I have a confession to make. I have never, in my entire life, cooked a
turkey. Eating the birds is no problem, but the thought of preparing one of those enormous, featherless, blue-pink things
causes me to break out in a cold sweat. Perhaps it's the sheer enormity of the task, or
maybe I'm not quite ready to turn into my mother.
Although it is customary for guests to call on the day of a dinner party to
politely ask if they can bring anything, it would ruffle too many feathers to
ask anyone to bring a fully cooked 20-pound turkey. This eliminates the
option of hosting my own dinner. So every November I am left in the
unenviable position of having to grovel for an invitation to someone else's
feast. But even beggars like to be choosers, so in order to increase my DQ
(desirability quotient) I have mastered a few traditional dishes, then
given them a surreal spin.
If you are looking for a meal ticket or a few new
ideas to jazz up your own dinner, the following recipes for maple-glazed yam stars, cranberry sauce with orange zest and Grand Marnier and instant apple crisp are guaranteed to be gobbled down. And don't forget to check out my recipe for apple and Calvados stuffing.
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MAPLE-GLAZED YAM STARS
If you grew up thinking that yams and marshmallows were inseparable, try this simple-to-make alternative that will add an artful touch to every plate.
4 large yams, at least 3 inches in diameter (each yam should yield 3 stars, depending on exact size)
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1/3 cup maple syrup
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place each sweet potato or yam on its side and slice crosswise into 1/2-inch rounds.
3. Using a 3-inch, star-shaped cookie cutter, cut out a star shape from each round; discard the scraps. If your star cookie cutter is packed away with the Christmas decorations, place a paper star stencil on top of the round and use a paring knife to cut the shape.
4. Place stars in the baking dish.
5. Pour the orange juice and syrup over the stars.
6. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
7. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for approximately 30 more -- or until yams start to become candied, but before the pan juices reduce to the point of burning.
8. To avoid any breakage, serve directly from the baking dish with a spatula.
Le Secret: Select large, fat, symmetrical sweet potatoes in order to have the most surface from which to cut the stars. If cutting the stars by hand, fear not. Imperfectly shaped stars will be interpreted as a fond reference to "Le Petit Prince," not a lack of artistry.
The Adventure Club: Create your own shapes.
- When cooking for large groups, you may choose to serve one star only
on each plate. This is perfectly adequate.
- There is no need to peel the potatoes because all of the skin is removed when the star shape is cut.
Hints for Advance Prep: Cut the stars up to one day in advance and keep them refrigerated in water to preserve their freshness and color.
Music to Cook By: Neil Young, "Harvest"
CRANBERRY SAUCE WITH ORANGE ZEST
AND GRAND MARNIER
(Makes 2 1/2 cups)
You won't find cranberry sauce like this in an Ocean Spray can.
1 1/2 cups orange juice (preferably freshly squeezed)
2 ounces Grand Marnier
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries (3 cups)
1 orange, zested
1. In a medium pot, over medium-high heat, add juice, Grand Marnier, brown
cinnamon and clove. Stir until sugar dissolves.
2. Add cranberries and zest, and bring to a boil.
3. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until all of the cranberries have exploded (it's like popping popcorn). Stir occasionally to help break the berries.
4. Allow to cool and serve.
INSTANT APPLE CRISP
Too busy raking leaves to bake all afternoon? Here's the 5-minute
solution to the dessert dilemma.
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
5 apples, peeled, cored and sliced finely
3 ounces of Calvados (a French apple brandy), or Apple Jack (the American version), or any brandy or dark rum
1 cup premium granola
1 quart frozen vanilla yogurt or ice cream
1. In a sauti pan, over medium-high heat, melt butter and brown sugar. Stir constantly until the sugar is totally melted.
2. Add apples and stir for three minutes, or until soft and lightly browned.
3. Add granola and toss for 1 more minute.
4. Pour in Calvados, let sit for 10 seconds, then ignite with a match. Stand back! Flame should burn out after 10 seconds. If it continues to burn, put a lid on it.
5. Serve immediately over frozen yogurt.
Note: Once granola has been added, don't take any timeouts, or the granola will lose its crunch.