Turkey touchdowns

on Saturday Sept. 3, 2016 in Cary, NC

Fanny Slater with her mother Ra El Remez and father Jeff Slater.

Confessions of a food-obsessed family

by Fanny Slater

photographs by Casey Toth

My family doesn’t care for sports.

Let me rephrase. My immediate family doesn’t care for sports. My 89-year-old grandmother puts a dollar in a jar every time the Mets win, but somehow that competitive appreciation of athletic games completely surpassed my dad, mom, sister, and me. I honestly can’t recall one single instance when the four of us sat in the living room cheering on a game. We do have our version of the Super Bowl, though. It just happens to be filled with mixed greens and crumbled goat cheese.

Some favorite Thanksgiving sides.

Some favorite Thanksgiving sides.

You see, growing up in a Jewish family meant two things. One, our lives revolved around food, and two, our lives revolved around food. And with the absence of a big Christmas dinner, Thanksgiving (one of the rare times the four of us are back under the same roof) has always been a precious occasion. We once even postponed the holiday when my sister wasn’t able to fly back from her current home on Oahu. That year, while everyone else was enjoying turkey on actual Turkey Day, my mom, dad, and I were indulging in a traditional Jewish meal of Chinese takeout and cheesy romantic comedies.

But typically, as Thanksgiving nears and other families gather around their plasmas for the playoffs, my family tears through the aisles of Whole Foods in search of obscure ingredients. Lucky for me, my dad – known for his firm punctuality – likes to kick the games off early. So the minute my eyes open on the celebratory morning of Thanksgiving, I’m greeted by savory aromas of fragrant herbs and starchy baking potatoes.on Saturday Sept. 3, 2016 in Cary, NC

on Saturday Sept. 3, 2016 in Cary, NC

It’s always been our way. Growing up, I hated homework; but each year on Thanksgiving, I couldn’t wait to get to my first assignment. My dad was always the Captain of the Kitchen, but once my spark for cooking was lit, I obtained the rank of First Meat. This meant that my input on how we seasoned the bird was considered, and I was also allowed to melt the butter. My mom (our Official Taste Officer) had several important duties, such as softening the Saint-André cheese, composing a nourishing salad, and brushing our Persian cats to distract them from the poultry on the counter. My sister Sarah grew into her roles of Second Taster in Command and Certified Relaxer. In between wearing fuzzy socks, drinking wine, and taking baths, her job is to remove (eat) all of the crumbs and scraps from our prep.on Saturday Sept. 3, 2016 in Cary, NC

As my knife skills and culinary knowledge grew over the years, Thanksgiving planning became increasingly fascinating for my dad and me. We were able to put our creative foodie heads together and see what magic we could manifest as a team. As November arrived, so did our conference calls on topics like “basil versus tarragon.” We exchanged emails with subjects such as “RE: Walnuts in the Stuffing?” While most people stick to a consistent, traditional lineup of Thanksgiving fare, my dad and I were – and are – constantly trying to figure out how to make every dish soar with new inspiration.

Of course the menu always includes the usual suspects: turkey, wine, cranberries, potatoes, wine, stuffing. Did I say wine? But it’s the newly discovered ingredients, the locations we’re visiting, or the novel techniques we’ve recently acquired that light our imaginations on fire.

There was the November we spent on Sarah’s turf in Hawaii when our feast went tropical, with macadamia nut stuffing and pineapple-glazed turkey. There was the year I learned how to properly caramelize aromatics, and so sweet, rich Vidalia onions were threaded through the potatoes.

This year for our collaborative spread, we’ve decided to dedicate a side dish to each one of us – as we all work equally hard, in our own important ways, to create a beautiful meal. My dad and I got together for a dress rehearsal recently to iron out all of the kinks in this new repertoire.

For my mom (who is gluten-sensitive but has a soft spot for chocolate chip cookies), we experimented with several types of wheat-free stuffing. When we found one that hit the spot, we added chopped figs for sweetness and sage for a woody note. Then we bathed the mixture, which includes earthy roasted shiitakes and shallots, in creamy coconut milk. Packed into a roasted acorn squash, this stuffed stuffing is as exotic as Kailua Beach, my mom’s favorite destination on Sarah’s Oahu paradise.on Saturday Sept. 3, 2016 in Cary, NC

Sarah adores the three of us, but our twice-baked potatoes are definitely her fourth most important reason to return to our North Raleigh kitchen each fall. To pump up these flavor bombs, we loaded the spuds with fresh dill, sweet roasted garlic, and a crispy top hat of sharp, nutty Gruyere.

And despite the hours of thought and preparation that go into the other (more complex) side dishes, my dad and I have always been suckers for our tart, orange-infused cranberry relish. But instead of sticking the berries in a bowl this year, we decided to wrap thin, delicate layers of buttery filo around triple crème Brie, pop it in the oven, and drape our tangy relish over top. The burst cranberries (which were infused with lavender as an ode to my cookbook, Orange, Lavender & Figs) proved to be an idyllic match for the gooey cheese oozing from its crispy shell. We received two very enthusiastic thumbs up from our Official Taste Officer.

Seriously, with all of this food, who has time to watch football?

on Saturday Sept. 3, 2016 in Cary, NC

Gluten-Free Stuffed Acorn Squash with Figs, Shiitakes, and Coconut

Serves 4

2 medium acorn squash (about 2 pounds), cut in half lengthwise with seeds scraped out

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Kosher salt and coarse black pepper

2 medium shallots, roughly chopped

1 cup roughly chopped shiitake mushrooms

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

4 cups gluten-free bread cubes

1/4 cup chopped dried mission figs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock, as needed

Fresh chopped parsley (for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut a small slice off the rounded side of each acorn squash half so they sit upright. Evenly drizzle the center of each squash with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the maple syrup, and season generously with salt and pepper. Place the halves on a baking sheet and roast until tender but firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss the shallots and shiitakes with the remaining olive oil, and season with the sage and salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables onto a baking sheet and roast until the shallots are translucent, 15 to 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the roasted vegetables with the gluten-free bread cubes and figs. Pour in the melted butter, coconut milk, and then the stock (a few tablespoons at a time) until the stuffing is moist but not soggy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Reduce the oven to 300 degrees F.

Fill each squash cavity with the stuffing, and bake until topping begins to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Garnish with the fresh parsley.

on Saturday Sept. 3, 2016 in Cary, NC

Filo Baked Brie with Orange-and-Lavender Cranberry Relish

Serves 4 to 6 (with leftover cranberry relish)

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries

1/2 navel orange, skin and flesh roughly chopped

2 teaspoons chopped fresh lavender (or 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Kosher salt

3 sheets frozen filo pastry (18×14 inch), thawed

1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted, for brushing

1 round good-quality Brie cheese, paper removed but rind left intact

Lavender flowers, for garnish (may substitute mint leaves)

Crackers, for serving

In a medium saucepot over high heat, add the sugar, water, cranberries, orange, lavender, vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and cook (stirring occasionally) until the cranberries break down, about 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Unroll the filo dough and lay one sheet onto your work surface. Lightly brush the edges with some of the melted butter. Place another sheet of filo on top and brush the edges of that one with butter. Place the final sheet of filo over the first two sheets, brush the edges with butter, and place the brie in the center. Wrap the dough around the cheese (trimming off any excess dough if necessary), and flip the Brie over so it’s folded-side down. Brush the smooth top of the filo-wrapped Brie with butter, and place it on a lined baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Allow the Brie to rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting into it. Just before serving, top it with the cranberry relish, lavender flowers (or mint), and serve with crackers.

on Saturday Sept. 3, 2016 in Cary, NC

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Ricotta, Roasted Garlic, and Dill

Serves 4 to 6

4 large baking potatoes, washed

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and coarse black pepper

1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/4 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup half and half

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 small head roasted garlic, cloves squeezed out

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon paprika

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Rub the potatoes with olive oil and season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Place the potatoes onto a baking sheet and bake until completely cooked through, about 1 hour.

Reduce the oven’s heat to 350 degrees F.

Remove the potatoes from the oven, and allow them to cool to room temperature. Using a sharp knife, cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scoop the potato’s flesh into a large mixing bowl, being careful not to tear the shell. Arrange the potato shells back onto the baking sheet.

In the bowl with the potatoes, mash in the butter, Greek yogurt, ricotta, half and half, egg, roasted garlic cloves, and dill until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff each potato shell with the filling and top with a combination of Gruyere and parmesan. Dust each stuffed potato with paprika.

Bake until the potatoes are warmed through and the cheese is crispy and lightly golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.