob celery, or celery root– is cultivated for its delicious, edible roots, hypocotyl, and shoots. While this delicious root vegetable has many cooks and urban gardeners disagreeing on what to call it– there is one thing everyone agrees on. Many say, celeriac is the ugliest root vegetable ever. I say, while it’s not only ugly, and confusing…you should still give it a chance. Everyone wants to know if celeriac are celery the same thing , and can they each be used interchangeably in cooking? Are they… Can they?

What Exactly is Celeriac? Is it Celery?

Well… technically no. Not only are celery and celeriac appearances incredibly different– celery and celery root are really only long-lost cousins. Simply related botanically. They both have the taste of celery, although many people find celeriac to be earthier and more intense. Both can be used either cooked or raw, but in either case, their texture is widely different, so they are not interchangeable in most recipes.

Celeriac is very dense, hairy, knobby, and strange to look at. The size of a grapefruit and contains a pale-yellow hue. Like most root vegetables, celeriac is perfect in soups and stews. Makes a perfectly cheesy gratin sharing the spotlight with a somewhat jealous potato.

Left raw, celeriac can be grated into a salad and is most famous for its appearance in the dish, céléri remoulade. A very classic cold salad made almost everywhere in France; containing shredded raw celeriac, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, salt , pepper and a dash of lemon juice. Some add capers, green apple or chopped dill pickles, called cornichons.

Celeriac is a humble root that doesn’t get enough attention. I am here to ask you to give this ugly root a chance because celeriac makes a beautiful, creamy, deliciously sweet… ugly soup!

Ugly Soup with Truffle Oil 

You’ll Need:

2 Tablespoons good quality olive oil

4 Tablespoons of unsalted sweet cream butter

1 leek, cleaned thoroughly and chopped in 1/2 in slices up to the green leaves

2 celery ribs, rough chopped

3 large fresh shallots, peeled and diced

2 clove garlic, finely chopped

2 large celeriac roots, peeled and cut in medium dice ( will discolor quickly, place cut pieces in water while waiting to prepare soup)

1 large russet potato, peeled and diced

1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

4 quarts good quality chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream or almond milk. Room temperature.

1 – 1 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Kosher salt

Truffle oil, for drizzling ( optional ) 

Crispy cooked and crumbled bacon or small diced cooked pancetta for garnish or air fried root vegetable

Here’s How:

In a large 8-10 quart stock pot on medium low heat, add the olive oil and butter. Add the chopped leeks and celery. Stir occasionally for 3-4 minutes until the leeks begin to soften. Add the shallots and garlic and continue to cook for and additional 2 minutes. Cook only until translucent, do not brown.

Add the celeriac, potato, and a large pinch of the chopped parsley (reserving some for garnish). Add the stock to cover. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until the vegetables are tender and can be pierced through easily with a knife. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and white pepper to your liking.

Remove the pan from the heat and blend the soup with an immersion hand blender or in batches in your standing blender. Process until smooth.

Return soup to the stockpot if using a standing blender. Add fresh thyme. Stir in the crème fraîche or almond milk and stir to combine flavors. Heat gently for an additional 1-2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning for the final time. Do not bring to a boil with the addition of cream of the soup will break so resist the urge to walk away from the pot at this stage.

Serve in warmed soup bowls with a drizzle of truffle oil and additional chopped parsley and your favorite garnish.

Variation : Add crispy bacon or pancetta topping to garnish.

Make-Ahead Feast Worthy Cranberry Pear Compote! 

Thanksgiving , Sidedish, Fall, Cranberry sauce,
Gigi’s Cranberry Pear Compote


This recipe has been in my culinary repertoire for over two decades. It’s my absolute favorite! Loose the canned cranberry sauce- trust me on this one.

Just like everything Thanksgiving– it’s better the next day; especially smothered all over your leftover turkey sammy! There is quite a bit of sugar in the recipe because the natural flavor of cranberry is very, very tart so it’s ok to substitute with honey or your favorite sweetener.

Oh, sure to call your order in using discount code : “Chef Gigi” when ordering the wine from RiverStar Vineyards and secure 20% off you entire holiday purchase!

You’ll Need:

2 pounds fresh or frozen whole cranberries 

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, or your choice of alternitive

3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

3 Bosch pears, peeled, cored and chopped in large one inch chunks 

2 wide strips of lemon zest

1 lemon juiced, seeds removed

1 orange zested and juiced

1 bottle RiverStar Vineyards Sauvagnon Blanc

1-2 small cinnamon sticks

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg 

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 large sprig fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper 

Here’s How:

In a medium high-sided saucepan, combine the cranberries, sugar, lemon zest, wine and spices including salt and pepper. 

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat then reduce to a simmer. Cook until you begin to hear the cranberries begin to pop open. Add the pears cook an additional 8-10 minutes until the pears are soft but still holding shape. Once the cranberries pop the sauce will begin to thicken. Continue to cook until a knife will gently slide through the pears. Taste, and adjust seasoning.

Remove from heat, cool and store air tight in glass jars. Can be made up to a week in advance. 

Makes a great hostess gift when packed in a fancy glass container with a fresh sprig of thyme and orange peel! 


Yields approximately 20 -25 servings 

Meet The Cushaw Squash

Early fall is one of my favorite times of the year, the weather is perfect, the leaves are changing, and squash is bountiful!

The beautiful and alluring, Cushaw Squash is a huge valued crop, because it is inexpensive and stores for about four months. They average about 10-20 pounds, grow to 12-18 inches in length, and can be 10 inches in width at the bulb, in total, more substantial than a newborn child! The flesh is light yellow, and the flavor is mildly sweet. It’s crookneck in shape, with a bent top, and it can be green, white, orange, or striped. You know the one. It caught your eye at the market.

Cushaw, an American heirloom not usually found outside North America though, like me, the Cushaw is the only slightly ordinary member of its vast family. This hot, climate-loving squash species cultivated in warmer parts of the world like Mexico, but some say they originated in the West Indies. There are arguments that Native Americans initially cultivated varieties as a staple. In some U.S regions,it is often referred to as a Cushaw Pumpkin, Appalachia, or a Tennessee Sweet Potato.

Cushaw behaves like a pumpkin, when cooked. High in vitamins A and C, which make it excellent for our immune systems. You can enjoy this squash raw, so pop some on the holiday veggie platter this year.

Regardless of the type, they are all uniform in flavor, making excellent pies, muffins, cakes, quick breads as well as soups or hearty main dishes. Wash whole, cut into large chunks and remove the skin after cooking; it’s really so much more manageable.

Recipe Ideas:

I love to roast chunks on a generously oiled stainless steel sheet pan with a sprinkle of salt. Preheat the oven to 425′ F Degrees for a deep caramelization- flipping a few times through this cooking process and season with salt on every turn. After they caramelize, reduce oven to 325′ F Degrees and continue to roast until tender. I also blast them with fresh sage, thyme, and a sprinkle of brown sugar the last ten minutes of cooking unless I am using them for baking. You can also mash with butter, pumpkin spices, cream, or non-dairy nut milk for a whipped side dish.

I love to roll this delicate delicious seasoned flesh in yeasted bread or Phyllo dough and bake again to spin-off a delicious cheese pie ( from Moldovan,) now a part of Romania.

This squash also freezes well, and the fresh cut cubes won’t stick together, so no need for individual freezing of chunks before freezer packing.

Choose squash that has deep-colored rinds, free of blemishes, or moldy spots.Cushaws are highly pest resistant-so you can rest easy this crop rarely gets sprayed with pesticides.

Varieties

Green-Striped Cushaw:

This green and white squash of the South is also known as the Tennessee sweet potato squash and valued in hotter areas as an all-around squash for desserts or vegetable dishes. Native Americans – both South and north of the border – have grown this large, squash-bug and vine-borer-resistant variety since prehistoric times – possibly as far back as 7000 BC. Some describe it as having a slightly sweet, mild smoky taste frequently preferred as a substitute for pumpkin in pumpkin pies.

White Cushaw:

The white Cushaw is another of the rarer varieties of cushaw squash. This plant produces enormous, mildly sweet, and nutty fruits with orange flesh that is excellent cooked or raw. It also provides mounds of large seeds that make great, healthy snacks when roasted. Like most cushaws, this variety is pest-resistant and keeps very well. It is easy to grow, holds up well in the heat, and produces prolifically. It is sometimes called the “Jonathan Pumpkin.”

Seminole Pumpkin:

“Seminole Pumpkin” is another cushaw squash – despite the name. The Seminole tribe, of what is now Florida, grew this smaller-sized squash as a staple part of their diet. It grows well in moist, humid environments where other squashes do not fare so well. This firm-fleshed, sweet variety is also resistant to powdery mildew, which is a significant problem for many squashes.

Golden Cushaw:

Beautiful golden-orange colored squash with deep orange flesh. Do not confuse it with the C. mixta variety called gold-striped Cushaw, a variety visually identical to the green-striped Cushaw except for the beautiful golden stripes. The golden Cushaw has sweet flesh reminiscent of sweet potatoes and is very high in many nutrients! Yes, please!

Chef Gigi’s Kabocha Spiced Rum Cake ! 

Looking for that perfect dessert this Winter? Kobocha is the Japanese word for squash. This  squash has a nutty, earthy flavor with a touch of sweetness. So delicious and versatile ! Kobocha squash can be used in sweet and savory applications.

This Spiced Rum Cake will be the perfect addition to your holiday! 

Kabocha Spiced Rum Cake

You’ll Need:

1 1/2 cups mashed kabocha squash

8 large medjool dates, pitted

3 Tablespoons quality dark rum

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup cane sugar or coconut sugar

3/4 cup buttermilk

2 Tablespoons orange zest

2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon quality vanilla

3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pecan Caramel Glaze or Powered Sugar topping ( recipes below)

Here’s How:

Preheat the oven to 350°F Degrees. Prepare a high sided baking sheet prepared with organic olive oil.

Carefully cut the squash in half with a sharp serrated knife, careful not to cut yourself. De-seed. Save the seeds for roasting.

Spritz the top halves of the cut squash with a quick spitz of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Place squash cut-side down onto the stainless steel baking sheet. Place in center rack of preheated warm oven and bake until golden brown and a knife runs easily through the flesh, depending on the size of your squash anyhwre from 30- 45 minutes. Remove from the oven set aside to cool.

While the kobocha squash is in the oven, prepare an 10 inch bundt cake pan generously with non-stick cooking spray.  Set aside on top of a lined cookie sheet and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the pitted dates with 1 tablespoon of the rum. Fill with boiling water and soak the dates to reconstitute, about 15 minutes. Strain the water solution, discard and place dates in your food processor or blender. Process to a smooth paste.

While the dates are processing, whisk together in a small bowl the flour, baking powder, baking soda, all the spices including salt and the pepper. Set aside.

Remove cooled kobocha from its skin by scooping out the cooked flesh with a large spoon. Add the flesh straight to your food processor or blender with the dates and pulse process until completely smooth.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, or in a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer–add the butter and sugar.Beat on high speed until butter is creamed and pale in color and sugar crystals begin to dissolve about 2-3 minutes.

Add purée and mix an additional minute. Add 1 egg at a time beating in between addition until smooth. Add buttermilk and orange juice, vanilla and the remaining rum. Beat well.

Add dry mixture working in two additions, beating until just combine with every addition. Scrape bowl. Stir in the orange zest.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared bundt pan. Smack on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles and level out batter.

Place on the center rack of a preheated 350’F degree oven and bake 45 – 50 minutes, or until a toothpick is placed in the center and comes out clean.

While the cake is cooling, make the pecan glaze or combine the powered sugar topping. Allow cake to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour before applying glaze.

Dust with a 1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar spiked with 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice. Or, pour on the pecan glaze. When pouring glaze make sure it has substantially cooled to a thick but pourable viscosity.

If the glaze is too warm it will run all the way off the cake.

Pecan Caramel Glaze

You’ll Need:

1 cup palm, or your favorote granulated sugar

½ cup whole cream, or your favorite nut milk

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

Here’s How:

In a high-sided pan over medium heat melt the sugar.When the sugar melts and begins to turn golden around the edges, reduce the heat to low and begin to stir until all the sugar has completely melted.

Add the butter and cream carefully – the cream will bubble up fast and could boil over. Continue to cook,stirring on low heat until you have a smooth caramel sauce- this may take up to 10 minutes.

Once the glaze is completely sauce like and thick– add the pecans.

Remove from heat. Cool to a thick but pourable consistency.Pour over the top of the bundt cake.

Serves approximately 12 slices. Delicious warm with vanilla bean ice cream!

Be Happy ! 

Drunken Squash with Forbidden Black Rice and Dried Fruit! 

Black Rice also known as Forbidden Rice

Once Reserved Only for the Noble. 

The health benefits of black rice are so powerful, this ingredient earned its name. Highly prized by noblemen and once forbidden amongst the common in ancient China. 

Black rice, was first introduced to the United States just recently, in 1995. Today it’s gaining popularity. Forbidden black rice is delicious, and has an amazingly chewy bite. It can be purchased at natural grocery stores, specialty markets and through your favorite on-line store. 

You’ll Need:

2-4 golden acorn squash, small sugar pumpkins or your fav squash

2 cups black forbidden rice, thoroughly washed

1 pound ground sausage

3 1/2 cups good quality chicken or vegetable stock

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to adjust seasoning 

Fresh ground black pepper, to taste 

1 teaspoon, plus 1/2 tablespoon good quality California olive oil, divided

1 cup celery, small dice

1 yellow onion, cleaned peeled and small diced

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon dried sage 

1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped fine 

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Pinch of ground cloves

1 red bellpepper cored and cut small dice

1/4 cup dried apricots, small dice

1/4 cup golden raisins 

1/4 cup pecans rough chopped

1/4 cup chopped pistachios

1/2 cup Grand Mariner or good quality brandy (optional) 

1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped fine 

Squash seeds, roasted for garnish

 

Here’s How:

Preheat the oven to 375′ F degrees, prepare a high-sided cookie sheet with olive oil and set aside. 

In a small bowl, soak dried apricots and golden raisins in Grand Mariner. Set aside.

Wash and dry the squash and cut the stem to remove. Cut the squash in half horizontally. Careful not to cut yourself. Place the round squash on a folded kitchen towel, to prevent from rolling. With a serrated bread knife-using a sawing motion, cut through the firm flesh. 

On each halve- carefully cut a very straight silver dollar sized piece off the backs of each halve. This will ensure each piece will sit upright at service time. With a spoon, gently scrape interior to remove seeds. Set aside to roast. ( See my seed roasting recipe ) or discard.

Lightly coat the flesh of the squash with some of the olive oil. Season generously with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Sprinkle lightly with ground nutmeg and ground clove.

Place flesh side down on the prepared baking sheet. Put into a pre-heated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the flesh is soft- but stable when pierced with a knife.

Meanwhile, while squash is roasting, prepare the remainder of the recipe by rinsing the black rice thoroughly in a sieve under cold running water. Shake rice until water begins to runs clear, removing much of its starch.

In a medium sized, 6-8 quart sauce pan with fitted lid- bring rice, chicken stock, olive oil, salt, and pepper to a roaring boil – uncovered, over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cover tightly. Continue to cook rice until tender and most of water has been absorbed, about 35 – 40 minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand covered, about 10 minutes undisturbed. After rest period, reveal and fluff with a fork. Black rice is naturally chewy when done. Test for doneness. 

About 15 minutes before the squash and the rice are expected to finish cooking, begin to prepare the stuffing. In a large 10-12 inch skillet over medium heat add 1/2 teaspoon of oil add ground pork, season with salt and pepper and additional 1/4 teaspoon ground sage. Sauté until slightly brown. About 2 minutes. 

Add the diced celery and onion. Continue to sauté an additional 3-4 minutes until celery is cooked through, but still firm to the bite. Add fresh chopped herbs and small diced apples to the pan. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove the from the pan away from any heat, stain liquid off dried fruit and add to the pan. Stir to combine. Return to heat and fold in the cooked rice, and pecans. Cook an additional 1 minute to combine flavors. Add a good pinch of chopped parsley reserving additional for garnish. Stir. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Place cooked squash skin side up in a baking dish. Generously spoon the rice stuffing into the cooked acorn squash so that they are piled high. Cover “tent like” with foil and return to the oven for 5-8 minutes or until heated through. If holding any longer in the oven, add a few tablespoons of chicken stock or water to keep moist. 

Remove from the oven, and finish with finely chopped flat leaf parsley- serve immediately! 

Variations

Remove pork sausage and replace with bacon or omit all together. 

If you want a sweeter flavor sprinkle acorn squash with a pinch of brown sugar or maple syrup and cinnamon before stuffing. 

Makes approximately 4-6 servings depending on size of squash.

Make Ahead Thanksgiving Gravy!

So… what came first, Turkey or the Gravy? Everyone says you need turkey before the gravy, but that’s not really so- and really, who really cares. The point is you need the gravy first to make your life easier. Why? Because Thanksgiving can be an ordeal if you are short on the clock, unorganized, or really just don’t like to cook. 

Even if you love being in the kitchen, you will still need to prioritize your time. For most cooks, the gravy is the most delicate, time-sensitive – yet over-consuming portion of the Thanksgiving menu. Let’s face it- most home cooks are afraid of digging in with the whisk. I’m here to tell you gravy is… welp, gravy, and I am about to make your hectic-kitchen-life a bit more humble.

Here is my formula for the best tasting do-ahead gravy ever. 

Enjoy your guests this holiday season by taking some of the stress off your plate. It’s about being together anyway, isn’t it? Make the gravy a few days in advance, and don’t sweat the timely stuff ever again! Drink up, you have other things to worry about! 

You’ll Need: 

1 tablespoon good quality olive oil

1 pound bone-in chicken wings

1 large unpeeled onion, root ball removed, cut in quarters

1 large carrot, peeled, cut in large chunks

1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped

A small handful of fresh parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, and 2 large bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon of peppercorns

1 cup dry white wine

8-10 cups of low-sodium chicken broth for added poultry flavor ( you can add water instead)

4-5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire or fish sauce

Kosher salt, and ground white pepper

Special Equipment :

Cheesecloth 

Here’s How: 

Combine the fresh herbs and peppercorns into a delicate little bouquet and tie up tightly in the cheesecloth. Set aside. 

Heat the olive oil in a large high sided saucepan over medium-high heat. Salt chicken wings and gently place flat side down into the hot oil. Cook wings, occasionally turning until golden brown, about 10–12 minutes. 

Add the onion, carrot, with the celery and cook until everything in the pan is deeply browned, 14–16 minutes. 

Pour in the wine to deglaze the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and cook until wine is reduced by half, about 3-5 minutes. Add stock and herbs then return to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and slow simmer, occasionally stirring, until liquid is reduced by a third, 35–40 additional minutes.

Remove herb packet and strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve covered with cheesecloth into a heatproof bowl. You should have about 4 cups. If you don’t, add sufficient stock or water to get you there.

Discard any solids. Keep stock warm while you make your roux.

Heat butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, continually whisking until roux is golden brown about 4 minutes. It will be clumpy like porage at this stage, don’t worry. Start making the gravy by whisking gently and continuously pouring the hot stock into the roux mixture. Be sure to incorporate each addition of liquid thoroughly, making it lump-free before adding any additional fluid. Some cooks use both hands, stirring while pouring, while others turn this into a team-building event. 

Once you have a soup-like consistency, add the remaining stock, stir and bring to a gentle simmer. Whisk often, until gravy is thickened, and reduced to about 3 cups. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon; this will take about 8–10 minutes. 

Conclude by adjusting the seasoning with Worcestershire or fish sauce, taste, and season with salt and white pepper if needed.

Cool, and store in an air-tight glass container. This beautiful Thanksgiving poultry gravy will hold in the cooler for at least 4-5 days. 

Reheat and adjust flavor with salt and pepper. Use a few tablespoons of turkey pan drippings to awaken the poultry flavor. 

Enjoy your guests.

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