Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thoughts on Thanks (and our Thanksgiving Hors D'oeuvre)

This time every year, and throughout the holiday season, we are called to be thankful. The truth is, we can never be reminded enough. 

Hogs in a Blanket with Mustard Chutney, Photo: NK 

Now I know as well as anyone how easy it is, amid life's many obligations, to feel sorry for ourselves. When I'm exhausted after a long day at work and facing several hours of household chores, even the littlest annoyance (most recently it's been never being able to find the matching lids to my tupperware, and if you ask my husband, he'll accurately report that it is "ruining my life!") can send me into a pity spiral. 

Though I have momentary lapses, I like to think I've always been a grateful and generous person, someone very tuned in to the world around me, and more keenly, someone aware of the suffering of others. The world has been on my mind more than ever this past year, the year I became a mom. Not a day goes by that my heart doesn't break for families and children that are suffering in our all too troubled world. And whether it is because food is my passion and cooking is my favorite way to pass time, World Hunger is a scourge that I also lament often. 

As I cook today's appetizers for our family Thanksgiving feast, it doesn't escape me that for far too many, ample food is a luxury they will never be afforded. Whether we look across town, across the country, or to the other side of the world, children and adults suffer the pain of hunger. I can think of no greater psychic pain than not being able to nourish my child. And so my heart breaks,

for those enduring hunger, 
malnutrition, and wars and terror in their homeland. 
And for anyone who has lost a loved one because of these horrors. 

And it is in these moments that, almost daily, I am overcome by gratitude, even shame for my trivial complaints. As I think more on human suffering, I inevitably reaffirm a very basic truth I have always held in my heart, that there, but for the grace of God (or if you prefer, the fates), go I.

If you can lend your time, talents, or money to help others, then you too are very lucky and your soul will be full. Whether it be making a meal for an elderly person on your block, volunteering, or making a donation to a worthy charity, let the Thanksgiving gratitude you feel for the good things in your life inspire you to pay it forward. Not just now, but all year long. In this giving spirit, I've included links to three food-related charities that I continually support as they realize their mission of fighting hunger one belly at a time. 

The Community Food Bank of New Jersey - feeding hungry communities locally 

Heifer International - Provides animals and farming supplies and training to needy families across the globe, allowing them a sustainable and renewable means to feed themselves and their communities 

City Harvest - Rescuing huge amounts of food from all over NYC that would otherwise be wasted, and supplying it to shelters and other outreach centers 

And to the brave people who run towards and not away from danger and war to help those in need (I am thinking especially of two other worthy charities, Doctors Without Borders and The International Rescue Committee), you are gift to humanity doing work that few among us, myself included, would be selfless enough to do.  

In closing, I am thankful for my beautiful family, the food on my table, the safety and warmth of my home, a job that I enjoy by day and one that helps me to provide for my loved ones, and finally, that I am fortunate enough to share my passion for cooking with others. Thank you for reading and please enjoy today's creative take on Pigs in a Blanket.

Cook's note: We followed Food & Wine's recipe exactly except that we used Applegate Farm Turkey and Chicken Andouille Sausage. The key to perfectly cooking these little bites is a mini muffin tin (which is a great investment because she has so many great uses, especially for hors d'oeuvres). Trust me, you will not be able to keep these on the plate!!  

Hogs in a Blanket
From Food & Wine, Grace Parisi
Makes 36 Hors D'oeuvres


Monday, November 9, 2015

Pumpkin Improvisation - Brussels Sprouts Braised In Pumpkin Beer

For me, fall cooking is all about Brussels Sprouts and cooking with Beer (just like HERE and HERE), and, of coursepumpkin everything

It's with these ingredient muses in mind that I'd like to tell you about a dish that happened quite by accident last Sunday, thanks in large part to the major craving for Pumpkin Brew that I experienced that night. With a 22 ounce bottle and some time on my hands, it wasn't long before my favorite "weeknight" Brussels Sprouts recipe was transformed into something extra special.  

Some of the best recipes are indeed happy kitchen improvisations. So crack a beer and lose your inhibitions as, together, we whip up this easy fall side that brings together the flavors of Pumpkin, bright, crispy Apples, and of course, Brussels Sprouts:

Brussels Sprouts Braised In Pumpkin Beer, Photo: NK 

Brussels Sprouts Braised In Pumpkin Beer With Apples & Onions

A medium bunch of Brussels Sprouts, bases cut off, then cut in half lengthwise
1 Tablespoon Salted Butter + 1/2 Tablespoon, divided
1 teaspoon Olive Oil
1/2 Cup  + 1/8 Cup Pumpkin Beer such as Pumking, divided
1/4 Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1/2 Red Apple Such as Gala or Pink Lady, cored and cut to a large dice
1/2 Medium Yellow or Sweet (Vidalia) Onion, Sliced
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper

Heat Oil and 1 Tablespoon Butter over medium low flame.
Saute until cut sides begin to brown, but not burn, about 4 minutes.

Add Chicken Broth and Pumpkin Beer and cook, covered, over medium heat until Brussels Sprouts are tender but not mushy, and liquid is reduced by half, about 8 minutes.

Pour off and reserve the pan liquids and discard. Remove Brussels Sprouts to another small plate.
Turn heat to medium and add a 1/2 Tablespoon of Butter to the skillet. Add the Sliced Yellow Onion.

Saute Onion over medium flame until they start to brown in parts. Immediately lower flame as far as it will go and add diced Apples.  Cook, stirring, another two minutes and then add another 1/8 Cup Pumpkin Beer.

Turn flame back to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beer has evaporated fully and caramelized, about 4 minutes. Return flame to lowest setting and add back in the cooked Brussels Sprouts. Heat through another several minutes, stirring, and add one generous pinch of Kosher Salt and a sprinkle of Pepper.

Serve warm!