Gregor and I are not ones for traditional gender roles. In our years together I can think of only once when he sat on the couch watching sports (other than the World Cup – the one time every few years he can, in his words, “be a boy” and be interested in sports) as I cleaned house (I tend to be more of the organized chaos school of thought) – and we both agreed it felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone. But once a year my family gets back to our hunters and gatherers roots…
Every November, some of the men on my dad’s side of the family trek to Maine for a week to hunt deer. While their husbands are away my aunt goes to stay with grandma in Connecticut, and at some point in the week they drive to Boston for a day or two to visit Gregor and I. And we cook. A lot. Thank goodness I’ve kept Gregor with us to make up where my domestic skills are lacking!
Last year we made a day of it, starting at the farmers market and returning home to cook an entire vegetarian Thanksgiving feast. We had beautiful baby carrots, sweet shallots, crispy roasted brussels sprouts and parsnips and leaks, baked squash with mushroom stuffing, garlicky mashed potatoes…
This year they arrived later in the day so we were not quite so ambitious. We picked a hearty soup and sandwich menu and curated a plate of artisan cheese, all vegetarian-friendly.
In addition to a cranberry wensleydale, a goat gouda and a blue stilton, we made a sweet baked brie topped with cranberries, pecans and pear. The prep time was minimal, and it disappeared almost as quickly. I wasn’t able to grab any pictures before we devoured it. (Forgive me in exchange for the recipe?)
Gregor was looking up mushroom recipes and came across one for Wild Mushroom and Roasted Garlic Sandwiches. It uses simple, straightforward ingredients, but the results were other-worldly good. I swore that they tasted just like one of my favorite dishes from Hamersley’s Bistro. I finally went back and looked at Epicurious and confirmed that it is indeed Gordon Hamersley’s recipe! (No one else seemed nearly as impressed as I was with my own perceptiveness – ha!)
When I read that the recipe called for four heads of roasted garlic (in addition to a few cloves raw) I thought it sounded excessive, but my aunt and Gregor quickly convinced me otherwise. Roasted garlic is an entirely different substance than its uncooked counterpart. It is sweet and soft and spreadable, like garlic jam, and incredibly rich. We consumed a head of garlic each without batting an eye.
If you’ve never roasted garlic, it’s easy enough. Cut the end off the bulb, exposing the tops of all the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, wrap in foil, and cook at 400 degrees for about an hour. It’s done when the cloves are soft, but you’ll know by the smell. If it starts to smell bitter remove it from the oven immediately. It can go very quickly from perfectly caramelized to burnt.
The mushroom selection at Whole Foods was a bit under-stocked, so we went with mostly baby bellas (also called crimini mushrooms). We did spring for 2-3 each of the chanterelle and trumpet mushrooms, but at about $20 a pound any more seemed unnecessary. I should also note that we omitted the wine, more as an oversight, but it did not seem to affect the end result. As the intro advised, we resisted the urge to move the mushrooms around in the pan, stirring them only twice throughout the process. The patience paid off, rewarding us with the most flavorful mushrooms we’ve ever prepared (and trust me, in a vegetarian household you get good at it).
Our soup selection was inspired by my friend Caitlin. After reading her tweet about Thomas Keller’s Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Red Beet Chips from the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook I searched the blogosphere for the recipe. Thanks to this helpful guide to Ad Hoc recipes online, I found it on A Kitchen in Brooklyn. We halved the recipe, but used a bit extra of the cauliflower, leek and onions. We also forgot to grab curry powder, but a mixture cumin, paprika, cayenne and a few other spice cabinet essentials seemed to do the trick.
The trickiest part of this recipe was the garnish. We’ve yet to obtain a mandolin, and although Gregor cut impressively thin slices we ran into some frying issues. We may or may not have had a minor flare up on our burner when beets hit the hot oil and the excess liquid caused spitting and popping. I’d advise pressing the beets between paper towels to remove some of the moisture before frying.
The soup was incredibly smooth and flavorful, and the textural contrast of the roasted cauliflower florets, crunchy croutons and crispy beet chips offset it nicely. The beets especially added a nice sweetness – plus they made fun swirls of pink when you stirred them into the soup!
My brother gave us an immersion blender for Christmas a few years ago, and it has to be one of my favorite kitchen tools. It produces a much finer texture than a traditional blender, and simplifies the whole process as well. You can puree soup right in the pot you cooked in! I’m amazed at how often we use this. Since it entered our kitchen mashed potatoes became whipped potatoes, ice cream turned to milkshakes, and leftover veggies are inspiration for thick, satisfying soups.
The day after my family left we took the leftover ingredients from the weekend (as well as a few we didn’t get around to) and, following the same general preparation, came up with a Potato and Sunchoke Soup. We cut the milk and cream for a thicker, heartier dish, and replaced water with broth for additional flavor. The resulting soup was perfect for a cool, rainy day.
My aunt picked out the sunchokes on a whim, and when they didn’t make the dinner menu we were left with the produce and no idea how to prepare it. Gregor had been wanting a potato soup, and it seemed like the pairing could work. The addition of the sunchokes was subtle, but it went nicely with blue cheese crumbles. Of course, I could just as easily see this topped with cheddar, chives and (for the carnivores) bacon bits.
Now, without further ado, the recipes:
Baked Brie with Cranberries, Pears and Pecans
Sweetened dried cranberries
Crackers (for serving)
If you’re not a rind person remove the rind from the brie. (Gregor and I disagree on this, so we cut off the top and left the bottom for him, which seemed to work well.) Place on aluminum foil. Top with cranberries, pecans, pear slices and a generous drizzle of agave nectar. Cover with another piece of foil and fold edges to make a pouch. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately. We served it with rosemary crackers, but you can also just scoop cheese onto the pear slices. They should still be just slightly crisp.
Potato and Sunchoke Soup
4 small golden potatoes
4 sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes)
1 clove garlic
1/4 large onion
1/4-1/2 tsp seasoning of choice (again we used some cumin and paprika, but this time added some sage and thyme as well)
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup milk
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
croutons (We chopped up sourdough from a few days earlier, tossed with olive oil and herbs and put it in the oven at 350 until it browned.)
freshly ground black pepper
parsley for garnish
Coarsely chop the leek, onion, shallots and garlic. In a large pot over medium heat melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the chopped vegetables and 1 teaspoon salt and stir until they are evenly coated.
Cut the potatoes and sunchokes into small cubes. (We left the potato skins but peeled the sunchokes and soaked them in water with a little vinegar to retain the color.) Add to pot along with seasonings. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, until tender.
Add the broth, milk and cream and increase heat to medium high. Simmer for thirty minutes, occasionally skimming off any foam that forms. Remove from heat and allow the soup to cool for about five minutes. Puree using an immersion blender (if you don’t have one you could also transfer to a blender). Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve topped with croutons, blue cheese crumbles and fresh parsley sprigs.