Archive for November, 2009

Fall fruit is still at its ripest here.  When I was at the store the other day I couldn’t resist buying some of the most photogenic pears I had seen in a long time.

I also bought a pomegranate.

The persimmons were a gift.

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This year we decided to make our Thanksgiving dinner vegetarian, a choice that required a little bit of thought.  I wanted to come up with a main dish that was both hearty and elegant and that paired well with some of my favorite side dishes.

Taking advantage of the amazing local pear crop, we started the meal with a sweetly savory pumpkin, pear and fennel soup.

For the entree, we finally settled on another dish that took advantage of local products: wild mushroom and hazelnut strudel served with a choice of port wine or reduced balsamic sauce.  Even before it was baked the strudel looked delicious;

once it was done it looked even better.

For side dishes we chose Brussels sprouts, tossed with olive oil and roasted slowly in the oven,

sweet potatoes, roasted and then smashed with minced, crystallized ginger and topped with toasted pecans,

and a refreshing fennel and orange salad dressed with orange-Dijon vinaigrette.

Of course we also had my favorite buttermilk rolls

and cranberry chutney.

For dessert I made a cranberry – walnut tart

and our friend brought a collection of exquisite pastries from the Sweet Life Patisserie in Eugene.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to make and share this meal with friends.

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Thanksgiving dinner, preview

Thanksgiving dinner at our house was a full day of cooking, baking and conviviality.  We had friends visiting from Maine who kept us company (and helped) as we made dinner.

Of course, everything really started on Wednesday, with a trip to the grocery store for supplies

and the preparation of cranberry chutney

and some toasted pecans.

More details tomorrow!

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Pizza memories

When I was in the eighth grade, at least a lifetime ago, my family spent a year living in a small town in the mountains of central Mexico called San Miguel de Allende.  At the time we lived there the town was still small and, while it did attract its fair share of tourists, somewhat sleepy.  Now San Miguel has become well-known as a retirement community for wealthy Amercans.

Living in Mexico was an eye opening experience for me.  We rented a modern, glass-walled apartment in a building that remained under construction the whole time we were there.  Our neighbors included American college students taking classes at the Instituto Allende, a local, bilingual art school, as well as Mexican families living in traditional homes built around open air patios.

As I became more fluent in Spanish I made friends with other kids my age, learned to cook a traditional Mexican comida (including how to make homemade corn tortillas) and how to shop and haggle for bargains in the daily market.  I still remember that year with incredible clarity.

What does all that have to do with pizza?  After our year there ended, we spent several additional summers in San Miguel and my parents eventually bought (and then, sadly, sold) a house there.  In those later years I became more familiar with the San Miguel restaurant scene.  One place in particular was a great hit with my brother and sister and me:  a small, somewhat touristy restaurant called Mama Mia’s, famous for, among other things, pizza.

My favorite pizza there was one that perfectly blended local flavors with traditional cheese pizza:  the avocado pizza.  Given my predilection both for making pizza and for translating favorite restaurant recipes into dishes I can make at home, avocado pizza is a current Sunday evening staple in our kitchen.

It’s not hard to pull this one off.  I make the dough in my bread maker (the best use for a home bread machine I can think of, since you can toss in the ingredients and set the timer before you head out for the day and have pizza dough ready to bake when you return), and a simple tomato and onion sauce on top of the stove.

Last night I also had some mushrooms that needed to be used, so I sauteed them and tossed them on before covering everything with cheese (I used an aged goat cheese last night, probably not a typical Mama Mia’s ingredient) and baking the pizza at 500 degrees for about 15 minutes.  I add the avocado last, after the pizza comes out of the oven.

I’m sure that different tastes, smells and sounds trigger memories of San Miguel for my brother and sister, but this does it for me every time.

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Finally fall

I have been waiting for the Japanese maple tree outside our front door to turn.  Now that it has I am finally confident that fall has arrived.

The really striking thing about this tree, though, is not the bright yellow color of the leaves, but the brilliant green of the trunk and branches.

The green stands out even more now that the leaves have turned.

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Some holiday knitting

At this time of year those of us who knit often find ourselves in knitting overdrive, trying to finish gifts and other holiday-associated knitting projects.  I don’t usually give a lot of knitted gifts at Christmas or Hanukkah, but I have knitted stockings for all of my family, as well as for others who have asked.

I also finally knitted a stocking for myself; something a little more contemporary than the more traditional ones I have made for others.

And then there are the mini stockings I made, just for fun.

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Rustic apple tart

Every autumn I fall in love with apples all over again.  I swoon at the first bite of a crisp, tart whole apple, close my eyes to fully experience the sweetly sour tang of fresh-pressed apple cider, and, of course, get inspired thinking of apples baked into all kinds of sugary and savory dishes.

Among my favorite baked apple desserts is tarte tatin, or what the ever-so-French Jacques Pepin refers to as a Country Apple Tart.

One of the things I love about this recipe is how easy it is.  Even the crust is almost fool-proof if you follow a few simple guidelines:  make sure the butter is very cold, and don’t over-process the dough.

I use my food processor and, after a few brief pulses, the dough comes together and is easily shaped into a disk that can be refrigerated until you are ready to roll it out.

While the dough is chilling, I peel the apples

and cut them into slices about 1/4 inch thick.

I chop any uneven ends and hide them under the neater slices when I pile them on the rolled out dough.

A drizzle of honey, a sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar, and some butter and I am ready to fold the edges of the dough lightly over the edges of the apples and slide the whole thing into the oven for about forty minutes.

The result is both comforting enough for a family meal and elegant enough for company.

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