Food & Drink

Versatile, fresh dishes with an extensive traveler’s touch

Valerie Gow’s 15 grandchildren won’t go to Thanksgiving dinner anywhere else, and looking at her specialties, it’s easy to understand why. In her 47 years of marriage to Russ Gow, they traveled extensively, and she picked up recipes wherever they went.

“I like to make dishes that are versatile, with fresh ingredients, and I add my own touch,” Valerie Gow said, as she frizzled leeks to add to her Butternut/Marsala Soup. The squash soup is so popular that her family has vetoed any other versions. “One granddaughter, that’s all she wants for Thanksgiving,” Gow said.

Gow, who has never had a marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole on her Thanksgiving table, offers a puff pastry version that can serve as a side dish or dessert. The sweet potatoes are placed inside the pastry, and topped with a maple syrup reduction. The pie is then cut on the diagonal, each slice stuffed with sweet potato and pecans and oozing the flavorful syrup. She confesses to buying the puff pastry, but even that time-saving step doesn’t prevent her from being up at the crack of dawn on the big day.

Another family favorite is her Cajun Stuffing. It’s not a baked stuffing, so it’s very soft, she says. She saves bread all year in the freezer for the annual treat. The “Cajun” comes from cayenne, red pepper and fennel seed, among other ingredients, “to give it a little kick.”

The food isn’t all that the Gows go all-out for. Their Thurston County home is decorated for each holiday, inside and out. Where do they keep all that stuff?

“See that three-car garage?” Russ Gow said. “There aren’t any cars in it.”

Valerie Gow, who worked as a chef in the early years of their marriage, and who is also an event planner, doesn’t plan to give up the reins to Thanksgiving any time soon. But, she is getting ready to make recipe scrapbooks for all those grandchildren for Christmas.

Jerre Redecker: 360-754-5422, @jredecker

Garnet Yams with Maple Cider Glaze in Puff Pastry

Adapted from a recipe from Gardening with Ciscoe

2 medium to large organic garnet yams

1 cup maple syrup

1 cup maple cider

1/2 cup pecans

1/4 cup fresh cranberries

Zest of 1 lemon

2 sheets Aussie Bakery frozen puff pastry, thawed

Egg wash (1 beaten egg with 1 tablespoon water)

For the yams: Up to two days ahead, wrap yams in foil and roast at 400 degrees until tender, about 45 minutes. Cool and peel. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

For the syrup: This step may be completed up to two days in advance. Let come to room temperature before finishing the rolls. In a heavy saucepan, combine the cider, syrup and pecans. Bring to a boil and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until mixture is reduced by half. Stir in cranberries and lemon zest. Set aside.

For the pastries: May be prepared a day in advance, but be sure to refrigerate covered. Lay one pastry sheet on a baking pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet. Brush lightly with egg wash. Lay the yam in the center and slice into 8-10 slices (do not cut through pastry). Gently press down slices to fan them vertically. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spoon half the pecan mixture over top of sliced yams. Roll pastry up and around yams, tucking in the ends and sealing the seams well with fingers.

Repeat with remaining pastry, yams and sauce. Cut a few slits in each pastry roll and brush the surface lightly with egg wash. You may cut out designs from extra puff pastry and attach to the surface, if desired. Finish with a light coating of egg wash.

Bake at 400° F for 15 to 20 minutes or until deep golden brown. Allow to cool slightly, then cut each roll into 4 to 6 slices. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Peppery Cajun Stuffing

1 cup butter or margarine, unsalted

2 cups onions, chopped

1 cup red bell pepper, chopped

1 1/2 cup celery (chopped)

1 1/4 teaspoons fennel seeds

2 cups dry bread crumbs

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup pecans, finely chopped

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

1-1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

In a heavy 10-inch skillet melt 1/2 cup of the butter over moderate heat. Add 1 cup of the onions (reserving the other cup for later), then add red pepper, celery and fennel seed. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, stirring several times, until onions are lightly browned.

Add remaining 1 cup onions, reduce heat slightly and cook 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often, until second batch of onions is translucent. Meanwhile, in a small pan, melt remaining 1/2 cup butter over moderate heat and cook a few minutes, until butter turns a nut-brown color.

Add to onion mixture along with remaining ingredients Cook 5 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly.

Yield: 12 servings

Butternut Squash Soup with Marsala and Thyme

Adapted from Williams Sonoma Cookbook

1 butternut squash, about 3 pounds, halved lengthwise and fibers and seeds removed

6 slices bacon, chopped

2 large yellow onions, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

5 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half

3 tablespoons Marsala wine or dry sherry

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 pound leeks, washed

For the leeks: Slice white and green parts of well-washed leeks into 2-inch long pieces. Fry in hot oil until golden, 10-15 seconds. Reserve for garnish.

For the soup: Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a baking pan, place squash cut side down. Add 1/4 inch of water to pan. Bake until squash is tender, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Using spoon, scrape flesh from skin. You’ll need a total of 3 3/4 cups squash for the recipe. Reserve remaining squash for another use.

In a very large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, saute the bacon until the fat is rendered, about 3 minutes. Add the onions and fresh or dried thyme and saute until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

Transfer onion mixture to food processor fitted with a metal blade, or a blender. In two or more batches, add squash and puree until smooth. Return puree to saucepan. Place over medium-low heat and mix in 5 1/4 cups stock or broth. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes to blend flavors. Stir in cream or half and half and the Marsala or sherry. Add cayenne pepper and season to taste with salt and pepper. If soup is too thick, thin with stock or broth. Ladle into bowls and garnish with fried leeks.

Yield: 8-10 servings