Monday, November 29, 2010

Gala Parfait: Making Family, and Pie

Thanksgiving. And for the first time since college I decided to branch off on my own for the holiday, take an active role in the kitchen, and cook. A lot.
The plan shaped up, and by day-of the head count had risen to 20 guests. Achievable? You bet!
In fact, I'm certain it will go down as one of the most memorable Turkey days ever. But every success has a starting place. Ours was with these two crucial elements:
1. Some very generous, flexible, and incredible hosts
2. A Table
Two doors and three saw horses snugly filled the living room of Nicolette and Torsten's cozy Silver Lake cabin, creating one long table. Apropos dried flowers, pine cones, leaves, squash, corn, and candles lined the tabletop. We decided that real glassware, silver, dishes and cloth napkins were important - committing ourselves to semi-permanent dish duty. The mismatched napkins and wine glasses honored the makeshift charm that Charlie Brown has forever graced upon the holiday.
The "kids table"... Outside. (Brrr!)
We lit a fire and slowly began preparations for the casual open-house-style arrival of our guests.
Pleased as punch isn't a saying for no reason - 'Tis the season to start mixing up large batch pleasers! This improvised batch went quick, an effervescent concoction of Sofia Blanc de Blancs, Lambrusco, and fresh cranberries.
Always one to astonish, Torsten's bemusing offering of fresh homemade sushi was quite the belle of the appetizer spread.
I took cues from one of my favorite blogs Banana Wonder and gussied up a plain ol' baked brie with pistachios and golden fig preserves.
By dusk, guests began to gather near the warm hearth while finishing touches were put on dinner. [Read: As we scrambled to get everything warmed in the packed oven!]
All of our friends were brilliant in bringing vibrant dishes to add to the feast, melding the newfangled with the classic: truffled mashers, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with pecan gingersnap praline, Brussels sprouts lardons, sauerkraut with gin and caraway (recipe), minted pea purée, Knedliky (Czech raised bread dumplings, recipe below), an autumn salad with edible flowers...
The real unexpected treat came in a cast iron pot from Nicolette's neighbor - Homemade authentic Hungarian Ghoulash! The paprika spiked stew of beef, root vegetables, and sauerkraut was served with dense hand-made pinched egg noodles and a yogurt cucumber salad. Spicy and satisfying!
Paired with a supple 2007 Koehler Santa Ynez Riesling, the meal was just perfection.
As we sat around the table after dinner, Nicolette delivered a round of espressos, in boots of course.
After a short walk in the crisp evening air, it was pie time.
Pumpkin cupcakes and a non-baked cranberry cheesecake joined the fleet of pies, along with Nicolette's no-fail milk chocolate hazelnut panna cotta (recipe here).
I made two decidedly Southern pies this year - An old timey brown sugar pie (recipe here) and a decadent Texas pecan & chocolate pie (recipe here).
Because pie is best a la mode, I whipped up a batch of my favorite ice cream, a simple recipe I developed following my last trip to New Orleans with a fistful of rum pralines to put to good use.

Rum Praline Ice Cream
makes 1 quart of ice cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup The Kraken Black Spiced Rum
4 rum pralines, crumbled (from Laura's Candies in New Orleans' French Quarter - they ship!)

If using an automatic ice cream maker, make sure bowl is completely frozen before starting. Whisk the chilled milk and cream with sugars until completely dissolved. Stir in the vanilla and rum. Pour mixture into ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's instructions (should churn for about 25 minutes). Crumble pralines into the ice cream during the last minute. Set in freezer for at least two hours before serving.
Last but definitely not least, I want to share the recipe for the Knedliky - which have always been my absolute favorite vehicle for gravy. Growing up in a Czech and Bohemian family, these steamed dumplings were served at every holiday meal, usually in place of mashed potatoes. The fluffy, starchy, steamed slices have become the flavor of home. This was my first time preparing the dumplings, and the recipe below that my sister adapted from various Czech recipes (including Czech It! the Prague Blog) made them come out absolutely perfect.
Note: This made 3 medium sized loaves... About 12-15 servings. The cooked loaves freeze beautifully too!

Raised Dumplings (Knedliky)

1 pkg dry yeast
1 cup milk
½ tsp sugar
1 ½ cups Wondra flour (in the blue can)
2 - 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp baking powder
3-4 slices country white bread
1 tbsp butter

Slice the bread into small cubes (removing the crust if desired).
In a dry non-stick pan, sauté the cubes over medium to med-high heat till they get somewhat toasty. Add pat of butter to the pan and toss with the cubes as it melts. Set aside to cool.

Heat the milk just barely to warm (too hot and the yeast will die) and then add the yeast and sugar. Stir gently to dissolve.

Mix together all ingredients except bread cubes, adding flour gradually until you have a heavier dough. Then add the toasted bread cubes and knead gently with floured hands (or in stand mixer) until combined.

Divide into 3 oblong loaves (each loaf must fit across pot of boiling water, with room to expand). Set on a floured surface, cover with plastic wrap and/or a tea towel and allow to rise for 45 min-1 hour.
Have ready one or two large pots of boiling water (dumplings double in size). Cook 8 minutes covered, then turn over and cook 8 minutes more covered.

Take out dumpling loaves and place on cutting board. Pierce with fork or knife to let steam out. Roll over and pierce again. Cool a bit and slice using bread knife - or, as one recipe suggested, with a piano wire!

*If you make ahead: Boil loaves and let cool…then wrap well in plastic wrap and store in fridge. Day of, slice dumplings and steam to re-warm.
Drown with gravy and enjoy!

Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Oh Golly....what a feast of food and friendship! You did good!!!

  2. Yum! I'm so honored you made the Greek baked brie - yours looks really scrumptious with the cheese bursting out from its shell. What an amazing dinner you had, and I love the czech recipe. I will try it soon. All the best!

  3. Thanks Mom!
    Anna - Nectarine preserves sounded better, but I had the fig on hand so improvised. It was SO tasty! I love pistachios in any form... :)

  4. Jesus Bloody Foodie Christ. I don't know how you do it, but somehow, you always seem to raise it. Good thing you're my fwiend. <3

  5. I love this. I can't wait to celebrate Thanksgiving with you someday.

  6. Chocolate pecan pie AND rum prailine ice cream? Are there any leftovers?!?!

  7. Wind Attack - actually YES, of BOTH! :)

  8. This is an absolutely delicious, joyful post. The photos are full of foodie pleasures and happy people. Thank you posting, and for all the recipes.

  9. I love the way you write and your photos are always crisp and bold. Congrats on a successful T-giving dinner. I can't wait to try the rum praline ice cream recipe.