Vegetables

Upside-Down Sides

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Everyone’s always on the lookout for holiday side dishes with a twist. Quite by accident, this year’s Thanksgiving table included sides that turned assumptions about certain ingredients upside down, offering savory  bites where sweet was expected, sweet where savory is  usually a given. It began with the cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Salsa “What is this? I’ve never had anything like it,” asked one dinner guest. This simple-to-prepare alternative to the usual sweet, forgettable cranberry sauce combines bright flavors: cranberries, pumpkin seeds, cilantro, jalapeno, green onion and line juice. It tastes fresh, not hot, works well with a variety of menus, and there’s no cooking required beyond some toasting of pumpkin seeds. Mix it up.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Chipotle — “These sweet potatoes are great. They’re not sweet,” said another diner. The Three Points cooks have long wondered why most recipes take an inherently sweet vegetable and douse it with even more sugar/maple syrup/marshmallows. A touch of chopped, canned chipotles in adobo adds a smoky undertone to mashed sweet potatoes. There’s no real recipe needed here; chipotles are added to taste. But do proceed with  caution, as the chipotle chilies are deceptively hot.

Carmelized Brussels Sprouts with Pecans — Who would have guessed that a bit of sweetness would turn up in the brussels sprouts? Shredding the sprouts makes the stovetop preparation quick and easy and maintains the color.

Marinated Beets with Horseradish — A vibrant dish that’s actually best made in advance. Oven-roasted beets (easy to cook, easy to peel) are dressed with olive oil, dijon mustard and horseradish.

Pumpkin-Thyme Dinner Rolls — And where’s the pumpkin? Why in the dinner rolls.  (Also great for appetizers with a blue cheese spread.)

These gorgeous, jewel-toned dishes surrounded the centerpiece:

Roast Turkey with Pancetta-Sage Gravy —  liberal application of a pancetta-butter blend with sage and Parmesan (or as we like to call it, bacon-and-cheese butter) infused the turkey with a slightly porky, umami essence. The wonderfully moist bird produced gravy so lip-smackingly rich that guests drained every last drop from the serving dish, thankful, each and every one, for the opportunity.

Thanks also to Chez Kate for the Unruly Cellars house red, from Spanish grapes blended with Spanish expertise.

menu

Pie in the Sky

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Thanks, indeed for a beautiful, crisp and clear fall day for the first Thanksgiving at Kate’s first home. This year’s gathering of international and food-obsessed guests was reflected in the menu that blended traditional elements with the tastes of Mexico and the British Isles.

Here’s the menu:

 

  • Squash on Toast.  Amelia took this a step higher by making her own baguettes.
  • Crab and Artichoke Dip
  • Roast Turkey with Chipotle and Apple
  • Chestnut and Tart Apple Dressing
  • Potato-Tomatillo Gratin. A cooking class two days before Thanksgiving, and taught by the charming Eliza Gonzalez, inspired this dish. We took the potato filling from stuffed jalapenos — combining potatoes, garlic, tomatillos and ricotta cheese — and turned it into a gratin for the table (and potato pancakes the next day).
  • Braised Cabbage, with apples and clove.
  • Roasted Beets with Garlic and Cream.
  • Bread Sauce, another British Christmas favorite that was new to the table, a simple sauce heady with clove.
  • Cranberry Salsa with Chilies and Cilantro.
  • Green Bean Casserole. Yup, the delicious, old-school dish we know from childhood, complete with crispy canned onions on top.
  • Little Balls of Happiness (Julia Child’s Oignons Glacés a Blanc).
  • Mocha-Pecan Pie, now our gang’s traditional dessert.
  • Apple Tart. Listening to an NPR special on Julia Child gave us the idea to make an apple tart with souped-up apple flavor. She put fresh apples on homemade applesauce. We laid them over apple butter and brushed them with apple jelly. A tasting of the Genepi liqueur brought from a friend’s home region in France provide the inspiration for a glaze touched with that herbal Alpine liqueur.
  • Cranberry and Pear Hand Pies with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

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Big Yellow Taxi Took Away All My Hunger

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I once had a colleague who, on a late-summer day, announced he was having a tomato for lunch. Not a tomato salad, or tomato soup, or a tomato on a sandwich, but simply a tomato, sliced on a plate and eaten with the loving care that a perfect summer beauty deserved. He wasn’t a particular food fanatic or an obsessive-compulsive of any sort. Rather, he cited the all-tomato menu a local restaurant had concocted to show off the new crop, and how he’d been inspired by the appetizer-to-dessert offering. Of course we teased him mercilessly anyway.  How could we not, in all his tomato-lunch gravity?

I was reminded of him this evening, standing over my cutting board, slicing up a few of the new varieties purchased at the greenmarket this afternoon with the realization that chances to do so were dwindling.  It wasn’t my intention to eat them plain, but then there was a piece of the small, oblong, orange-colored Valencia, so tangy I could swear it had been salted on the vine, and there was no turning back. Slices of the sweeter Big Yellow Taxi did make it onto a B(no L)T sandwich on Épicerie Boulud’s improbable Sauerkraut Bread. But the zippy little round Green Zebras were perfect all on their own.

A late summer tomato meal is perfection. Michael, this one’s for you.

Cake and Crema

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You’ve probably seen those jars in the dairy aisle, next to the sour cream or cream cheese. Something called crema — from Mexico, or Salvador, or Guatemala, or even L.A.  And you’ve likely wondered what it was, or how exactly it was different from the nearby cream and/or sour cream. Well, stop wondering and pick up a jar. Crema is a wonderful addition to the repertoire, easily swapped for that sour cream, crème fraiche, cream or yogurt in dishes both savory and sweet. It has the texture of a thick cream, or a thinned sour cream; the tang of sour cream, but with a lighter acidity; the lightness of crème fraiche, but with a bit more salt to land it on the savory side.

The Three Points cooks first tried it out some time back when gathering ingredients for a scalloped potatoes dish. Finding ourselves at a grocery in a largely Hispanic neighborhood, and looking at the array of crema brands in the cooler, we decided to give it a try. Used in place of milk, crema produced a wonderfully creamy, rich, and slightly tangy version of scalloped potatoes. The guests loved it.

Last weekend we once again found ourselves face-to-face with an array of crema, this time at the local supermarket (proof that Latin products are becoming increasingly easy to find at mainstream stores). We’d stopped in to get some cream for a chocolate ganache, but we again looked at the dairy case, exchanged glances, and said, “Why not?” The resulting ganache for our four-layer Black and White Chocolate Butter Cake was so good — reminiscent of a sour cream chocolate frosting — that we opted to frost the sides of the cake with it instead of just using it for filling (a beautiful brown sugar buttercream went on top).

Then, taking a cue from the traditional use of crema as a topping for fish tacos, enchiladas and other Mexican/Latin American dishes, we drizzled some into the fresh Red Okra Soup, where it proved a perfect match to the soups smoky heat.

It’s just the beginning.

Remember. Crema.

Living on Cayman Time

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Three-Cubed Project

The Book: The Governor’s Lady,  by Joan Hall Scott

My colleague Katie handed over the cookbook with an apology: “Sorry, some of the pages are stained.” No need to apologize for that, I assured her. Cookbooks with stained pages are evidence of frequent, loving use.

The cookbook in question does indeed come with love. The Governor’s Lady: Entertainment & Recipes at Government House, The Cayman Islands, 1987-1992, was written by Katie’s grandmother, Joan Hall Scott, whose husband served as the last British Colonial Service Governor of the Caymans. I expected a collection of traditional Cayman and British menus, which are there. But The Governor’s Lady is more a story of its author’s own lifelong pursuit of new cuisines and new cultures. She studied anthropology, and lived in Morocco, Fiji, Hong Kong, Japan, Italy and Provence, before settling recently in England.  The presentation of her recipes, with a side of wry social commentary, gives me a new appreciation for cooking as an anthropological endeavor. 

I’ve never met Katie’s grandmother. But judging from her cookbook, I think we’d get along splendidly She too, became curious about different cuisines and cultures at an early age, in opposition to her staid and rather unimaginative upbringing, in Philadelphia. (Her first chapter, “Genesis of a Passionate Cook” really rang a bell.) And her culinary explorations mirror my own in an astounding way. I know well and have tried variations on many of the recipes in The Governor’s Lady — from Turkish Red Lentil and Mint Soup to Normandy Pork (doused in Calvados and cream) to Rogan Josh from Northern India.  In fact, given that I’ve picked up many of them not from my own  travels, but through the globe-trotting ways of my compatriots Kate and Robin. Ms. Scott could become an honorary member of the Three Point Kitchen without even trying.

Sad to say, there’s not much chance of trying one of the recipes that most exemplifies the Caymans — Turtle Soup— without some serious work  tracking down the main ingredient. But turning to page 127 of this slim volume lands us on Caymanian Baked Fish,  a lovely dish for entertaining that the author recommends serving with Spiced Sweet Potatoes (true to form, The Governor’s Lady prefers savory sweet potatoes, just like me) or Braised Yellow Squash and Bacon (like Kate and Robin, she is not afraid to douse things in bacon).

 

 

Eastover Offerings

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Easter Eggs 2012 (photo Three Points Kitchen)

A dinner companion the other evening recalled his childhood in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where dishes for the Passover seder were prepared by the housekeeper. Like a scene out of The Help, she’d then turn around and make the family’s recipes, like  kugel, for her own church suppers, calling it Easter dressing.

It was the perfect anecdote for a weekend with a mashup of the Jewish and Christian calendars that people in the New York region had taken to calling “Eastover.” Around these parts, gatherings for either Passover or Easter invariably include friends and relatives of varying religious backgrounds.  So the table this Sunday included recipes that recognized both holidays:

  • Lois’ Mother’s Matzo Ball Soup These knaidlach (matzo balls) are of the fluffy variety, with whipped egg whites folded in to lighten the batter.  With a nod to contemporary tastes and food resources, the usual parsley was replaced with a mix of fresh dill and cilantro and a bit of ground ginger for zing.
  • Coffee-Cola Baked Ham — In the Southern tradition, poured a cola over the ham (using Boylan’s Cane Cola in place of the typical Pepsi, or Coca-Cola, depending upon your regional cola allegiance) along with the last of the morning’s coffee that is the origin of red-eye gravy.
  • Potato-Mushroom Kugel Fresh garlic —  looking much like scallions — and a touch of marjoram bumped up the seasoning in this Jewish staple.
  • Salad of Green Beans – The beautiful celadon-green color of Spanish Verdina beans screamed out for a place on the Eastover table. The lovely, creamy beans were cooked on their own, then tossed with some of the minced greens of the fresh garlic, chopped celery, dill and an olive-oil/lemon juice dressing. Served at room temperature.
  • Roasted Cabbage – A Martha Stewart recipe brought to our attention via Pinterest, with the reaction: Why have we not thought of this before? Simple green cabbage, cut into thick slices, drizzled with olive oil and set in the oven to roast while the ham and kugel baked. Like other roasted vegetables, cabbage turns into a real sweety.
  • Blackerry-Ginger Sorbet – Frozen blackberry pulp served as a base. Simply mix the defrosted puree with sugar to taste, add a touch of lemon juice if desired, and some minced fresh ginger (in this case we substituted a couple drops of the magnificent Fresh Ginger Chef’s Essence from Atelier Perfumes) Churn according to your ice-cream maker’s directions. A dollop of creme fraiche on top proved the perfect, refreshing touch for after chocolate Easter bunny consumption, while also meeting the needs of those avoiding leavened desserts for Passover.

Beyond Pumpkin Pie

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This year’s Thanksgiving feast chez Kate focused on new combinations of  traditional ingredients. Case in point: to liven up the pumpkin portion of the meal, Kate served up fresh-baked Slow-Rising Pumpkin-Thyme Dinner Rolls. Warm from the oven, they were a lovely way to start the dinner, spread with some Cheddar-Cava Spread and a glass of sparkling Chevalier Cremant de Bourgogne.

Alongside the Roasted Turkey.

Pumpkin made a final appearance in the form of Ginger-Pumpkin Cheese Tart, spiced up with a cheesecake-style filling, fresh ginger and gingersnap crust, along with the can’t-do-without Mocha Pecan Pie. Simplify the latter recipe a bit by using the pie crust recipe of your choice and basic whipped cream; the filling itself shines by cutting the usual toothache-inducing sweetness of pecan pie through addition of espresso and cocoa.

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Great Pumpkin

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Our book club sometimes confuses itself with a food club. Oh, we read. And we take the books and our discussion seriously. But over time, we have moved from a simple rule of having the hostess provide snacks and wine for the evening to full-on dinner. And sometimes then some.

The November club fell into the then-some category. Erica wowed the crew with an over-the-top baked pumpkin stuffed with all things delicious–Emmenthal cheese, fried bacon, bread chunks, loads of garlic, cream and scallions. A hybrid of fondue and bread pudding, cooked in a whole pumpkin, the end result is a spectacular sight when pulled from the oven.

And… it tastes as good as it looks. To serve, the cheesy concoction is dipped from its vessel along with a healthy scraping of delicious roast pumpkin — a nice balance to the richness of the filling.

Served with a green salad, it made for a delightful and filling winter dinner. Not to mention a major distraction to the real reason we had gathered.

Salt Air and Farm Stands

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Little inspires the Three Points cooks more than the late summer abundance of farm-fresh produce. Except maybe the opportunity to cook it up in a spectacular venue filled with food-loving folks. For Saturday’s dinner, Sally Hershberger generously opened up her Hamptons home and kitchen, complete with beautiful vistas on two sides—an immaculately clean Viking range on the right and sweeping ocean views to the left.

Surely, anything tastes good in such a setting, but we came armed with a cooler full of items gathered over stops at virtually every farm stand from Sag Harbor to Amagansett. Our charming hostess for the weekend, Jane Berliner, was particular about supporting the true local farmers’ stands, and we wholeheartedly agreed, grabbing armloads of corn, potatoes, tomatoes, leeks, basil, eggplant and zucchini blossoms.

The centerpiece, a just-off-the-line filet of striped bass (obtained from the ramshackle seaside operation run by a locally famous bearded-lady fish monger) that needed nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil, some fresh dill and a few careful minutes in the oven. No overcooking this precious baby! Topped with a quick sauce of sautéed leeks and garlic, tossed with colorful heirloom cherry tomatoes, a splash of white wine vinegar and a few basil leaves, then just warmed through.

On the side:

  • Janie’s Crack Corn. Jane took the lead with her version of Mexican corn-on-the-cob. The day’s pick was parboiled, then finished on the grill before rolling in mayonnaise seasoned with lots of cumin, chile powder, chopped fresh jalapeno and lime, with a sprinkling of ricotta salata.
  • Mashed Potatoes with Mushrooms and Leeks. Some of the sautéed leek and garlic mix from the tomato sauce was reserved and combined with cremini mushrooms, dill, white wine and a generous twist of pepper. Kate’s inspiration results in a kind of mashed potato stroganoff. Even the littlest diners at the table asked for seconds.
  • Basil Roasted Eggplant. Striped globe eggplants were cut into large dice and tossed with basil oil, made by simply steeping a handful of chopped basil in about a half cup of olive oil for an hour or so.
  • Cheese-Filled Squash Blossoms. Zucchini blossoms stuffed with herbed cheese (the basil, again, stirred into fresh farmer’s cheese mixed with Boursin), dipped in egg and cornmeal flour, then skillet fried. The key here was the ultra-fine, light-as-air cornmeal flour another of our hosts carries back from visits to her native Alabama. The fine flour creates a tempura-like batter. Frying in a cast-iron skillet is recommended, naturally.

We could have been content with just a platter of those sizable, late-summer blossoms, sipping a glass of wine and gazing at the slice of red moon hovering just above the water.

Although we were already looking forward to breakfast the next morning—fried cornmeal (aka corn pone, more of that amazing Alabama cornmeal flour simply mixed with water and salt, then dropped into hot oil, like fritters) à la Treva Walden, improbably paired with French fries and chicken/apple sausages topped with some maple syrup. Apparently, it’s how they do breakfast in Alabama, and we can’t argue with that.

Chowdah Head

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This is probably going to get me barred from New England, but I have to confess: I do not like clam chowder. I blame my landlubbing ancestors, who migrated from several landlocked locales and (deliberately, probably to spite me) settled in this country as far from the sea as possible.  My family’s evolution among grain crops, cattle and hogs has given me the genetic mutation to process a whole lot of meat and cereals in a single day but has left me with little taste for shellfish.

Add to that the violent reaction to mussels I have developed since arriving on the East Coast, and not only do I not enjoy bivalves in any form, I also fear them.

I am not opposed, however, to the concept of chowder. Creamy, potato-laden, a little spicy, chowder is a versatile foil for many flavors, none of them shell-fishy if you do not want them to be. And the best, in my humble opinion, is corn chowder. It showcases the summer harvest at its peak and must be eaten this time of the year, despite the heat.

My version features fresh sweet corn balanced by smoky bacon and a hit of chipotle chile. And conjuring up memories of amazing corn on the cob I had ages ago in Peru, I garnish the soup with a dollop of salsa de perejil (Peruvian parsley sauce), which gives the chowder a boost of freshness and a green balance to the richness of the cream and bacon fat.

This recipe also makes loads and freezes well—so there’s plenty to have summer in a bowl in a few months, when it makes more sense to be eating soup.