Cookers & Kibitzers: Fall & Thanksgiving Food/Recipes

Nov 17, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Helping Hands, Irene Morse

by Irene Morse

The Cookers & Kibitzers Club is a group of women in Visalia who get together each month to enjoy cooking good food and having great conversation. See what they have for us this month-there are recipes at the end of this article.

The Cookers & Kibitzers celebrated winter vegetables this month. Winter vegetables sometimes get a bad rap; all-too-often the preparation lacks creativity. We set out to right that wrong with our November meal.

The Menu:
Served eight of us, with leftovers, for $11 each (not including wine)

Chris provided a list of suggested wine pairings for sweet potatoes.

• Gewurztraminer with roasted sweet potatoes. Other possibilities are, Riesling or, if you prefer red, Zinfandel.
• Merlot with sweet potato fries
• Sparkling wine such as champagne or Prosecco with spicy baked sweet potato casserole

Sweet Potato Soup with Buttered Pecans

Winter Squash Shepherd’s Pie
Spinach, Fennel and Apple Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

Maple-Pumpkin Flan

We had considered Pumpkin Crème Brule’ for dessert but opted for the simpler Flan. The Brule’ recipe is included here also. The Maple-Pumpkin Flan can be prepared either savory, as a side dish, or sweet by slightly varying the recipe. We elected to prepare it for dessert.

Maple-Pumpkin Flan

At the last minute, some of us remembered that Margaret doesn’t like cooked orange vegetables. This was going to be tricky. We made adjustments to the Shepherd’s Pie for her as well as for our two (quasi) vegetarians. As for the rest, Margaret was a good sport and tasted a little of everything.

Don’t be afraid of this soup. Although it has “sweet” in its name, the soup is deliciously thick and savory. This cooking group totally rocks soup!

The recipe calls for a dollop of Crème Fraisch and a few Buttered Pecans to top each serving. You might be thinking of skipping this part but hang in there; they soften the rich taste of the sweet potato, add crunch, taste great and look luscious.

The recipe also calls for leeks. Don’t omit them or substitute in this recipe. Leeks are in the onion or garlic family but they have a much richer flavor and not as much heat. They are perfect for soups.

Although you can buy Crème Fraisch at most markets, it’s very easy to make and I’ve included this recipe as well. I keep a jar in the refrigerator all summer to dollop on fresh fruit but it’s good on soups or even in salad dressings as well.

We wanted something very light – and green – to go with our Shepherd’s Pie and Janet located the perfect salad recipe.

This salad is so much more delicious than the name implies and the champagne vinaigrette is well worth the pricey champagne vinegar. The pistachios are the perfect crunch; this is a great salad to lighten a heavy entrée.

Cooking Tip of the Month: Do not refrigerate sweet potatoes. Dampness will cause the potatoes to rot. Temperatures below 55 degrees cause the potato to become hard and will affect the taste.

Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dry place. An apple added to a sack of sweet potatoes will slow down the sprouting process. Sweet potatoes have fragile skin and bruise easily.

Bonus Tip: When cooking with leeks, remember that, unlike onions, they are ribbed inside and will collect the dirt they grow in. To prepare them, cut off the dark green leaves and cut the leek in half, length-wise. This exposes the ribs which can be pulled gently apart and washed under cold running water.


Sweet Potato Soup with Buttered Pecans
serves 8 to 10

¾ C Onion, finely chopped
1 C Leek, finely chopped
2 large cloves Garlic, minced
3 large Carrots, sliced thin – about 1 ½ C

Delicious Savory Sweet Potato Soup with Buttered Pecans and Crème Fraisch

1 Bay Leaf
3 Tbs Unsalted Butter
2 lbs – about 3 large – Sweet Potatoes – peeled and sliced thin
1 Baking Potato – about ½ lb – peeled and sliced thin
5 C Chicken Broth – plus additional for thinning the soup if needed
¼ C Dry White Wine
1 ½ C Water
Salt and Pepper to taste

For Buttered Pecans:

¾ C Pecans, chopped
2 Tbs Unsalted Butter

Crème Fraisch or Sour Crème as an accompaniment

In a soup pot, cook the onion, leek, garlic and carrots with the bay leaf in the butter. Stir until the vegetables are softened. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the sweet potatoes, russet potato, broth, wine and water.

Simmer, covered, 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender. Discard bay leaf.

In a blender, puree the mixture in batches. Transfer back to the soup pot. Add additional broth to thin if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


In a skillet, cook the pecans in butter over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown – about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Serve in bowls with a dollop of Crème Fraisch and a sprinkling of buttered pecans.

Crème Fraisch:
A long-ago friend, Connie Parks, gave me this recipe – makes a cup to cup and a half

1 C heavy Whipping Cream
½ C Sour Cream

Put the whipping cream and sour cream in a bowl and whisk to mix well.

Let it sit out for twenty-four hours. I use a mixing bowl with a pouring lip. I can then cover it to keep dust out but leave a small opening for the mixture to get air (which is crucial).

Savory Lamb and Carrots for the Shepherd’s Pie

The mixture will ferment slightly and thicken. May be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

Winter Squash (or Pumpkin) Shepherd’s Pie
serves 6 (it served all 7 of us)

2 ½ lbs Pumpkin or Winter Squash
2 Tbs Olive Oil
2 lbs Lamb – cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tsp Kosher Salt – divided
½ tsp Pepper
1 medium Onion, cut into wedges
3 Garlic cloves, chopped
4 medium Carrots, peeled, cut into ½ inch chunks
8 oz medium Mushrooms, stems removed
¼ C Flour
½ C Red Wine
1 C Beef or Chicken Broth
1/3 to 2/3 C Cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. The rack should be in the top third of the oven.

Put the pumpkin or squash on a cookie sheet. Roast, covered, until tender – about 20 to 25 minutes. We also roasted a Russet Potato for Margaret.

Meanwhile. Heat oil in a large, wide pot over high heat. Add lamb, 1 tsp salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring as needed, until meat is browned on all sides. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, until they begin to soften.

Transfer ingredients, with juices, to a bowl. Add carrots and mushrooms.

Reduce heat to medium low. Add flour to pot, whisking constantly, until four smells toasted – about 1 minute.

Pour in wine and broth. Simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened – about 4 minutes.

Pour over lamb mixture, stirring to combine.

Spoon mixture into individual ramekins or casseroles. We followed all of the above instruction except we omitted the lamb in two of our pies and omitted the carrots in one.

Mash the pumpkin or squash (or white potato) with remaining salt and enough cream to make the consistency of mashed potatoes. Dollop over the mixture in the ramekins or casseroles. This will be the top crust of the Shepherd’s Pie.

Baked until browned and sauce is bubbling – about 30 minutes.

Spinach, Fennel and Apple Salad
serves 4

We made a recipe and a half and it was plenty for all 7 of us

4 C Spinach Leaves – we used pre-packaged
1 medium Fennel Bulb, julienned
2 Apples, cored and sliced
2 oz Goat Cheese, crumbled
¼ C Pistachios

Champagne Vinaigrette

3 Tbs Champagne Vinegar
1 Lemon, juiced
¼ C Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

A pretty little juicer with a lemon cap

Combine salad ingredients.

Whisk vinaigrette ingredients and toss with salad.

Serve immediately

Maple-Pumpkin Flan
This recipe was Beth’s – serves 8

15 oz can Pumpkin Puree
3 large Egg Yolks
2 large Eggs
1/3 C Maple Syrup
May substitute Apple Syrup for savory flan
1/3 C Sour Cream (may use low-fat)
4 Strips Bacon, minced for savory flan
Salt and pepper to taste
Orange Zest – optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Blend pumpkin, yolks, eggs, syrup and sour cream in a food processor until very smooth. If making savory flan, stir in the bacon. Salt and pepper to taste. We used a pinch of salt to bring out the flavors of the dessert flan.

Coat six 6-oz ramekins with bakers’ spray and pour in batter about ¾ full. Place the cups in a roasting pan, add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the cups.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and let the flan rest for 20 minutes. Let cook a bit, run a knife around the outside edge of the ramekins and unfold onto plates.

Top with sour cream and garnish with orange zest if desired. This part works better with savory flan; we skipped it.

Pumpkin Crème Brule
This is a recipe of Chris’ – serves 6

1 ¼ C Whipping Cream
½ Vanilla Bean, split
5 large Egg Yolks
6 Tbs Sugar
1 tsp Nutmeg, grated
½ C solid-pack Pumpkin
2 Tbs Orange Liquor
¼ C Brown Sugar, packed
½ tsp Cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Bring cream to boil in a heavy saucepan. Remove from heat, add vanilla bean. Let stand 20 minutes. Discard vanilla bean.

Whisk together yolks, 6 Tbs sugar and nutmeg. Add pumpkin and orange liquor and mix until smooth.

Whisk in cream mixture. Divide custard among six ½ cup ramekins. Place the cups in a roasting pan, add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the cups.
Bake until sides are set but centers move slightly when shaken – about 20 minutes.

Remove from water bath and cool. Refrigerate one hour.

Preheat broiler. Sift brown sugar and cinnamon into a small bowl. Sprinkle over custards. Broil 8 inches from heat source until sugar begins to melt – watch carefully – about 30 seconds.

Serve immediately.

Next month, the Cookers & Kibitzers are taking some time off. We’re going to sit back and enjoy a Christmas Tea provided by Ruth Rader. Ruth always serves waves of delicious goodies and we can’t wait to see what is on the menu.

Irene Morse is a freelance writer. When not hanging out with her husband, Gary, and their large family, she enjoys traveling in search of adventure and examining the human condition through drama and community theatre. Read her family’s Christmas story in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Christmas Magic, 2010. Her column on theatre appears regularly in the local newspaper. Email her at irene [at]

1 Comment

  1. I’m going to try that spinach and fennel salad!!Sounds really good and refreshing when I think about all the heavy food that is usually in a holiday meal. This would be good in the summer and the winter as well. Thanks.


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