Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Dry-Brine Turkey for Thanksgiving 2014

The TurkeyThe Turkey

I’ve been absent from the writing portion of this website for a little while now.  Catering and events busy season kicked into gear, and I had also taken a full-time position in a catering kitchen at the end of July.  Those factors, plus some personal things I’ve been dealing with for the past few months resulted in a blog and recipe-testing hiatus.  Hopefully, you were all still keeping up with me via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  What has gotten me back into the swing of things is this gorgeous, fresh turkey from Cascun Farm in Greene, NY, which I prepared for the Thanksgiving feast that I hosted on Thursday for the “Castaways,” or “Orphans” gathering this year.

Set up for guestsGetting ready for guests to arrive

Having spent quite a few Thanksgiving holidays far away from family over the years, both in New York City and when I was living overseas, I really enjoy these get-togethers.  I’ve celebrated the day for a several years with a few of the same folks who were at my apartment on Thursday.  Then, there were other people whom I was meeting, and whose food I was trying, for the first time.  It’s always an interesting dynamic and can get quite lively, with stories shared of holiday meals and family traditions.  So, I knew that I had to make sure that the turkey was delicious and flavorful.  No pressure at all for the hostess of this meal, right?  Nope.  None at all.

Finished TurkeyThanksgiving 2014 Turkey

The fact that I’d never, ever cooked a turkey before shouldn’t matter, should it?  An article in Bon Appetit about dry bringing the bird and spatchcocking it.  I decided against using the latter technique and for using the former.  After consulting a few websites about cooking time, I figured that allowing about three hours cooking time would work for a turkey of this size (about 12 pounds).  In the end, I realized that the turkey is just a large chicken, and I treated it (lovingly) just like that, stuffing herb butter under the skin and basting during cooking to promote a golden, crispy skin and moist meat.  There was hardly any left over at the end of the evening, definitely not enough to make Turkey Curry.  I can put this down as a success and look forward to next year’s meal.

Dry Brine Turkey

Prep Time: Overnight for the turkey to brine, plus 3 hours cooking time (allow for 3 1/2 hours with resting time)

Serving Size: About a pound of meat per person (we served 11 people)

Ingredients:

1 12-pound Turkey, preferably fresh

To Brine:

1/2 cup Kosher Salt

1 Tablespoon Thyme, fresh, chopped

1 Tablespoon Rosemary, fresh, chopped

1 Tablespoon Sage, fresh, chopped

To Cook:

3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, softened

2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Thyme, fresh, chopped

1 teaspoon Rosemary, fresh, chopped

1 teaspoon Sage, fresh, chopped

Dry Brine MixtureDry Brine Mixture

Unpack the turkey.  Remove the neck, giblets, etc. and reserve for making gravy or stock.  Put the turkey on a rack placed on a baking sheet and let it sit for a few minutes while making the brine mixture.  Combine the salt, thyme, rosemary, and sage in a bowl.  Sprinkle the salt mixture all over the turkey, making sure to coat the entire bird thoroughly and evenly.

Turkey brining in the fridgeTurkey brining in the fridge

Put the turkey in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 8-12 hours at least.  Some folks I spoke with in the catering kitchen said that they leave it even longer.  When ready to cook the turkey, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Take the turkey out of the refrigerator and rinse off the brine.  Pat it dry.

Butter-Herb MixtureButter-Herb Mixture

Make the herb butter by mixing together the unsalted butter, olive oil, and herbs.  Notice that there’s no salt added.  The brine will have seasoned the meat, so there is no need to add extra salt.  Plus, with the gravy and stuffing and side dishes, there will be plenty of seasoning on everything.

Butter under turkey skinButter stuffed under turkey skin

Gently pull the skin away from the meat and stuff the herb butter underneath the skin of the breast and legs.  Try to distribute it as evenly as possible.  Place the turkey in the oven and let it cook for 30-40 minutes.  Baste the turkey, brushing the melted butter and fat over the legs and breast meat.  After that, turn the temperature down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to cook the turkey for another 2 1/2 to three hours,* until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finished TurkeyThe finished turkey

Remove the turkey from the oven.  Tent it with foil and let it rest for 30 or so minutes while making the gravy and reheating the side dishes.  Carve the turkey and serve.

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

Balancing out the cooking time to have moist breast and thigh meat was one of the concerns that I had.  One way around this is to place foil over the breast meat if it looks like it is getting overcooked.  Basting the meat every 30 minutes or so also helps to keep the meat moist and juicy.

Georges Duboeuf Crus Beaujolais Vertical Seminar & 2013 Preview

Entry sign Beaujolais eventWelcoming sign

There’s been a bit of a gap in my posting cycle due to a few things, including a recipe testing project that I was asked to do for a cookbook soon to be published.  For weeks, though, I’d had a fixed time block in my diary for last Thursday where there was an invitation to attend a wine seminar and tasting event on behalf of Georges Duboeuf featuring different years of their Beaujolais along with a preview of the 2013 Crus served alongside small dishes of food.  It gave me a welcome break from the rest of my work schedule and provided me with some insights about this wine, which is much more versatile and flexible in terms of pairing with edibles than I’d previously realized.

Glasses for the tastingWines for vertical tasting

The first part of the program was a vertical tasting of different vintages of Beaujolais. Moderated by Christy Canterbury, Master of Wine, who walked us through tasting wines from 2013 as well as ones from earlier years, with the assistance of representatives from Georges DuboeufBeaujolais as a region was created in 1937 and includes 12 different wine appellations (a protected designation for a product), including 10 Crus (meaning from a specific vineyard or set of vines), with most of the production devoted to the Gamay grape.  As we were told, the area is as long as Napa Valley but “a wee bit narrower.”

Bottles on displayBeaujolais bottles on display

You might recognize the flowery Beaujolais-Village label.  Perhaps you’ve even taking part in a tasting or ventured to a restaurant that highlights the newest release with a special dinner.  I vividly remember the “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!” signs displayed all over Georgetown when I was still working in Washington, DC.  It impressed upon me the idea that this wine was meant to be drunk as soon as the most recent vintage arrived on our shores, a point that one of the panelists highlighted.

Beaujolais tasting notesTasting notes

These are “thirst-quenching wines,” he said, which creates the idea that they should be drunk in their early state.  Allowing them to age lets their structure develop, which doesn’t happen all that often, he added.  The vertical tasting was really eye-opening in this regard.  When I looked back at my tasting notes, I can definitely seen that progression.  The 2013s were “softer” and “rounder,” with lighter red berry flavors.  As we tasted the 2010 and 2009 vintages, my scribbles are more along the lines of “fuller,” “spice notes,” “deep purple berries.”  Sampling the wines that are just a few years old, I decipher the words “coffee,” “cocoa,” “amber notes,” “licorice,” “rich,” and “full.”  There’s even a side note on the Georges Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent Cuvée Prestige 2005 that says “duck,” which highlights a possible, desired food pairing.

Kitchen getting everything readyKitchen getting ready

Or that could have been that I was ready for the walk-around and food and wine pairing portion of the program featuring the 2013 vintages from this winemaker.  This event was held at the Bouley Test Kitchen in Tribeca, so throughout the seminar, we could hear the sounds of wonderful dishes being put together for us to try later.  Chef David Bouley spoke to us about his own connections to the Georges Duboeuf family and Beaujolais, many of which derive from his time working as a young chef under Chef Paul Bocuse when they would head out and cook for the grape pickers.  “Beaujolais goes with any festive event here in the States,” he opined, citing it as a good Thanksgiving meal beverage.  He also mentioned that his French colleagues would chose the wine to go with their lunch, as it was light and went with whatever they had made for themselves to eat.

AppetizersAppetizers

To start us all off and get us moving up from the tables, the staff greeted us at the entryway to the kitchen with a glass of the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Macon-Villages Domaine Les Chenevières, made with 100% Chardonnay grapes.  After swishing-and-spitting and inhaling the aromas of a selection of red wines for the previous hour, it was a bit of a tastebud shock to switch over a white.  They had laid out for us an assortment of cheeses and meats, including pork rillettes (seen in the foreground in the photo), salami, prosciutto, and a fois gras terrine to wake up our palates and to have us see how fatty, cured meats and aged dairy paired well with the wine.

Plate of BlinisBlinis with Smoked Salmon, Wild Truffle Honey, and Salmon Roe

Following the progression of folks around the tasting tables, I picked up the first nibble of Blinis with Smoked Salmon, Wild Truffle Honey, and Salmon Roe.  From the photo, you can see that these were no ordinary blinis, with their pillowy, lofty heights.  One bite and the delicate casing gave way to a wave of oceanic salinity tempered by an earthiness and mellow sweetness from the honey.  These were paired with the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Pouilly-Fuissé Domaine Beranger, also made with 100% Chardonnay grapes, which matched up beautifully to the combination of flavors from this small bite, leaving an impression of buttery richness on my tongue.

Lobster DishChatham Day Boat Lobster with Red Wine Sauce

Red wine with fish.  I know, it seems to break those “pairing rules” we were all brought up with, right?  At this tasting, a 2013 Georges Duboeuf Chiroubles (made with 100% Gamay grapes) was teamed up with a lobster dish that featured a red wine sauce and meaty mushrooms as garnish.  This shows that when put together with the proper components, even seafood can play well with red wines.

Gougeres with Comte'Gougères with Comté

Gougères are just the perfect little nibble to offer at a drinks gathering.  They are flexible and can be dressed up or down depending upon the cheese and other ingredients used to make them.  My beverage selection for these is usually something with bubbles (Prosecco, Cava, sparkling wine).  Here, they were accompanied by a 2013 Georges DuBoeuf Brouilly Château de Nervers (made with 100% Gamay grapes), which was a more robust pairing that my usual choice but still went well with these small bites.

Chicken Baked with Alfafa and Clover HoneyChicken Baked with Alfafa and Clover Honey

See that green dollop on the bottom of this bowl?  That is an interesting, piquant component of this dish that went really well with the soft, delicate chicken.  It is also a flavor that could prove challenging in a wine pairing.  There were two different wines to sample with this dish:  a 2013 Georges Duboeuf Fleurie Château des Déduits and a 2013 Georges Duboeuf Fleurie Domaine des Quatre Vents (both made with 100% Gamay grapes).  My preference was for the former vintage over the latter.  I just felt that it handled the sauce better without being overwhelmed by its strong taste while balancing out the other elements of the dish.

Grilled Marinated Duck with Pruneaux d'AgenGrilled Marinated Duck with Pruneaux d’Agen

As I mentioned above, I’d made a food pairing note about one of the wines as something that might go well with a duck dish.  The chef must have read my mind with this plate of grilled marinated duck served on a bed of creamy polenta and dressed with a sauce of Pruneaux d’Agen (a type of French prune).  This was a hearty but not overly heavy offering was presented with three different wine pairings to try.  My favorite match was the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Morgon Domaine Mont Chavy for the way that it picked up the dried fruit notes in the sauce as well as complementing the delicate flavors of the meat and the caramel notes of the cooked duck skin.  The other wines to sample with this were also of the Morgon label (all made with 100% Gamay grapes): a 2013 Georges Duboeuf Morgon and a 2013 Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean-Ernest Descombes.

Kuzu Crisp with Black Truffle Pate' and AligoteKuzu Crisp with Black Truffle Paté and Aligote

This next small bite actually came with an advisory from Chef Bouley.  He and his team had been working on a gluten free cracker that they could use to serve with hors d’oeuvres – something light, yet substantial enough to support (physically and taste-wise) a variety of toppings.  He found it by using kuzu, which proved to be a delicious base for his black truffle paté with Aligote.  The 2013 Georges Duboeuf Juliénas Château des Capitans (made with 100% Gamay grapes) was a great pairing, taking on the creaminess of the sauce as well as the meaty, woodsiness of the truffle.  Those words of warning?  They were that we’d love it so much that we’d want everything to be served on this instead of on regular bread or crackers.  After eating these, we all agreed that he had been entirely correct.

Assorted Bouley Chocolate TrufflesAssorted Bouley Chocolate Truffles

After quite a few savory dishes, it was now time to sample the wines with something sweet.  A tray of assorted truffles, with different fillings, had been put together by the chef.  For me, I couldn’t decide if I enjoyed the chocolates more with the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent Domaine des Rosiers or the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent Rochegrès (both made with 100% Gamay grapes).  For me, they seemed to pair equally well.

Scrambled Duck Egg with Black TruffleSoft-scrambled Duck Egg with Black Truffles

Mini Gnocchi with Black Truffle SauceMini Gnocchi with Black Truffle Cream Sauce

I didn’t really have a chance to dwell on the chocolate-wine match for long, as the chef had the waiters bring out two additional, specially prepared, dishes from the kitchen. During his introduction, Chef Bouley had mentioned that he’d just received a shipment of truffles from Australia.  With them, he made those two luxurious dishes that you see in the photos above.  I filled my glass with some of the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent Prestige (made with 100% Gamay grapes) to go along with them. It was an ideal combination. The wine held up to the richness and creaminess of both of the dishes as well as to the funkiness of the truffles that can sometimes drown out a lesser beverage.  These were the perfect dishes on which to end the afternoon’s tastings showing the breadth and depth of how wine works to enhance our enjoyment of food.

Buon appetito!

Thank you so much to the team at PadillaCRT for including me in this event.  The opinions on the wines and food and their pairings are mine alone.  For more information on Georges Duboeuf Wines and their company, please visit their website.

Vibrant Rioja and Your Thanksgiving Feast

Vibrant Rioja winesVibrant Rioja event

Rioja for your Thanksgiving feast? I know, it’s not a wine and food pairing that I wouldn’t have considered either, but after attending an event for Vibrant Rioja put on by Padilla/CRT last month, I wonder why I’d never thought of it before. Usually, the wines that we choose in our family for holiday meals come down to a. whatever is around b. whatever we can buy at the grocery store (being in Virginia you can do that, unlike in New York) or c. whatever I might have brought with me on my visit down South.  Food magazines offer suggestions for American Pinot Noirs or Zinfandels or some other vintage that happens to be the popular one of the season.  It all gets a bit confusing, not least because of the pressure to make a decision with the whole family relying upon my tastes, to the point where grabbing a beer from my dad’s stash just seems like the easiest route to go.

Wines and TapasWines and Tapas

Riojas tend to be low-acidity, food friendly wines, which was demonstrated to us that evening in the best way possible – by pairing different vintages with a variety of dishes.  The Marqués de Cáceres 2012 was the perfect way to get into the festive mood.  It’s bright pink color, berry notes and clean finish made this the perfect wine to enjoy while nibbling on sliced meats and Spanish tortilla while talking to the other attendees about what they do in the food business.

Chorizo Corn Bread StuffingChorizo Corn Bread Stuffing

My favorite pairing of the evening is one that would have pleased one of my wine instructors.  She taught us to pair smoky flavors with oaky wines.  Well, the Chorizo Corn Bread Stuffing, maybe something I can introduce to my family’s holiday table, worked beautifully with the round, ripe, deep, red fruit flavors of the Castillo Labastida Crianza 2010 which had been aged in American oak, picking up those notes.  It was a match that made me want to go back for seconds and thirds of the stuffing the balance between the wine and food were just so wonderful to enjoy together.

Dinner PlateDinner Plate

A wine that seemed to pair well with just about everything that we were served was the Conde de Valdemar Reserva 2006.  This wine was aged in American and French oak, combining the best characteristics of both while also letting the fruit flavors shine through on the palate.  We enjoyed it with the Duck in a Sherry-Citrus Sauce, the stuffing, the Carrots and Cauliflower in Romesco, and the Green Beans in Cream Sauce.  The diversity of tastes that this wine paired with would make it a great holiday meal partner.

Churros & Spicy Chocolate SauceChurros and Spicy Chocolate Sauce

For dessert, we had a wine that seemed to me to have a more sophisticated personality as well as a beautiful nose.  The Dinastia Vivanco Reserva 2005 was served alongside a platter of Churros and Spicy Chocolate Sauce.  The crisp, fried dough dusted with sugar dipped in rich, creamy chocolate with a kick of heat was a great balance with the wine, bringing out some of its spice notes.

Glasses of RiojaGlasses of Rioja

This year, I think I might try introducing Rioja to our holiday dinner table.  It might take some convincing, I know, given the entrenched tastes of my family members, but I’m game to try it.  I just really enjoyed how much these wines seemed to go so well with all the foods that we tried.  No matter what you serve for this holiday season, I hope that you are surrounded by family and friends and fellow wine-lovers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans

16 - Sweet Potatoes & Pecans 2Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans

Did Thanksgiving creep up on you this year like it did to me?  I felt like it was just sort of hanging out there, lurking in the corners, and then after all the drama we’ve had around here with the hurricane and then the Nor’easter it waited until just the right moment to pounce on me, “Ta DAH!  Remember me?  It’s holiday season again!”  (kinda sorta like we used to hide and then jump out of the dark shadows to scare the pants off of my younger siblings when we babysat them).  So, if you’re still pulling together that menu for tomorrow and are looking for colorful side dishes for that holiday table, here’s the recipe for Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans I came up with last year when I was invited to a potluck holiday dinner.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

This vegetable side is a combination of savory with a mild sweetness and hints of citrus and spice so that it balances out all the other foods that you might have on your table.  By using chicken stock to make the mixture creamy, I also limited the amount of butter that I put in the mashed up potatoes, keeping the dairy indulgence for the regular spuds or another helping of pie.  It is easy to transport to a potluck holiday dinner and can be made in advance and reheated just before serving it.  One of the best parts of this dish, too, is that the leftovers can be used to make these Sweet Potato Pancakes for breakfast the morning after Thanksgiving.  I might have to make a batch of this just so that I can have the extras to do just that.

Sweet Potatoes

Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans

Prep Time: 1 hour, more or less

Serving Size: 8-10 (see what to do with the leftovers)

Ingredients:

4 large Sweet Potatoes

1/2 c. Chicken Stock, warmed up

3 Tbsp. unsalted Butter

1 Tbsp. Orange Zest

1/2 Orange, juiced

2 tsp. Chinese 5-Spice Powder

1/4 tsp. ground Ginger

1/2 tsp. Salt

1 pinch Black Pepper

Candied Pecans for garnish (recipe below)

1/2 c. Pecan halves

1 Tbsp. Maple Syrup

1/4 tsp. Salt

Assembly:

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut in to large chunks.  Place in a large pot of cold water and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down, allow the water to simmer, and cook the potatoes through until they are tender.  You can also cook the potatoes in the microwave until tender, if you prefer.

Cooked Potatoes

With a fork or potato masher, smash up the potatoes until they are relatively smooth with almost no lumps.  Pour in the chicken stock and stir to combine with the potatoes.  Then, mix in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, making sure that the butter is fully incorporated.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Butter

Add the orange zest and juice, the spices, and the salt and pepper and mix well.  Taste.  Adjust the seasoning as necessary.  The flavor should be slightly citrusy, mildly creamy, and have a pleasant backnote of warmth and spice tones.

Mixed Sweet Potato Mash

Spread the potatoes evenly into a baking or serving dish.  This recipe made a good-sized portion of a sweet potato side dish plus some leftovers.  It can be made in advance and then reheated just before it is served.

Spiced Sweet Potatoes

Before serving it, decorate the top with the Candied Pecans.  Make a few extras to nibble on while waiting for the guests to arrive.

Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans


Candied Pecans

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes

Serving Size: 1/2 cup

Ingredients:

1/2 c. Pecan halves

1 Tbsp. Maple Syrup

1/4 tsp. Salt

Assembly:

Place pecans in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Dry roast them for a couple of minutes until they just start to change color and become fragrant.  Toss them briefly to make sure that they pick up a bit of color on the other side as well.  Then, turn the heat down to medium-low and pour in the maple syrup.  It will bubble up.  Stir immediately with a wooden spoon to make sure that all the pecans are coated in the syrup, but don’t let them clump together.

Let the mixture cook for about 30 seconds to allow the syrup to stick to the pecans.  Turn off the heat, and add salt to season.  Please let the pecans cool down before testing them as they’ll be very, very hot coming out of the pan.  Cool on parchment paper, separating the pecans so that they don’t end up in one giant, sticky mass.

Candied Pecans

Buon appetito e Buona Festa!

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Pecans

Now, that you’ve picked over the turkey carcass, made sandwiches of mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry, and stuffing, and finished off the last of that pie, there’s just a few things left to polish off from this year’s Thanksgiving feast.  One of these is likely to be the remnants of the sweet potato dish.  For the potluck I went to this year, I was asked to bring along a creation using this vegetable.  I had about a cup of the potatoes that didn’t fit in to the serving platter I was bringing to the party.  So I decided to whip up a batch of Sweet Potato Pancakes using the leftovers.

Cooked Sweet Potatoes

The original batch of sweet potatoes was cooked until completely tender and then mashed with a fork.  I added a few tablespoons of butter and about half a cup of chicken stock to it as well as some Chinese 5-spice powder, ginger, and salt.  As a finishing touch I mixed everything with grated peel of one orange and half an orange worth of juice.  The idea was to make a side dish that was savory with a bit more depth than the usual marshmallow-topped platter that graces holiday tables.  You can use plain mashed sweet potatoes in this recipe, but adding some of these extra flavors works well in the pancakes.

Unadorned pancakes

This experiment worked out to be a tasty, post-Thanksgiving breakfast and was much more fun to try than the Turkey Curry I made last year.  I’m almost tempted to make extra sweet potatoes in the future when I’m preparing them for any dish just so that I can make these pancakes again.  I might also see if I can turn the leftovers into muffins so that I can freeze them and hang on to the flavors of fall for a bit longer.

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Maple Syrup & Pecans

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Prep Time:  20 minutes (minus time cooking potatoes)

Serving Size: 4 people (unless they are really hungry)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. unsalted Butter

1 Egg White

1 whole Egg

1 c. whole Milk

1 cup prepared Sweet Potatoes*

1 1/4 c. all-purpose Flour

2 tsp. Baking Powder

1/4 tsp. Salt

1 tsp. Sugar

Canola oil (for cooking pancakes)

Maple Syrup and Pecan Halves to serve

Assembly:

Melt butter in a heat-proof container.  While the butter is cooling, put egg white and white from whole egg into a bowl.  Set aside the egg yolk.  Whip the egg white until it is frothy.  In a large bowl, mix together milk, egg yolk, and butter. Add sweet potatoes and stir, making sure that there are minimal lumps.

Wet ingredients

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Mix together flower, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

Dry ingredients

Take the bowl with the dry ingredients and start to whisk them little by little into the wet ingredients until they are thoroughly combined and there are no lumps.  Add frothed egg white (and any liquid that has separated) and mix everything together until the batter is smooth.

Finished batter

Get a griddle or frying pan nice and hot.  Pour a little canola oil on the griddle, enough to create a thin film on the surface.  With a ladle or spoon, scoop about 2 Tbsp. batter into a mound on the griddle.  Make sure to space the pancakes far enough apart so that they don’t touch.

Pancakes on the griddle

When bubbles appear on the top of the pancakes, check the underside to see if it is cooked and just lightly browned.  I like to let mine get a little extra crispy around the edge, but I am related to people who will eat them only if they are pale as snow.  Flip them over to cook for about a minute or so more on the second side.

Pancakes ready to be flipped over

When the pancakes are cooked through, remove them from the griddle and serve them immediately.  Pour maple syrup on top and sprinkle them with pecans.

Buon appetito!

*Prepared sweet potatoes:  Take one cup of the sweet potatoes, add 1 tsp. orange zest, 1 tsp. orange juice, and 1/2 tsp of mixed spices (Chinese 5-spice powder, pumpkin pie spice or a mix of your favorite spices) OR use whatever leftovers you have from Thanksgiving dinner, minus the marshmallows.

Sautéed Green Beans with Almonds

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I grew up on canned products and salad as my options for vegetable-like things.  My journey through adulthood has introduced me to the wonders of broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, and all sorts of other greens that just never made it onto the childhood menu rotation.  This minimal side dish selection would change for Thanksgiving and Christmas when we received a special treat:  Green Beans with Almonds.

Green Beans

Initially, this was a way to dress up squishy, briny, grey-green canned beans to make them more appealing to our palates.  When I was about ten or so, my mom decided to build a vegetable garden to one side of our house.  This was my first experience with freshly-grown produce.  Green beans were long and slender and crunchy – what a revelation!  (The same kind of vegetable epiphany happened for me with snow peas as well.) I fell in love with these verdant slivers then and try to grab up handfuls of them each year when they arrive at the Greenmarket.

Toasted Almonds

Theories behind how to cook green beans range from the boil the heck out of them until they are breaking apart, which is just too close to the canned ones I was tormented with as a child, to just barely fork-tender and crunchy.  For this recipe, I cook them in boiling water until they get to the latter stage, drain them, and then pop them into the sauté pan along with butter and the toasted almonds.  My mom used to cook all of the ingredients together, but that made the beans drenched in fat and rather greasy; it also involved way too much butter to be healthy.  Cooked my way, they still have a bit of give to them but are soft enough to balance out the meaty, crunchy taste of the nuts while still having a bit of a sheen and richness from the butter.

Sautéed Green Beans with Almonds

Prep Time:  15-20 minutes

Serving Size: 4 people

Ingredients:

1/4 c. slivered Almonds

1/2 pound fresh Green Beans, trimmed on top and bottom

2 Tbsp. unsalted Butter

3/4 tsp. salt

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  Put almonds on a tray in a single layer and place them in the oven to toast.  This will take about 5-10 minutes, but you should check on them a few times to make sure that they do not become too dark or burn.

While the almonds are toasting, put a saucepan of water on the stovetop to boil.  Once the water has boiled, put in 1/2 tsp. salt.  Toss in the green beans and let them cook for 5-10 minutes until a fork inserted in them goes through easily (i.e., “fork tender”).  Remove the saucepan from the heat and drain the green beans.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter.  When the butter is frothy, toss in the green beans and the toasted almonds and stir them around until they are coated in the butter.  Add 1/4 tsp. salt and toss to coat everything.  Serve immediately.

Buon appetito!

This post is also in memory of my mother’s oldest brother who passed away suddenly this past Saturday evening.  I took it pretty hard, even though I hadn’t seen him in a few years.  I wondered why, and then it hit me as I thought about all the great family meals and many, many Thanksgivings and holidays that he had been at our house.  As he didn’t have a wife and children of his own, he usually came to my folks’ place to join us in the festivities, well, and to watch football.

I would relish being a “big kid,” hanging out at the table after the plates had been cleared away, with my mom, their other sister, and him telling stories about growing up in their large, chaotic family while the inevitable family card game was in play.  I don’t think I ever managed to win one of those, even as an adult.