Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clementine & Pomegranate Salad with Avocado

As we enter our annual season of indulging in overly rich—and too often sweet—foods, today I thought I would share a recipe that is neither of these things....yet at the same time is eminently "of the season". It is a recipe for a simple and refreshing salad filled with Clementine pinwheels and pomegranate seeds.

Clementines (and their relatives in the Mandarin Orange and Tangerine families) come into season during the fall and continue through the winter months. Even though I eat them all winter long, I associate them particularly with Christmas. Apparently there is good reason for my association: according to Wikipedia they are at their seasonal peak during the month of December.

It is only in recent years that they have become widely available, but now, when they are in season, grocery stores of every size boast large, prominent displays of small crates that are filled with these juicy, sweet and seedless little fruits. So small, you can eat two or three in one sitting, they look beautiful mounded into a big bowl. They make a simple and lovely table centerpiece. And for a holiday dessert, you could do worse than offering those Clementines alongside a few soft, sweet Medjool dates and a saucer of freshly roasted almonds.

In my mind, pomegranates too, are a Christmas fruit. Also available throughout the fall and winter, their bright red color makes them particularly appropriate for the holiday. They can be eaten as a snack...or sprinkled over your breakfast yogurt.

But where they really shine is in a salad—whether the salad is fruit, lettuce or grain-based.

For years I only occasionally enjoyed pomegranate seeds because extracting them from their leathery skin and crumbly white interior membrane seemed like such a tedious activity. In the past couple of years I have noticed that the cleaned seeds (also called arils) are available in the cold prepared foods section of many grocery stores. This of course makes them much easier to eat, but for some reason I have never purchased them this way. Then, I came across a description in Yotam Ottolenghi's book Plenty of how to quickly and efficiently extract pomegranate seeds from their tight little case. This method is so fast and easy, I can't believe it isn't more widely known.

To remove the seeds from a pomegranate, first cut the pomegranate in half horizontally (through the "equator").

Hold one half over a bowl with the cut side against your palm. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, begin to knock on the pomegranate skin.

Continue tapping with increasing force (although not so hard the seeds are bruised) until the seeds have all naturally fallen out and into the bowl (they should fall through your fingers). Once the seeds have ceased to fall, turn the half over and flex the skin inside out to pick out any seeds that remain embedded in the membrane...there shouldn't be too many. Repeat with the second half. Finally, pick through the seeds in the bowl to remove any bits of white skin and membrane that may have fallen in.

I would only add a couple of things to this brilliant method.  First, wear an apron.  There may be some splattering of the juices and pomegranate juice will stain.  Secondly, the first time you utilize this method, be patient.  When you begin, you will think nothing is happening.  But as you continue to rap—rotating the pomegranate half in your hand so that you are rapping all over the skin's surface—the seeds will begin to fall one by one.  Then, they will begin to rain out in abundance. 

You will be astonished at the speed of this method—it should only take two or three minutes. There is no longer any excuse not to enjoy pomegranate seeds. And a great place to start would be in this salad.

If you like to entertain, this salad would make a perfect first course for a holiday dinner party. With the exception of the avocado, all the pieces of this salad can be prepared you can focus on your guests and the other elements of your meal. And best of all its bright, festive and refreshing presence will be a welcome sight for guests who have already had more than their fill for the season of heavy and rich holiday foods.

 Clementine & Pomegranate Salad with Avocado

1 1/2 T. white (or golden) Balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 t. Dijon Mustard
1 t. Clementine zest
salt & pepper
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil

1 to 1 1/4 lbs. Clementines (or other seedless variety of Mandarin Orange or Tangerine)
2 large ripe, but not too soft, avocados (preferably Haas)
8 small handfuls of mixed baby lettuces (about 5 to 6 oz.)
3/4 to 1 c. Pomegranate seeds from one medium pomegranate

Make the vinaigrette: Place the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, zest and 1/4 t. salt in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth. While whisking, add the olive oil in a thin stream. You should obtain a lightly thickened emulsified vinaigrette. Taste and correct the balance and seasoning. The vinaigrette should be sharp (to balance the sweetness of the fruits).

Prepare the Clementines: Cut the stem and blossom ends from the fruit. Place each fruit cut side down on the cutting board and following the contour of the fruit with your knife, remove the peel and cottony pith—working from top to bottom, and rotating the fruit as you go. When the Clementines are all peeled, slice them cross-wise into 1/4-inch pinwheels. Set aside.

When you are ready to make the salad, halve the avocados and remove the pit and peel. If you like, cut each half in half lengthwise (to obtain a quarter).  Slice the avocado halves (or quarters) cross-wise into 1/4-inch slices. Drizzle with a bit of the vinaigrette and season with salt & pepper.

Place the greens in a large bowl and season with salt & pepper. Drizzle in a small amount of vinaigrette. Toss the greens with the vinaigrette, adding more vinaigrette if necessary, until all of the leaves are coated with a light film of dressing.

Place half of the greens on a large platter. Nestle half of the avocado slices and Clementine pinwheels into the greens, being careful not to flatten the greens. Scatter half of the pomegranate seeds over all. Arrange the rest of the greens on top, and tuck the remaining avocado slices and Clementine pinwheels into the salad, again scattering the pomegranate seeds over all. Drizzle with some of the remaining vinaigrette, if you like. (Alternatively, build the salad on individual salad plates.)

Serves 6 to 8

  • The amounts of Clementine, avocado, salad greens and pomegranate are only a guideline.   The idea is to make a salad that is abundant with fruit.
  • The vinaigrette for this salad is, as noted in the recipe, quite sharp.  If your pomegranate and Clementine are on the acidic side, consider softening the vinaigrette with a little extra oil or the addition of a teaspoon or so of honey. 

Printable Recipe

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pizza from the remains of the cheese platter....and a mystery....

In her book Cooking with the Seasons, Monique Jamet Hooker shares a recipe for a warm potato salad from her days at a French boarding school. The salad is made with the leftover ends of Camembert cheese. This sort of recipe makes sense in a culture where a daily cheese course—particularly at a school—might produce lots of little ends (plein de petits bouts) of cheese. Unfortunately Americans do not routinely pass a cheese platter. Consequently they don't have a great need for recipes using up the little ends. I make a version of her delicious salad, but I go out and buy a round of Camembert when I want to make it.

Americans do like to have cheese platters when they entertain. And the season for parties is now upon us. Just this past week I served a small cheese platter to a group of friends. I love cheese—I eat it most days for lunch—but even with my larger than average consumption of cheese, I was left with more than I would normally be able to consume. In the end I decided on a cheese based pizza—a variation on a Kale, Pancetta & Goat Cheese Pizza that I posted this summer.  But I could have made a cheese soufflé....Macaroni and Cheese or some variation thereof... Basically any cooked dish where an interesting blend of cheeses would be welcome would have worked. In general, you should never feel tied down to the exact cheeses listed in a recipe (unless you are aiming for an exact taste). For a recipe that will be cooked, as long as the cheeses you use melt well, go well with one another and go well with the other ingredients in the recipe, your final result should be delicious.

And my pizza was delicious. I left the bacon out, blanched, squeezed and chopped the kale before adding it to half of a caramelized diced red onion, layered in a couple tablespoons of pine nuts when I topped the pizza and used the ends (about 6 oz. total) of some soft goat cheese, a Spanish Mahon and a favorite cheese from Cypress Grove called Midnight Moon.

If you happen to have the remains of a holiday cheese platter on your hands, I encourage you to give this pizza a try. But the pizza really isn't the reason for today's post. Rather, today I want to share a bit of culinary mystery. I don't have the solution and am curious if anyone else has ever had a similar experience or if someone of a scientific bent can give me an explanation.

If you look carefully at the picture of my kale pizza you will notice that the kale is bleeding deep green into the cheese (and even dying some of the pine nuts green). The taste of the pizza is not affected, but the appearance is—to me at least—a bit unappetizing.

The only other time this has ever happened to me was for a class. I was teaching my Savory Bread Pudding with Chestnuts and Kale. Unfortunately in this case the effect was much more pronounced. I was preparing the tasting portion of pudding.  When I added the cooked kale to the bowl of bread and custard and began to fold, the entire contents of the bowl turned brilliant green—not army green—but a brilliant, teal green. Even the baked version of the pudding retained this astonishing color. (Since it was a holiday dish, you could have said it looked quite festive....but this really wasn't my goal.) In every other respect, the pudding was normal.

Then, during class, using the exact same ingredients (kale purchased in the same place and I assume from the same case), the demonstration batch of the pudding behaved as it always had—no bleeding whatsoever. The only difference between the two batches was that the kale I used on the tasting batch had not had time to cool completely. The kale I used in the demonstration batch was thoroughly cool when I added it. Because of this difference, I assumed that the bleeding had occurred because the cooked kale needed to be totally cool before being added to something else.

I completely forgot about all of this until the other evening when the cheese on my pizza turned green. My kitchen was cool and the kale had been sitting for a while before I put it on the pizza (I was able to spread it with my hands). While not cold, the kale mixture was definitely cool. I was a bit dismayed when I opened the oven and saw that brilliant, shimmery green color bleeding into the cheeses.

I do have one final bit of information that might aid in discovering the solution to my mystery: Typically I have two methods that I use when preparing kale. The first I generally use with young kale. With this method, the washed kale is added directly to a pan of hot oil. It is allowed to collapse and then cook in the oil (which can include onions, garlic, etc.) until it is completely tender. The second method, which I typically use with more mature kales, begins by first blanching the kale in rapidly boiling salted water until it is tender. The tender kale is transferred to baking sheets where it cools. Once cool, I squeeze out as much of the excess water as possible. The squeezed kale is briefly cooked in a bit of oil (which often includes onion, garlic, etc.). This final sauté removes any remaining water and adds flavor. Both times when the kale has bled green into the rest of the ingredients, I have prepared it using the second method. But I use this method a lot (Butternut Squash & Kale Quiche, Kale & Potato Spanish Tortilla, and Baked Pasta with Kale & Chicken—another great place to use up your leftover chunks of cheese), and you can see from the pictures on these posts that the kale didn't bleed in any of these instances.

So, there you have culinary mystery. I hope no one minds the departure from my typical format today...I promise to post a recipe in my next post...but I would really like to understand what might be causing this interesting phenomenon.  If anyone knows....or has an idea....or has experienced the same...I would love to hear about it. 

Yes, it was slightly green....but it was delicious....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Marinated Olives

My maternal grandmother's Thanksgiving spread would not have been complete without a relish tray. Unfortunately it was filled with things that as a child I had no desire to eat. I was admittedly a picky eater, but to this day I am loth to consume celery stuffed with anything. There was also almost always something called a watermelon rind pickle. I confess I never once tasted it. Its appearance—glistening, semi-translucent chunks of pale, whitish green—was enough to put me off.

I don't know how old I was when I discovered the black olives, but once tasted I was hooked (maybe I should have tasted those watermelon pickles). They were not fancy olives—just the ubiquitous tinned, pitted California olives—but I loved them. Whenever my grandmother started to put together "the relish tray" I would hang around waiting for the can of olives to be opened so I could sneak some before dinner. It was not long before I expanded my horizons to the big green pimento-stuffed Spanish Olives that also made an appearance on her relish tray. I loved their salty tang so much I was even willing to eat the pimento.

As an adult I have continued to taste my way through the world of olives, happily sampling any olive I am presented with. I was in olive heaven in the South of France. The stalls of the olive vendors at the markets there are loaded with black and green olives of every shade, marinated in all manner of tasty aromatic ingredients. The olive bars in most of my local super markets...even Whole Foods...are meager in comparison.

Fortunately, making your own marinated olives is extremely easy. There are recipes all over the web, but you don't really need a recipe. Just visit the store with the largest selection of olives at their olive bar and pick and choose until you have a nice medley (or you could just go with one favorite—my current favorite is Castelvetrano). When you get home, remove the olives from their brine (if they are in one) and place in a large bowl. Toss them with your marinade, cover and refrigerate for a day or two, pulling them out occasionally to give them a stir. Bring them to room temperature before serving.

Here is my favorite (at least for now) marinade: Drain four cups of olives (pitted or not) and place them in a medium-sized bowl. Place a half cup of olive oil in a small saucepan. Add several sprigs of rosemary, some whole fennel seed (1/2 to 1 t.), a pinch of hot pepper flakes (as much or as little as you like), 2 or 3 bay leaves and 4 or 5 cloves of peeled garlic (if they are very fat, use 2 or 3 and halve them lengthwise). Using a vegetable peeler, remove several strips of zest (about 3- by 1/2-inch each) from an orange and a lemon—about 4 or 5 strips of orange and 2 or 3 strips of lemon is about right. Be careful to remove just the zest and as little of the white pith as possible (the pith is bitter). Add the strips of zest to the oil with the other ingredients. Over moderate heat, warm the marinade until all of the ingredients are gently sizzling.

Remove from the heat and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes to infuse the oil with the flavor of the aromatic ingredients. Pour the warm marinade over the drained olives, folding to make sure the ingredients are well combined. Let cool if necessary before covering and transferring to the refrigerator.

I love the look of these olives with the large pieces of zest and herbs and garlic. But if you prefer, you could finely julienne the strips of zest and mince the rosemary and garlic. You could substitute thyme for the rosemary....or coriander seed for the fennel....a star anise or two would be an interesting addition. The last time I made these I didn't have any un-zested lemons in the house. So instead I julienned a piece of preserved lemon and added this to the mix.

It was delicious. Next time I will add more....  The "recipe" really should only be a guideline. The idea is to give the olives a chance to sit in an oil infused with flavors that you love in combination with olives.

Your own "house"-marinated olives would make an excellent addition to your Thanksgiving celebration. Although, if you have small children around, it might be a good idea to include a small bowl of those mild California black olives (just plain...without any marinade). While not what I would choose to eat now, they paved the way for a future filled with olive delights.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Butternut Squash & Black Bean Burritos

I taught a class this week featuring quick weeknight meals for the holiday season. Even though the focus of the class was "quick", it was nice to observe as I shopped for the class that my cart was mostly filled with produce. At a time of year when everyone is too busy to cook dinner and probably eating way too much rich and sweet stuff, I was glad to be able to contribute some ideas for satisfying and truly nourishing meals—all made without processed foodstuffs and all of which can be prepared in an hour or less. One of the recipes was the Broccoli Cheese Soup I posted last month. Today I thought I would share another favorite—Butternut Squash & Black Bean Burritos.

These burritos have been part of my repertoire for several years now. The original recipe is from the Rolling Prairie Cookbook. Written by my friend Nancy O'Connor (who is the director of education and outreach at The Community Mercantile in Lawrence, Kansas where I teach the majority of my cooking classes) and published in support of the Rolling Prairie Farmers' Alliance CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), it is tailor made for people who have signed up for a CSA and then have no idea what to do with some of the vegetables that arrive in their share each week. This book is filled with great ideas for the vegetables and fruits that thrive in the Midwestern United States. If you live in Kansas or Missouri and are a member of a CSA, you should own a copy of this book.

One of the good things about this recipe is that it easily falls into the category of what I call a "pantry" dinner. All of the ingredients are items that store well in the refrigerator or pantry—hard winter squash, onions and garlic, beans (canned or dried), spices, cheese and flour tortillas. No special run to the store for perishables is required. My favorite accompaniment to this dish is an apple salad or simple slaw

—both of which can be quickly made from items that have a lengthy life in the refrigerator. It occurred to me the other day that a classic cranberry sauce or spicy cranberry chutney (something everyone will have on hand over the next couple of weeks) would be a delicious accompaniment, too.

If you are going to bake the burritos in the oven after they have been formed, this recipe will probably take longer than an hour from start to finish (my criteria for all of the recipes I taught in my "quick meals" class). But I have described a shortcut (in the notes at the end of the recipe) that you can use to trim your prep time down to under an hour. If you plan ahead, you can cut your time down even further by dicing the squash a day or two ahead of time and storing it in a covered container in the refrigerator. If you are using dried instead of canned beans, these can be made ahead as well.

With a simple Waldorf Salad

Before I end today's post, I want to encourage everyone to check out my Facebook page. There, I have begun to create galleries of pictures with links to past blog posts of holiday recipes. So far I have posted a gallery of Thanksgiving side dish ideas and another of pumpkin recipes that have a holiday appeal. As the season progresses, there will be more to come. Let the holiday baking and cooking begin!

Savory Butternut Squash & Black Bean Burritos

2 1/2 to 3 cups peeled butternut squash (from a 1 1/4 lb. squash), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 T. Olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, cut in a 1/4-inch dice
1 clove of garlic, minced
a generous 1/2 t. ground cumin
1/4 t. cinnamon
Salt & pepper
1 3/4 c. cooked black beans (1 can), drained and rinsed
8 8-inch flour tortillas (see note)
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey jack, Fontina or Gouda cheese (about 6 oz.)

Toss the squash with 1 T. olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 450°F oven until tender and caramelized—20 to 25 minutes (stirring once so it will brown evenly).

Meanwhile, heat another tablespoon of oil in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and cook until tender and beginning to caramelize. Add the garlic and spices and continue to cook until fragrant. Add the beans and a few tablespoons of water (or bean cooking liquid)—just enough to deglaze and provide a brief simmer to infuse the beans with the flavor of the onions and spices. Heat through. If the beans seem soupy, simmer briefly to remove some of the excess liquid. Remove from the heat.

When the squash is done, add to the pan with the beans. Return to the heat to reheat, if necessary.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350˚F. Lay out one tortilla. Place 1/8 of the bean mixture (about a third of a cup) down the center, top with 3 tablespoons (3/4 oz.) of cheese and roll up tightly, “burrito-fashion”.

Continue to do this with remaining ingredients, lining up the burritos in an oblong baking dish (that has been lightly oiled or sprayed) as you go.

Bake, loosely covered with foil, for approximately 20 minutes until burritos are heated through. Serve burritos with sour cream on the side. Serves 4 to 6 (see notes).

(Recipe adapted from Rolling Prairie Cookbook by Nancy O'Connor)


• You may use 8-inch or 10-inch tortillas—depending on your preferred ratio of filling to tortilla. When I use 8-inch tortillas, I get 8 burritos. When I use 10-inch, I make 6 burritos. But you might want to make 6 out of the 8-inch and 4 giant burritos out of the 10-inch.

• The number of servings you will get out of the recipe is entirely dependent on appetites and the other things you are serving. If you serve a small salad or some sliced apples—you'll probably only get four servings from this recipe. If you serve rice—or something else substantial and filling—you are more likely to be able to stretch the burritos to serve at least 6.

• I like to warm the tortillas before filling them. To do this, turn a gas or electric burner on to high heat. Slide both sides of each tortilla back and forth over the burner until it is warm, flecked with brown and flexible. Stack the tortillas and cover loosely with foil to keep them warm as you work.

• Sometimes—when I'm in a hurry—I don't even bother to take the time to bake these. To do this, place the empty oblong baking dish in the 350° oven with a piece of foil large enough to lay over the dish. Make sure the filling is nice and hot. Warm the tortillas. For each burrito, fill and roll and place in the pan in the oven. Cover loosely with the foil to keep it warm while you roll the rest of the burritos.

• If you like, you may use the filling to make quesadillas. Mash the squash and beans lightly and smear a thin layer on one tortilla. Top with an ounce or so of cheese, followed by a second tortilla. Cook the quesadillas in a hot pan coated with a thin film of oil. Cut into wedges and serve.

Printable Recipe

Saturday, November 10, 2012

German Chocolate Cake for my Dad's Birthday

Every year when we were growing up my mother made a special cake for each of us on our birthday. My Dad's cake of choice was always German Chocolate Cake...not a fancy bakery version, but the one on the back of the "German's Sweet Chocolate" package. As a kid I hated this cake and was always a little miffed that on an occasion when I could reasonably expect a big slice of cake, it was a cake I didn't want to eat. It took a while for me to make peace with coconut, but these days, I would be more than willing to have a slice. I'm not sure my Dad ever knew I finally learned to enjoy his cake...he didn't live long enough even to celebrate his 56th birthday. Today would have been his 75th. I have not made this cake in a while, but this year, in recognition of his special day, I decided to make one.

My mother's well-used copy of the recipe

I am pleased that I have this place—my blog—to honor him with his cake, because even though it has been many years since his passing, I miss him still.  I don't think it matters how old you are when you lose a parent...or how much time passes from the moment they cease to inhabit this world....the place they occupied in your life remains empty.

I should probably try and describe my Dad for you, but I don't think I will—at least not in the ordinary way one describes a person. Although he was a person who was highly esteemed—both personally and professionally—any description I could give here would still be inadequate. What is important to me is that he was my Dad—something no one else can be.

When I was a kid there was a skit on Sesame Street about a little boy who had been separated from his mother. In the skit the child is crying inconsolably as the detectives on the case try to get him to give a good description of her so they can find her. All he can tell them is that his mother is the most beautiful woman in the world. So they dutifully bring a parade of the most beautiful women in the world for him to see. All the while the child continues to shake his head sadly. I don't remember how it happens, but his mother finally appears on the scene. When she does, it is clear she is not the most beautiful woman in the world. Those who had been trying to find her for the child are stunned...but he is elated.

So, if someone were to ask me to describe my Dad in a few brief words, I would be tempted to say that he was the smartest, strongest man in the world. It is doubtful that a team of detectives could find him given such a description.....but I would know him anywhere.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sweet Potato & Mushroom Gratin

Tomorrow I'm teaching a joint holiday cooking class with my good friend Nancy. The class features some of our favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Nancy will be teaching a roasted cranberry chutney, a delicious raw kale and apple salad and her amazing pecan pie. My contribution will be my grandmother's dinner rolls, pumpkin pot de crème and a simple gratin of sweet potatoes and mushrooms. Today, I thought I would give a sneak peak at the sweet potato recipe.

In my house it wasn't Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes on the table. Even so, there wasn't one ultimate version that continued to show up year after year. With all of the other things that had to be on the table for the sake of tradition, sweet potatoes were the one thing my mother experimented with. I remember many tasty versions: one with carrots...another with pineapple...several sugar-y glazed versions.... Fortunately, my mother would never have dreamed of putting marshmallows on the table, so I have no memory of ever being subjected to that ghastly concoction.

Over the years I have served all kinds of delicious sweet potato dishes on the Thanksgiving tables of my adulthood—maple whipped... in a gratin with apple and dried fruit... a purée with roasted apples...etc. All are delicious (I love sweet potatoes). Unfortunately, none of these were candidates for inclusion in tomorrow's class because I have taught them all before in other classes—classes that are still in my current rotation. Not wanting to let a "favorites" class go by without sweet potatoes, I decided to come up with something new.

As I began to consider what to make, I immediately thought of mushrooms. Mushrooms are fabulous with some of the sweeter vegetables—corn...winter squash...and sweet potatoes. Mushrooms are also a nice savory change from the sweet types of things that are typically paired with sweet potatoes at the holidays.

I thought about making a classic layered gratin of thinly sliced sweet potatoes with a middle layer of sautéed mushrooms (similar in style to the sweet potato-turnip gratin I posted a couple of years ago), but discarded the idea for a couple of reasons. The first is that I teach these types of gratins a lot (they are delicious). The second has to do with the fact that they take a long time in the oven at a fairly low temperature. This makes them difficult to manage on Thanksgiving day. They can be made ahead and reheated, but they are at their absolute best when freshly made.

Then I remembered the unusual gratin of artichokes and mushrooms that I posted last Spring. The idea of this gratin—a shallow casserole with a layer of fully cooked chunky vegetables, drizzled with a touch of cream and topped with cheese and buttery breadcrumbs—seemed like a perfect style of dish for the Thanksgiving table. Every one of the components can be made ahead and the final dish takes less than half an hour in the oven. Sounds to me like a perfect recipe for a new Thanksgiving favorite.

The gratin made a delicious weeknight meal with a kale, apple and sausage salad.

Gratin of Sweet Potatoes & Mushrooms

1 1/2 T. unsalted butter
1 lb. Garnet or Jewel Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
5 to 6 oz. (about 5 large) shallots, trimmed, peeled and sliced (lengthwise) 1/4-inch thick
1 T. picked fresh thyme leaves
1/3 c. chicken stock or water
Salt & pepper

1 T. Olive oil
1/2 T. unsalted butter
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, halved or quartered, depending on their size
Chicken Stock, water or dry Sherry

1/2 c. heavy cream
1 to 1 1/2 T. dry Sherry
2 to 2 1/2 oz. coarsely grated Gruyère cheese
1 c. coarsely ground fresh breadcrumbs
1 to 2 t. unsalted butter

Butter an 8- by 8-inch square (or equivalent sized) shallow gratin, casserole or baking dish. Set aside.

Melt 1 1/2 T. of butter in a medium-sized sauté pan (a pan just large enough to hold the sweet potatoes in a snug single layer) set over moderate heat. Add the sweet potatoes and shallots and toss to coat in the fat. Allow the vegetables to sizzle in the butter (increase the heat if they aren't sizzling), stirring now and then, until the shallots have begun to soften and the sweet potatoes are golden in a few spots—about five minutes.

Deglaze with the chicken stock—gently scraping with a flat wooden spoon or heat proof spatula—to release the caramelize bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the thyme and season well with salt & pepper. Reduce the heat to very low, cover and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender but not falling apart—about 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir the sweet potatoes once or twice as they cook. If the liquid evaporates too rapidly, add a bit more stock or water. When they are done, there should be a tablespoon or so of syrupy liquid in the bottom of the pan. If there is more than this, remove the lid from the pan and continue to cook until the excess liquid evaporates. Transfer the contents of the pan to the prepared baking dish.

While the sweet potatoes cook, sauté the mushrooms: In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted, increase the heat to medium-high. When the foam subsides, add the mushrooms and sauté until golden brown in spots and tender. Wait to add salt until the mushrooms have begun to brown. Deglaze the pan with a splash of stock, water or sherry. Reduce the liquid to a glaze. Scatter the mushrooms over the sweet potatoes, encouraging them to nestle down in among the sweet potatoes.

The gratin may be made to this point ahead. Let the vegetables cool, then cover and refrigerate. Bring the dish to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

Build the gratin: Combine the heavy cream and sherry. Drizzle over the vegetables. The liquid will only be about a quarter of an inch deep in the dish.  Scatter the cheese evenly over the surface of the vegetables followed by the breadcrumbs. Dot with butter. (Or, if you prefer, melt the butter and toss the breadcrumbs with the melted butter before spreading them over the cheese covered vegetables.)

Place the gratin in the upper third of a hot oven (400° to 425°) and bake until the crumbs are beginning to turn golden, the cream is bubbling and reduced around the edges and the gratin is hot in the center—about 20 minutes. If, when the gratin is hot through, the crumbs are not as brown as you would like, briefly run under the broiler.

Serves 6 as part of a Thanksgiving spread.

• Recipe is easily doubled to fit a 13- by 9-inch (or equivalent sized) baking dish.
• For tips on how to prepare this type of gratin, check out the post for the artichoke gratin. The most important thing is to choose a proper style and size of baking dish. You can make this gratin any size you like as long as you choose a shallow dish and spread the cooked vegetables in a snug, single layer in that dish. Then simply drizzle in cream to a depth of about 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch.

If the vegetables are piled too deeply in the dish, you won't have a proper ratio of cream to vegetables. Moreover, the vegetables in the center will not be hot by the time the cream has begun to bubble and reduce. If allowed to reduce too long, the butter will break out of the cream and the dish will be oily instead of creamy.

Printable Recipe