Thursday, December 30, 2010

Buttery, Pretty Macaroons More Popular Than Ever in the Coming New Year

Whip Up My Lemon Coconut Macaroons in Minutes

According to over a thousand chefs surveyed about food trends setting the world on fire/flambé this coming New Year, 2011 is all about farmers markets, eating less gluten, hormone and pesticide-free fruits and veggies (and lots of ‘em), humanely raised poultry and beef, sustainable seafood, and carefully mixed cocktails that include fresh fruit, herbs or savory add-ins. These same chefs also mentioned macaroons by name. I agree whole-heartedly—with my entire palate—that macaroons deserve top billing this coming year. Chefs and food reviewers say they’re putting pies and cakes on the back burner—with new cookbooks, like I Love Macarons, gracing cookbook aisles everywhere.

Let’s Go Macaroon Shopping!

I’m sure just about everyone has tasted a macaroon—or macarons as they’re known abroad—at some point in their lives. They’re a pastry phenomenon (in that they’re so simple) and have been around since the 1500’s when Italian monks brought them to France. Funny story: a pair of nuns traveling with the monks were the only folks in the group who knew how to make them, and earned their room and board by becoming, as they were known by their brethren, “The Macaroon Sisters”!

Ever since, macaroons have been on a world tour. Every country touts its own particular version. My recipe is more faithful to the U.K. and American way of preparing them, which is to say I don’t go the meringue route. But that isn’t to say that I shouldn’t: Wolfgang Puck happens to like the meringue version of macaroons so much that, in addition to claiming they’re his all-time favorite dessert, he also makes a habit of visiting the Payard Bakery every time he’s in New York. I have to agree that this pastry chef’s “coffee macaroons” do look amazing (you can also get them in Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas). If you’re pastry shopping, look to Sucre in New Orleans; they also make a mean macaroon.

When You’re Making My Macaroons
Because my Lemon Coconut Macaroons calls for a ground lemon peel, may I suggest the zester on my Nana’s Favorite Things page. Keep in mind, this recipe produces 3-dozen individual, happy little pastries, so it’s a good idea to serve half to your guests and freeze the rest for later. If you’d rather have them more readily accessible, just remember to keep them in an air-tight container, in a dry cool place—where they should remain tasty for up to 2 weeks—with a wink and a nudge, I challenge you to see if they’ll last that long!

A Last Note to Thank Home Cooks Everywhere and Wish Them a Happy New Year
I have to tell you that this recipe is stand-out in that it appeared in my very first cookbook. I asked a friend who likes to make them whenever she has an Asian inspired dinner (don’t ask her why; she just thinks macaroons belong on a Chinese menu), if there’s anything she’d like to pass on to someone contemplating them as their next dessert. She said to make sure you measure out the coconut to my exact specifications; otherwise they’ll come out “sandy, a little too “coconutty”…but still pretty good.” She added that the next time she’s feeling artful in the kitchen, she’s going to try putting the macaroon batter into a pastry bag and squirting it through a confectioner’s tube to make her macaroons “especially beautiful.” I would like to reach out and personally say thank you to this wonderful recipe tester and wish her, along with all my other fellow home cooks, a marvelous 2011!

Lemon Coconut Macaroons

Prep time: 20 minutes, plus baking
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter or ¾ stick at room temperature
4 oz. Cream cheese (also at room temperature)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice (about ½ medium lemon)
½ teaspoon ground lemon peel
1 10 ounce package sweetened coconut (about 3 cups)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Prepare a baking sheet by coating it in vegetable oil spray.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, combine sugar, butter and cream cheese and beat together until fluffy.

Beat in the eggs, vanilla, lemon juice and ground lemon peel.

Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Mix in the coconut.

Drop heaping teaspoons of the batter onto the cookie sheet, leaving at least 1 inch between each cookie.

Bake for 18 to 25 minutes until the cookies puff and the coconut begins to brown on the top.

Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Delights That’ll Tickle Their Taste Buds at Your Next Holiday Buffet or Annual Gift Exchange

‘Tis the season to rock that buffet line! If you’ve been invited to a Christmas party and assured the host or hostess you’d bring a cover dish or scrumptious dessert, well then my advice has reached you just in time; if I’m too late, just keep these goodies on file for New Year’s Eve! Whatever the cause for celebration might be—whether you’re giving the party or just part of its receiving line—you’ll want to put your best foot forward when it comes to the food you bring/serve.

Dips and Crudités are a Buffet Staple
I’m a big advocate of the buffet because sit-down meals, though elegant and much enjoyed don’t allow your guests to mingle—and since many are return guests to your annual shindig, who only see each other AT your shindigs, they’ve got some catching up to do! Here’s a rule of thumb so guests can munch and gab without putting anything down to cut the meat—set up no less than 3 different surfaces (one for drinks, one for hot savory items, one for desserts) and serve as many finger foods as possible. That being said, veggies and dip, or crackers with an accent like my Roasted Red Pepper Cheese Spread is a great start to the festivities; this spreadable recipe looks great with holiday theme spreaders, and you can substitute eggplant for an equally amazing taste.

Where’s the Beef?
No holiday buffet line is complete without meatballs—get ‘em ready to go by spearing each with a toothpick and it’s no worries for your hungry guests. Mini Meatballs in Creamy Gravy can be made in advance and warmed up just as the yuletide fun begins. Just set a chafing dish or fondue pot on medium high. Another main dish standby that’s fun and fortifying are Open Face Mini Ruebens.

Make it a Sweet Affair
There’s no better way to christen a holiday dessert table than planting a gingerbread house in the center of it, and spreading around the goodies. 3 to 4 plates of cookies that offer a variety to Joe and Jane Sweettooth should suffice, two pies and an item you don’t get to enjoy any old day of the week, like Peanut Brittle and Butterscotch Blondies ought to do the trick; my two tried and true bolded desserts are so fast they’re practically done before you can finish singing the 12 Days of X-mas.

Cocktails Help the Good Times Roll
It wouldn’t be a party without the wet bar! I’ve counseled on this matter before, the last time being Labor Day weekend kicked up cocktails; it may have been summer then, but these chilled refreshments are still welcome in December. While some dream of a White Christmas, others dream of sipping White Sangria. It’s all there—just have a cooler full of ice waiting, and those telltale red party cups and you’re ready to roll!

Send Then Home with a Gift!
And now for the games…you know what’s unbelievably F-U-N at a Christmas party? A wacky gift exchange! In the invite, tell your guests to wrap a present that cost no more than $10—something amusing, like a Chia pet or funny calendar. Also known as the White Elephant Party Game, you’ll need someone to Emcee the event; this usually falls to the hostess. Everyone picks a number out of hat and takes turns approaching the gift laden X-mas tree with a chuckle and mock trepidation…am I really going to unwrap a fly swatter or tackiest T-shirt on earth? Once the first gift is unwrapped, the recipient sits down and anticipates whether the next party guest is going to unwrap something worth keeping, or decides to “steal”. The rules and regs of the game vary according to preferences of the host, but I believe this is standard: if a gift has already been stolen twice and you’re the third one to lay claim on it, you go home with it.

Santa’s presence at these things always kicks things up a notch! Once again, if these tips got to you too late and you’ve just attended or hosted your last X-mas party of the season, I hope you’ll file my ides under “C” for Chris Cringle. May every day feel festive. Here’s wishing you the best in 2011. May it be the best year yet!

Open Face Mini Ruebens

6 slices party rye round slices
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon reduced fat mayonnaise
¾ cup sauerkraut
6 ounces lean deli corn beef, thinly sliced
2 ounces reduced fat shredded Swiss cheese, about ½ cup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Place the bread onto a baking sheet with lip that has been coated with vegetable oil spray.

Spread the mustard mixture on top of the bread. Layer with sauerkraut, corn beef and Swiss cheese.

Bake until the cheese has melted, about 5 minutes.


Makes 12 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

2 cups granulated sugar
1 ½ cup salted peanuts (about 6 ounces)

Coat a rimmed baking sheet with vegetable oil spray. Place the sugar in a deep sauce pan. Pour in ½ cup water. Cook over medium heat until the sugar melts and the mixture begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Continue cooking, stir often until the mixture darkens to caramel and the sugar is totally dissolved, about 10 minutes more. Stir in the peanuts.

Pour the mixture onto the baking sheet. Coat a spatula with vegetable oil spray. Use the spatula to spread out the peanut mixture to about ½-inch thickness. Work fast as the brittle sets up quickly. Cool completely, about 15 to 20 minutes

To serve, break the brittle into bit-size pieces.


Makes 9 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature (1 stick)
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a bowl.

Use an electric mixer to combine the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Stir in the egg. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture, nuts and chips.

Spread the batter into a 11 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish that has been coated with vegetable oil spray. Bake until golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove and cool completely.

To serve, cut into 9 bars.

Roasted Red Pepper Cheese Spread

Prep time: 15 minutes
Yield: 1 cup dip

Serving Size: 2 tablespoons

1 (3-ounce) package reduced-fat cream cheese
2 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped roasted red pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
4 ounces reduced-fat grated cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Celery Sticks
Carrot Sticks
Whole Grain Bread Sticks

Place the cream cheese, mayonnaise, red pepper, parsley and cheese into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with carrots, celery and bread sticks.

Mini Meatballs in Creamy Gravy

Servings: 3 dozen meatballs
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 cup milk
1 large shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
3 large eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound lean ground veal
¾ pound lean ground pork
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 to 4 tablespoons butter
¼ to ½ cup flour

1 large yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups beef stock
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons fresh parsley

Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk for 10 minutes in a bowl.

Mix in the shallot, eggs, nutmeg, and allspice.

Add all of the meat to the bowl. Use a hand held mixer to combine until fluffy. Season with salt and pepper.

Shape into 1-inch meatballs. Place onto a baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium high heat.

Place ¼ cup flour in shallow bowl.

Roll each meatball into the flour mixture. Shake off the excess. Cook the meatballs in batches until just cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon and drain on paper toweling. Repeat with remaining meat adding additional butter as needed.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the pan.

Cook the onion in the pan until soft, about 3 minutes.

Stir the flour into the onion. Cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the beef broth and cream. Reduce the heat to medium and stir until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Place the meatballs into the sauce. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and simmer for 2 to 5 minutes or until cooked through.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

You’ll Love the Dickens out of this Holiday Menu! Here’s How to Bring the Spirit of a Victorian Christmas to Dinner

"turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, suckling-pigs, long wreathes of sausages, mince pies, plum puddings, barrels of oysters, red hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes and seething bowls of punch that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam". -Charles Dickens

What foodie doesn’t love A Christmas Carol? The Dickens classic lavishes words on Fezziwig’s holiday feast—not to mention the mountain of mouthwatering treasures lorded over by the Ghost of Christmas Present. For my readers’ dining and entertaining pleasure, I thought it might be fun to present a Christmas party menu, inspired by the Victorians of Scrooge’s era. Some of the selections here are a bit labor intensive, but well worth the effort!

Cocktails and Appetizers
Oysters were extremely available and cheap during the Victorian age, costing just 2 pence for dozen--everyone loved and ate them, from poor folk to British royalty. Here’s a waste not want not proposition: enjoy a welcoming cocktail of Oyster Shooters—refreshing and holly berry red, thanks to the tomato juice, and/or dine on an appetizer of Baked Oysters Rockerfeller. For the cocktails, fill a tub or large bowl with crushed ice, plunging shot glasses into it as guests arrive. Remember that raw oysters are at their best during fall and winter because they spawn during the summer months and become soft and fatty as they mature. Enjoy!

Choosing Your Bird of Paradise
I deliberated hard and long over this one. No matter how many times I watch A Christmas Carol, I marvel at how much meat there is; it’s easy and charmingly proverbial to picture the city streets of London in those days, lined with butcher shops. I thought about a simple Roasted Chicken with Herb Butter, but then thought the colors, aromas and “olde” traditions of Christmas merited something more festive; I ultimately chose Simply Roasted Duck with Orange Cranberry Glaze. Oranges were an exotic, but popular stocking stuffer in the days of Dickens, adding a dash of color around the bird.

Notes on Preparing the Perfect Duck
The hardest part is the thawing process. Most duck is purchased frozen. The best way to thaw the whole bird is to place the frozen duck in your refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours. Unlike chicken, duck can be served rare or medium rare. You can determine the doneness of a duck by observing the color of the juices. The more rosy the juice, the more rare the bird. For medium rare duck, pick the duck up from the pan and observe. If the juices are pale and just slightly rosy, the duck is medium rare…mmm….

A Scrumptious and Very Filling Side Dish
My Gram used to make finger-sized cabbage rolls, simmering them in a deep pot for hours. This Our Grandmas’ Stuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe makes larger bundles, so that you can serve one as a first course, or several for a hearty supper. You can use a shortcut here: put the entire head of cabbage into the freezer overnight. The next day, remove the cabbage and place it on the counter. As the cabbage thaws, the leaves become soft.

For Dessert
Warm Ginger Pudding with Rum Butter Sauce fulfills a long enduring English tradition, when pudding steamed for hours and was served with brandy hard sauce. This pudding is just as good and is baked in a smidgeon of the time!

As they said in A Christmas Carol: The pudding is…"like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, Christmas holly stuck on the top".
For more Dickens quotes on X-mas food, you know where to click. In the meantime, enjoy the feast!

Oyster Shooters

Servings: 12 (or 6 if you are ready to party)
Preparation Time: 5 minutes

12 shucked oysters with oyster juice
1/3 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
Juice of 1 medium lime (about 1 tablespoon)
12 ounces tomato juice
12 ounces cold Vodka
Drops of Hot Pepper sauce

Place each oyster, with its juice, into the bottom of a tall (6-inch) shot glass (or martini glass).

Mix together the ketchup and horseradish. Place a dollop of this sauce on top of each oyster.

Pour in 1 ounce of tomato juice and 1 ounce chilled vodka over each oyster. Season with additional hot sauce (if desired). Serve cold.

Warm Ginger Pudding with Rum Butter Sauce

Servings: 10 to 12
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus baking

2 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking power
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
¼ cup butter (1/2 stick)
2 eggs
1 cup molasses
½ cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Zest of 1/2 medium lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
1 cup buttermilk

1 ½ cup butter (3 sticks)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dark rum
Zest of 1 medium orange (about 2 tablespoons)
½ cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Use an electric mixer to beat the butter until soft.

Add the eggs and molasses and beat until fluffy.

Stir in the crystallized ginger.

Stir in the buttermilk.

Stir in the flour mixture.

Pour the batter into a Bundt pan that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray. Bake for 1 hour.

Melt the butter and sugar in a sauce pan over medium high heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Stir in the rum and the orange zest.

Stir in the cream.

Serve the warm pudding with the warm sauce.

Baked Oysters Rockefeller

Yield: 12 oysters
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Rock salt or dried beans for lining baking dish
12 medium oysters, shucked with bottom shells reserved
1 cup creamed spinach
Juice of 1 medium lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons butter
2 large shallots, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and white ground pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 475 degrees

Pour rock salt or dried beans into a shallow baking dish. Place the oyster shells into the salt or beans to hold them in place.

Place a spoonful of creamed spinach into each shell.

Place 1 oyster on top of the spinach.

Drizzle the oysters with lemon juice.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat.

Cook the shallots in the butter until just soft. Do not brown.

Sprinkle the flour over top and whisk to form a bubbling paste.

Stir the milk into the paste. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the bay leaf, nutmeg and season with salt and white ground pepper. Stir until the sauce thickens, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Place a tablespoon of the white sauce over the oyster. Sprinkle each one with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake until the oysters are plump and cooked through and the cheese has melted, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Our Grandma’s Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Servings: 6 to 8 (about 12 to 14 3-inch rolls)
Preparation Time: 90 minutes plus 2 hours to simmer

1 whole cabbage
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large yellow onions, diced into ½-inch squares (about 2 cups)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 pounds ground turkey
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups cooked white rice
1 cup raisins
¼ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon dried minced onions
1 teaspoon hot paprika

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium white onion, diced (about 2/3 cup)
2 tablespoons hot paprika
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

Heat a large pot of water to boiling over high heat. Cut the stem and the core from the cabbage. Plunge the cabbage into the water. This will loosen some of the outer leaves. Cook the leaves in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Gently remove the loosened leaves. Plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Pat the leaves dry. Continue until all of the large leaves have been blanched.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Cook the yellow onions until soft and just beginning to turn brown, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for 2 minutes more.

Add the ground turkey to the pan. Cook, breaking up the turkey with a spatula, until browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the turkey mixture to a large bowl. Add the cooked rice, raisins and ketchup. Season with salt, pepper, dried minced onion and 1 teaspoon paprika.

Place 1/3 cup turkey mixture on the bottom stem portion of a cabbage leaf, leaving about a 1-inch border. Wrap the leaf, from the stem border, over the filling. Fold in the sides. Continue wrapping until all of the leaves and filling have been used.

Prepare the sauce by heating the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauce pot over medium high heat. Cook the white onion until soft. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons paprika and tomato paste. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, chicken broth, brown sugar, Balsamic vinegar and sage. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the stuffed cabbage in a single layer into a large, deep pot or Dutch oven. Cover the cabbage with the sauce. Cover the pot and simmer for 1 to 2 hours. Serve the cabbage with the sauce drizzled over the top.

Simply Roasted Duck with Orange Cranberry Glaze

Servings: 6
Preparation Time: 15 minutes plus roasting

1 (4 to 5 pound) duck, parts removed from cavity, rinsed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 orange cut into 4 wedges

1 (15-ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce or 1 10-ounce bag frozen cranberries
Juice of 3 medium oranges (about 1 cup)
Zest of 1 medium orange (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

Season the duck with salt and pepper. Place the orange wedges into the cavity of the duck. Use a sharp knife to score (cut small slits in) the skin of the duck. Place the duck on a rack in a roasting pan, breast side up. Roast for 15 minutes, or until just beginning to turn golden. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees.
Combine the cranberry sauce, orange juice, orange zest and chopped fresh rosemary in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the cranberry sauce melts and the sauce is smooth.

Continue roasting until the duck is cooked to medium rare (about 20 minutes per pound). Baste the duck with the sauce during the last 15 minutes of roasting.

Remove the orange wedges. Allow the duck to rest for 15 minutes before carving. Serve the duck with extra sauce drizzled on top.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Walk & Dine in a Winter Wonderland Together…with an Elegant Pack-and-go Picnic

Thanks to that beautiful Christmas song, winter wonderlands conjure images of parsons getting ready to marry you, snowbirds lighting on holly branches and glistening snowy landscapes that have you reaching for the cocoa canister. Isn’t it a splendid excuse to dress in layers, grab your sweetheart and head off with a big wool blanket—savory romantic picnic all ready to go, replete with hot thermoses full of savory soup, hot, fresh coffee and a bottle of Layer Cake Shiraz…ah, my imagination’s like a runaway sled…

Wine to warm the soul…
But I have a very real winter picnic menu to share with you. I’ll start by describing the wine. Because of its complex aromas of plum, mocha, dark chocolate and other super ripe berries, Layer Cake Shiraz suits my menu to a T. I’ve made a career out of pack-and-go treats and these items lend themselves to no sweat prep—just whip it up and you’re on your way…out the door!

To eat…
The main dish is the tastiest and most elegant way I can think of to get rid of Thanksgiving leftovers. The turkey you couldn’t finish and the extra apples you set-aside, but didn’t use, find new purpose in Turkey Wraps with Apples and Curry Mayonnaise. This healthy wrap leaves the chef loads of creative license. You don’t have to use a spinach wrap, but I prefer it—especially since the crunchy apple, red-leaf lettuce and green spinach are such an apropos color combo for your December picnic. Another plus is how the spicy taste of curry warms you, from the belly up, on a cold day. You can prepare these “sandwiches” in the morning and enjoy them for an on-the-run lunch.

To slurp…
To wash that down and keep you nice and toasty, I recommend Easy Broccoli and Cheese Soup. You can make it in less than 30 minutes, pour into a thermos and off you go. It’s also a recipe that’s open to interpretation—it’s still terrific if you decide to substitute with different cheeses, spices and veggies—for what you can’t simply raise to your lips and slurp, remember to pack those silver spoons.

To satisfy your sweet tooth…
Now you don’t need coffee for the dessert I’m serving, but it would be a nice touch if the basket’s big enough for a second thermos. My Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bars with Plum Filling are an alternate version of “visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads”. I LOVE dessert in “bar” form—it’s the perfect take along treat, falling somewhere between cookies and cake. Does it get any better than that?

Picnic Primers
If it were me getting ready to “frolic and play in an Eskimo way” as the song says, I’d add a few extras, like gloves, hats—even candles just in case darkness falls quicker than you planned. My research on this topic actually lead me to an online picnic emporium where you can download checklists to satisfy even the most Type A picnicker! The list doesn’t happen to include binoculars, which I’d tote along to bird watch, looking for cardinals among the barren branches. Depends on where you live, though. Many of my readers are from regions where Santa wears Bermuda shorts and drives a team of pink flamingos. That image aside, a great way to get even more in the mood for a spectacular romantic picnic, is to rent Ethan Frome from Netflix—it’s highly snowy and romantic, but poses the caveat that winter sports are best when carefully enjoyed. Stay safe when you ski and hike everyone!


Indoors or out, a merry X-mas to one and all!

Turkey Wraps with Apples and Curry Mayonnaise

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Serves: 4
Serving Size: 1 sandwich

½ cup reduced fat mayonnaise
Juice of 1 medium lime (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil
½ teaspoon curry powder
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large spinach tortillas
6 to 8 leaves red-leaf lettuce, washed and dried
2 medium apples, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
8 ounces deli style roast turkey breast, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees

Warm the tortillas in the oven until they are soft and pliable, about 5 minutes.

Whisk together the mayonnaise, lime juice, sun-dried tomatoes and curry powder. Season with salt and pepper.

Place one tortilla onto your work surface. Spread with a tablespoon of the curry mayonnaise. Layer with lettuce leaves. Top with apple slices and turkey. Roll up the tortilla. Wrap in parchment paper. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Before serving, cut the rolls in half diagonally and pull down parchment paper to act as a paper holder for the wraps.

Easy Broccoli and Cheese Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon curry power
1 teaspoon cumin
1 quart chicken stock
1medium bunch broccoli florets, chopped
¼ cup all purpose flour
2 cups cream
2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium high heat.

Add the onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes

Add the garlic, curry powder and cumin. Cook for two minutes more.

Pour the stock into the pan. Add the broccoli. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the broccoli is tender, about 10 minutes.

Whisk the flour into the cream until smooth. Pour this mixture into the pot. Cook until the soup begins to thicken, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.

Add the cheese and stir until melted.

Pour half of the soup into a blender or food processor. Pulse until smooth. Add this mixture back to the soup. Season with salt and pepper.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bars with Plum Filling

Yield 2 dozen bars
Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus baking

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks), room temperature
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup red plum jam

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Place the flour, oats, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Use an electric mixer to combine the brown sugar and butter until fluffy.

Add the flour/oat mixture and stir. The dough will be very crumbly.

Place 2 cups of the dough mixture into a bowl.

Add the chocolate chips to the bowl and stir.

Press the remaining dough into the bottom of an 11 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish.

Spread the dough with the jam.

Sprinkle the flour/chocolate chip mixture over top.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the top begins to look golden brown.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into 1 ½-inch squares.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Short & Sweet Note on What to Bring for Thanksgiving Dessert

Isn’t it interesting that on Thanksgiving, when there’s a 16 to 20 pound bird to carve, savory sides to die for, not to mention gravy n’ stuffing passed down among generations that there could still be so much anticipation over who is bringing the dessert?

That’s why I’ve decided to make this post, the figurative “cherry on top” of a whole series of Thanksgiving related pieces I’ve done since November started. I thought about featuring a classic (and very special!) pumpkin pie I have on file—and you can e-mail me for it if you really want it—but overall, when I let the spirit of the season wash over me, I just couldn’t stop thinking about pecans, and the gooey, crunchy blended flavors of corn syrup and rum, which make party guests melt into the holidays (Note: don’t have any Captain Morgan? Bourbon makes a great substitute here, too!). When you make my Southern Pecan Pie, someone—you mark my words—a dinner guest is going to ask you over a pie wedge and some really good coffee if you wouldn’t mind sharing the recipe. Well, guess what? I grant you permission to pass this one out!

While Southerners swear no holiday is complete without a pecan pie, Americans nationwide are arguing the same thing about apple, so get ready to jot down my Deep Dish Apple Pie recipe, which is decadent fork-loaded testimony to the fact that, yes, ingredients do matter; make sure your Thanksgiving dessert is made with real butter and unrefined sugars and flour—no margarine, eggbeaters or refined sugar allowed this time!

It may interest readers to note that pecan and apple pies officially rank as favorite Thanksgiving desserts, and I use the word “officially” because Southern Living says so, putting them at #1 and #2 on the list. I did some more research, wondering just what it is about pie that makes it the dominant dessert choice on Thanksgiving Day. I went to the American Pie Council and wondered if it might lead to lining my windowsills with various cooling pies; it’s hard to believe there are as many as 20 different kinds of pie Americans enjoy on the day-to-day. Around the American Revolution, we coined the phrase CRUST, though it had been called something entirely different when the Egyptians introduced pies around 9500 B.C.

I don’t know about then, but I do know about now—there’s going to be an awful lot of pies out there that probably rival what the Pie Council is baking up for National Pie Day on January 23. Let me know what you serve next week, if you don’t mind. Leave me a comment—and if you have it in your head, you don’t want pie (gasp!), please let me know, and I’ll send you a guiltless recipe: pumpkin cheesecake made of tofu. Just promise to keep tofu out of your turkey recipe!

Happy dining, my friends!

Southern Pecan Pie

Servings: 6
Preparation Time: 45 minutes plus baking

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, chilled and cut into pieces (1 stick)
1 to 2 tablespoons ice water

¼ cup butter, room temperature (1/2 stick)
½ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

Place the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add ½ cup chilled butter pieces. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. With the blade running, pour 1 tablespoon of ice water through the feed tube. Repeat until the mixture comes together around the blade.

Transfer the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Gently form into a round disk. Wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out a pastry disk to about 1/8-inch thickness. Place the pastry into the bottom of a deep pie dish. Crimp the edges to form a decorative crust.

Pierce the bottom of the crust with the tines of a fork. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 375 degrees.

Use an electric mixer to combine ¼ cup room temperature butter with the granulated sugar until smooth and fluffy. Stir in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the rum and corn syrup.

Place the pecan halves in the bottom of the pie shell. Pour the filling over the top. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the filling comes out clean and the pastry is golden.

Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Deep Dish Apple Pie

Serves 8
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus baking

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ½ sticks butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk (save the egg white)
4 teaspoons ice water

1 (5 pound) bag granny smith apples
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of a food processor.

Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles course crumbs.

Add the egg yolk and pulse.

Add the chilled water 1 tablespoon at a time through the feed tube until the dough begins to clump together.

Remove the dough and divide into halves. Form each half into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate.

Peel and thinly slice the apples.

Sprinkle the apple slices with 1 tablespoon flour, 1/3 cup sugar and cinnamon. Toss.

Roll out one disk of pastry into a round about 1/8 inch thick. Place into a pie pan.

Mound the pastry with sliced apples.

Roll the second pastry disk into a round. Cover the apples, form a decorative crust and slit the top crust so that the steam will escape.
Brush the top of the pie with the egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water. Sprinkle with extra sugar. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling begins to bubble.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Potato, Potaaato…at Thanksgiving you can’t call the whole thing off!

3 Potato Based Recipes that Show There’s Hope Beyond Mashed Potatoes…

Come that last Thursday in November, there seem to be a million different side dishes designed to accent the bird; so how come so many folks serve the same sides year after year: mashed potatoes, cranberries, rolls?? I can get on board with it, sure. These side dishes are good—even great—but if you feel daunted on the dawn of Thanksgiving, armed with your potato peeler, mounds of spuds and no plans for them beyond mashed potatoes, it’s time to mix things up without using your Cuisinart. When I perused my file box, I found 3 different recipes featuring potatoes with elegant and festive ways to serve them, worthy of this November 25th, 2010.

But, first a little Potato 101
Potatoes are best at the local farmers market; I got a friend from California to loan me her photo of potatoes in every size, shape and color, including blue potatoes, easy to spot in the bag. Depending on the kind of tater it is, it responds best to either boiling, roasting baking or all of the above.

Yellow potatoes or Yukon Gold are considered "all purpose"—use them to cook easy recipes like mashed or baked potatoes.
Red potatoes are perfect when steamed, boiled, roasted or scalloped. Tip: Coarse salt rubbed onto the outside of red potatoes makes for a crispy skin.
Russets are high in starch—ideal for mashed potatoes and baking.
The white potato is low in starch, better for boiling and terrific in potato salad.
Fingerlings are also low in starch and MADE for roasting
Blue (or purple) potatoes contain medium starch, and taste a lot like a Russet; the basic difference being, they tend to cook a bit faster.

An Elegant Potato Dish Reminiscent of Latkes

Traditional latkes are usually served during Hanukkah as a side dish, so I thought why not roll out my version of Silver Dollar Potato Pancakes with Smoked Salmon for Thanksgiving? A cross between potato latkes and bite-size crab cakes, these savory bites look just beautiful in that silver chafing dish you’ve polished just for this occasion. You can serve them warm or at room temperature. You can even kick up this recipe by substituting shredded sweet potatoes for half of the potato mixture; then top it with grilled shrimp or seared scallops. Everyone will think you’re fancy…

I love this potato dish because it’s so pure—you can write down the ingredients on the back of a place card…

It’s not haiku…it’s a Thanksgiving Side Dish
12 to 18 small red potatoes
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons course salt
1 bunch fresh rosemary
Sour cream
Fresh chives

The taters in my Baby Rosemary Baked Potatoes should be about 3-inches in diameter; it’s fun to gather these guys because they should all be roughly the same size—not hard to do when you’re shopping red. Garnish with butter, a dollop of sour cream and fresh chopped chives…and viola…you’ll catch someone licking the serving spoon when it’s time to wash the empty casserole dish!

Baked Potatoes with Mushrooms and Fontina Cheese
The glory of this Thanksgiving side dish is that it can be prepared the day before, then quickly heated just before serving. There are many types of potatoes and all of them will work well in this recipe. But, the overall favorite potato for baking is the russet because it’s starchy and will have less moisture when cooked than other varieties. This side is a winner, and also features button mushrooms—something I blogged about a couple weeks ago and have been drooling over ever since. The cheese in this recipe makes everyone feel like they’re being honored, decadent and born to savor at the same time.

Make any of these three for the ones you love, and stay tuned for more holiday pointers!

Baked Potatoes with Mushrooms and Fontina Cheese

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus roasting and baking

4 large baking potatoes

½ cup butter (1 stick)
2 pounds button mushrooms, sliced (about 4 cups)
4 green onions, thinly sliced (about ¼ cup)
½ (8-ounce) package cream cheese
½ cup sour cream
1 ½ cups Fontina cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons fresh garlic chives, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Scrub the potatoes and pierce each on with the tines of a fork. Place onto the rack in the oven and cook until soft, about 45 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms. Cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the green onion. Cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Remove the cooked potatoes from the oven. Cut the hot potatoes in half. Scoop out the potato leaving ¼ inch shell.

Place the potato in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in the cream cheese, sour cream and the remaining 6 tablespoons butter. Season with salt and pepper.

Mix in the mushrooms and ¾ cup cheese. Fill the potato jackets with the potato and mushroom mixture and place onto a baking sheet.

Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and fresh garlic chives. Bake until the cheese melts about 30 minutes.

Silver Dollar Potato Pancakes with Smoked Salmon

Yield about 2 dozen
Preparation Time: 45 minutes

6 large baking potatoes, peeled and shredded (about 6 cups)
1 medium white onion, diced (about 2/3 cup)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Olive oil for frying

½ cup sour cream
8 ounces smoked salmon, thinly sliced
Chopped fresh dill

Place the shredded potatoes and diced onion into a bowl. Add the flour and stir. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in the egg and parsley. Form mixture into 2-inch (1/2-inch thick) rounds.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Cook the potato pancakes (in batches) until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and cook until the other side is golden, about 3 minutes more. Use additional olive oil as needed. Transfer the pancakes to paper towels to drain.

Top each potato pancake with a slather of sour cream and a generous slice of smoked salmon. Garnish with chopped fresh dill.

Baby Rosemary Baked Potatoes

Servings: 12
Preparation Time: 10 minutes plus baking

12 to 18 small red potatoes, about 3-inches in diameter

¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons course salt
1 bunch fresh rosemary

Sour cream
Fresh chives

Heat the oven to 375 degrees

Rub each potato with olive oil and sprinkle generously with coarse salt.

Place the potatoes into a large, shallow baking dish.

Place rosemary springs on top of and around the potatoes.

Roast until just soft, about 30 minutes. Remove rosemary sprigs before serving.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Swiss Chard is the cold weather crop of the season—enjoy it at as no-hassle dish before Thanksgiving’s got you running in high gear

Who doesn’t love veggies, too pretty (well…almost!) to eat? That’s Swiss chard for you—with its big leafy greens and ruby red stems, it looks right at home in a decorative copper pot—but that would be a crime! Thanks to Vitamins C, E & K, Swiss chard promotes lung health and is, perhaps, the best tasting member of the cruciferous veggie family—at least IMHO!

Some people call it Swiss, just to differentiate it from the French spinach; its other varieties are Rhubarb chard (green leaves, red stalks), Ruby chard (both red leaves and stalks) and Rainbow chard, which features a bouquet of all the varieties in stems of yellow, orange, pink and red. I know, I know…isn’t this so pretty, just to talk about, let alone eat??!

Swiss chard makes your cooking POP! (Effort not included)
For this chef, all varieties of chard, once they’re cooked, taste remarkably similar. Other foodies recommend using every part of the chard—stems and all—in your cooking. First, you’ll want to soak the big chard leaves in a sink full of water to get the dirt off, pat them dry with a kitchen towel, and gently separate the leaves from the stems. Blanch the leaves in a pot of salted boiling water for just 2 minutes before you sautee them. Set the stems aside, and chop them into 1-inch pieces; these should be sauteed before the leaves because they take a little longer to cook. I’ve found that chard is a beautiful and simple side dish for fish or pork (famous chefs advise not to “mess the chard too much—just use a little shallot, garlic, splash of white wine and whisper of butter…”)

Why it’s the Reason for the Season
This early November, Swiss Chard is extra large and billowy, so I’ve decided to declare it my cold weather crop of the season—in other words something fun to mess with right before Thanksgiving! Since chard is resilient to frost and available all year round—looking particularly hearty in produce aisles right now—I’m encouraging my fellow foodies to notice it, and purchase it, along with other winter root veggies lookin’ gorgeous right now—think ruby red beets.

But you know me—while I applaud the simplicity of Swiss chard, I also refuse to leave my foodie fans without a more elaborate way to enjoy this veggie of the month. My PEPPERED PORK PINWHEELS Stuffed with Swiss Chard, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella features 2 pounds worth of fibrous, vitamin and calcium loaded chard, and has been a Morgan family favorite for a long time. The filling is moist, full of goodness, and the pinwheels are GORGEOUS on the plate. Serve this dish with smashed potatoes and get used to the wonderful, albeit broken record sound of your kids asking for it again and again.

My other dish, in which you could say Swiss chard definitely “plays a roll” is my BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND SWISH CHARD ROLL-UPS with Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Sauce; everyone’s going to love coming to the table for this one, since it is, essentially, lasagna with butternut squash, a half pound of swiss chard and an open invitation to use béchamel (translation: creamy, buttery white) sauce if you’re feeling decadent.

With New Year’s resolutions still a couple of months away, I say why not? Besides, in these dishes, with the beauty, simplicity and nutritive powers of Swiss chard to balance things out—you’ve got the perfect excuse to get cooking!

Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard Roll-ups with Sundried Tomato Basil Sauce

Makes 4 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
6 medium plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise (about 1 pound)
1 cup minced oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup homemade chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the lasagna:
8 lasagna noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch squares (about 2 cups)
1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup homemade chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
1/2 pound Swiss chard, washed, dried, stems removed, leaves torn (about 2 cups)
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
½ cup reduced fat ricotta cheese
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
1 large egg, beaten

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, wine and 1 cup chicken broth and reduce the heat. Simmer the sauce for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper. Use a hand held blender (or food processor) to emulsify the sauce. Keep warm.

Cook the noodles in salted, boiling water until just al dente. Drain and place on a baking sheet that has been coated with vegetable oil spray.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat. Add the squash and onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in ¼ cup chicken broth and Swiss chard . Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the chard is wilted and the squash is soft, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly. Stir in the Gruyere cheese, ricotta, 1/3 cup Parmesan and egg.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour 1 ladle of the sauce into a baking dish. Lay out 1 lasagna noodle on your work surface. Spread 2 tablespoons of the filling over top. Roll up the noodle and place, seam side down into the baking dish. Repeat with all of the noodles and all of the filling. Spoon the remaining sauce over the top. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Bake the roll-ups until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbling.

Peppered Pork Pinwheels stuffed with Swiss Chard, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Makes 6 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 35 to 45 minutes

For the filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
2 pounds Swiss chard, washed, dried, stems removed, leaves torn (about 8 cups)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ounces reduced fat, grated Mozzarella cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup minced oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained

For the pork:
2 (12 to 14-ounce) pork tenderloins, tri-flied
2 tablespoons Dijon style mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil

Place one tenderloin onto a cutting board with the thick end facing away from you. Place your free hand on top to steady. Starting at the thick end and working horizontally, use a sharp knife to cut a slit about ¾ of the way through the bottom third of the meat, from right to left. Do not cut all the way through, leave attached. Open the tenderloin. Cut a slit from the center of the meat, from right to left again, ¾ of the way through toward the thick half. Do not cut all the way through. Open up the flap. You will have 1 large piece of meat. Repeat with the second tenderloin. Invert the second tenderloin, so that the thin end is placed next to the thick end, and overlaps slightly. Cover with plastic wrap. Use a meat mallet to pound the meat to an even thickness of about 1/2-inch. The two overlapping tri-flied tenderloins will yield a rectangular piece of meat about 10-inches by 12-inches. Place the cutting board, with the tenderloin covered with plastic, into the refrigerator to chill for at least 15 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add half of the Swiss chard. Cook until wilted, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the remaining Swiss chard and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature.

Remove the tenderloin from the refrigerator. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the meat. Cover with the Swiss chard mixture. Top with sun dried-tomatoes. Carefully roll up the tenderloin around the filling. Secure with toothpicks.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush with mustard, and coat generously with pepper. Place 1 more tablespoon olive oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Brown the pork tenderloin roll, beginning seam side down, on all sides until golden, about 5 minutes total. Place the pork roll into a baking dish. Bake until the meat is still moist and the juices are clear, about 35 to 45 minutes.

To serve, remove the toothpicks from the roll. Cut into 1 ½-inch slices.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mushrooms are in Tasty Abundance Right Now! Cook with Them this Holiday Season and Watch Your Dinner Guests Fall in Love…

If you look under “M” in any of my cookbooks, you’ll note that mushrooms, nature’s hidden treasures, occupy quite a bit of space. I love them because they lend earthy flavors with subtle, smoky undertones and meaty textures to everything they’re in. The health benefits of mushrooms are compelling enough that this October, for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, some cultivators are packaging their mushrooms in pink cartons. When I prepare some of my favorite recipes in which shitake, portabello or baby bellas star, I have to admit I’m not thinking of what their medicinal mushroom healing powers may be; I’m just delighted with how many parties and dinners they’ve taken me through with such great style!

De ja Mushroom
I’ve used pounds of mushrooms over the years to make warm mushroom salads with maple lime dressing, mushroom scallion pancakes with sherry creamed chicken—not to mention an Old Fashioned Mushroom Soup, laid out in this year’s Open House Halloween party plan. Anyway you slice ‘em, mushrooms lend a toe curling, savory elegance to all sorts of wild rice and risotto dishes; and where would omeletes and pizzas be without them? It turns out Cooking Light is on exactly the same page as me in cooking, preparation and storage tips for mushrooms, so you can have a quick brush up course before ripping into your next carton of fantastic fungi.

If any of my California Readers Make it to this Festival, please post on my Facebook wall! We foodies are hungry for photos and details!
This time of year, a foodie can get excited about mushrooms—especially in certain parts of the country, where the crisp cool air and autumn rainstorms cause them to grow in succulent abundance. The pun makers out there are saying “let the fun(gi) begin”, advertising big events for mushroom season, like Mendocino County’s annual 10-day Wine & Mushroom Festival (this year from Friday, November 5th through Monday, November 15th).

For those of my readers who don’t know where Mendocino is, picture the gorgeous wine country in northern California, where mushrooms a lot of us have never heard of still manage to captivate the taste buds. I’m talking Candy Cap Mushrooms, with their intense maple-syrup flavor, and award winning harvests of chanterelles, porcinis, morels and hedgehogs. Oh my! The list includes the familiar, like shiitake, cremini, portobello, oyster, wood ear and white. When you make a day of browsing Chinese markets—not a half bad idea if you make it to the Golden State—you will find enoki, porcini, beech, and more asian mushrooms than there are mushroom spores—do your part as a foodie and take notes while you shop!

Getting into the Gravy: what I’m doing with my next batch of mushrooms
Now that I’ve sufficiently covered how great mushrooms are, it’s time to get to the gravy of this article; my favorite accent to so many favorite entrees, mushrooms aren’t just low in calories, sodium-free, fat-free and cholesterol-free—but pretty much the best darn staple of flavor you can put into gravy for the perfect holiday centerpiece: Standing Rib Roast with Red Wine Mushroom Gravy. Both traditional and classy, this entrée is ideal for a holiday dinner party and calls for 2 pounds of button mushrooms—better known as “white mushrooms”, which steal credit as the most actively consumed variety around the world each year. Funny how they’re called “button” since they’re much bigger than the buttons you sew back on shirts—they remind me more of knobs. However, you choose to describe them, sautéing the mushrooms in the roasts’ pan drippings is what makes them the very definition of divine—and that’s before you take it to the next level, by adding a full cup of the richest, darkest red wine in your house.

Between where we are now and the waiting New Year, there are plenty of reasons to invite the family over for a special dinner. You might say, just after Halloween and right before Thanksgiving Day that the possibilities are mushrooming!

Standing Rib Roast with Red Wine Mushroom Gravy

Servings: 10 to 12 (2 to 3 servings per pound)
Preparation Time: 30 minutes, plus roasting

7 to 8 pound rib roast with 4 to 5 ribs trimmed
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 pounds button mushrooms, sliced
(about 4 cups)
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef stock
¼ cup all-purpose flour, mixed with 1 cup cold water

Preheat over to 475 degrees (hottest setting)

Combine the mustard, parsley and sugar in a small bowl. Brush the mixture over the entire roast. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the roast fat side up, on a rack, in a roasting pan. Place the roasting pan into the preheated oven. Immediately reduce the heat to 350 degrees, and roast for 18 minutes per pound or until the thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast reaches 140 degrees for rare, to 170 degrees for well done.

Remove the roast from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.

Sautee the mushrooms in the pan drippings over medium high heat. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add the red wine to the pan. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the beef stock and simmer for 5 minutes more. Add the flour mixture to the pan, a small amount at a time. Cook until the sauce thickens to gravy consistency. Add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fortify someone you love with a slow cooker favorite, Hunter Style Chicken Stew

Paging through recipes of how chicken soup is served up across the globe, I was inspired to treat my growing family to this chef’s version of a classic. We are all over-the-moon (and pretty exhausted!) after welcoming my second grandson into the world. Enjoy him…and hang in there! Please know that some of the best comfort food I know is coming your way; this delightful dish travels well…spoiler alert!

It takes a village to feed a friend—that’s why there’s
I talk a lot about “Freezer Pleasers”–dishes we can all roll up our sleeves and easily tote over to the busy young parents raising our grandkids, but there are other pack-and-go crowd pleasers that encourage Nanas and Extreme Party-Planners alike to get on board with the Slow Food Movement by preparing more fresh healthy food, MORE OFTEN; then make sure we all sit down and really taste it.

Recently, I found a wonderful resource called that lets you participate in meal creation via an online sign-up sheet; this way everyone gets involved with the understanding that you don’t have to be a Food Network Star to help nourish and fortify a loved one; you just do what you can do. Click around on their site for more details.

My “Meals on Wheels” Recipe
I plan on “penciling in”, for my wonderful daughter-in-law and new Mom, Hunter Style Chicken Stew—perfect for those days when you are: “In for the night and ready for the long-haul!” What better way to fortify the troops than with a perfect, full-bodied chicken soup just like grandma used to make—and in this case is still making! I’m getting out my slow cooker—a brand and model that can practically perform magic (see my Favorite Things) and using it to introduce my first hard core “comfort food” of the season. The main thing to get excited about in this recipe?? You basically get to set the slow cooker on medium high for the day and walk away!

Why is it the perfect time for this stew?
As of October 1st, flu season was in full swing. With vulnerable loved ones in our lives, it’s a good idea to get flu shots and build our immunity with good, fresh food. Research done by the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha ran a study on chicken soup, and found evidence to support the folklore about its positive influence on upper respiratory colds!

Global Twists on Chicken Soup
Chinese chicken soup is made from old hens and seasoned with ginger, spring onions and star anise.
Colombian chicken soup is made with sweet corn, several types of potatoes, avacados and native herbs; in Mexico it’s got whole chicken pieces instead of chopped or shredded chicken, and large cuts of vegetables, plus cabbage leaves.
Bulgarian chicken soup is made with lemon juice and vingar.
French chicken soup includes bay leaves, fresh thyme, dry white wine and loads of garlic.
German chicken soup is all about semolina dumplings and pickling spices.
In Greece, chicken soup is made with lemon and eggs, and served with small bits of pasta.
In Israel chicken soup is considered the traditional dish of the Jewish kitchen; chicken fat is used in the broth and it’s sesaoned with parsley, fresh dill and thyme.
Portugal and Brazil are on my page, by adding rice to their chicken soup
Jorj’s chicken soup produces a bouquet of aromas that brings every last soldier to the dinner table, expecting a regal occasion, yet happily departing to the family room, soup mug in hand! Grab your afghans everybody—it’s time to bundle up!

Hunter's Style Chicken Stew with Yellow Rice

Makes 6 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes

1 (4-pound) chicken, rinsed and patted dry, cut into 8 pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
4 ounces button mushrooms, sliced (about 1 cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 cup red wine
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 cups cooked yellow rice

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet (with lid) over medium high heat. Brown the chicken pieces on all sides until golden, about 8 minutes. Remove the chicken to a platter.

Add the onion, peppers, mushrooms and garlic to the pan. Cook until the veggies are soft and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook until much of the liquid has disappeared, about 5 minutes more.

Pour in the tomatoes. Stir in the tomato paste, oregano and rosemary. Add the chicken back to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 hour.

To serve, divide the rice among 6 plates. Place chicken pieces on top of the rice. Ladle the sauce over top. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Friday, October 8, 2010

When a group of friends hear wedding bells, a special party ensues…light & delicious luncheon fare for the Bride-to-be!

World news, believe it or not, can be tasty! That’s why, when Disney introduced it’s own line of 7 princess wedding gowns, I got inspired, and started doing a little research on weddings…and why not? As a party planner and caterer, they’re your bread and butter! Anyway, Yours Truly, along with the rest of a nuptial-minded consensus, decided that October is a great month to think about engagement parties, showers and so much of the mouth-watering “else” that comes with this celebration; I’m talking black and white marble cakes that remind you of bride and groom, a gathering of close friends—one of whom is headed down the aisle—and a stack of brides magazines that let you talk turkey about the one element in the wedding that is—let’s face it—what everybody shows up for: to see that gown!

When I looked at wedding statistics I found that the average American engagement is approximately 16 months long, and the bride-to-be chooses her wedding dress 4 months before the big day, which means that if you know someone this October shopping for the perfect dress, she’ll be saying “I do” in February! Valentines, anyone?

My party menu of hearty, yet delicate-in-presentation dishes for those who celebrate love, can be used not just for pending marriages, but for those coming up on anniversaries, and October, as I understand it, knows its fair share of them. Fall weddings represent 29% of the minister’s appointment book! If any of my readers are celebrating an anniversary, please leave me a comment that marks the exact date; it’ll make everyone smile!

Decorating for a bride inspired soirée can be done pretty inexpensively; a trip out to Party City showed me wedding trimmers and attention grabbing advertisements like: “It’s all about the dress!” For $10 you can get a formidable (at least a size 8) wedding dress balloon, but plenty of us will stop at simply putting out a pretty bouquet of roses and maybe some bride and groom salt and pepper shakers.

You know, I thought that a fun version of this party could be calling it a “Tapa-Wear” event, where the bride-to-be tries a few things on, while tapas are served in her midst. Ultimately, though, I left tapas to that hypothetical honeymoon in Spain, and chose Pitas Stuffed with Chicken and Walnut Salad, Chilled Cream of Cauliflower Soup (cauliflower is in season right now), Sautéed Fruit and Cheese Platter (this is the perfect post luncheon accompaniment that may just rival the dessert) and Vanilla & Chocolate Marble Cake with coffee afterward, its colors a perfect meld of what traditional brides and grooms are all about. Thank you, Queen Victoria, for establishing the centuries old tradition of white wedding dresses, a cherished theme in the minds of (most, all??) little girls until they become big girls…and actually wear one down the aisle.

So that’s all for now, my friends. Set your table for the well dressed, and don’t forget the white wines, and lone bottle of special champagne—have a nip and take a peek at beautiful things yet to come!

Sautéed Fruit and Cheese Platter

Servings: 20
Preparation time: 45 minutes

½ cup butter (1 stick)
2 cups firmly packed sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 medium pineapples, peeled, cored and sliced ¼-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
6 medium ripe pears, cored and sliced ¼-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
6 medium apples, cored and sliced ¼-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
6 large bananas, peeled and sliced (about 2 cups)

Maytag Blue, Stilton or Roquefort cheese, sliced into wedges

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat.

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl. Dip each piece of fruit in the brown sugar mixture.

Sautee the fruit in the butter, turning once until just soft and golden. Add more butter to the pan as needed. Transfer the fruit to a baking sheet.

Prepare platter by arranging slices of sautéed fruit and cheese wedges on serving dishes.

Vanilla & Chocolate Marble Cake

Servings 6
Preparation time: 20 minutes plus baking

½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
6 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
¼ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ teaspoon black walnut flavoring

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a round cake pan by spraying with vegetable oil spray and dusting with flour.

Combine the salt, baking soda and flour in a small bowl. Set aside.

Use an electric mixer to combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla and the eggs, adding one at a time. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk in 3 additions, alternating ½ flour mixture with ½ buttermilk until just blended. Spread half of the batter into the prepared cake pan.

Stir in the cocoa and black walnut flavoring into the remaining batter. Place the remaining batter onto the vanilla batter in large spoonfuls. With the tip of a knife, swirl the chocolate batter onto the vanilla batter being careful t not to over-mix.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Chilled Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6
Serving Size: 2 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium white onion, diced (about 2/3 cup)
2 medium celery ribs, diced (about 1 cup)
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into flowerets (about 3 cups)
1 quart chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup fat free half and half
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium high heat. Add the onion, celery and cauliflower to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes.

Pour in the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper, cumin and nutmeg. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the veggies are soft, about 30 minutes.

Use a hand held blender or food processor to emulsify the soup. Pour into a bowl, cover and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Stir the cream and chives into the soup. Ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish with freshly ground pepper.

Pitas Stuffed with Chicken and Walnut Salad

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time:
Serves: 6
Serving Size: 1 sandwich

1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dry mustard
Juice of 1 small lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 cup safflower oil
1 small (16 to 24 ounce) deli roasted chicken, skin and bones removed, meat shredded (about 4 cups)
2 medium celery ribs, diced (about 1 cup)
1 bunch seedless red grapes, cut in half (about 2 cups)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 large carrot, grated (about ½ cup)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 whole wheat pitas
Bean sprouts (optional)

Whisk together the egg yolk, salt, mustard, lemon juice and white wine vinegar. Whisk the oil into the egg yolk mixture a drizzle at a time until all of the oil has been incorporated; this will take you quite a while. (You can use a hand held blender or food processor to do the job for you.)

Place the shredded chicken meat into a bowl. Add the celery, red grapes, walnuts and shredded cabbage. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the mayonnaise to the chicken salad 1/3 cup at a time until you reach the desired consistency. (Store extra mayonnaise in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Use a serrated knife to split the pita ¾ of the way through. Stuff spoonfuls of the chicken salad into the pita. Top with bean sprouts.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Drink in the Sweet Pleasures of Autumn with This Casual Dessert Party

I have a date with a cup of Pumpkin Spice Coffee, served up warm with a dollop of whipped cream—I’m setting a small but lovely dessert table for a handful of my closest friends, and hope you’ll find a likeminded opportunity this year to host a seasonal gathering of your own.

October and November are perfect for savoring spicy, aromatic and super sweet flavors associated with Fall; whether you’re cooking a figgy pudding, roasting pumpkin seeds, or sniffing crisp red caramel-covered apples during the fall carnival—you can’t help but revel in the aromas that practically cling to you this time of year—right along with the sweaters you just pulled out of storage.

This is an ideal time to play hostess since the hectic pace of the full-on holiday season has yet to begin. Extend this cozy invite before everyone is too busy—or too frazzled—to join in the fun of an informal party.

Cue my Fall Equinox Dessert Feast! What am I serving?

Well…inspired by the October 21st holiday I just read about (would you believe it’s National Pumpkin Cheescake Day?), I’ve decided to do a Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake; she’ll be big and marvelous, and take center stage on my table. The rest of my desserts consist of Chocolate Spice Cake with Caramel Toffee Frosting—so fitting for this time of year with its cinnamon clove smells, so inviting as you step in from the changing leaves…I could go on and on…—and last but not least, my Butterscotch Pudding with Toasted Almonds that I plan to serve from a real pumpkin shell! (Grab a carving knife, some newspaper, and get to work hollowing out a smallish pumpkin, so that you, too, are good-to-go serving your pudding the same way!)

You can prepare the pumpkin cheesecake 1 or 2 days in advance; the other desserts require some refrigeration time to set—see the recipes for complete instructions. My point in mentioning this is that you should prepare everything for this dessert party well in advance of show time!

One of the cool things you’ll notice about these desserts—aside from OMG!Flavor—are their colors, which are going to match the scented candles I’ll put out for the occasion. I also found a surprisingly nice (for its 40% mark-off from an original price of $30!) pumpkin/fall foliage centerpiece from Michael’s; browsing the aisles, there today I saw a lot of crafting tools from Martha Stewart’s product line—and was glad I just featured one of her Halloween party prep gadgets in my Favorite Things on the Nana Network.

Hop on Top Nana’s Facebook page and hit “Like “for weekly news feeds on more family fun with a culinary twist!

But in between work and play on the computer, get on the horn and arrange to have your friends over for dessert between now and Thanksgiving. A good rule of thumb for dessert parties on a smaller scale—which means between 4 to 7 guests—is to make 2 pots of coffee, reserve 2 bottles of wine and have, between the array of desserts offered, about 70 small servings on hand; that means cutting dainty slivers of cake, but almost everyone—in anticipation of that 3,000 calorie meal on gobble-gobble day is watching their figures anyway—and trust me, you’ll have enough food on hand with this party menu so that the napkins provided dab some VERY happy mouths—SPOILER ALERT: the frosting on my Chocolate Spice Cake is particularly mouth lickin’ good.

Come in from the first cold snap of the year, my friends, and enjoy some sweet treats with me!

Butterscotch Pudding with Toasted Almonds

This dessert has to set in the refrigerator for at least an hour; to make the most out of serving it in a pumpkin shell, I recommend preparing this dessert several hours before the party. Have six or more ½ cup ramekins on the dessert table, so guests can ladle portions from the pumpkin full o’ pudding!

Servings: 6 (more when servings are small for your dessert party)
Preparation time: 30 minutes plus refrigeration

6 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces
1 ¼ cups dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks

1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup sliced almonds
Whipped cream

Whisk together the butter, brown sugar and vanilla in a saucepan over medium high heat. Cook until the butter is melted, then cook for 5 minutes more whisking constantly. The mixture will be bubbly. Remove from the heat.

Cook the milk and cream in a saucepan over medium high heat until it just begins to boil. Pour the warm milk into the butter mixture. Return to medium high heat and whisk until smooth.

Place the cornstarch and salt in a small bowl. Pour about ¼ cup of the butterscotch mixture into the cornstarch and whisk until smooth.

Whisk the cornstarch back into warm milk, bring to a boil, and cook until the butterscotch thickens.

Place the egg yolks in a small bowl. Pour about ¼ cup of the butterscotch mixture into the eggs. Whisk this mixture back into the warm milk. Cook for several minutes, whisking constantly. The mixture will thicken as it cooks.

Strain the mixture through a sieve or colander to get rid of any lumps.

Prepare a pumpkin shell and pour pudding into it; refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

For the toasted almonds: Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium high heat. Add the cinnamon and the almonds. Cook until the almonds begin to turn golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Serve the chilled pudding with a sprinkle of toasted almonds and a dollop of whipped cream.

Chocolate Spice Cake with Caramel Toffee Frosting

This dessert has to set at least 1 hour…then bon appetite!

Servings: 10 or more (more when servings are cut small for your dessert party)

Preparation time: 30 minutes for baking

2 cups cake flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt

½ cup butter (1 stick)
2 cups packed brown sugar
½ cup canola oil
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk

2 cups heavy cream, chilled
¾ cup prepared caramel topping
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 (1.4 ounce) bars chocolate-covered English toffee candy, finely chopped (about 2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and salt into a bowl.

Use an electric mixture to combine the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and milk in 3 additions, alternating 1/3 flour mixture with 1/3 milk until just blended.

Pour the batter into two 9-ionch cake pans, coated in vegetable oil spray and dusted with flour. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto a rack and cool completely.

Use an electric mixture to beat the cream until it begins to thicken. Add the caramel sauce and vanilla. Continue beating until soft peaks form.

Slice the cakes in half using a serrated knife or thread. Place one cake layer half on a cake plate. Spread a layer of frosting onto the cake. Sprinkle candy crumbs onto the frosting. Repeat for all layers. Frost the sides and top of the cake. Sprinkle chopped candy pieces on the top and side frosting.
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