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Minimalist Thanksgiving




Pecan pie without golden syrup?

Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams.

The king of sweet and nutty pies has forever been one of my very favourite festive treats. I was conditioned from a young age to devour enormous slices of Auntie Jeanne’s or mama’s own each Thanksgiving and Christmas, always smug to be able to boast to my British classmates that we were allowed TWO Christmas dinners in the space of a month.

This year our Thanksgiving plans were minimalist. We were expecting a new colleague of DS’ from Niger for a quiet dinner à trois. It seemed like the ideal opportunity to wheel out a traditional pecan recipe, confident that I’d have the joy to be able to introduce someone to its delights for the VERY FIRST TIME. Although admittedly in Paris this is not such a feat - most people seem to have somehow missed out on this seminary dish. Oh the penuries of French cuisine.

I was already salivating at the thought of that buttery sugary high when I was stopped short by a considerable hurdle. Golden syrup here isn’t a thing. They don’t use it at all. Nullepart. There are one or two (expensive) American Epiceries in the centre of town, but it was freezing and pouring with rain so I couldn’t face the journey. Not even for Auntie Jeanne’s pecan pie.

And yet. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing. We’ve cut down on our refined sugar intake recently, both in anticipation of the (real) festive period to come, and also in a more prolonged move towards eating better. Thinking on my feet, I decided to go for maple syrup instead. Unrefined, widely available and still plenty sweet enough. Why shouldn’t it be as delicious?

Using Jeanne’s bible recipe as a reference, it was simple enough to leave out the sugar and to replace golden with maple syrup. While I was at it, I thought I’d swap the short crust for an almond pastry, which makes a more nutritious base and is suitable for gluten free peeps. Oh, and more pecans. Lots more pecans. As we would only be three, I made half quantities to avoid too many tempting leftovers. The result is a more grownup pie, which doesn’t leave your inner child dissatisfied. It’s less sweet than the original and nuttier, but every bit as comforting and tasty. Without the sugar crash. I’m feeling pretty smug about it.

I obviously wouldn’t be going the whole hog with a whole turkey for the main. After a reasonably lengthy detox, we had a hankering for burgers. Turkey sliders it would be. Easy to do for a small (or large) gathering, and suitably yankee for our guest (after my more Eastern looking spiced turkey oysters last year). These patties come together in no time, are tasty good and budget conscious. If I’d have been to get my hands on some cranberries (another little known delicacy here) I would have made cranberry sauce instead of guiltily resorting to ketchup and mayo. But hey, it’s a burger. We put cheese on top and enjoyed them in a brioche bun, to boot. I know I know, ketchup and brioche DO contain refined sugar. You win some, you lose some. For a more health conscious meal, the patties would also be lovely with a warming vegetable puree, like roasted carrot or butternut and a home made, naturally sweetened cranberry sauce.

As we were going down the burger route, I thought a salad accompaniment would be best. Sure, it’s filled with roasted sweet potatoes, but you get plenty of good greens in there too. Festive maple spiced almonds and pomegranate seeds add crunch, acidity and colour. This is a handy salad to have up your sleeve at this time of year, as it's enough of a treat to indulge some winter cravings.

In the end, our guest had to cancel, so there were plenty of tempting leftovers. Four tarts for two was a pretty ideal ratio.

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Et en français...

Sage and cumin turkey sliders

Serves four, generously, takes 25 minutes

main / perennial / easy peasy / quietly smug / gluten free (without the bun) / dairy free (without the cheese) / party / date night / ready in a jiffy / on a budget / baby / brunch

Delicately flavoured with sage and cumin, these patties are super quick to whip up. For a party, you could fry up the burgers in advance, then reheat them in a hot oven, adding the cheese when you heat them up. As I said above, if you’re after something lighter, serve them over a vegetable puree like roasted carrot or butternut. Or add a rasher of crispy grilled bacon to go the other way.

For the burgers:

* Turkey mince - 700g

* Ground cumin - 1 tsp

* Sage - about 6 leaves, chopped

* Courgette - 1, finely grated

* Egg - 2

* Salt - 1/2 tsp

* Black pepper - a few cracks

* Cheese - for topping the burgers. I used Tallegio which works well as it’s mild and melty. Brie would also be classic and delicious.

To serve - brioche buns, watercress and ketchup/mayo/ mustard. Or better, cranberry sauce.

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the burgers with your hands.

Heat a couple of large saucepans over a medium high heat (if you use two large pans you can cook all the burgers at once). Using a paper towel, smear some olive oil across each pan.

Using your hands, create medium sized burger patties (about 8 cm across) and place them in the pans to cook. You’ll get about 12 patties. Make sure the heat is high enough that they’re sizzling.

Wait about 10 minutes before carefully flipping them. Lightly toast the brioche buns while you’re waiting.

After flipping them, wait a few minutes and then lay a slice of cheese on top of each burger. Leave to cook for another five minutes, until the cheese is melted and the burgers look cooked through. Don’t be tempted to cook them too long - nobody likes a dried out turkey patty.

Let people assemble their own burgers at the table. Provide napkins.

Roasted sweet potato, watercress, maple spiced almonds and pomegranate salad

Serves 4, takes 45 minutes (15 minutes active time)

salad / side / autumn / winter / vegetarian / vegan / gluten free / dairy free / easy peasy / nothing fancy / party / date night / brunch / ready in a jiffy

A sweet and tangy festive salad which looks beautiful and is easy to put together. You can make the separate elements in advance and then assemble everything just before you eat.

* Sweet potatoes - 4, cut into wedges

* Olive oil - to drizzle

* Paprika - a few pinches

For the dressing:

* Dijon mustard - 2 tbsp

* Maple syrup - 1 tbsp

* Cider vinegar - 1 tbsp

* Water - 1 tbsp

* Olive oil - 4 tbsp

* Allspice - 1/4 tsp

For the maple almonds:

* Almonds - 1 cup

* Maple syrup - 2 tbsp

* Ground cinnamon - 1/2 tsp

* Paprika - 1/2 tsp

* Chili powder - a few pinches

* Water cress - enough for four

* Pomegranate - seeds of 1/2

Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C.

Lay the sweet potatoes out on a baking tray. Toss with olive oil and paprika and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden.

Next, make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together in a glass.

To prepare the almonds, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Then lay the almonds out on a roasting tray lined with baking paper. Once the sweet potatoes are cooked, reduce the oven temperature to 160 degrees C and bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven, let cool slightly before removing from the baking parchment and breaking up any clumps.

To assemble the salad, place the watercress in a large bowl and toss the dressing through. Arrange the sweet potatoes on top, then scatter over the pomegranate seeds and almonds.

Refined sugar free maple pecan pies with an almond crust

Serves 4, generously, 15 minutes active time, plus oven time

dessert / baking / perennial / showing off / gluten free / dairy free (option) / party / date night / refined sugar free / hands free / vegetarian

Auntie Jeanne’s pecan pie will always have a place in my heart. And my belly. This recipe keeps the basic components and flavours of her filling, but cutting out the refined sugar and considerably upping the density of pecans. The traditional pastry is replaced by a gluten free almond crust, more nutritious than your classic short crust, but still giving you a little buttery hit. If you wanted a dairy free version, you could replace the butter with coconut oil.

This yields four generous, deep, individual tarts. Double the quantities to make a large tart. You’ll just need to increase the cooking time for the filling.

For the crust:

* Ground almonds - 1.5 cups

* Butter - 50g, cold, cut into chunks

* Maple syrup - 1 tbsp

* Salt - a pinch

* Egg - 1

For the filling:

* Maple syrup - 3/4 cup

* Egg - 1

* Salt - a couple of pinches

* Ground almonds - 1 tbsp

* Butter - 2 tbsp, melted

* Vanilla essence - 1/2 tsp

* Ground ginger - 1/4 tsp

* Ground cinnamon - 1/4 tsp

* Ground cloves - 1/4 tsp

* Ground nutmeg - 1/4 tsp

* Rum - 1 tbsp

* Pecans - 125g

Four individual deep metal tart tins or one small deep metal tart tin

Start by making the crust. In a mixer, pulse the almonds and butter until just combined. Add the maple syrup, salt and egg and mix to combine.

Using your fingers, press the mixture into the metal tart tins and up the sides. Place the tarts in the fridge to chill for twenty minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.

To make the filling, whisk the egg and maple syrup in a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, apart from the pecans, and mix again. Finally add the pecans and toss to evenly coat.

Place the chilled tart cases in the oven and bake for about 12 minutes, until the crust starts to turn golden.

Remove them from the oven and reduce the heat to 160 degrees C.

Spoon the pecan mixture into the tarts. For a tidier looking tart, use your fingers to arrange the pecans on the top in a flat layer, the outside of the nuts facing upwards.

Bake for another 25 minutes, until the filling is just set.

Leave the tarts to cool for about 10 minutes before turning them out. Serve with something creamy and cold.


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