Side Dishes

So rather than going into a long drawn explanation (will leave that to Wikipedia) around what plantains are and where they originate, I am just going to boil it down to this:

– from the banana “family”
– not as sweet as bananas
– must be cooked prior to eating
– several ways to prepare them
– green plantains yield savory creations
– yellow plantains result in a sweeter side dish

And I can go on and on…

Most times we cook the yellow sweet plantains at home. My 4 year old simply loves them, and they are actually quicker to prepare, especially if you just fry them. So I will post about one of the most popular ways of preparing the yellow plantains and come back with another post on how to prepare the green



2 cups canola oil
1 plantain

1. In a medium skillet, with 1″ sides, bring the oil to 160 degree temperature.
2. While the oil heats, cut both tips of the plantain, cut a slit across the length, and with your fingers slowly pry the skin apart.
3. Cut into 1/2 inch slices and fry for approximately 5-7 minutes per side.
4. Remove from the oil and place into paper towels to drain.

Plantains Frying

Plantains Frying

Sweet Fried Plantains

Sweet Fried Plantains


This recipe has been “somewhat in development” for a while.  I have made gnocchi with mushrooms many times over, different varieties depending on the season, always finished with a garlic aioli and fresh parm.  I always thought I should make a winter version of it by adding a hearthy cream sauce.  Well, I was in Amsterdam last November and found just the right inspiration here. This velvetty cream sauce has just the right consistency and such delicate flavor. I set to replicate what I tasted at Pianeta Terra and can now share it with you. By the way, if you are ever in Amsterdam, you have got to try this place. Hands down, best Italian food I have had outside of Italy.

Gnocchi al Tartuffo

Gnocchi al Tartuffo

2 TB butter
1 cup chopped onions
2 cups chanterelle mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 pkg gnocchi, about 4 cups dry
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded parmessan cheese
2 TB truffle oil

1. In large skillet with tall sides melt butter and sautee onions till softened. Add mushrooms and continue to cook over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper.
2. In a medium stock pot bring water to boil, add salt and gnocchi.
3. Cook gnocchi till doness according to package, typically 4 minutes.
4. While gnocchi cooks, to the skillet add the heavy cream, milk and cheese. Season again with salt and pepper and bring to a slow simmer.
5. Remove the cooked gnocchi from the stock pot using a slotted spoon and put directly into the skillet with the creamy mushroom sauce.
6. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes until the sauce starts to thicken.
7. Drizzle with truffle oil and enjoy!

Chef’s Notes
– Chanterelle mushrooms are the best choice for this dish, but when not available, criminis work nicely.
– In the absence of truffle oil, you can always use high quality extra virgin olive oil.
– This is a great stand alone main dish, first course, or side dish to filet mignon or roasted lamb chops… I have tried them all!

Goya frozen yuca
Goya frozen yuca

Yuca, or cassava, is a long and tapered root vegetable popular in Puerto Rican cuisine that is most popular around the Christmas holidays. My favorite method of preparing yuca is by simply dressing it in an onion based mojo sauce. I made this as part of the menu for my son’s baptism and it was very well received. It was there and then that I realized how the foods that I sometimes discount as being “too simple” can wow others.

Fresh yuca is hard to find in most midwest markets, but Goya sells the frozen kind, that works just as well. That is what I buy, as it saves me the time it takes to peel the fresh variety.

Making Yuca al Mojo is very simple, it will take you no more than 30 minutes from beginning to end!

Yuca al Mojo

Yuca al Mojo

2 lbs frozen yuca, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 TB whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup white vinegar

1. Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil, add yuca and cook for approximately 20 minutes, till fork tender. Drain, set aside to cool.
2. In a skillet, heat the olive oil and cook the onion for 10 minutes till transluscent.
3. To the skillet, add the garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Cook for an additional 3 minutes.
4. Add the vinegar, and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
5. Yuca contains a membrane that runs through the center of the root. After the yuca cools off, remove the membrane with a paring knife, and transfer to a serving bow.
6. Pour the onion mixture over the yuca and mix till combined.
7. Enjoy!!!

Somewhat traditional, but with a twist! Yes, there’s turkey and sweet potatoes; however the pie goes out the window on this one. I know, many of you are cringing right now. I am not a pie confectioner (I know you have read that before, and actually I have a great post about pies coming soon, so stay tuned) and really pie is not my thing, but ice cream is. For some reason (read: my family), I have never gotten to make this menu just as listed below. I figured I would post it and perhaps live vicariously by anyone who decides to give it a whirl. So here it goes:

  • Creamy Pumpkin Soup
  • Scalloped Sweet Potatoes – I just wish I could find true yams in Indiana, ugh!
  • Cranberry Wild Rice Dressing
  • Roasted Turkey – we brine our turkey in a dark beer and apple cider concoction that produces the moistest and most flavorful meat. Can’t take credit for this, its an Emeril’s original.
  • White Cheddar and Pancetta Drop Biscuits
  • Pumpkin Pie Gelato

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients ~ serves 10
4 TB butter, divided
1 cup chopped onions
1 TB dry thyme
2 TB rice flour
1/2 cup milk
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups pumpkin puree
3 cups milk

1. In a large stock pot, melt two tablespoons of butter and add the onions. Cook the onions, stirring frequently, until they soften up. Add thyme and cook for two more minutes.
2. Add the remaining butter and flour to form a paste. Add milk and continue to stir until the mixture starts to thicken.
3. Add the chicken broth and continue to stir till combined.
4. Stir in pumpkin till combined, and continue to cook covered and over low heat for 20 minutes.
6. Let the soup cool off and puree in small batches using the food processor or blender.
5. Return to a stock pot, stir in milk till heated through and serve.

Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

Scalloped Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients ~serves 8

4 TB butter
6 cups of yellow onion, sliced thin
2 TB sugar
2 cups heavy cream
3 cinnamon sticks
1 TB orange zest
4 lbs sweet potatoes, sliced thin
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
½ cup Japanese style bread crumbs
1 cup white cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a skillet, melt the butter and cook the onion till softened. Add the sugar and cook until they start to caramelize.
3. In the meantime, in a sauce pan, bring the cream to a simmer, add the cinnamon stick and orange zest. Cover, turn the burner off and set aside for 20 – 30 minutes.
4, Butter an 11×14 baking dish and add a layer of the sweet potato slices. Add a layer of the onion mixture and then half of the cream mixture. Repeat the layering process.
5. Mix together the toasted pecans, bread crumbs and shredded white cheddar. Cover the top layer of sweet potatoes with the cheese mixture.
6. Bake covered, at 350 for 45 minutes, or until fork tender. Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Cranberry Wild Rice Dressing ~ I have never been a fan of cooking the dressing inside the turkey, something about not being able to control the moisture. To keep the turkey from drying, I simply brine it and place some cut up apples in the cavity. But back to dressing. This recipe has taken different forms over the years. I first created it for a client who needed a vegetarian dressing for Thanksgiving and from there it just went a couple of different directions; including a wild rice version that I just served at a dinner party this past weekend.

Ingredients ~ serves 10 – 12
2 cups wild rice, cooked according to package directions, using broth instead of water
3 TB butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped fennel
1 TB fresh thyme
1 TB fresh sage
2 granny smith apples, peeled and cut in small cubes
2 red pears, cut in small cubes
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
2 TB chopped Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 cups dry bread cubes, preferably from a day old Italian loaf
2 cup vegetable broth

1. In a large skillet, melt the butter and add the onions. Cook for a 2 minutes, add the celery and fennel and continue cooking till they begin to soften.
2. Add the herbs, pears and apples and cook for an additional 10 minutes in low to medium heat.
3. In a large mixing bowl combine the rice with the apple/onion mixture. Once these ingredients are well combined, add walnuts, cranberries and parsley.
4. Add the bread cubes and combine. Now add the broth in batches combining well with every addition. The purpose is for the bread to soak up the moisture without making the dressing too runny.
5. Bake on a 5 quart, deep baking dish, covered, for 45 minutes at 350.

Roasted Turkey – I am a traditionalist in that I prefer to roast the turkey, I yet have to make an attempt at deep frying a turkey. That does not mean that I am not looking forward to trying it one day. Maybe one of these years I will work up the courage to stand out in the freezing cold and set up shop for the fried turkey experiment. In the meantime, a few simple steps will continue to yield the perfect bird.

  • Start off the roasting process and bake in a really hot oven, 400 degrees, for the first 15 minutes.
  • Bring the temperature down to 325 and cook covered for 90% of the remaining roasting time.
  • Start breast side down, and turn only once, when is time to cover to allow for the breast side to brown.
  • Brush several times during the roasting process with a mixture of butter and Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.
  • Stuff the cavity of the bird with a few cut up apples, I prefer to cook the dressing separately.
  • Lay the bird on a layer of celery and scatter cut up onions on the bottom of the pan.
  • Add chicken broth several time during the roasting process to continue to create steam around the foil tented turkey.

Seasoning – none! At least not in the way that most people think. I have been brining turkeys for clients, and our own holidays for several years. I started with a simple mixture of salt and water, until I came across this brine from chef Emeril Lagasse. I use it on turkeys, turkey breasts, and even chicken.

Emeril’s Brine:
2 quarts apple cider
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 cups kosher salt
1/4 cup black peppercorns
1 tablespoon juniper berries
4 bay leaves
Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
4 quarts dark beer

Mix all of the above ingredients and submerge the turkey in this mixture for 24 hours, in the refrigerator. I do ours in a bucket that we purchased a few years ago and is reserved for this use. You could also use a large cooler, and cover the turkey with ice that is still in a bag and won’t leak out, or inside a large oven bag.

Now, just a little more insight on the brining process and how it works. Brining allows for two key processes to develop; both of them resulting in added moisture. First, salt helps break down the protein structure that supports the contracting filaments, partially dissolving them. Second, and more importantly, the interaction between the salt and the protein results in larger water holding capacity in the muscle cells; which then absorb the water from the brine, increasing the water weight by 10% or more. When cooked the meat still loses about 20% of its weight in moisture, but this loss is counterbalanced by the brine. Hence, the moisture lost is only half of what it would have been without the brining process.

I will now get out of my brining soap box, and move on to biscuits!

White Cheddar and Pancetta Drop Biscuits ~ This has got to be the easiest recipe in this menu. All you have to do is prepare biscuit mix and add three more ingredients before baking. These are drop biscuits, no need to cut them in specific sizes or go through an elaborate process with the dough.

1/2 lbs pancetta, diced small
3 TB finely diced shallots
2 cups of bisquick mix
Buttermilk – add whatever amount the box indicates for 2 cups of mix and use buttermilk instead of water
1/2 cup white cheddar

1. In a skillet cook pancetta and shallots till the pancetta has rendered its fat and starts to brown. Set aside.
2. Prepare the biscuit mix according to package directions.
3. Fold in pancetta mix and white cheddar until incorporated.
4. Drop by tablespoons onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat.
5. Bake in the oven according to package directions in the biscuit mix.

Pumpkin Pie Gelato ~ I have finally determined the perfect ratio of milk/eggs/cream for this recipe. Took a few tries, and my husband very much enjoyed the recipe development process. Why is it gelato and not ice cream? It is all about the fat content in the milk (3 to 5 % for gelato). Now on to the next step, which is working with mix-ins. So look for that recipe later on this holiday season.

One thing that will make this recipe much much better is refrigerating the custard mixture overnight and finishing in the ice cream maker the next day. Also, an extra sprinkle of pumpkin spice is a nice finish when serving.

Pumpkin Pie Gelato

Pumpkin Pie Gelato

Ingredients ~ makes 6 servings
3 cups low fat milk, 2 % works well
2 cups whipping cream
1 vanilla bean
1 cup of sugar
4 egg yolks
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 1/2 TB pumpkin spice

1. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape its pulp.
2. In a deep sauce pan, bring the milk, cream, vanilla pulp and vanilla bean to a simmer; just until you see the edges of the liquid starting to bubble up or the mixture reaches 170F in a candy thermometer. Set aside to cool.
2. Mix the eggs and sugar using a hand mixer for 3 – 5 minutes.
3. Discard the vanilla bean. Begin adding the milk and cream mixture to the sugar and egg mixture 1/2 cup at a time.
4. Fold in the pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice.
5. Return to the saucepan and cook in low heat for a few minutes, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
6. Cool completely, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
7. Process mixture in the ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
8. Transfer to a container with a tight lid and freeze.