Sunday, November 26, 2006

Champions Weekend

I am just getting to the Thanksgiving wrap-up.

As mentioned, food took a back seat to high school sports for another weekend. TeenGirl proved to be one of the fastest running girls in the state of California on Saturday in an event that gathered all the best high school runners from across the state to Fresno for a 5000 meter (3.11 mile) race across fields, over hills, through gullies, and for some, including TeenGirl, a chance to stand on the winners podium and collect medals. As the one of best high school runners in the Sate of California.

To get to Fresno, other than the 5 hour drive north through LA, across the San Fernando valley, though the Tejon pass (4144 feet up), and then deep into the heart of the San Joaquin valley, past miles and miles of almond trees, millions of rows of grape vines all neatly trimmed and ready for next year, past thousand and thousands of cows, and literal mountains of cow poo, past huge dairy complexes and ramshackle rundown farm houses, all you have to do is run. A lot.

Run twice a day for 6 months. Every single day, never missing one. Over mountains. Through parks. Around streets with motorists who have no intention of yielding right of way to a mere runner. Through blazing afternoon heat. And chilly evenings. Wind, rain, dust, fog, whatever. At 6 am in the morning, and 10 pm at night, if need be. Usually alone, as no one else can keep up anymore, least of all me. Set some school records along the way, win lots of cross country races along the way, gather a satchel full of medals, pose for lots of pictures that eventually appear in local papers, usually just after finishing running, with sweat still dripping, hair and makeup long destroyed by wind and effort. That’s all you have to do.

You also have to put up with your overly proud father running all over the parks where the races are held, ‘cheering’ (read screaming his head off like a complete idiot), taking pictures at inopportune moments, bragging shamelessly, etc.

So, food took a backseat to a championship running this weekend.

But I did want to catch up on Thanksgiving. Of course, there was the turkey, which was great. With tons of dark meat for me. While everyone else fought over the breast meat.

As mentioned in the previous post, we made four dishes for the Thanksgiving pot-luck-pourre last Thursday.

As could have been predicted, the much anticipated Brussels sprouts with chestnuts and bacon were not the highlight of our offerings. They were very good, and the roasted sprouts could not have gone better with the chestnuts and bacon. Really a great way to combine some traditional fall flavors. And they generated lots of complements. But they were outdone by two other dishes. None the less, the sprouts, chestnuts and bacon were good enough that they were long gone before a reasonable picture could be taken.

The roasted root vegetables with caramelized pecans won hands down. Everyone agreed. Once you tried them, you could not stop nibbling away. The roasting brings out a wonderful natural sweetness to the vegetables, which the caramelized pecans complemented perfectly. The tart apples and the red onions pulled the dish back from just plain sweet to nicely balanced. The only thing to watch for is to avoid over-roasting the vegetables. This one has already made the list of Thanksgiving regulars.

Unfortunately, I could not get any pictures of the roasted root vegetables before they were gone.

Also, the cayenne sweet potato pie with pecan crust was great. Creamy and smooth, with a hint of a cayenne bite. Though not as many tried this one, possibly fearing an instant weight gain just by looking at it, those who did try it raved. So I was pretty happy about that.

The final entry, the apple galette, which I have made lots of times, and always had success with, fell victim to an error on my part. I always halve the recipe when I make it, and did so this time as well. I halved everything except the butter. Essentially using twice the butter in the Pâte Brisé dough as called for. Man, what a mess. I knew the whole time something was wrong, too. But I could not figure out what. Until we baked it. The excess butter literally oozed out of the dough. Needless to say, the dough never achieved the desired flaky crispy texture, ending up tough and chewy. So we left that one home. Just an error on my part due to too many things going on at once.

I didn't take any pictures of the galette, of course. Well, three out of four ain't all that bad!

Print Recipe

Roasted Fall Root Vegetables with Apples and Caramelized Pecans
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish

6 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
6 to 8 small beets, peeled, cut into 2 inch pieces
6 carrots, peeled, cut into 2 inch lengths
2 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith, cored and cut into eighths
2 medium red onions, each cut into 8 wedges through the core
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 ½ cups pecan halves
6 tbsp unsalted butter
6 tbsp sugar (we used agava nectar)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°.

In a large roasting pan, toss the parsnips, beets, carrots, apples and red onions with olive oil and thyme leaves. Roast in oven for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once or twice, until vegetables are tender and well browned. Remove from oven and keep warm.

In a small skillet, heat butter until foam subsides. Add sugar, swirling pan, until sugar melts. Continue cooking until the mixture achieves the desired caramel color. Add pecans, stirring, until they are well coated with the caramel. Pour the caramelized pecans over the roasted vegetables, and toss gently. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Print Recipe

Bacon Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts
Recipe by surfindaave
Based on a recipe by Charlie Palmer
Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish

3 pounds small Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and outer leaves removed, cut in half
1 pound double-smoked slab bacon or other smoked bacon, cut into lardons (1/4-by-3/4-inch rectangles)
2 cups onions, chopped
2 pounds fresh chestnuts
2 to 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt, pepper
Additional thyme, for garnish, if desired

To roast the chestnuts: cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut. Roast on a flat baking pan in a 400ºF oven for 20 minutes or so, until the edges of the cuts curl back. Remove from oven to a towel, and let cool somewhat. Remove shell and inner membrane. Reserve chestnuts, ideally still as a single piece.

In a small skillet, heat bacon over medium heat, stirring, and cook until all fat is rendered out of bacon, and bacon is well browned. Remove bacon pieces to a plate lined with paper towels. Reserve fat.

In the same skillet, sauté the onions over medium heat until they are a deep golden color, about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

In a large roasting pan, toss the Brussels sprouts, chestnuts, bacon, and onions with all of the bacon fat. Add thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Toss well. Roast in oven for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the Brussels sprouts are well browned. Remove to a serving dish. Stir in just enough chicken broth to moisten the dish. Season with salt and pepper as necessary, and sprinkle with additional thyme for garnish. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Cayenne Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan Crust

This recipe is directly from Gourmet magazine, November 2005, (which you can find on the only modifications being that I added 2 tsp of cayenne pepper to the sweet potato mixture in the food processor, and I made a pecan and whole wheat pie crust, as opposed to the pecan and ginger snap cookie crust suggested in the magazine. We decorated the pie with some extra crust pieces cut into leaves, as well as some of the caramelized pecans from the Roasted Fall Root Vegetables with Apples and Caramelized Pecans recipe above.

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