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Creamy polenta

From the kitchen of Tracey Couture-Fitts
 
1 cup polenta
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
 
Place water on stove top and bring to boil. Once boiling, add salt. Whisk in polenta. Mix well and whisk until its starts to thicken. Turn heat down to low. Continue to stir every five minutes or so, being sure to scrape sides and bottom, mixing well. At about 30 minutes you’ll have a nice consistency. Cook a little longer (10 minutes or so) to make thicker. Remove from heat. Add butter and cheese and serve as is or add other flavors. Suggestions— stir in blue cheese and crumble bacon, stir in a pesto sauce and top with chopped spinach and Parmesan cheese, or top with seasonal roasted vegetables.
 
Sweet Potato Gratin
From the kitchen of Joe Drift
 
10 large sweet potatoes
1 quart heavy cream
2 cups grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup diced fresh sage
 
Slice sweet potatoes super-thin (mandoline would be best). Pour some of the heavy cream into 13x9 pan. Layer sweet potatoes in the pan and season with salt and pepper, grated Parmesan cheese, sage and more cream after every three layers of sweet potato. Repeat process until pan is almost full. Press down on the potatoes so they are really tight in the pan and firm. Preheat to 350 degrees and place gratin in oven. Should take 1 to 1½  hours. When potatoes start to brown nicely, stick a knife in center to make sure it’s smooth, no resistance. If potatoes still a little hard, put back until firm. Once out, let cool (so it doesn’t fall apart before slicing out portions). About 30 minutes to rest. Serves 12.
 
Cranberry Raspberry Sauce
From the kitchen of Liz Barbour 
 
1 package fresh cranberries
½ cup of sugar
1 cup water
1 package frozen raspberries
 
Combine water, sugar and cranberries in medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat and cool cranberries to room temperature. After cranberries have cooled completely, gently stir in raspberries. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes three cups. *Make this a savory sauce by adding one tablespoon of fresh chopped rosemary and ½ teaspoon of salt while cooking the cranberries and sugar.
 
Spiced apple pumpkin crisp
From the kitchen of Alison Ladman
 
For the filling:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large apples, peeled, cored and diced
½ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy cream
 
For the topping:
1 cup oats
1 cup flour
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup toasted and chopped walnuts (optional)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
 
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x9-inch baking dish or medium casserole dish with cooking spray. In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add apples, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice and cook over medium-high heat until the apples are tender, about 6 to 7 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. In a medium bowl, whisk together salt, eggs, pumpkin puree and cream. Add apples into the pumpkin and stir to combine. Spoon mixture into prepared pan. In another medium bowl, combine all topping ingredients, working the butter into dry ingredients with your fingers until everything is moistened and crumbly. Sprinkle over top of the apple-pumpkin filling and bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and center is set up. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 8 servings.




Reinvent Thanksgiving
Something new for your Holiday feast

11/19/15
By Allie Ginwala aginwala@hippopress.com



 It’s Thanksgiving, and the table is set in all its autumnal glory — muted linens in deep reds, browns and creams line the place settings that surround the cornucopia centerpiece. As everyone sits down in anticipation, the dishes are unveiled — revealing the same simple mashed potatoes, steamed green beans, canned cranberry sauce and roasted turkey that has made up Thanksgiving dinner every year before. 

Perhaps it’s time for a change. Whether you want to revamp the entire meal or just add one new dish to the table, getting out of a food rut can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. We spoke with local chefs and bakers who had plenty of ideas to help you reinvent Thanksgiving. Go ahead, try one — or all! — of these inspired dishes and make this a meal to remember.
 
To reinvent or not to reinvent
Few holidays in the American calendar have culinary traditions as polarizing as Thanksgiving. While it may be customary for certain families to enjoy ham on Easter or roast beef on Christmas, serving anything but turkey on Thanksgiving is, to many, blasphemous. 
“In our culture, we don’t have a lot of traditional foods compared to other societies, and so Thanksgiving does seem to be honored more, and for that reason the flavors should be respected,” said Karina Pasternak, baking and pastry instructor for Southern New Hampshire University. “There’s a lot of integrity in the history of Thanksgiving meals.”
Yet because of tradition, many folks make the same dish every year. 
“People just get stuck in a rut and they’re making the same pie over and over again,” said Alison Ladman, baker and owner of The Crust & Crumb Baking Company. “Maybe it’s not the best pie. Maybe you could make it better.”
Instead of clinging to what you know for the sake of upholding tradition, take a step back and evaluate the components that make up a Thanksgiving meal. You certainly don’t have to do away with sweet potatoes, green beans, pumpkins and stuffing — after all, you’ve waited all year to revel in those flavors — but why not give it a little twist?
“You don’t have to completely take all the traditional dishes and throw them aside,” said Tracey Couture-Fitts, executive chef and general manager at Funktion Spirits & Spoonfuls. “Think about who your guests are and your family and how traditional they are, but I think everyone likes to try something new every once in a while.”
She said the most important part of Thanksgiving is family, but turkey is a close second for some. 
“Everybody wants to see the turkey on the table,” she said. “So do the turkey, but as far as the sides that go with it, why not change it up and just see what else you can come up with?”
 
The main meat
There are stark and subtle ways to jazz up the meal’s leading dish — the turkey. There’s no question that most people will want to eat turkey (and lots of it), but oven-roasted and served on a platter isn’t the only way. 
Why not make a turkey pot pie, open-faced turkey sandwiches or turkey chili served in a roasted pumpkin? As Liz Barbour, chef and owner of The Creative Feast in Hollis, says, that’s “about as Thanksgiving as it gets.”
You could impress your guests with turkey roulade, a rolled and roasted stuffed turkey breast. Recently, executive chef Matt Provencher played with the idea of serving turkey roulade as part of a special dinner at The Foundry and thinks it would make for a nice presentation on the Thanksgiving table. 
“The idea was get the turkeys, clean them up, and then cut the breast off, filet them out and then stuff it with confit turkey legs,” he said. 
While more advanced recipes are not for everyone, brave souls looking to take up the challenge can also confit the whole turkey, which Provencher and his wife did for their first Thanksgiving together.
“But most people don’t have two and a half gallons of duck fat sitting around,” he said. 
Another option is to bone out the turkey, which yields a much smoother cooking process.
“You try to keep it completely whole and you roll it back up and tie it so you get pretty much like a boneless whole turkey,” he said. “The goal is to get one even cylinder so it will cook a lot smoother, a lot easier, and it’s just not this massive bird.” 
If you still prefer the more traditional form, try mixing up what flavors the turkey, like Sky Meadow Country Club executive chef Joe Drift did over the summer with his turkey with lobster stuffing.
“I’ve added sausage to it, shrimp, lobster,” he said of the stuffing. “I’ve kicked it up [in] other ways like that.”
Or lessen the burden by cooking sections of a turkey, not the entire bird.
“Roast just the breast,” Barbour said. “The benefit of that is you have a very specific [section], only cooking the breast meat so you know you’re not going to overcook. Getting just the turkey breast on the bone is a really great option.”
If you’re really looking to take the meal in a whole new direction, try polenta, a cornmeal-based dish that can take many forms.
“I love using polenta as a main course,” Couture-Fitts said. “You could cool it and press it and kind of cut it up into whatever size piece you want. You can oven-fry it after that, [or] you can pan-sear it after that. It’s really versatile.” 
Once it’s mixed, polenta can be a canvas for myriad flavor options, like roasted squash or wilted baby spinach. 
“You kind of look outside the box a little bit and say, ‘Well, that would be a really nice main course for someone that doesn’t want to have the turkey,’” she said.
As one who doesn’t eat meat and also hosts Thanksgiving every year, Couture-Fitts is always looking for ways to add alternative dishes that appeal to both vegetarians and meat-eaters. 
“I try and make it so that people will eat a little bit of everything,” she said. “And a lot of people are trying to do less meat, so introducing them a little bit [to] those options is nice.”
 
On the side
If you’re looking to try out a new recipe or make an alteration to a traditional one, doing so with a side dish may be the best way to cycle in a change to the Thanksgiving lineup, because even if it’s not a big hit, there are still plenty of standard sides to choose from. 
Couture-Fitt’s family always held a big, traditional dinner and since taking on the role of host, she’s not only added in dishes — like sweet potato au gratin, Brussels sprouts with maple and bacon and harvest quinoa salad with cranberries and pine nuts — but improved on the ones she grew up with, like mashed potatoes.
“When I make mine it’s definitely the salt and pepper, butter, [but] I put cream cheese in my mashed potatoes, I put garlic in my mashed potatoes, I put chives in them, and just depending on who’s coming sometimes there’s bacon in those mashed potatoes [to] just bring out more flavor,” she said.
If you want to mix spices and other ingredients into mashed potatoes or another vegetable dish but aren’t sure what flavors to use, set a small dish aside while making the big batch and toss things in for a taste test. 
“If it comes out great then just mix the whole batch,” Couture-Fitts said, and if not just go back to the plain or try a new combination. “And every chef will tell you, that’s what we do the whole time — we taste everything.” 
Cranberry sauce has a classic “tart sweet flavor” that’s perfectly suited for complementing savory sides and main courses, Barbour said, but often comes with followers that draw a hard line in the sand in terms of what makes cranberry sauce cranberry sauce. “So you have to respect that,” she said. “Some people are very particular.” If you do have a little wiggle room, play up the sweet aspect by adding frozen raspberries for a fruitier flavor or make it savory with rosemary. You can also add cranberries to a number of side dishes or even mix them in with applesauce, Barbour said. 
Green beans are another vegetable side good for playing around with flavors. Barbour shifted away from her mother’s standard with almonds in favor of an Asian-inspired dish with fresh green beans, rosemary and soy sauce, while Provencher redesigned his grandmother’s traditional green bean casserole (she made it with canned green beans and cream of mushroom soup).
“That’s one of my favorites and that brings me back to childhood,” he said. “We get fresh green beans, blanch them off, get really nice mushrooms, saute them up, do it with heavy cream, reduce it down, make it our own cream of mushroom soup, then mix that in a little flash-fried onions on the top,” he said. 
Though a green bean casserole is a must-have for his Thanksgiving table, he’s all for incorporating often overlooked local fall produce, like beets.
“I love beets,” he said. “You know whether it’s roasted, candied, pickled.” 
And while he loves butternut squash as much as the next chef, he said other winter squashes would make a nice addition, such as the Long Island cheese pumpkins and red kuris he recently had piled high in The Foundry’s kitchen window.
“The red kuris are my favorite. It’s a really dense squash, really flavorful,” he said. “We can take one of those, split it open, roast it, mash it up.” 
Drift maintains dish loyalty to his stuffing, making the same one each year with celery, onions, carrots, leeks and a few types of bread (savory herb, garlic and Portuguese sweet bread).
A true “New England boy,” he does like to keep the traditional flavors present in some form, but is intrigued by the idea of having an entirely non-traditional Thanksgiving. 
“I think what I may do one year for my family [is] just not tell them and not have turkey and everything and it would be something to talk about for years,” he said. “No mashed potatoes or stuffing.”
But until he decides to execute that dinner experiment, Drift makes sure to cook all of the standards, but with a keen eye toward presentation.
“Presentation is really important,” he said. “Not as much as taste, but I always work on presentation, because anyone can throw some asparagus on a cassarole dish, but when you have a salted prosciutto and creamy goat cheese, it’s kind of colorful on the plate.”
Home cooks need not be intimidated to plate their dishes. It could be as simple as adding a small garnish instead of just piling produce on a plate. 
“Like for example, if you were doing … squash with dried cranberries, instead of chopping it up fine, put the cranberries in at the end and slice the sage a little differently so you can see it so there’s more visual,” he said.
 
Sweet endings
Apple and pumpkin pies are the go-to Thanksgiving desserts. If you love those flavors but still yearn for something new, switch up the format. 
Ladman suggested serving baked apples, stuffed apples or apple crisp instead of an apple pie or whoopie pies, muffins or tarts in lieu of the pumpkin pie.
“[You] don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel,” she said.
Add a bit of citrus to the pumpkin or play around with the ingredient amounts, increasing the amount of ginger or using maple syrup instead of sugar. 
“Maybe it’s not just a pumpkin pie, maybe it’s a maple pumpkin pie, maybe it’s a citrus pumpkin pie,” she said. “In my house growing up, one pumpkin pie was never enough. It was OK to have one of the pumpkin pies be a little different than all the other pumpkin pies because, you know, my brother ate a whole pie himself. He still does.” 
Though the main fruit of the dish may garner all the attention, Pasternak said it’s really the spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove) that make a Thanksgiving dessert. Keep to those flavors with a small leap of faith by adding spices to a chocolate dessert.
“Sometimes people I think are scared of pairing spices with chocolate, but cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, all of those nice, deep spices pair really nicely with chocolate,” Pasternak said. “You could do a spiced chocolate cake with a cranberry mousse [that] wouldn’t be too hard to do, but it would give you the flavors and a little variety.”
This time of year, she likes to incorporate everything from allspice and cayenne to clove and even orange into desserts. 
“It’s [orange] not a spice but a nice complement of flavors to brighten something really rich and heavy like chocolate. … It [also] offsets the sweetness in a pecan pie and complements the pumpkin.”
Regardless of which dish, or dishes, you want to change up this year, don’t be afraid to take a risk — sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. 
“Try something new, put something fun on the table,” Couture-Fitts said. “You never know what people are going to like, but you have to try.”  





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