Pull up a chair, undo your top jeans button, and lift a glass. This week’s Good Taste is serving up an interview with Kim Severson, a recipe and tips from Gluten-Free Girl Shauna James Ahern, an update on Nicole Conn’s and Marina Rice Bader’s new film in production, A Perfect Ending, and four luscious recipes from their own kitchens.
Kim Severson, is the Atlanta Bureau Chief for the New York Times and author of Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life. Spoon Fed is a rare treat for us queer, foodie girls; Severson blends her coming-of-age, coming-out narrative with the life lessons and epiphanies bestowed by eight prominent women in the food world, from Alice Waters to Ruth Reichl. Severson is a natural storyteller, an unstinting self-revelator, and she laces her book with tasty recipes, insider intel, and a heaping spoonful of unabashed joie de vivre.
Two years ago, Severson live-blogged her Thanksgiving cooking experience, but I wanted to know more. She replied to my interview and recipe request with an email with the subject line “Love me some AfterEllen.” So with the mutual admiration society in full effect, we got right down to talking turkey.
AfterEllen.com: People who aren’t that interested in food tend to faithfully stick with the traditional holiday meals they grew up with, whereas foodies play around and innovate. Is that true for you?
Kim Severson: I like tradition as much as the next person. People like to see certain things on the table on Thanksgiving. But the green bean/cream of mushroom soup/fried onions casserole &mdsah; I don’t really want to eat that. So I’ll make fresh green beans sautéed with sliced almonds or a grainy mustard, to stay with that idea of tradition.
When it comes to turkey, I want a good old-fashioned turkey with good old fashioned gravy, because it tastes good. People might say, “I don’t like those marshmallows with my sweet potatoes.” So maybe bake the sweet potatoes, scoop them out of the skins, and serve them with a little maple syrup and butter.
You can’t be held hostage by what your mother served. It’s a quandary for people who don’t feel confident in the kitchen. Just do a few nice simple dishes. It will taste good!
AE: Do you and Katia cook on Thanksgiving? How do you divide it up?
KS: We [Kim, her wife Katia Hetter, and their daughter Sammy] just moved to Atlanta a month ago. So we’re in this new place. My niece is coming in, and we’re having some of the neighbors over.
AE: Lucky neighbors!
KS: [Laughs] I always like to cook. Thanksgiving is like High Holy Days for people who like to cook. I like to do it up. It’s fun, it’s a meal where you want to hit the right notes.
Katia usually orders or makes the pies. She’s a good cook but the kitchen is my realm. She deals with the rest of the house, she sets the table, deals with the guests. She takes care of everything else, so that I can cook.
AE: That’s so important. Laura does that for me, too. What’s it like to go from eating in San Francisco, to New York, to Atlanta?
KS: In San Francisco, this time of year is the start of Dungeness crab season, and there are still lots of seasonal vegetables available. In New York, it’s already cold, kitchens are smaller; it’s cozier. I’m so new to the South. I’m looking forward to learning more. The pecans down here are just beautiful, so we’ll be able to put those into a pecan pie. I have to be here a little longer before I can begin to understand what it’s like. I like a bread stuffing, not a cornbread stuffing, so I’ll stay with that. A place gets into you and that takes time. I’m looking forward to that.
AE: Do you pay attention to the recent rise of celebrity lesbian chefs? If so, what do you think of it?
KS: It is interesting. These women in the kitchen — Cato Cora, Anita Lo, Tracy DesJardins — great, take charge lesbians, doing so well as chefs.
I’ve tried to get at why that is. Lesbians are rule breakers, willing to do nontraditional things, break the male chef hierarchy with ease — they’re tough enough to move the big stockpots around. It’s a notable trend. They’ve got the groovy tattoos.
AE: I think it’s the clothes.
KS: Yes that’s it! The clogs, the pants —
AE: The jacket with the cute collar.
KS: And some women chefs look really great in a bandanna.
Kim Severson’s Stuffing Muffins
aka Two-Way Chanterelle and Pear Bread Stuffing
(originally published in the New York Times on November 10, 2009)
Kim’s stuffing muffins (hey, who’s that chuckling? Get your mind out of the bedroom), are especially ingenious because they provide a batch of dressing that is enough to stuff a turkey, if you roll that way, plus extra to be baked in muffin tins, as a vegetarian-friendly side (use veggie stock). Or, bake all of it in muffin tins.
Baking them in the form of muffins gives you more crispy outside surface area than you’d get by baking them in a casserole—a lovely contrast to the moist, soft, pillowy insides. Nom nom.
Time: One hour plus 24 hours for drying bread
1 large loaf Pullman or other firm white bread
1 pound chanterelle mushrooms
1/3 pound pancetta, diced small
10 tablespoons butter, more for greasing muffin tins
1 large chopped onion
1/4 cup minced shallots (about three)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup white wine
3 1/2 cups diced pears (about four or five firm, ripe varieties like Bartlett or Anjou) plus one whole pear
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 cup minced chives
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 cups turkey stock
1. Tear bread into small pieces (you should have about 16 cups) and set in roasting pan or bowl. To dry bread, cover with paper towels and leave out overnight. Or, place on a baking sheet in batches and lightly toast. Set aside.
2. Wipe mushrooms with a clean, damp towel. Trim tough ends. Slice some thickly, chop others. Set aside. Place pancetta in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook slowly until fat is rendered, about 7 minutes. Remove to a large plate.
3. Add 2 tablespoons butter to fat in pan and turn heat to medium high. Add onion and shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just soft. Do not brown. Remove to plate holding pancetta.
4. Add 3 tablespoons butter to pan. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and quickly sauté until starting to brown. Remove and add to plate.
5. Add wine to pan and deglaze over medium high heat, cooking until wine reduces by about half. Pour remaining liquid over mushrooms. Wipe out pan and add remaining butter. Add pears and sugar and season with salt and pepper. Sauté pears, in batches if necessary, over medium high heat until they begin to brown slightly.
6. In a large bowl or roasting pan, add sautéed ingredients to bread. Toss lightly to combine. Add herbs and toss again. Slowly pour one cup stock over mixture and toss. Add more broth to make a very moist stuffing. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. If you are stuffing a brined turkey, remember that the bird will add a bit more salt.
8. Just before roasting turkey, place some room-temperature stuffing lightly inside a prepared bird. Place whole pear in opening of cavity to help hold stuffing in the bird.
9. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter muffin tins and fill each with stuffing, pressing down so each cup is well filled. Top each with one tablespoon stock. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, until a golden crust forms on bottom. To serve, use a butter knife to remove each stuffing muffin and invert onto the plate.
Yield: Enough stuffing for a 12 to 14 pound turkey and a dozen muffin tins. If not stuffing a turkey, recipe will fill two dozen muffin tins or a small casserole dish.