Note: You don't have to use baby zucchini for this. I would, however, choose small-ish squashes. If your zucchini are a little bigger, reduce the oven temperature to 400˚F and bake for...
Some weeks would be better spent in bed, preferably under the covers, with (spiked?) hot chocolate and nature documentaries (preferably narrated by David Attenborough). Of course, there are small mercies to be had--a vase of flowers on the table, shepherd's pie, watching a guinea hen take a dust bath. But it's hard to ignore the days when the bad or just the mundane outperforms the good.
It isn't that life is so horrible just now. Really, I'm pretty lucky. I have a steady and interesting job, a gracious fiancé, and a flock of chickens. My refrigerator is full of good food, I have time to read for fun, and my cat is really sweet and fluffy. I really can't ask for much more without feeling like a jerk.
But the truth is that no matter how good we have it, we as humans are subject to our emotions, and emotions are typically illogical, not requiring absolute Armageddon to flip out. Thus, nothing of consequence has really happened this week, but I've been lodged in the part of my brain where the evil creatures dwell; where cakes go to fall, where red wine goes to spill on white carpet, and where all my favorite television series go to end with a sappy and nostalgic finale.
Also, I left my favorite houseplant out in the first heavy frost of the season. That's a real bummer. I actually got emotional over it. It was a really beautiful houseplant. But enough of the bad news for today. Like I said, life is pretty good right now.
I'm sure you've all been thinking about Thanksgiving. We have too. I have a slightly different take on the holiday itself. If there's something I want to cook for Thanksgiving, I do so before or after the holiday. I have a huge family. We meet every year at the old family homestead in Western NC for Thanksgiving lunch, and it's a potluck affair. There is so much food that if I even bother bringing anything, I whip up a no-nonsense batch of roasted vegetables. I do, however, have a fondness for food-centric festivities, and so I have created some dishes that I plan to serve at my own, personal Thanksgiving feast. I've tried to be original without creating an overdone Thanksgiving monster that no one will want to cook.
Without further ado, I present my riff on traditional mashed potatoes. They're almost as fun to cook as they are to eat.
The fried sage is strictly optional/extra credit here. While it does add a huge flavor boost and a delicate crunch (not to mention the presentation value), this dish is still delicious without it. I have simply been trying to use as much fresh sage as possible before the frost kills my plants. This recipe appears very involved and time-consuming, but to be honest, if you make this, you will probably like it better than the turkey.
Begin by preparing the caramelized shallots. Melt in a large sauté pan over medium heat:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Add and stir to coat with the butter:
2 cups whole shallots, sliced very thin
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch brown sugar
When the shallots start to sizzle, turn the heat down to medium-low. Stir occasionally until the shallots begin to turn golden brown, about 20 minutes. Add and stir until evaporated:
2 tablespoons port
Remove the shallots to a small bowl and set aside. In the same sauté pan (or a smaller one if you don't mind doing dishes), melt over medium heat:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
The butter will start to foam. When the foam subsides, add and fry until crisp, about a minute (the leaves will be done when they turn a slightly darker shade of green):
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, washed and dried thoroughly
Remove the sage leaves to a plate and reserve the sage-infused butter for another use.
Place in a medium saucepan:
1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into small florets
Pour into the saucepan:
1 cup chicken stock
Bring the stock to a simmer, and simmer until the cauliflower is very tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and place in the bowl of a food processor or in a large bowl. Pulse or mash the cauliflower until it resembles mashed potatoes. Pulse or stir in:
1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Spoon the cauliflower into a serving dish, top with the shallots, and serve alongside the sage leaves.