veg

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage

I can’t even believe that it’s almost Thanksgiving already.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

I swear it really just snuck up on me this year. Last year I had my entire meal planned months in advance, and because I wanted to share my whole menu with everyone here, I’d even tested, modified, written out, and photographed the recipes well before November even started.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

This year though, the Maxwell’s build-out and opening occupied most of my attention from summer well into the fall, and everything else in my life had to be put on the back burner. I’ve had some ideas stewing that I wanted to test out for my Thanksgiving spread this year, but I just never really found the time, even once Maxwell’s was open and I was able to re-focus my attention elsewhere.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

The funny thing is that I actually first attempted this recipe when I was trying to plan for my Thanksgiving spread last year. I knew that I’d want to make some significant changes to it, and I just had too many other recipes to focus on, so I decided to dog-ear the idea to come back to later.

Well, it’s later now.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

So, a couple weeks ago I started playing with it to fine tune my vision and streamline the steps. My first instinct was to caramelize the onions and fennel before mixing them in with the cream, but I actually found that by the time the whole thing baked for an hour an a half, the onions and fennel cooked down way too much and were almost indistinguishable. I also originally planned to peel the potatoes, or maybe just the sweet potatoes, but after trying the recipe both ways, peeling just seemed like an unnecessary extra step.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

With everything that goes into making an entire Thanksgiving dinner, I figured that everyone, including myself, would appreciate any unnecessary steps that I could eliminate. Enough effort goes into slicing everything with the mandoline and arranging the slices in tight circles, so as long as it still tastes great, why not make everything else super easy?

Speaking of slicing everything with a mandoline, please be careful when you’re slicing. Those pesky mandolines have bitten me a few times, but if you go slow and use a guard when you get toward the end of the potato, I promise that you can keep your fingertips intact. Another option to keep your fingers super safe would be to invest in a cut resistant glove. Whenever I’ve had any accidents with mandolines though, it’s been because I was going too fast or was distracted by something else in the kitchen. The blades are sharp and deserve your undivided attention, so please use caution! Unfortunately this recipe will be kind of difficult to perfect without one. Sorry friends!
I mean, if you have surgically precise knife skills, by all means please go ahead and just use a knife, but it’s really important that all the slices are the exact same thickness so everything cooks at the same time.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

Let me tell you friends, this recipe was worth the wait and the effort. Who could say no to tender, delicate, richly flavored potatoes with crunchy, crispy top edges? The mix of red, white, and sweet potatoes is wonderfully autumnal without being too sweet, and the onions and fennel caramelize in the oven and their flavors go from pungent and intense to rich, mellow, and slightly sweet. The mix of cheeses adds a salty, nutty richness, and the sage, thyme, and garlic make this dish the perfect side to serve with turkey or poultry.
Or maybe I should say turkey would be the perfect side to serve with this gratin, because these potatoes are sure to steal the Thanksgiving spotlight.

It doesn’t have to end at Thanksgiving though! This recipe would be an amazing addition to any fall or winter meal, be it a special occasion, or just a way to up the ante on your sunday dinner.

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

In the recipe below, I say that this dish should yield 6 to 10 side-sized servings, but I want to mention that if you’re serving this at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, with a wide array of other foods, your yield should actually be higher because your portion sizes will be smaller. Although many of your guests may go back in for seconds, people tend to take smaller portions when there’s a lot on the table because they’re trying to fit 15 different things on one plate.

So, at a normal dinner with a main and a side or two, this should feed about 6 to 10 people, but at Thanksgiving I think this recipe should be enough for about 12 to 15. The more the merrier, right?

red, white, & sweet potato gratin with fennel & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

Red, White, & Sweet Potato Gratin with Fennel & Sage

  • Servings: 6 to 10 side-size servings
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Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

1 cup grated comte cheese (or other semi-firm nutty cheese like gruyere or emmental)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt (sounds like a lot, but this is a lot of potatoes)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1 lb red potatoes
1 lb white potatoes
1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes
1 large to 2 small fennel bulbs (about 1/2 to 3/4 lb)
2 small to medium onions (about 1/2 lb)
2 tablespoons butter, softened

Preheat oven to 400F and adjust rack to the middle of the oven.

Toss cheeses together in a medium bowl to combine. Transfer about 1/3 of the mixture to another bowl and set aside for later use. Back in the first bowl, add cream, salt, pepper, garlic, sage, & thyme; and stir or toss to combine. Set aside.

Using a mandoline slicer, slice all the potatoes, unpeeled, into 1/8 inch thick disks and place into a very large bowl.  The larger the bowl, the easier it will be to toss the potatoes with the cream without making a mess. Slice the onion(s) and fennel bulb(s) to the same thickness and add to the potatoes. Pour cream and cheese mixture over the potatoes and toss toss toss to completely coat each slice of potato with cream. Use your fingers to separate any potatoes that may have become stuck together, so that every single slice is coated in the cream mixture.

Butter the inside of a large casserole, or 12″ cast iron skillet *see note. Organize handfuls of potatoes into neat stacks, along with some slices of onions and fennel, and line them up in the casserole with their edges aligned vertically. Continue placing stacks of potatoes into the dish, working around the perimeter and into the center until all potatoes have been added. Potatoes should be tightly packed. If necessary, slice an additional potato, coat with the remaining cream mixture, and add to the casserole. Pour the remaining cream mixture evenly over the potatoes until the mixture comes about half way up the sides of the potato slices. You may not need all the liquid.

Cover dish tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and transfer to oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid/foil and bake for 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and return to oven to bake until deep golden brown and crisp on top, about 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven, let rest for at least 15 minutes, and serve.

*cooks note:
I used a braising pan that measures about 12″ across, so a 12″ cast iron skillet would perfectly as well. I also think a 9×13″ casserole should work great, but rather than arranging the potatoes in circles, just line them up lengthwise in three rows.

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farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash

I know that Valentine’s Day has come and gone already this year, but I thought I might share a little story about the first (and last) time I went out to a swanky restaurant for a Valentine’s Day date night.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

This was before I met Russell, so it must have been about 7 or 8 years ago now. It was one of the first times that I actually had a boyfriend on Valentine’s day so I tried to make a sort of big deal about it. I booked a table at some fancy place in Williamsburg, not really realizing that every other young couple in Brooklyn would be celebrating at the very same restaurant .

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

We arrived a bit early and were greeted at the front door by a harried hostess who looked like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. One look over her shoulder revealed the reason she was looking so frazzled. I’d been to this restaurant before, but on this night it appeared that they’d done some redecorating. All of the large tables for six or eight had been broken up into “romantic” tables for two, and all the couples at these tables were practically sitting in the laps of the couples next to them.

I couldn’t believe it was even possible to pack that many couples into one tiny dining room, and had no clue where they thought they were going to squeeze my fat ass into all this madness.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

That was when the hostess said we could follow her “out back”.

I knew the restaurant had a back patio that they used in the summer, but to the best of my knowledge it was closed during New York’s chilly winter months, you know, like the month of February. We walked through the door and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The entire patio had been covered with a temporary fabric “ceiling” and filled with large propane patio heaters. The intimate space had been completely transformed into a mess hall, with rows and rows of “cute” little tables for two, all with about 4 centimeters of space between them. There had to have been at least 30 other couples sitting out there.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

Of course, with the restaurant filled to capacity (or more likely over capacity), and with every table choosing a three course prix fix menu, the kitchen was completely swamped. Luckily the couple sitting next to us (our thighs were practically touching) was having a fascinating (and very loud) conversation, so there was no lack of atmosphere or entertainment for me and my date while we waited.

The food, when it came, was mediocre at best. This restaurant was usually very good, but in anticipation of the romantic stampede many of the evening’s dishes had been (at least partially) prepared and plated ahead. Even with the ready made meals, we still ended up waiting forever for our food and subsequently drank way too much to fill the time. I think we were hoping the hooch would help us forget what a crappy time we were having. It didn’t really occur to us how quickly all those cocktails and glasses of wine could add up, at least not until the bill came.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

Then the headaches set in. I’m not sure if it was the propane heaters, or the crumby food, or the din of 30+ couples talking all at once in a small enclosed patio, or maybe, just maybe, it had something to do with all the drinks. (It was definitely all the drinks.)

Either way, we went home grumpy and broke, both of us with headaches, and neither of us feeling even remotely romantic.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I started dating Russell I made it a point to make staying in on Valentine’s day a new romantic tradition. Every year we spend quality time at home alone with a fancy home-cooked meal and an even fancier home-cooked dessert. I usually make chocolate mousse. Russell LOVES chocolate mousse.

Most years I make a nice roast chicken or some kind of elegant wine braised something or other, but this year I wanted to do something different. We’ve been trying to be better about knowing where our meat comes from lately, and just eating a bit less meat in general, so I thought I’d make a romantical vegetarian pasta dinner with all sorts of good stuff swimming in it. When I noticed some beautiful butternut squash at the store I knew I had to use it. I don’t really think of butternut squash as a vegetable that goes with pasta, but I figured there was no time like the present to give it a shot.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

To make sure the squash didn’t get too soft and turn to mush in the pan, I decided to chop it up and roast it in the oven so it would get tender inside but maintain it’s shape. I figured since the oven was on already I may as well roast my mushrooms too to save an extra step on the stovetop.

While the squash and mushrooms were getting all roasty and toasty, I set to work on some onions. Caramelizing onions, when done right, takes FOREVER. It just does. If you’re patient though, and avoid turning the heat up, they brown suuuper slowly and get so soft they’re practically creamy. I didn’t take them to french onion soup level caramelization, just a light golden brown that took about 45 minutes but offered a rich and subtly sweet punch of flavor. Building flavors is important in vegetarian cooking, so after the onions were ready I added some garlic and reduced some wine and stock down to almost nothing to concentrate their flavors too.

I thought broccoli rabe would be just the ticket to counter the sweetness of the onions and squash. If you’ve never had it, broccoli rabe has small florets similar to broccoli, but it’s mostly made up of thick leaves that wilt like chard when cooked. It has a deeply green bitter flavor that can sometimes even border on horseradish. It could not have been a better compliment to the sweeter elements in this dish. I tossed it all with al dente farfalle (bow ties – so much fun) and some fresh parsley and grated parmesan cheese.

All together this seems like a lot of steps to make some pasta, but it doesn’t take too too long if you time everything right and work efficiently. In the end all the extra work to build flavor really paid off and this was the perfect date night dinner, with plenty of leftovers.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

Farfalle with Broccoli Rabe, Roasted Mushrooms & Butternut Squash

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
2 to 3 large onions, thinly sliced into strips (about 4 cups sliced)
1 small to medium butternut squash
2 pints cremini mushrooms
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup low sodium stock (chicken or vegetable), divided
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed.
1 large bunch broccoli rabe
1 pound farfalle (bowtie) pasta
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425. .

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add thinly sliced onions and season with salt and pepper. Once the onions begin to soften turn the heat down to medium low and let them caramelize slowly, stirring occasionally, for about 3o to 45 minutes. This takes a long while but you want the onions to brown very slowly to bring out their sugars and intensify their flavor.

Use this time to prepare the rest of your vegetables. Peel and seed the butternut squash, and cut into small (about 1/2″ to 1″) cubes. Slice the mushrooms. Cut the dry ends off of the broccoli rabe and discard. Roughly chop the broccoli rabe, and try to slice the thicker stems smaller than the leafy tops (this way they’ll all cook through at the same time).

Toss the cubed squash in 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer over a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until cooked through, and browned on the bottom side, about 30 minutes. For more even browning you could toss the squash halfway through, but I didn’t find this step necessary.

Toss sliced mushrooms in remaining tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a thin even layer over another parchment lined baking sheet and roast in the same oven as the squash. The mushrooms should only take about 20 to 25 minutes to cook through, so either put them in after the squash, or start checking on them first.

Once the onions are super soft and begin to take on a light golden color, add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the white wine, turn heat up to high, and reduce to almost dry. Add the stock and repeat, reducing by at least half or a little more.

Cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Just before draining, transfer about 1/3 cup of the starchy pasta water to the pan with the caramelized onions and reduced wine and stock. Drain pasta and set aside. Bring pasta water to a boil and add broccoli rabe. Cook for about 5 minutes or until deep green and wilted.

Transfer everything, including parsley and parmesan, to the pasta pot and toss toss toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately with a few shavings of extra parmesan cheese.

hearty kale and lentil soup

Back in my college days I was a vegetarian. I mean, who wasn’t a vegetarian for at least a little while in college though, right?

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

I grew up in a strictly meat and potatoes (and dessert every night) kind of family, so straying from that formula was definitely a learning experience. I was on my own for the first time and I wanted to express myself as the “independent” young adult that I was… or something like that.

I don’t know.
I was 18.
Who are you to judge me?

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

I think that out of my whole family my grandmother had the hardest time wrapping her head around my new dietary choices. I mean, most of the family was sort of just like, “why?”, and rolled their eyes, but the first time I went home for Thanksgiving my poor grandmother was completely beside herself.

This was well before the bacon-ization of America and most of the sides at the table were totally vegetarian friendly, so I bellied up to the table and piled my plate high with squash and beans and potatoes and biscuits and corn and all sorts of amazing things. Grandma just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) accept that I was satisfied or full without having turkey and stuffing and gravy. She kept asking if I was okay and offering to go get me something else to eat.
Personally though, I was thrilled with all the different sides and it was one of the best meals I’d had in a long time. Grandma wasn’t buying it though.

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

Back at college I was doing my best to try new things, and was eating all sorts of things that I was unfamiliar with up until that point.

Crispy fried bean curd (basically general tso’s tofu) was one of my new favorite things at the Chinese restaurant on Main St., and a vegetarian chili made with TVP or “texturized vegetable protein” at the neighborhood health food store was a lunchtime staple in my diet. I also ate a lot of BK Whoppers without the meat. No veggie burger, just a Whopper with no meat. Don’t knock it till you try it.

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

One thing that I never quite got into though, was lentils.

Something about lentils just conjured images of dusty old hippies gnawing on sprouted mung beans in some commune somewhere. While I was actually really into Phish and the Grateful Dead, the lentils (and the mung beans) didn’t appeal to me.

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

It wasn’t until much later, after meat found it’s way back into my life, that I tried lentils. My years as a vegetarian taught me a lot about how to make a tasty & filling meatless meal, and that I should always be open to trying new things.

There was a time shortly after I moved to Brooklyn when I was out of work for a little bit and a good friend found herself out of work at the same time. We decided to save money by cooking big cheap meals together that we could share and eat for a few days. We came across a recipe for a pureed french lentil soup, and given that lentils are like a buck a bag, we decided to go for it.

It was love at first bite and for years that was my go to lentil soup recipe.

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

Lately though, I’ve been wanting to try something different. Something new. I figured that I might add some diced tomatoes to the soup for a bit of brightness and acid, and throw in some lacinato kale for texture and color and to make the soup feel even healthier and more substantial.

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

This is just the kind of thing I crave this time of year. A hearty, healthy, filling soup to warm my old bones on a cold winter night. Tender veggies, earthy al dente lentils, chewy dark green kale, bright acidic tomatoes, a bit of heat from the chili flakes, and fresh green parsley. Just perfect.

While this soup would probably fall under the “healthy” category, I promise that it doesn’t taste like health food. No dusty hippie communes here, just bright, delicious, hearty soup. And even though this soup is technically vegan, you won’t miss the meat at all. This soup is so thick and hearty it’s practically a stew!

kale and lentil soup | Brooklyn Homemaker

Hearty Kale and Lentil Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups diced onions (1 large onion)
1 cup sliced carrots (about 3 carrots)
1 cup sliced celery (about 3 to 4 stalks)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
one 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup dried green or brown lentils
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 bunch Lacinato kale, ribs removed and roughly chopped (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large heavy stockpot or dutch oven. Add onions, carrots, and celery, & season with salt and pepper. Sauté until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté one minute more. Add tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes to concentrate their flavor. Add lentils and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add kale and parsley and simmer 5 minutes more. Check that lentils are tender. Add vinegar, taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and some nice crusty bread. A bit of parmesan cheese could be a nice touch too.

guacamole salad with jalapeno lime dressing

Even if you’re not a big sports buff, I’m sure you’ve heard by now that there’s a big sports ball game coming up this weekend.

guacamole salad with jalapeno lime dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

I don’t really follow sports ball, but talk of “the big game” is utterly unavoidable on the tv and in public conversations and small talk with customers at work. From what I’ve gathered, the Denver Cows are playing the Southern State Snow Leopards. Or something like that. I wasn’t really listening.

guacamole salad with jalapeno lime dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

I generally tune out when I hear any sports talk, especially this time of year. The only thing that ever catches my attention during sports ball season is the TV segments about game day food and recipes. Chips and dips and wings and all things deep fried and heart clogging and delicious. Pizzas and snackadiums and coolers full of beer. Oh yeah, and we can’t forget the guacamole.

guacamole salad with jalapeno lime dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

The other day someone on TV mentioned that over the past few years avocado consumption on game day has shot straight through the roof. This year they’re estimating that 53.5 million pounds of avocados will be purchased and pummeled into guacamole, and that the total amount of guacamole eaten that day would fill the stadium to almost 12 feet deep.

Now that’s what I call a snackadium!

guacamole salad with jalapeno lime dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Even though I won’t actually be participating in any game day festivities, hearing about a 12 foot deep stadium full of guacamole definitely got my mouth watering and my wheels spinning.

Instead of just making a killer batch of guacamole though, I wanted to find a way to turn it into a filling healthy meal rather than a bowl of dip to serve with chips.

guacamole salad with jalapeno lime dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

It didn’t take me long to decide I’d be making a big beautiful dinner salad, but I really wasn’t sure what to call it. The most obvious name was, well, “guacamole salad”, but I was afraid that that name would conjure images of a scoop of guacamole plopped into the center of a bed of greens.

I considered calling it a deconstructed guacamole salad since it has all the traditional guacamole ingredients separated and recombined in a different way, but I was afraid that you’d see the word “deconstructed” in the title and roll your eyes so hard they’d get stuck, and then you wouldn’t be able to read all about this delicious salad.

So, guacamole salad it was.

Trust your gut. (Your gut wants guacamole.)

guacamole salad with jalapeno lime dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re not fond of arugula, this salad can basically be made with any greens you want. I like the pepperiness of arugula and think it pairs really well with everything else in this salad, but spinach or mixed greens or some nice crunchy romaine would work really well too. It’s totally up to you!

You could also leave out the grilled chicken if you want to keep things meat-free. I’d suggest that maybe you could add a full can of black beans (instead of the half can listed below) for extra protein, or maybe throw in some grilled mushrooms or zucchini for a meaty bite? You could even swap out the chicken for some thinly sliced steak or grilled shrimp if you’re into that kind of thing. Why not? Infinite possibilities. Whatever you like y’all!

guacamole salad with jalapeno lime dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

This salad is simple, easy, filling, and perfectly delicious. Bursting with creamy buttery avocado and packed with all the fixins that go in to a traditional guacamole. Sweet cherry tomatoes, biting red onion, fresh green cilantro, even a handful of tortilla chips for crunch! It all comes together with a bright and citrusy jalapeño lime dressing that could not be easier to make, especially if you have an immersion blender.

All the flavor of the game day grub, without the food coma!

guacamole salad with jalapeno lime dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Guacamole Salad with Jalapeño Lime Dressing

Jalapeño Lime Dressing:
zest and juice (about 1/4 cup) of 2 limes
1 jalapeno, seeded and roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Salad: 
3 to 4 generous cups arugula
2 ripe avocados, cut into large chunks
1 cup halved grape tomatoes, about 1/2 a pint
1/2 a small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 to 1 cup torn cilantro leaves, stems removed
1/2 to 1 cup tortilla chips, crunched up (but not crushed to dust)
1/2 a can of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 chicken breasts, grilled and thinly sliced (optional)

Make the dressing:
Combine all dressing ingredients in a small measuring cup or wide mouth mason jar and puree with an immersion blender until creamy and smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender you can use a regular blender or food processor. Alternately you could just chop the jalapeño and garlic super finely by hand and shake to combine. Set aside.
Can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to use.

Assemble the salad:
Layer all remaining ingredients in a large serving or salad bowl. Once ready to toss, pour dressing over the top and toss toss toss to distribute all ingredients and evenly coat with dressing. Serve immediately.
If you want to assemble the salad ahead be sure to wait until the last minute to cut open the avocados or to add the tortilla chips or dressing.