Friday, December 31, 2010

Mama Ozzy's Caesar Salad

I love Caesar salad in all forms, but this is my absolute favorite. It is bright and lemony and packs a whopping garlic punch. The dressing is more of an aioli or mayonnaise than the classic Caesar dressing and I like it because it really clings to the Romaine leaves and holds all the delicious parmesan cheese in place.

I almost never add croutons to this salad, but that doesn't mean YOU can't. I prefer to eat this with a home made focaccia bread... better than any croutons!

Don't be afraid of the anchovy paste... the last thing this salad tastes like is fish. The anchovy paste just rounds out the flavor of the creamy dressing.

Mama Ozzy's Caesar Salad
Serves 8-10

2 heads Romaine lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite size pieces

juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic
1 egg yolk
1 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
grated parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade combine lemon juice, worcestershire sauce, anchovy paste, salt garlic cloves and gg yolk. Process until well mixed and garlic is finely minced. With processor running, add the olive oil in a thin stream until dressing coalesces into a loose mayonnaise.

Pour dressing over Romaine lettuce in a large serving bowl and toss to coat the leaves. Add grated parmesan cheese and toss again. Serve immediately with freshly ground black pepper.

Farfalle with Tomatoes, Italian Sausage and Cream

Last night company started showing up for the New Years Eve That Doesn't Suck party and I thought I'd just throw together some delicious comfort food. I spent the day making focaccia bread and made this dish to go along with it and a big Caesar salad. DELISH!

I have been making this recipe since my graduate school days in Oak Ridge, Tennesee. This is an inexpensive dish, that comes together in about half an hour and is loaded with flavor. Its one of those go to dishes when you want something hearty and satisfying but don't have a lot of time.

Farfalle with Tomatoes, Italian Sausage and Cream
serves 6-8

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb farfalle (bow tie) pasta
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 cloves garlic minced
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
parmesan cheese

In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Crumble the sausage into the pan and add the fennel seeds. Brown the sausage until it is beginning to carmelize and leave a brown patina on the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and toss. Add the tomatoes and stir. Allow the tomato mixture to cook for 10 minutes to reduce the liquid, then add cream and salt, stir and cook 5 minutes longer to thicken sauce. Remove from heat.

Prepare farfalle pasta according to package directions, drain and add to skillet with sauce, toss to combine and allow pasta to absorb the sauce for 15 minutes. Add fresh basil, toss. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Focaccia Bread with Onions and Sage

I have been working on this recipe for a VERY long time, at least 10-12 years and I think in the last couple years I have finally got it right. This makes a very light bread with a cotton candy-like texture inside, and a very crisp almost deep-fried exterior. I sometime will make this bread and a simple Caesar salad for dinner and be happy happy happy.

There are a couple of tricks to this bread. The first being that it ABSOLUTELY makes a difference what type of flour you use. It must be an unbleached high protein flour. The best I have found to date is King Arthur's Bread flour. Using a lesser quality flour will result in a cake-like bread, still tasty, but really lacking in texture.

Second, the dough should have a very high water content and will begin as a very very sticky dough. Third, the folding (or turning) technique helps build the gluten in the dough without a lot of kneading and will develop those delightful big bubbles one finds in any good artisanal bread.

I like to bake the bread on a cornmeal-dusted pan that has been sprinkled with red pepper flakes... for a surprising occasional bite of heat... its totally optional.

Like most homemade breads, this doesn't keep, so eat it up when it is fresh.

This recipe takes about 4-5 hours from start to finish, so start early in the day to have it ready for dinner.

Focaccia Bread with Onions and Sage
serves 12

2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 pkg dry active yeast (about 2 tsp)
1/4 extra virgin olive oil
3 1/2 tsp salt
5 cups (about) unbleached bread flour (3 1/2 cups in the dough, 1 1/2 cups for "turning" the bread)

1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 small onion, cut into very thin rings
10-12 fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan reggiano cheese grated

Place warm water in mixing bowl of stand mixer, add 1 Tbsp sugar and stir to dissolve. Sprinkle yeast over surface of water. Let satnd 10 minutes, yeast should begin to foam and bubble. Add salt and olive oil and 2 cups bread flour. With paddle attachment begin to beat dough until smooth. Add 1 1/2 cups more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating after each addition (3 separate additions). This makes 3 1/2 cups flour. Continue to beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes until dough forms web-like strands in the bowl. Dough will be VERY sticky and scrappy and will hang from the paddle.

The dough should be VERY sticky and hang from the paddle.

Transfer dough to a well-oiled large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 45 minutes in a warm place.

You will use the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour to "turn" the dough. This is where we will form the gluten of the dough. It will go from sticky to smooth after the next set of steps.

Heavily flour the surface of a work area, and empty dough from bowl onto flour. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, and gently flatten dough into a large flat "pancake". fold the left side of the dough to the center, then the right side over the left, then the top down and finally the bottom over the top. Turn dough over and spin gently to form a ball. return dough to well-oiled bowl (you may need to add more oil to keep dough from sticking). Allow dough to rise 30 minutes in a warm place.Dump the dough onto a heavily -floured surface and sprinkle the top with flour.

Gently flatten the dough into a large "pancake".

Fold the left side to the center.
Next, fold the right side over the left.

Then, fold the top side down to the center.

And then fold the bottom up over the top.

Finally, flip the dough over, and give it a quick spin with your hands.

You will repeat the above step 2 more times. Each time, dumping the dough onto a floured surface, sprinkling the dough with flour and folding the dough before returning it to the bowl to rise for 30 minutes.

After the final turning (folding), allow the dough to rise until doubled in volume (1 1/2 - 2 hours).

Oil a jelly roll pan with olive oil, then dust with cornmeal, tapping out any excess. Optional, sprinkle red pepper flakes over cornmeal. Empty risen dough onto prepared jelly roll pan and gently spread toward edges (usually it will not completely fill the whole pan... which is OK because it will spread as it rises and a rustic focaccia is a thing of beauty). Place thinly-sliced onion rings and sage leaves onto top of bread, cover with a tea towel and allow to rise for 1 hour.

Dough has doubled in volume and the pan is dusted with cornmeal and red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400F.

After dough has risen, remove tea towel, and with your fingers poke indentations all over bread. Drizzle olive oil into holes, and sprinkle top of bread with parmesan cheese.

Poking he dough with fingers to make small wells for the olive oil.
As the bread rises in the oven these wells will baste the dough with oil!

Bake 20 minutes. Allow bread to cool 10 minutes before removing from pan. Let the bread rest another 15 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

New Year's Eve that Doesn't Suck (NYETDS)

A montage of ingredients for New Year's Eve: Martha Stewart and Paula Deen cookbooks, cognac and tawny port, currants and black-eyed peas, butter and bell peppers, dried wild mushrooms soaking, moist croissants ready to be dried, to-do lists and ciggies. Life is Good.

Have you ever noticed how in the movies everyone is going to fabulous parties on New Year's Eve. but how in real life if you go out, the bars are crowded, and over-priced and full of jerks? So we usually end up staying home, watching people freeze to death in Times Square, falling asleep on the sofa well before midnight. B-O-R-I-N-G

Several years ago, our friends Matt and Caroline, along with Karin, Lynn and Brian, decided we'd had enough of New Year's Eve parties that suck and decided to remedy the situation by making it an occasion to get together at one of our homes and prepare fabulous food and cocktails and engage in wild antics like streaking through the neighbors back yard or watching "Johns" negotiate with hookers (" want long time, 20-30 minutes!").

NYETDS started in Durham, moved to Washington DC, then Alexandria, VA, and this year is back in Durham. So what's on the menu? Hard to say exactly everything that will be on the menu, but here is a sampling of some things I know will be served. If I'm not too hammered, I may even get around to posting some of these recipes. HA!

New Year's Eve That Doesn't Suck
Beef Wellington Bites
Bacon-wrapped Scallops
Chicken Liver Pate with Port and Currants
Stilton and Walnut Backlava
Caprese Crostini (from Delicious)
Buffalo Chicken Dip
Pigs in a Blanket

NewYear's Day Hangover Breakfast
Savory Breakfast Bread Pudding with Sausage and Cheese
Hash Browns au Gratin
Bloody Marys and Mimosas

New Year's Day Southern-style Lunch
Hoppin John
Collard Greens

Dried Cherry and Currant Tea Scones

New Year's Day is only a couple days away and its time for a changing of the guard with regard to our company. Emma is in Boone, NC visiting her friends Megan and Carey, and this morning Rachel, Monica and Nate (who came in last night from DC) are heading to Cary, NC just in time for us to clean up and welcome Karin and Lynn and their dog Izzy who are coming from Alexandria, VA for the annual New Years Eve That Doesn't Suck party. As the kids are packing up I thought I'd fix a simple breakfast my mother used to make: Tea scones.

My mom called them "singing hinnies", a slang term she picked up when my parents lived in London. The name singing hinnies supposedly comes from the hissing sound scones make when they first come out of the hot oven. Whatever. I long ago stopped asking about the names the English give their food (bubble and squeak, bangers and mash, toad in the hole, etc).

They are a perfect quick breakfast that everyone loves. My mom just used currants, but I have made lots of variations of them depending on what I have on hand at the moment. This morning I had some dried cherries and currants. In the past I have made them with sharp white cheddar and fresh apple chunks, dried apricots and walnuts, dried blueberries and cinnamon... the possibilities are endless.

These are best served hot with lots of butter, honey and marmalade or jam. They don't keep so eat them up while they are fresh!

Dried Cherry and Currant Tea Scones
serves 8

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold, and cut into chunks
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried currants
1 egg
1/2 cup milk

1 egg beaten (for egg wash)
granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 425 F

In a food processor combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse to combine. Add butter in pieces and pulse until combined. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and stir in dried fruit. Combine milk and egg and whisk to combine, add to flour and stir until just combined.

On a greased cookie sheet, pat dough into a 12-inch circle. Brush with beaten egg glaze and sprinkle with granulated sugar. With a sharp knife, score into 8 wedges. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Serve hot with butter, honey and jam.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Warm Goat Cheese Salad

I learned this recipe from my good friend Chris Pfitzer who just finished writing his first cookbook: Delicious: flavorful food for everyone. I list this book in the recommended cookbook section and it is now available for purchase on Lulu. This is a great collection of family recipes, and importantly all the recipes are friendly for diabetics.

This salad is incredibly versatile and can be prepared many different ways, but in my mind it is ALL about the warm, panko-crusted, fried goat cheese. YUM. You can substitute the type of greens, and you can change the dressing, just don't leave out the goat cheese!

I think the sweetness of the dressing is key to balancing the tang of the crispy warm goat cheese. I like to add nuts and fresh fruit to the salad as well. For Christmas I used pears and rosemary-scented pecans. For valentines it was fresh raspberries and toasted almonds. The possibilities are endless.

Warm Goat Cheese Salad
serves 8

2 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
1 tsp sweetener (sugar or Splenda)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 egg yolk
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 11 oz. log plain or herbed chevre goat cheese, cut into 8 slices
1 egg white with 1 tsp water
pinch of salt
1 cup panko bread crumbs

3 Tbsp Olive oil
3 Tbsp unsalted butter

fresh fruit (raspberries, pears, strawberries, nectarines, etc)
toasted nuts (pine nuts, toasted walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, etc)

Salad greens for 8 servings (I love Arugula, but any good greens will work; avoid iceberg lettuce)

Combine all dressing ingredients except olive oil in a small food processor or small bowl. process (or whisk) to combine. While processing (or whisking) slowly drizzle olive oil into dressing to make a thick dressing.

In a small bowl combine egg white, water and salt, whisk until foamy. Place panko on a small plate. Using one hand, dip each piece of goat cheese in the egg whites to coat, then roll in panko. Set aside on waxed paper. Repeat with remaining cheese.

In a non-stick skillet heat olive oil over medium high heat and add butter. Allow butter to melt. When butter stops foaming, oil is hot enough for frying. Place panko coated goat cheese in skillet and fry until golden (about 2-3 minutes per side). Drain fried cheese briefly on paper towels.

Place greens in a large bowl and hand-toss with enough dressing to just coat the leaves (do not over-dress). Portion dressed greens among 8 salad plates and top with hot goat cheese. Garnish with fruit and nuts and serve immediately.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Whenever I make mashed potatoes I always make these because they have 1 million times the flavor of ordinary potatoes and are every bit as easy.

This is basically a guide to making mashed potatoes , not a recipe. You don't need a recipe for mashed potatoes, and since everybody's opinion of whether mashed potaotes should be smooth or lumpy, thick or thin, etc. is different I'll leave that up to you! Adjust the proportions that follow as you see fit.

But here is what I do:

First I always make a LOT. People always eat a lot of mashed potatoes for dinner, and leftover mashed potatoes ALWAYS get eaten.

5lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled (Russets are good , but I love a Yukon Gold)
1 very large Sweet potato, peeled (This adds an incredible flavor depth to the potatoes , sweet and earthy, but not sickeningly sweet and mushy... just a hint of sweetness)
5-6 cloves of garlic peeled

Chop the potatoes and sweet potatoes into large chunks (too small of a chunk makes water-logged potatoes). Place all potatoes in a large pot and cover with about 3 inches of water. Add a generous palm-full of salt. Add the garlic to the pot (yes, just boiling the garlic with the potatoes will infuse them with garlic flavor). Boil in heavily salted water until potatoes are fork tender. Drain.

Now... time for a choice... smooth or chunky? I like both. For smooth potatoes, press the cooked potatoes through a ricer. For chunky, mash them in the bowl with a potato masher. Add butter ( I usually add about 1 stick). and mash until incorporated.

Decision time again... add some cream to the potatoes and whisk into potatoes. How much? Depends on what you like. I usually add about 1 to 1-1/2 cups of cream because I like my taters creamy and smooth.

Season generously with salt and serve.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Savory Breakfast Bread Pudding with Sausage and Cheese

This is such a useful recipe for holidays or when you have company who plan on staying overnight (at our house, usually because they are too drunk to drive home). It can be made a day ahead of time and kept refrigerated until ready to bake. After 20 minutes in the oven you have a light and fluffy, and yet hearty breakfast. The perfect thing to go with a Bloody Mary, a Champagne Mimosa, a cup of Irish coffee, or ALL of the above

I have made this with regular bread, but I must admit that it is much much better when made with croissants from your favorite bakery. The croissants make the pudding very light and buttery.

Savory Breakfast Bread Pudding with Sausage and Cheese
Serves 8

4-5 large croissants
1lb breakfast sausage
1 small onion, diced
1 cup extra sharp white cheddar, grated
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F. Tear croissants into bite sized pieces and place on a large baking sheet. Toast croissant pieces in oven for 10 minutes, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.

In a large skillet crumble the breakfast sausage, add diced onion and cook over medium high heat until sausage is thoroughly cooked. Add hot sausage and onions to toasted croissants in bowl. Add Cheddar cheese and toss.

In a medium bowl combine eggs, cream salt and nutmeg, whisk to combine. Pour egg mixture over croissants and sausage and toss lightly to combine. Transfer to a 9x9 square baking dish that has been well-buttered. Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese. At this point the dish can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.

Bake 20 minutes at 400F. Serve hot.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Beef Tenderloin with Morel Mushroom Bordelaise Sauce

Beef Tenderloin with Morel Mushroom Bordelaise, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and
Haricots Verts in brown butter with almonds.

On Christmas morning we spend literally hours opening gifts and eating and drinking and laughing. So while I still want something truly decadent for Christmas dinner, I neither have the time nor the desire to spend the entire day in the kitchen. Thats where this recipe comes to the rescue!

Beef tenderloin is a giant log of the finest cut of beef (filet mignon is made from slicing a beef tenderloin). Is Beef Tenderloin expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? YES YES YES. And here is the best part... it is unbelievably easy to prepare.

Basically, the tenderloin gets a rub with rosemary, salt and pepper, then roasts at a high temperature for about 40 minutes. Done.

I like to serve this dish with a mushroom Bordelaise sauce. Bordelaise is one of those unbelievably time -consuming fussy sauces, and back in the day I used to make it the classical way starting with several pounds of beef bones I would roast and use to make several gallons of stock which I would then slowly reduce to about 1 cup of demi glace. It was delicious, but who has time for that?

These days I have completely scaled down the recipe so the sauce can be prepared in about 1/2 hour and can be made in advance and reheated. I have searched and it is difficult (not to mention expensive) to find prepared demi glace (reduced beef stock). Then a couple years ago I found a product at the Harris Teeter grocery store called Better Than Bouillon. It comes in a jar and is a reduced beef stock paste. I tried it, and it is a great, inexpensive (and fast) substitute for demi glace. I have been using it ever since.

Roast Beef Tenderloin with Rosemary

1 8lb Beef Tenderloin, cleaned and trimmed
1/2 cup fresh rosemary leaves
1 1/2 Tbsp coarse sea salt
1 Tbsp Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a food processor combine rosemary , salt, pepper and olive oil and process until rosemary is coarsely chopped. Place tenderloin on a rack in a large roasting pan. Spread rosemary mixture evenly over all surfaces of tenderloin.

Tied and rubbed, this meat log is ready to be shoved in a hot oven (Oh My!)

Roast tenderloin at 400 for approximately 40 minutes (check temperature in thickest part of tenderloin with a meat thermometer after 2o minutes, then check again every 10 minutes until internal temperature is 110 for medium rare).

Remove tenderloin from oven, tent with foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes before slicing into 1/2 inch thick slices. Serve with Bordelaise sauce.

Mama Ozzy's trick for reheating leftover tenderloin: Microwaving leftover tenderloin to warm it up will completely cook the tenderloin and ruin it. I like to put the tenderloin slices in a airtight ziploc bag and place them in a pan of simmering water for 5 minutes... this just warms the beef up without ruining the beautiful medium rare flavor!

Bordelaise Sauce

1/2 oz. dried morel mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
4 Tbsp butter
1 shallot finely chopped
8 oz mushrooms chopped
1 tsp ground thyme
1/2 cup flour
2 cups red wine
2 cups water
4 tsp Better than Bouillon beef stock concentrate
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

In a small bowl combine dried morels and boiling water, allow to steep for 15 minutes. Meanwhile melt butter in medium sauce pan, add chopped shallot and mushrooms and saute 10-15 minutes. Remove morels from liquid, reserving "mushroom tea". Chop morels and add to sauce pan. Add thyme and flour and stir. Cook for 5 minutes. Add wine and water and stir to dissolve flour mixture. Add beef stock concentrate and cook over medium heat until sauce thickens. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with Beef tenderloin.

Raspberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

Heidi and I first tasted these muffins at a trendy coffee shop in Sun Valley Idaho. We went there every day for a week because they were so delicious. They are moist and flavorful and are studded with tart raspberries and sweet mini chocolate chips.

I worked for months when I returned home to try to recapture the original recipe and finally got it right! The basic recipe comes from Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbook (see recommended cookbooks). These muffins have been a Christmas/birthday/special occasion tradition at our house for as long as the girls can remember.

I like to use self-rising flour because it makes a perfect muffin every time and makes these tasty treats a snap to throw together in the morning. The secret to a light and fluffy muffin is not to overmix the batter. Definitely a case of less is more!

Raspberry Chocolate Chip Muffins
(makes one dozen)

2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup mini-chocolate chips
1 pint fresh raspberries (or frozen if fresh are not available)
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place 12 paper liners in a muffin tin. In a large bowl combine self-rising flour and sugar, whisk to combine. Add chocolate chips and raspberries and gently toss to coat with flour. In another bowl combine eggs, milk, melted butter and vanilla, whisk to combine. add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and mix gently until just combined. DO NOT OVERMIX! There should still be some patches of dry ingredients in the batter...overmixing causes the muffins to become nasty dense hockey pucks!

Portion batter evenly between the 12 muffin cups, top with additional granulated sugar and bake for 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Chocolate Buche de Noel with Home-made Tart Cherry Conserve

I love to celebrate the pagan roots of the Christmas holidays by preparing this fabulous dessert shaped like a Yule log. There's just something fun about the illusion.

Traditionally, this dessert is made with a yellow sponge cake rolled with rum-spiked chocolate filling and it is good, but a little boring. Furthermore, if the cake is even a little over-baked, it becomes to brittle to roll and cracks and falls apart and you're left with a bunch of cake crumbs... not fun at all.

This recipe however involves a flourless chocolate cake which is very pliable and rolls easily. The cake recipe is called Chocolate Cloud Roll from the legendary Rose Levy Beranbaum in her book The Cake Bible (see recommended cookbooks). It is indeed like a cloud, more like a rolled chocolate souffle than a cake. When filled with whipped cream it becomes ethereal.

I like to contrast the flavors of chocolate and cream with tart cherries. If you can find tart cherry preserves, they are perfect in this dessert. My problem is I can almost never find tart cherry preserves, and when I do,it is insanely expensive because it is usually imported from Germany. My solution? Make my own. The home-made tart cherry conserve is super easy, uses ingredients you can find in almost any grocery store, and comes together in about half an hour.

When all the elements come together, this desert is like a very light and fluffy Schwartzwald Torte rolled into a log.

Although it takes some effort, it is really worth the effort to make the meringue mushrooms for a garnish... everyone oohs and ahs over these sweet and crisp little decorations.

Chocolate Buche de Noel with Home-made Tart Cherry Conserve

Meringue Mushrooms:
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 /2 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 200F.

Whip egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and whip until soft peaks form. With mixer running, gradually add sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in powdered sugar.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place meringue in piping bag fitted with large round tip. Keeping tip about 1 inch above parchment paper, pipe mushroom caps of varying sizes. This will leave a stiff point on the top of each cap. With your finger dipped lightly in water, gently tap down points to form round caps. Pipe taller mushroom stems.

Place meringue in pre-heated oven and bake for 1 hour. Do not open door during baking. After one hour, turn oven off, and leave meringues in the oven until completely cooled.

With a paring knife, cut a small hole in the underside of each mushroom cap and insert the tip of a stem. Gently dust each mushroom with a small amount of cocoa powder to make spots on mushroom caps.

Tart Cherry Conserve:
2 cups dried cherries, chopped
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup Kirsch

Combine chopped dried cherries, sugar and water in medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture has thickened to jam consistency (about 15-20 minutes). Add Kirsch, stir and cook 5 minutes until reduced. Cool completely before using.

Whipped Cream Filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
(optional)1 pkg. Dr. Oetker Whip it (whipped cream stabilizer...can be found at higher-end grocery stores in the baking aisle)

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and whip cream until fluffy.

Ganache frosting:
12 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped (or chips)
1 2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened unsalted butter
2 Tbsp Cognac

In a small saucepan heat cream until just boiling. Remove from heat and add chocolate and stir until completely melted and smooth. Transfer to a a large bowl and cool completely. Once cool stir in softened butter and cognac. Whip ganache briefly (2-3 minutes) until lightened slightly (do not over-whip or ganache will become grainy).

6 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
4 oz. semisweet chocolate
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil , leaving a 1-inch overhang around perimeter of pan. Butter the foil.

In a mixing bowl, combine egg yolks and 1/4 cup granulated sugar, beat until light yellow-in color and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add the melted chocolate and beat until incorporated.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy, then add the cream of tartar. Beat until soft peaks form and then add 2 Tbsp granulated sugar, continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Fold 1/4 egg whites into chocolate mixture until combined, then fold chocolate mixture into remaining egg whites being careful not to deflate, until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly to all corners and sides. Bake 16 minutes.

Remove cake from oven, run a sharp knife around edges to free cake form pan. Sprinkle the top of the cake with 1 Tbsp cocoa powder and immediately cover cake with a slightly damp clean dish towel and allow cake to cool.

Remove dish towel from cake, and using the foil overhang on one of the long sides of the pan, gently remove cake (on foil) from pan.

Spread Cherry conserve over cooled cake. Next spread whipped cream evenly over cherry conserve. Gently roll the cake lengthwise, using the foil liner to assist in rolling. Once rolled, keep cake wrapped in foil and refrigerate to set (1 hour). While cake roll is cooling, prepare ganache icing.

Once roll is cooled, remove foil and place cake on serving platter. Cut about 1/4 off the end of the cake roll at a diagonal and place against the larger portion to create the illusion of a branch. Frost cake completely with ganache, then texture the icing to look like bark by scoring the ganache with a fork. Decorate with meringue mushrooms, garnish with holly and dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

Rosemary-Scented Pecans

My friend Brian makes these pecans every year for his XXX-mas party. While there is always a lot of delicious food at his party these are my favorite, I can just eat handfuls of them. They are the perfect little nosh to serve alongside cocktails. And they are insanely easy to make. There are recipes for these all over the internet, so here is my version.

I have made these with fresh rosemary several times, and I have to say I prefer dried rosemary for this recipe. Fresh rosemary just doesn't give a strong enough flavor.

Rosemary-Scented Pecans

1lb Pecan halves
1/4 unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 Tbsp dried rosemary lightly crumbled
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 300F. Place pecans on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 15 minutes. Combine melted butter and worcestershire sauce and whisk to combine. Remove from oven, and drizzle with butter mixture. Sprinkle salt, sugar and dried rosemary (and cayenne pepper if using) over nuts and toss to combine. Return to oven for 7 1/2 minutes, Toss nuts again, and bake a final 7 1/2 minutes. Toss nuts one final time and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.

Clementine Cosmopolitans

I want to thank our friends Jessica and Sonya for introducing us to this amazing cocktail. It is truly Christmas in a glass. A simple syrup is made with the juice from nearly 5lbs of clementines, and then mixed with vanilla vodka and cranberry juice. Yum! Fruity and fabulous, just like me and Doug. Be careful... these go down easily and they are very potent!

Clementine Cosmopolitans

3 cups freshly squeezed clementine juice
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick

Vanilla Vodka
Lime wedges
Cranberry juice

Granulated sugar (for rimming the glass)

Combine clementine juice, sugar and cinnamon stick in a medium sauce pan and heat over medium high heat just until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to steep until cooled to room temperature. Transfer to storage bottle and refrigerate until ready to use.

Pour a small amount of vodka into a saucer, and some granulated sugar in another saucer. Invert a martini glass into the vodka to wet the rim, then dip into sugar.

In a pitcher, combine 2 parts clementine simple syrup, 2 parts Vanilla Vodka, 1 part Cranberry juice. In a cocktail shaker full of ice, squeeze one lime wedge, add cocktail mix, and shake cosmopolitans until well chilled, strain into prepared glasses and serve garnished with a slice of clementine.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon Panko Bread Crumb Topping

Its a cold, cold December in North Carolina, and weather like this, combined with family coming into town for the holidays, calls for simple and delicious comfort food like Mac 'n' Cheese.

This is probably my most requested recipe ever. And its no wonder why, because everyone loves macaroni and cheese. As for me personally, I don't like most macaroni and cheese. Its usually not cheesy enough and is, in fact, often dry.

I hate dry macaroni and cheese, blech. I think Macaroni and cheese should be creamy, and it should taste like cheese... I mean it should REALLY taste like cheese.

I have been working on this recipe for years and when I make it, it never lasts very long. I love the smoked Gouda because it makes the Mac 'n' cheese almost taste like it has meat in it. It used to be hard to find smoked Gouda, but now it is almost everywhere. Also, don't be tempted to use anything less than extra sharp white cheddar. For this dish to have the cheesy flavor it has, you need a VERY sharp cheese, anything less will result in a bland and boring dish...and for that you can buy Kraft in the blue box.

The bacon Panko topping is totally optional, but gives a great crunchy contrast to the creamy pasta beneath.

Check out my pals at Hot Kitchen making a romantic dinner for two featuring Mama Ozzy's Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese!!!

Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon Panko Bread Crumb Topping

5 slices bacon
1 1/2 cups Panko Bread Crumbs
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
5 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 lb Smoked Gouda Cheese, grated
1 lb Extra Sharp White Cheddar Cheese, grated
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 lb elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions, drained.

Pre heat oven to 350F.

Fry bacon in a large skillet until crisp, remove to paper towels to drain. Add panko bread crumbs and 1/4 tsp salt and toast in skillet until golden. Remove from heat and crumble bacon into bread crumbs, toss to combine.

In a large pot, melt 1/2 cup butter over medium heat. Once melted, add garlic and flour, whisk to combine, and cook for 2 minutes until bubbling. Add 1 cup milk and whisk to combine, then add remaining 4 cups of milk and cook over medium heat, whisking gently until sauce thickens. Add nutmeg, pepper and salt and whisk until well combined. Add grated cheese 1 cup at a time until all cheese is added and sauce is smooth. Remove sauce from heat.

Prepare elbow macaroni according to package directions and drain thoroughly. Add macaroni to cheese sauce and mix to combine. (At this point the mixture will look like cheese soup with a few noodles in it. Do not worry, the pasta will absorb 90% of the liquid while it is in the oven). Pour into 9x13 baking pan, top with panko crumbs and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest for at least 15- 20 minutes before serving.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Crab Bisque

Some occasions just call for a decadent and luxurious opening course and Christmas is one of those times. I first had this soup (or something like it) at the wedding of my dear friends Karin and Lynn. The soup they served was one of those "food moments" you know you will always remember. The soup is creamy and rich, but not fishy or over-seasoned with distracting flavors; it tastes like what it is: crab and cream.

After Karin and Lynn's wedding I spent months trying to find a recipe similar to what I had at their reception, but with not much luck. Finally I stumbled upon a Paula Dean recipe called The Lady & Sons Crab Stew from her book The Lady & Sons Too!. This recipe was the closest I'd had to that magical crab soup at the wedding.

After several iterations of making this recipe, I made several changes to the recipe and I think it is very close to the original. It is a family favorite at the holidays and is extremely easy. Best of all, it can be made up to a week in advance (without the crab) and kept in the refrigerator, then just reheat, put the crab in the bottom of a soup bowl and ladle the hot soup over. Voila! Happiness in a bowl!

Crab Bisque
Serves 8-10

4 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 Tbsp minced garlic
3 cups heavy cream
2 cups fish stock
1/4 cup sherry
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp salt
One 8 oz. bottle clam juice

1 pound cleaned lump crab meat

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Add flour and garlic and stir to blend. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add 2 cups cream and whisk to blend with the flour mixture. Add remainng cream, fish stock, sherry, white pepper, Old Bay seasoning, salt and clam juice. Cook over medium heat for 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally until hot and soup is thickened. Portion crab meat into individual serving bowls, ladle hot broth over crab, garnish with snipped chives of chopped parsley and serve.

Christmas 2010 Menu

Well, it's officially under a week away from Christmas. Remarkably things are well under control around here, the holiday baking is done, 90% of the Christmas Shopping is done, wrapped and under the tree, one daughter is home, the other arrives tomorrow... yep, things are in good shape. This kind of level of preparedness means only one thing: it's time to start obsessing about the Christmas menu.
I'm actually not obsessing that much since we are keeping the theme of classic family favorites going from Thanksgiving. No crazy new dishes, no Tandoori Turkey (thanks Modern Family), just things that are easy and delicious. The only real newcomer will be Jessica Moore and Sonya Robinson's AMAZING Clementine Cosmopolitans... WOW, just about Christmas in a glass!

Christmas is always a "stay in your pajamas" kind of day for us. We may have a fancy dinner, but it is eaten with the kind of casual comfort usually only reserved for snow days and Sunday mornings with the paper. Of course Irish coffee, Bloody Mary's, Cosmopolitans, eggnogg, wine and Manhattans help a little with the relaxed (if not comatose) atmosphere.

So here it is, the 2010 Holiday menu. Over the next few days I hope to be posting most of these recipes on the blog. I hope you consider trying some of them, they are delicious and for the most part, EASY! Most of the things on this menu can be at least partially prepared in advance, so you don't spend the entire day in the kitchen. Which leaves more time for drunken Wii playing!

Christmas Menu 2010

Christmas Eve after church cocktail party by the tree:
Smoked salmon with caper and onion cream cheese on pumpernickel
Bosc Pears with Stilton
Assorted pates and crackers
Hot mixed olives with lemon zest and herbs
Rosemary Scented Pecans
Robinson Moore Clementine Cosmopolitans
Doug's famous Manhattans

Raspberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins
Hash Brown Casserole
Breakfast Sausage and Bacon Casserole
Irish Coffee
egg nog

Crab Bisque
Chris Pfitzer's warm Goat Cheese Salad
Beef Tenderloin with Bordelaise Sauce and Morels
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Haricots Vert with Brown Butter and Almonds

Chocolate Buche de Noel
Christmas Cookies

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pecan Pie Bars with Jack Daniels Buttercream

OK even for me these bar cookies are over the top. I first made them about 3 years ago for a fundraiser that Doug and I catered for the Triangle Gay Men's Chorus. These were an instant classic. If you like pecans then this is your cookie. It is mostly nuts barely held together with a honey-based caramel atop a very very buttery shortbread crust.

These bars are excellent on their own, but topped with a dollop of heavily-spiked Jack Daniels buttercream, they become transcendent. The buttercream is a bit of work, but WELL worth the effort. I suppose I needn't remind you that unless you leave out the Jack Daniels (which would be no fun), these are definitely an adult treat.

If you have a cold place to store the cookies, you can pipe the buttercream on them in advance and allow them to come to room temperature before serving. If not, just pipe the buttercream on before serving.

Pecan Pie Bars with Jack Daniels Buttercream
makes about 4 dozen

1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 egg yolks (reserve one egg white for the buttercream)
2 Tbsp heavy cream
2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 lbs pecans
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 F

Place pecans on a large jelly roll pan and toast them at 350 for 12-15 minutes until they become fragrant. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Make Crust:
Spray a 10 x 15 jelly roll pan lightly with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a fitted piece of parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl combine butter and sugar and salt and mix until smooth. Add egg yolks and cream and beat until incorporated, scraping down sides. Slowly add flour to bowl while mixing, 1/2 cup at a time. Mix until dough forms. Do not over mix or shortbread will be tough. With lightly floured fingers press dough evenly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake 10- 15 minutes until very lightly golden. Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 F.

Make Filling:
Coarsley chop toasted pecans. In a medium sized sauce pan combine butter, brown sugar, salt and honey and stir over high heat until butter melts. Bring mixture to a boil, and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add cream and stir until combined. Add pecans and mix until all nuts are coated.

Pour nut mixture into prepared crust and spread with a spatula to all corners (mixture will be very thick and sticky). Bake at 325 for 20 minutes until topping begins to bubble. Remove from oven and cool completely in pan.

Run a sharp knife around perimeter of pan to separate cookies from side of pan. Invert pan on a cutting board and tap sharply to release cookies from pan. Remove parchment paper and invert on another cutting board. Cut into 1 1/2 -inch squares. Top with Jack Daniels Buttercream.

Jack Daniels Buttercream:

This is a very alcoholic buttercream, and is definitely not for wimps or children. Don't worry about the inclusion of egg whites, they are thoroughly cooked by the hot syrup, and there is enough alcohol in the buttercream to keep any bacteria at bay for weeks!

1/4 cup granulated sugar
scant 1/4 cup water

1 egg white
2 Tbsp granulated sugar

1 stick very soft (not melted) unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/4 cup Jack Daniels

In a small sauce pan combine 1/4 cup sugar and scant 1/4 cup water. Heat over high heat.

Meanwhile combine reserved egg white and 2 Tbsp granulated sugar in bowl of mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk egg white with sugar on high until a fluffy glossy meringue is achieved.

While meringue is whisking continue to cook sugar syrup to a boil. Boil syrup for 3 minutes.

Reduce speed on mixer to medium and add boiling syrup to egg whites while mixer is running. Increase speed back to high and continue to whisk until meringue is cooled to room temperature (about 5-7 minutes).

Once meringue is completely cooled, with mixer on medium speed, add softened butter 1/2 Tbsp at a time until all butter is added. Continue to whisk until the mixture coalesces into a smooth butter cream. Add Jack Daniels and whisk until smooth.

Pipe onto cookies.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

English Toffee

It wouldn't be Christmas if I didn't have receipts for $300 worth of butter. Seriously, I use a lot of butter everyday, but at Christmas its time to indulge and it seems I can't keep 4 or 5 pounds of butter in the house for more than a couple days.

Part of the reason is recipes like this English Toffee. Its made mostly of butter and only 4 other ingredients: sugar, salt, chocolate and almonds. Talk about your 5-ingredient miracle dishes! This is the kind of alchemy that first drew me to cooking as a little kid. You start out with some everyday ingredients, and end up with candy! Magic!

This recipe is super easy, the only piece of equipment you absolutely MUST have is a candy thermometer. The biggest mistake I have made while making English toffee is not to cook it long enough or to a high enough temperature. Undercooked Toffee is chewy and pulls the fillings out of your teeth. Properly cooked toffee crunches and explodes into a buttery party in your mouth (the kind where ALL the fun people came!).

Finely chopped, this toffee makes an amazing addition to a butter cream for a cake or as ice cream topping.

English Toffee

2 cups blanched almond slivers
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 pounds (6 sticks) good quality salted butter
1/4 tsp salt
12 oz. good quality chocolate chips (Ghiradelli are my fave)

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Spread almonds out on a large jelly roll pan. Place in oven and toast for about 10 minutes (tossing every 2-3 minutes) until light brown. Cool almonds completely.

In a large, non-stick dutch oven, combine sugar butter and salt. Use wrappers from butter to grease the jelly roll pan, and then place pan in the 300F oven to heat (pouring the cooked toffee into a hot pan will allow the toffee to flow more freely and it will not seize up on you). Cook over high heat until butter melts. Once butter is melted, stir with wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved and mixture begins to bubble. At this stage the mixture will rise up high in the pan and will bubble dramatically

Bubblin' away!

Continue to cook, stirring occasionally to redistribute the heat, until mixture begins to condense slightly and turn a deep amber color. Toffee is completely cooked at 305 F.

Remove Jelly roll pan from oven and place on hot pads. Immediately pour hot toffee into prepared hot pan. After 5 minutes have passed, sprinkle the top of the toffee with chocolate chips. After 10 minutes, the chocolate will have melted and the toffee will have firmed sufficiently to spread the chocolate with a large spoon


Chop the toasted almonds and sprinkle over the melted chocolate. Tap the chopped almonds gently atop the toffee to press nuts into chocolate. Allow to cool completely (overnight) before removing toffee from pan and breaking into bite-sized pieces.

This piece might be a little big...

Smaller pieces are easier to eat!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb Thumbprint Cookies

Rachel's choice for her holiday cookie was "something with jam". So I thought I would make a comfortable homespun classic thumbprint cookie. While this cookie is new to MY repertoire, I know I will make this cookie every year from here on out. I used Strawberry Rhubarb preserves from Butler's Orchards ( that Rachel gave me for my birthday, the tartness of the rhubarb really enhances the fragrant butter of the shortbread.

This recipe, from Ina Garten, is delightfully simple. Shortbread cookies, dipped in an egg wash and grated coconut, are filled with best quality jam. Buttery and sweet, these cookies are Christmas comfort food at it's finest.

Strawberry Rhubarb Thumbprint Cookies
(makes 5 dozen)

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
Strawberry Rhubarb jam (or other flavor, best quality jam)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Dip each ball into the egg wash and then dip it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Smooches

This year, since we are keeping it simple, for Christmas each of us got to pick his favorite Christmas cookie. Doug's choice was Peanut butter kisses. I love these cookies, but am not a fan of how grainy the chocolate is when using Hershey's Kisses and there's never enough peanut butter in the cookie.

However, Rose Levy Beranbaum, in her cookbook Rose's Christmas Cookies has an outstanding version of these classic treats that brings their flavor to a new level. The cookies are super peanut buttery and the chocolate is smooth and luxurious like chocolate truffles. YUM!

I share this recipe with you here. I call them Chocolate and Peanut Butter Smooches because smooches are way better than kisses any day!

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Smooches

1 cup all purpose flour (I use White Lilly)
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Filling:
8oz. semi sweet chocolate chips
8 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Combine flour and salt and baking soda together in a small bowl, whisk to combine, then sift. In a mixing bowl, combine sugars and beat until well-mixed. Add the butter and peanut butter and beat for several minutes until very smooth. Add egg and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. At low speed, gradually add the flour mix and mix until just incorporated. Remove dough from bowl, wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll chilled dough into 1-inch balls and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Make a small indentation in the center of each ball with your finger or the end of a greased wooden spoon handle. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

When cookies come out of oven, allow them to cool on the baking sheet for a minute or two (they are fragile). While they are cooling on the sheet, using a spoon or wooden spoon handle, gently press down center indentation of each cookie. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Make Chocolate filling by placing chocolate chips in a large glass bowl. Microwave on high 15 seconds at a time, stirring with a fork, until chocolate is just melted. Do not overcook chocolate! once chocolate is melted and smooth, add butter and whisk until smooth. Transfer chocolate to a large plastic freezer bag and allow to cool until thick, but still pliable. Snip a corner off the bag and pipe chocolate into the center off each cookie. Allow chocolate filling to completely set before packing for storage between layers of waxed paper.

Almond Paste Crescents

It's 2 weeks until Christmas and I need to get started with my Christmas baking. There was a time when I would emulate my mother's Christmas baking by starting to bake cookies the day after Thanksgiving and make 13 or 14 different kinds of cookies. INSANITY! This year we are keeping things simple and only making our tried and true Christmas favorites.

This recipe for almond crescents is probably one of my favorite cookies I learned from my mother. They are extremely delicate and flaky with a soft chewy almond paste filling and are kind of a hassle to make, but are oh so worth the effort.

The recipe comes from the December 1974 issue of Family Circle magazine, which apparently was doing a story on Christmas cookies of the world. The proper name for these cookies is Kab el Ghzal as they are (according to Family Circle magazine) Moroccan in origin. To me they taste very European and are infinitely superior to the tired old dry crumbly boring almond-flavored shortbread crescents.

Almond Paste Crescents
(Kab el Ghzal)
makes 4 dozen

2 1/4 cups sifted all purpose flour (I use White Lilly)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
4 Tbsp. Ice water

Almond Paste Filling:
8 oz. almond paste (I use Odense)
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup finely ground almonds

2 cups additional powdered sugar for dusting

In a food processor combine sifted flour and salt and pulse briefly to combine. Add chilled butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add Ice water and pulse until just combined... DO NOT OVER PROCESS or cookies will be tough. Divide dough into three equal-sized pieces, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Crumble almond paste into clean food processor. Add sugars and process until combined. Add ground almonds and egg and process until combined. Turn almond paste mixture onto floured surface (filling will be sticky). Divide almond mixture into three equally sized pieces. Shape each piece into a rope, 1/2 inch in diameter and 16 inches long. Cut into 16 1-inch pieces and set aside on wax paper-lined pan. Repeat with remaining almond mixture for 48 1-inch pieces of almond filling.

Making the almond filling pieces.

On a clean floured work surface, roll out one piece of dough to a 12-inch square that is about 1/8 inch thick. Cut dough into 16 3-inch squares. Place 1 piece of almond filling diagonally across center of dough square, lift one corner over, then roll up. Pinch ends closed and curve into a crescent.

Filling the cookies.

Place crescents on an ungreased baking sheet, 1 inch apart. Bake 12 minutes at 400 F until edges just begin to brown. Roll hot cookies carefully in powdered sugar (they are extremely fragile) and place on a baking rack to cool. Once cooled, roll in powdered sugar once again. Store in airtight container for up to 3 weeks in a cool dry location.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cider-Brined, Maple-Glazed Roast Turkey

This year our Thanksgiving "theme" was back to the basics. As a family, we all brain-stormed our favorite Thanksgiving dishes from the last 20 years, and then re-invented them. This Turkey has always been a favorite, but brining the turkey in cider was a new addition to an old recipe that only basted the turkey with cider.

WOW what an amazing difference this brine made. As the turkey roasted it filled the house with scent of mulled cider. The bird needed only occasional basting (every 45 minutes as opposed to every 20 minutes), and was aromatic and incredibly juicy and moist. The gravy made from the pan droppings was also exceptional.... with the woodsy sweet flavors of apple and maple mingled with roast turkey.

Cider-Brined, Maple-Glazed Roast Turkey

1 14 lb turkey, thawed (if frozen)
2 quarts apple cider
2 quarts water
3/4 cup Kosher salt
1 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup dried allspice berries
3 sticks cinnamon
4 bay leaves

1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup good quality maple syrup (I used Lahaie Farms Maple Syrup from Cheboygan, Michigan).

2-days before serving:
In a stock pot large enough to hold your turkey with some extra room at the top, combine cider, water, salt, molasses, allspice, cinnamon and bay leaves. Bring Brine to a simmer over high heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature (this will take several hours).

Rinse turkey and then slowly lower into brine, making certain the bird is completely submerged. If need, more water can be added to the brine until the bird is just covered. Place in a refrigerator or cold place and allow the bird to brine for 24-36 hours.

Serving Day:
Remove Turkey from Brine, and pat dry with paper towels. Place Turkey on rack in roasting pan and baste with melted butter. Ten the bird with aluminum foil and roast at 325 for approx 4-5 hours, basting with pan juices every 45 minutes and rotating the bird a 1/4 turn with each basting (for even browning). In the last hour before bird is finished, remove foil tent and baste the bird with maple syrup. This will turn the bird a deep mahogany color.

Remove pan drippings from pan to a large pyrex bowl and skim as much fat from the top as possible (reserving 1/4 cup of fat). In a large sauce pan, add reserved turkey fat and 1/4 flour. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes, then add strained pan drippings and whisk until smooth. Add additional turkey or chicken stock (if needed) for desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Wild Mushroom Tart with Smoked Gouda

Lord, it has been a loooong time since I last posted. In August right after Tizzi and Valerio and Hillary visited I was made a full time professor at my college and was asked to teach two classes I have not taught before, so had precious little time for cooking, let alone blogging about it! I am happy to say things have calmed down significantly since then and I am going to begin writing about food again! YAY!

The kids came down from DC for Thanksgiving and only just left about an hour ago with tupperwares full of pie and leftovers. So now, faced with a strangely quiet and empty house, I am faced with the opportunity to blog one of the Thanksgiving recipes: Wild Mushroom Tart with Smoked Gouda.

This recipe began as something I made decades ago from the famed Silver Palate cookbooks (see recommended cookbook section). I love the recipe from the Silver Palate, but it always tasted a little too much like a quiche with some mushrooms in it. My version turns that idea upside down. This tart is definitely a mushroom tart, held together with a little quiche custard... very little. The tart literally screams autumn, with wild mushrooms sauteed in butter and then deglazed with cider and cognac, and reduced until syrupy and golden.

It used to be incredibly difficult to find wild mushrooms, but now they can be found virtually everywhere, in both grocery chains like Whole Foods and at many Farmer's markets. You can choose whatever mushrooms suite your taste and budget. Although, this recipe doesn't use cultivated button mushrooms, they can be substituted for some of the mushrooms. Cooking cultivated mushrooms along with wild mushrooms gives all the flavor without the out-of-pocket expense.

I like to serve this tart with a simple arugula salad with red wine vinegar and olive oil and a few pomegranate seeds. The salad cuts the richness of the tart.

Wild Mushroom Tart with Smoked Gouda
(serves 8 appetizer portions)

Pate Brisee
1 1/2 cups pastry flour (I use White Lilly all purpose)
8 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp ice water

Mushroom filling
1 cup apple cider
1/4 oz. dried morel mushrooms
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 shallot finely diced
12 oz. mixed fresh wild mushrooms (I used oyster and chanterelle mushrooms) coarsely chopped
1/4 cup cognac
salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 oz. shredded smoked gouda
1/4 grated parmesan cheese

1 egg
1/4 cup cream

To make the Pate Brisee (pie crust), place flour and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blad, and pulse briefly to combine. Cut butter into small pieces and add to flour, process until flour resembles coarse corn meal. Add ice water and pulse just until dough pulls together. Remove dough from work bowl, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for one hour.

Preheat oven to 375. Roll dough until about 1/4 inch thick and line an 8-inch metal tart pan with removable bottom with dough, trimming off excess. pierce the bottom of the tart shell with a fork to allow ventilation. Line tart shell with parchment paper or aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 20 minutes until tart shell is set. Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing parchment and pie weights.

Heat cider in a glass bowl in microwave on high power for 2-3 minutes until almost boiling. Add dried morel mushrooms and allow to steep for 20 minutes. Melt butter in a large non-stick skillet, add shallots and saute on medium high heat until tender (3 minutes). Add fresh mushrooms and saute over medium high heat tossing occasionaly until mushrooms are golden brown (DO NOT ADD SALT UNTIL END OF RECIPE or the mushrooms will be rubbery). While mushrooms are sauteing, remove morels from cider (reserve liquid) and chop into thin rings, add to skillet. Strain cider through cheesecloth (to trap any grit) into skillet. Add Cognac and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol. Continue to saute until liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are glazed (about 10-15 minutes). Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place 1/2 of the smoked gouga and parmesan cheese in the bottom of the tart shell. Top with mushroom mixture. Combine egg and cream in a small bowl and whisk briefly with fork until combined. Slowly pour egg/cream mixture over mushrooms. Top with remaining cheeses. Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from tart pan. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Smoked Pulled Pork and East Carolina BBQ Sauce

Today begins a marathon of cooking, most of which I hope to try to capture on this blog. My niece Hillary is visiting with her boyfriend Tiziano and his younger brother Valerio. Yes, Tiziano and Valerio are Italian and are in the States for the month of August. So rather than spending the entire visit in Hillary's hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, they decided it would be fun to come south for a couple weeks. They'll begin by visiting my daughters Emma and Rachel in Washington DC for a week, and then will head to North Carolina for a week.

It just so happens that during the visit, Tiziano will celebrate his 21st birthday, so in true Tiki style, Doug and I have decided to throw a 21st birthday party in his honor, featuring our takes on some classic Southern recipes. Because Valerio is a vegetarian, we have tried to include as many vegetarian options as possible.

Now before y'all get all Mason Dixon on me, I admit that Doug and I are both Yankees, so these recipes will reflect our Yankee sensibilities on what we love about southern cuisine. I have been living in the South for 25 years, so I must have picked up a few things here and there, so I don't wanna hear yer bitchin'!.

Here is the proposed menu for Tiziano's Southern BBQ:

Pulled Smoked Pork with East Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina BBQ sauces
Smoked Beef Brisket
Cold Boiled Peel and Eat Shrimp
Mama Ozzy's famous Smoked Gouda Mac 'n' CheeseCornmeal-Crusted Tomato Pie with Lemon Thyme and Basil
Cole Slaw
Potato Salad
Deviled Eggs
Red Velvet cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing
Banana Pudding
Sweet Tea
Sweet Tea Martinis

Thats a LOT of food, but we anticipate being inundated with hungry college students, so I think it will all get eaten.

In order to get everything done, I am starting 5 days in advance to give myself a chance to relax... the heat index is supposed to be 107 today so I need to pace myself.

First thing up will be the smoked pulled pork. Pulled pork is a southern classic, and I really love this recipe from Alton Brown (of Food Network fame). It involves brining the pork in salt water and molasses and is really delicious. The pork needs to brine for at least 12 hours before it hits the smoker (where it will slow cook for another 12-14 hours over hickory wood chips). Once it is smoked and "pulled" it can be frozen and reheated. What follows is Alton's recipe with, as always, my variations:

Smoked Pulled Pork
(serves 10)
3/4 cup molasses1 1/2 cup Kosher salt
2 quarts bottled water
6-8 pound pork shoulder

1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp coriander
1Tbsp chipotle chili powder
1Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp Paprika

In a large stock pot with a cover combine all brine ingredients and stir until salt is completely dissolved. Make sure to use bottled water; tap water often has a funky "chemical" taste. Add pork shoulder to brine, cover and place in the refrigerator for 12 hours.

After 12 hours, remove pork from brine, and pat dry with paper towels. Combine cumin, fennel and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle and coarsely crush the seeds. Combine freshly ground spices with remaining rub ingredients and mix well. Rub spice mix all over the outside of the pork.
Out of the brine, the pork shoulder gets a spice rub before hitting the smoker.

Place pork in smoker and smoke over hickory wood chips at about 210 degrees until pork easily falls apart (this takes about 12-14 hours in my smoker, but most smokers vary).

My apologies to the neighbors for filling the neighborhood with
the aroma of delicious, succulent, slow-smoking pork

Remove pork from smoker and allow to cool for about an hour to let the juices redistribute. Pull pork apart using two forks. Serve with the sauce of your choice.

East Carolina BBQ Sauce:

2 cups cider vinegar
2 Tbsp crushed red pepper
2 cloves minced fresh garlic
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp freshly ground Black Pepper

Combine all ingredients except black pepper in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Add Black Pepper and mix.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tomato Spaghetti Carbonara

We are in the "dog days" of summer where its too hot to do (or for that matter cook) much of anything. But nevertheless, Doug and I were still hungry. After a quick inventory of the fridge, pantry, and garden, we decided to do something with the dozens of vine-ripened tomatoes we have been accumulating.
This pasta dish is an oldie and definitely a goodie. My girls refer to it as simply "bacon pasta", but in truth, its is sort of an Italian fusion between creamy bacon-flavored Spaghetti Carbonara and spicy and bright Pasta Putanesca. This pasta is a real contradiction, its both hearty and very light and fresh, summery and bright, but with a deep undertone. Yeah yeah yeah... enough of the foodie-speak, its delicious and more importantly easy and comes together in about half an hour. What's that you say? You hate anchovies? Anchovies are delicious so get over it! Don't be scared by the addition of anchovy paste; "fishy" is the last thing this dish is. Because the anchovies are cooked in bacon fat, they disintegrate and add a nutty, salty depth to the bright tomatoes.
This dish can be made in winter too, on those dreary days when you really need a blast of comforting sunshine. All you need to do is substitute good quality canned tomatoes for fresh tomatoes.

Tomato Spaghetti Carbonara

(serves 4-6)

1lb dried spaghetti

6 slices bacon
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 medium onion diced
3 cloves minced garlic
3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (preferably roma); or good quality canned tomatoes
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
grated parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large, covered pot of water to a boil. While water is heating, in a large deep skillet, fry bacon until crisp, remove bacon from fat and drain on paper towels. Add red pepper flakes and anchovy paste to hot bacon fat and cook 30 seconds until anchovy paste is browned and dissolved. Add onion and garlic, saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and vermouth and salt, and cook over medium high heat to reduce some of the liquid.
At about this point, your water should be boiling, cook pasta until al dente, and drain. Add pasta to tomato sauce and toss to coat. Crumble bacon into pasta, add olive oil and basil and toss. Let pasta sit 5 minutes to allow pasta to absorb the sauce. Serve with freshly grated parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.