Archive for November, 2008

Pork and Pumpkin Coconut Lemongrass Curry


[Also published on KQED’s Bay Area Bites.]

Holidays are the ideal time for big family dinners followed by days of leftovers. But by this time, you may have eaten your fill of turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey chili, and turkey casserole. After a few days of eating all things turkey — and pie! — I have an urge to dig into either pork or beef. As an added measure, I like to make it a bit spicy to wake up my palette. So if you’re also a bit tired of holiday leftovers, Pork and Pumpkin Coconut Lemongrass Curry may be just the antidote you’re looking for.

As an Italian girl whose blood flows with as much olive oil as hemoglobin, I am not a confident curry maker. But after a trip to the market where the butternut squash was beautifully stacked and the organic pork shoulder looked so tempting, I decided these were the perfect curry ingredients and so gave it a try. Because I didn’t have a recipe on hand, I was forced to shop with just my imagination as a guide.

It seemed to make the most sense to pick up some lemongrass, which has such a lovely fresh flavor, along with cilantro, coconut milk and green curry paste to go along with my pork and squash. If you are not a cilantro fan, you could just as easily use Thai basil.

Once I got home, I wanted to make the cooking process as easy as possible, so decided to let my blender do most of the work. This is the type of meal that simmers on your stove for a good hour or more, but making the dish itself is fairly quick. If you like to use a crock pot, you could easily pull this meal together in the morning and then let it simmer all day. Whichever route you take, the result is a rich, aromatic and flavorful bowl of curry goodness — just the remedy for turkey leftovers.

Pork and Pumpkin Coconut Lemongrass Curry

Serves: 4-6


1 Tbsp vegetable oil

2 cups butternut squash or sugar pumpkin

1 medium onion chopped

2 lbs pork butt or shoulder cut into 1-inch cubes

1/8-cup finely chopped lemongrass

1/2 cup cilantro or Thai basil 1-inch chunk of ginger peeled and cut into pieces

2 large garlic cloves

1 large or two small shallots, or 4 green onions (only the white part)

2 Tbsp fish sauce

4 Tbsp water

2 Tbsp green curry paste

1 can coconut milk

2 1/2 cups water to cover the meat



1. Sprinkle salt on the pork cubes and set aside.

2. Heat a large stew pot on high. When the pot is nice and hot, add the oil and then carefully drop the pork into the pot, leaving at least a 1/4-inch space between pieces.

3. When the meat carmelizes on one side, turn each piece over and brown the meat on each side. Note: If you do not leave room between the individual meat pieces, they will steam instead of sear. This means you will probably need to brown the meat in two batches.

4. When the meat is browned, place all of it in the pot along with any juices that have collected.

5. Add the onion, stir it in, and let it cook for about 2 minutes with the meat on medium heat.

6. Add enough water to the pot to cover the pork and then scrape the bottom of the pot to incorporate the browned bits.

Note: If you are using a crock pot, you would now start to put all the ingredients into the main basin. Just put everything in (including the curry paste mixture and pumpkin) and then simmer for 6-8 hours on low.

7. Place the lemongrass, cilantro or basil, ginger, garlic, shallots, fish sauce, curry paste, and 4 Tbsp water in a blender and blend until everything is fully chopped and incorporated so you have a runny paste.

8. Stir the paste into the meat, add the coconut milk, and then simmer for at least a half hour (although preferably an hour) with the cover on.

9. While the meat simmers, peel the butternut squash or cooking pumpkin and then cut it into 1-inch cubes.

10. Add the pumpkin to the meat and continue to simmer until the pumpkin is soft.

11. Serve over rice.


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Stuffing, Gravy and Mashed Potatoes: Oh My!


[Also published on KQED’s Bay Area Bites]

As far as I’m concerned, side dishes are what make a Thanksgiving dinner great. Sure, I like turkey, but I truly love stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes. For me, carbs topped with gravy make this holiday meal delicious.  The problem is that most of us don’t make these three dishes very often, so preparing them once a year — for a table full of family and friends no less — can seem intimidating and make you feel a bit like Dorothy walking into the dark unknown forest with the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. (Some of you may be able to tell that my daughters have just discovered the joys of watching – and rewatching and rewatching and rewatching — the Wizard of Oz).

I made my first solo Thanksgiving dinner when I was 22 years old. My mom was sick and so I jumped in at the last minute. I had never made a chicken, let alone a turkey, but was excited to help out my mom and cook the meal.  I muddled through the day, making boxed stuffing, lumpy mashed potatoes with the skins mixed in, and watery gravy. It was the worst Thanksgiving meal my family had ever eaten, but nobody seemed to care. Everyone just seemed thankful that they didn’t have to cook all day, and, of course, we were together.

Since then, I have cooked numerous Thanksgiving meals, some with help and some by myself. Each year I learn something new and almost always try something a little different. My stuffing is now always made from Ciabatta and oven-roasted chestnuts, my mashed potatoes are creamy, and my gravy is (thankfully) thick. So, if you’re in need of a little Thanksgiving advice, here are a few things I’ve learned throughout the years about my three favorite parts of the Thanksgiving meal.

Moist Flavorful Stuffing

To stuff or not to stuff, that is the question. Although many recipes call for placing the stuffing in a baking dish and cooking it separately from the turkey to avoid bacterial contamination, I think this makes it dry. I therefore bake my stuffing in the turkey so all the lovely juices drip into the dressing, making it moist and flavorful. Without those, the stuffing is really just a mix of bread and other stuff. I then scoop it out when I take my turkey out of the oven, place it in a dish, and stick that back in the oven so it can heat up to the proper temperature while the meat rests. This allows you to get all the flavor of a stuffed dressing, while making sure it won’t kill anyone.

Note: I won’t recommend a specific stuffing recipe as there are tons of recipes out there.

Here’s what I do

  1. Make your favorite type of stuffing, place it inside the turkey, and bake according to your turkey baking instructions.
  2. When your turkey is resting, take the stuffing out of the turkey and scoop it into a buttered baking dish.
  3. Drizzle about 1/4 cup of turkey broth on top.
  4. Cover your dish and set it in the already heated oven for about 15 or 20 minutes while you make your gravy. The cover on the dish helps keep the moisture in, but baking it longer gets it up to the right temperature to be safe.
  5. Bake until the stuffing is 170 degrees.
  6. If you want a crisp topping, take the cover off for the last five minutes.

Basic Gravy

There are so many gravy recipes out there, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one proper way to make it. Yes, I’m sure many of the results from those recipes are delicious, but the simple fact that gravy has to be made at the very end of the cooking process means it should be quick and easy. I don’t have time to chop up giblets or add special ingredients.

Here’s what I do

  1. Make a stock out of the turkey neck, giblets, onions, celery, carrots and whatever herbs you’re using for your turkey earlier in the day.
  2. Warm the stock right before you take the turkey out of the oven.
  3. When the bird comes out, set it on a serving dish to rest and then drain all the juices from the pan into a fat separator.
  4. While the fat separates from the juices, put your turkey baking dish on the stove, mix in 2-3 tablespoons of flour. If you don’t have much fat in the pan, add in a couple of tablespoons of butter and create a roux.
  5. Slowly start to deglaze the pan with the turkey stock. Don’t add any black crispy burnt pieces, however, as they’ll taste bitter.
  6. Pour the deglazed juices into a pot, add the defatted juices, and then add more turkey stock until you have a smooth and rich gravy. If you have lumps, just whisk it or put a blending stick in and pulse until the lumps are gone.
  7. Add in any chopped herbs you would like to accent the gravy. I like to use about a teaspoon of fresh thyme.
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Velvety Mashed Potatoes

I like my mashed potatoes creamy and so put them through a ricer to get a smooth consistency. If you don’t have one, you can also mash the potatoes with a fork to get the same fine texture. It just takes a little longer. Here are some tips to making velvety potatoes.

Here’s what I do

  1. Use Yukon Gold potatoes as they have an innate creamy texture. I usually use about 2 – 2 1/2 pounds.
  2. Peel the potatoes before boiling them and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Make sure the potato pieces are all about the same size so they cook equally.
  3. Salt your boiling water to help season your potatoes.
  4. When you can easily poke the potatoes with a knife, drain them, and then stick the potatoes back into the now dry pot and heat on medium for about a minute while stirring. This will dry any excess moisture from the boiling process so the potatoes can soak up your milk, butter and cream.
  5. Place the potatoes in a ricer and press them into a large bowl.
  6. Heat 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup cream and 1/4 cup of butter in a pot.
  7. Add the heated milk mixture to the potatoes and stir. Stop adding when the potatoes are the consistency you like.
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Fluff the potatoes a bit with a fork to aerate.
  10. Set the potatoes in a buttered casserole dish, top with small cubes of butter, and bake until the top is slightly crispy.
  11. Serve.

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Stuffed Challah French Toast with Raspberries


[Also published on KQED’s Bay Area Bites.]

Whether it’s a lazy weekend morning, or a busy holiday, there’s nothing nicer than having breakfast with family and friends. On Thanksgiving, I love to start my day by drinking coffee while I chat with my mom and sister as my kids and their cousins run around and play. Often, however, we need to chat and drink our coffee while also preparing for the big feast later in the day. As cooking a Thanksgiving or other holiday dinner is an all-day event, breakfast needs to be easy. So, while I am always tempted to make something elaborate, I rarely do as the morning plays second fiddle to the Turkey main event later that day.

But a recipe doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming to be delicious and look great. Case in point: Challah French toast stuffed with cream cheese and jam and topped with berries. Regular French toast is a universal favorite, but with just a little extra effort, you can make it exceptional. Even better, this breakfast couldn’t be easier to make and you can even prepare most of the dish the night before.

I use Challah bread in the recipe as the egg dough makes it light and fluffy, which is perfect for French toast. You can use whatever bread you like, but just make sure it’s not sliced as you want to be able to cut nice thick pieces so you can create pockets for the cream cheese and jam.

The jam can be any flavor you’d like. I’m partial to using raspberry preserves for the filling and then topping the final product with fresh raspberries, but apple butter is a fantastic alternative and would go great with cooked apples on top.

The egg mixture is seasoned with vanilla, maple syrup, and cinnamon, which add sweetness and a great aroma. It also includes orange zest to brighten the flavors and add a little nuance to the raspberries. If you don’t have orange zest, you can just add in a tablespoon of orange juice.

Whether it’s Thanksgiving, another holiday, or just a regular old morning, Challah bread French toast with cream cheese and jam is a pretty great way to start the day.

Cream Cheese and Jam Stuffed Challah French Toast with Raspberries

Serves 6 – 8 people (double if feeding a larger crowd)


1 loaf Challah bread

4 eggs

2/3 cup whole milk

Zest from one orange

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

1 Tbsp maple syrup

1/2 cup cream cheese

1/2 cup of raspberry jam

Butter for frying

Warm maple syrup to top the French toast

Fresh raspberries

Powdered sugar


  1. Cut bread into 1-inch thick slices.
  2. Cut a pocket into the side of each piece and set aside.
  3. With a butter knife, spread some cream cheese into the pocket of each slice and then spread some jam on top of the cream cheese. Note: If you tear a little hole in the bread while spreading the cream cheese or jam, but pinch the bread to seal.
  4. In a large baking dish, mix the eggs, milk, orange zest, cinnamon, maple syrup and vanilla.
  5. Set each slice of bread into the egg mixture, making sure each side is evenly coated. Turn each slice over so they’re covered on both sides and then let sit for at least 5 minutes so the egg starts to soak into the bread. You can also let the mixture sit overnight. Just make sure you flip the bread in the egg so it’s covered on both sides and then cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
  6. 6Heat a large griddle or frying pan to medium high.
  7. Coat the bottom of the pan with butter (and don’t be stingy). Once it’s sizzling, lay your egg-coated Challah inside.
  8. Cover the pan and lower the heat to medium or medium low and let the Challah sit for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom side.
  9. Flip the Challah pieces and cover again until the French toast is browned on both sides.
  10. Finish cooking the rest of the egg-dipped Challah (adding more butter between each batch) until finished.
  11. Top finished French toast with maple syrup and raspberries.

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Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Today’s New York Times Sunday Magazine highlighted a Green Goddess salad dressing recipe from 1948. After looking at the picture of crisp romaine lettuce topped with creamy goodness, I knew I had to make it. The only problem is that it includes anchovies. Although I love those salty little fish, my husband has designated anchovies enemy number one in our pantry. I find this unfair. Anchovies are delicious, good for you, and one of the only available fish in plentiful supply (and not on any seafood watch lists). With this in mind, I thought I’d try something a bit sneaky: I decided to blend the ingredients so my husband couldn’t detect the anchovies inside. And, because I thought it would be fun for the ‘Green Goddess’ dressing to actually be green, I added spinach leaves to the puree. I also tossed some homemade croutons into the salad, which added a welcome crunchiness and soaked up the flavor of the dressing nicely.

The dressing itself was rich in flavor and body, and both my husband and I loved it. If you’re an anchovy hater, you should note that the taste of the fish wasn’t particularly noticeable in the final product, although it did have a nice salty flavor reminiscent of a Caesar dressing.

Feeling a bit guilty about my little ruse, I waited until we were halfway through dinner to spring the hidden ingredient on my husband. By this time, he had devoured most of his salad and was eying the remnants of what I had left on my plate.

“So, there’s anchovies in this dressing,” I mentioned nonchalantly.

“No!” he said, staring down at his plate.

“Yup.” I said, taking a small sip of wine, and then left it at that. I then handed over my plate and let him finish the few leaves I had left.

Here’s the recipe. I highly suggest purreeing the ingredients instead of whisking them (as the recipe suggests) as it gives you a nice creamy dressing. Blending everything together is also the easiest way to sneak those anchovies past unsuspecting spouses.

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Fuyu Persimmons

persimmonsMany people seem a bit confused by persimmons. Do you cook them or eat them raw? Are they bitter or sweet? How do you eat them? It seems that whenever I buy some, either the person next to me in line or the cashier quizzically looks over and asks what I’ll do with them. Everyone seems to have heard a story about some brave soul who tried one and was rewarded with a mouthful of astringent yuckiness.

Contrary to popular belief, only one type of persimmon is astringent when unripe — the Hachiya persimmon. I won’t discuss the Hachiya today, other than to say that it is sugary and bursting with flavor when ripe and is the perfect base for puddings and fruit butters. Rather, I want to focus on the Fuyu, which is non-astringent, has a sweet and gentle flavor, and is often grown locally. It also happens to be delicious.

Fuyus are shaped like tomatoes and can range in color from light to deep orange. And, unlike Hachiyas, they can be firm when ripe (like an apple). You can cook with them or eat them raw. They’re great all by themselves as a fruit snack, can be cooked into stews or pies, or included raw in salads. Although you can wait until Fuyus get soft before you eat them, I think they are best when firm and crisp. They are also quite pretty when sliced as their seed holes make a natural star pattern. Just make sure they’re not too light in color (and definitely not greenish) as they’re only sweet when ripe.

persimmon slices

Persimmons are available all over the Bay Area this time of year. In addition to finding them at farmer’s markets and in grocery stores, you may also see them hanging from neighbors’ trees on walks around your block as they are a popular yard tree. (Not that I am advocating stealing your neighbors’ fruit. Just knock on their door and ask if you can have a few if they have an abundant crop. Chances are they aren’t eating the fruit anyway.)

Here are a few Fuyu persimmon recipes my family and I have been enjoying this Fall. The tart is one of my new favorites, with a sweet and delicate texture and flavor that is perfect for a cold evening. The couscous is fast to make and a great accompaniment to chicken, pork, or a vegetable stew. And, if you’re looking for something fresh, crisp and seasonal, try the salad, which is perfect as part of a family meal and pretty enough to serve to guests.

If you’ve never tried this fantastic seasonal fruit, I hope you give one of these a chance.

persimmon tart

Fuyu Persimmon, Pear and Walnut Rolled Tart

Makes: 10 – 12 servings

1 puff pastry or pie crust
2 Fuyu persimmons
1 pear
1/2 cup currants
1 Tbsp orange zest
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tsp flour
1 egg scrambled
1 Tbsp white sugar

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Oil or butter a cookie sheet and set aside.
3. Chop persimmons and pears into 1/2-inch cubes.
4. Place persimmons and pear in a bowl and mix in the currants, zest, sugar, walnuts and flour.
5. Roll out your pie crust or puff pastry.
6. Lay out your pastry crust on the cookie sheet and then spoon the fruit filling in a long and full line in the center.
7. Fold the outer edges over the center, overlapping the ends.
8. Fold under the ends and crimp so you have a full seal.
9. If desired, brush on the egg wash and sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar onto the top of the pastry dough.
10. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until fully baked.
11. If the top crust starts to brown too much, simply cover it with foil and continue to bake until finished.


Persimmon, Fennel and Almond Couscous

Makes: 4 – 6 servings

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped fennel
1 whole Fuyu persimmon peeled and chopped into cubes
1/2 cup chopped unsalted raw or roasted almonds
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup couscous
1 cup hot water, chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt to taste

1. Chop onions, fennel and persimmons and set aside.
2. Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pan and add onion and fennel.
3. Cook vegetables for about 5 minutes on medium heat, or until fennel and onions are translucent.
4. Add persimmons, salt, almonds, and thyme and cook for another 2 minutes.
5. Stir in couscous and then add hot water or broth along with a little salt to taste.
6. Turn off heat, cover, and let sit for five minutes.
7. Add in parsley, fluff the couscous with a fork and then serve.

Fuyu Persimmon, Pear and Pine Nut Salad

Serves: 4 – 6 people

1 bunch of cleaned raw spinach, arugula, or other leafy salad green
1 Fuyu persimmon chopped into cubes
1 pear chopped into cubes
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 Tbsp sugar
Your favorite dressing (I like to use an oil and white balsamic vinegar blend seasoned with Dijon mustard and lemon zest)

1. In a pan, heat pine nuts on medium heat, toasting gently.
2. Sprinkle on the sugar and quickly incorporate it into the nuts so they become lightly coated.
3. Once the sugar starts to meld to the nuts, immediately turn off the heat so you don’t burn the sugar.
4. Place greens, persimmon, pear, and nuts in a salad bowl and mix with your favorite salad dressing.

Related Posts
Fuyu Persimmon Upside-Down Cake
Hachiya Persimmons

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