Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chocolate Ganache Tart with Raspberries

                                                                                         Photography by Rachel Horesovsky

This year at Christmas I didn't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen slaving over a complicated dessert, but I still wanted something special for the holidays.  This tart is the answer to the dilemma.  It is very simple to prepare, it must be made in advance (so there is zero last minute preparation) and it is incredibly dramatic in both presentation and in flavor.

This can be made with any kind of fruit you desire.  I have made this with strawberries, cherries, kiwi and blackberries, and of course raspberries.  Its perfect for a large gathering of people or for a small intimate gathering.  

Chocolate Ganache Tart with Raspberries
serves 8

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
7 Tbsp ice cold butter, cut into small cubes
4 Tbsp ice water

Combine flour salt and sugar and mix well in the bowl of a food processor.  Add cold butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add ice water and pulse until the mixture just barely comes together.  STOP.  Over processing will make a tough inedible crust!

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour.  Do not skip this step.  Refrigerating the dough helps relax the gluten in the dough and results in a tender pastry.

Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface until 1/8-inch thick .  Press dough into a tart pan with a removable bottom, trimming overhanging dough scraps.  Pierce dough with a fork.  Return the tart pan with dough to the refrigerator for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375F.

Fill the chilled tart crust with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake 30 minutes until lightly golden.  Remove from oven and cool completely before removing pie weights.

1 cup heavy cream
12 oz. 60% cacao chocolate, chopped (or 60% cacao chocolate chips)
2 Tbsp orange liqueur

In a small saucepan bring the cream just to a boil over high heat.  Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until smooth and glossy.  Stir in orange liqueur.

fruit preserve (raspberry, apricot, cherry, apple... your choice)

While ganache is hot, pour into prepared tart crust.  Allow to rest at room temperature for several hours until ganache begins to set.  Place fruit on top of ganache, then refrigerate Tart for several hours until completely set.  Glaze fruit with hot fruit preserves (heated in microwave for 20 seconds or until liquid).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Spitzbuben (German Jam Cookies)

This is my favorite childhood cookie.  Spiztbuben translates to "little rascals".  My mom always had to make a triple batch of these cookies so that my brother and I wouldn't be fighting over them.  Yeah, they're THAT good.

My mom would start baking the day after Thanksgiving, and would make 12- 15 different kinds of cookies every year, and usually a double or triple batch of each.  This resulted in us having quite literally thousands of cookies in the house.  We had spitzbuben, and buttery hazelnut crescents dipped in chocolate, coffee-flavored hazel nut meringues perched atop thin buttery sables, lebkuchen, almond paste crescents and peanut butter kisses. The variety was seemingly endless.  Not that we ate them all ourselves, my mom would give them out as gifts every year, and they were always very welcomed.  My mother was an exceptional baker and I miss her dearly, especially at Christmas.

In fact this recipe is my mother's recipe. She would give me "the thrashing of my life" if she knew I was posting it on the internet, since her recipes were family secrets she never shared.  But times have changed, and so here we are.  I think life is always made richer by sharing.

My mom is the one who taught me that vegetable shortening is evil, especially in cookies.  There were always at least 3 pounds of butter in the refrigerator at my mom's house around the holidays.  I try to keep that practice alive, and I've got the waistline to prove it!  Na Zdravi!

We always used homemade raspberry jam in these cookies at home because we had a raspberry farm for several years, and hence we always had a freezer full of homemade raspberry jam.  I am posting a simple recipe for making your own raspberry jam using frozen berries and port wine.  I also like to make these with apricot amaretto jam.

Traditionally these cookies are cut with a fluted flower shaped cookie cutter and dusted with powdered sugar.  I sometimes  like to only dust half the cookie with powdered sugar.  I think it makes a more elegant presentation.  But follow your own aesthetic sensibilities...make these your own.  Who knows, maybe some day your son or daughter will wax nostalgically on the internet fondly remembering your cookies!

One last note, these cookies are best if left to "ripen" in a sealed container at room temperature for at least one week.  They become soft and cakey and the flavors begin to blend... if you can keep away from them for that long!

Spitzbuben (German Jam Cookies)
makes 4 dozen sandwich cookies

1 cup slivered almonds
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
3 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp grated fresh lemon peel

raspberry preserves (recipe follows)
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place almonds in a shallow pie pan and toast for 20 minutes until light brown.  Turn off oven and cool almonds completely, then grind until very fine.

Im a large bowl combine flour and baking powder and salt, whisk to combine.  In the bowl of a mixer combine butter and cream cheese and sugar.  Cream until very light and fluffy, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.  Add egg and cream until well incorporated.  Add ground almonds, lemon peel and dry ingredients.  Mix on low speed until just combined.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

cut dough into 4 pieces.  Roll each piece out on a lightly floured surface until 1/8 inch thick.  Cut cookies with cookie cutter, punching a large hole in the center of half of them (I find a large decorating tip works well for this).  Transfer cookies to a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes until cookies are just slightly browned.  Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Spread a solid bottom cookie with raspberry preserves, then place a perforated cookie on top.  Dust with powdered sugar.

Raspberry Port Preserves
1 1/2 lbs frozen raspberries.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup port wine (or water)

In a heavy medium saucepan combine sugar and port (or water) and bring to a boil.  Add raspberries in three batches and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Pour berries into a fine metal sieve placed atop a large bowl.  With a large spoon press the berries through the sieve, collecting the pulp and juice in the underlying bowl.  Continue until only seeds and a little pulp remains.  Discard seeds.

Transfer berry juice and pulp back to saucepan and heat to a boil over medium high heat.  Continue to cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly until reduced to about 1 1/2 ups and mixture is very thick and jam-like.  Transfer to a plastic storage tub, seal and cool to room temperature.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Molasses Crinkles

It's December and yesterday I began my Christmas baking.  At our house it wouldn't be Christmas without these molasses crinkles.  They seem to be one of everyone's favorites.  Chewy, buttery, crispy, spicy molasses cookies with crunchy sugar. I love these cookies with a glass of good bourbon on the rocks, or with a cold glass of egg nog, and of course they are amazing with a tumbler of ice cold milk.  This cookie is the taste of childhood.

Most recipes for molasses crinkles I have read call for shortening.  Why?  Why why why?  Shortening has no flavor, why on earth would one use a flavorless glop of fat in a cookie?  Stop the madness I say!  I use butter.  In fact I have found that the better the quality of the butter, the better these cookies are (Plugra is exceptional).  I am starting a revolution against the use of shortening.  You wouldn't spread shortening on your toast, why use it in your baking?  Just trust me on this.  There isn't anything in the world you can make with shortening that isn't a million times better when made with butter.

I also much prefer using a coarse granulated white sugar on top of these cookies.  They can be made with ordinary table sugar, but coarse sugar makes the cookies sparkle and the crunch is pure magic in your mouth.  Coarse white sugar can be difficult to find, but Wilton makes a good product (they call it white sparkling sugar) that can be found at most craft stores in the cake decorating aisle.  For me it is worth the torture of going to the craft store, enduring the visual assault of horrific glittery blue poinsetta wreaths (really? blue silk poinsettas with glitter? REALLY?) just to get this sugar.  You should make the same sacrifice because it makes a huge difference in these cookies (and that glass of bourbon will help calm your nerves afterwards).

Yes, it IS worth going to the dreaded craft store, just to get this sugar.

One more word.  I store these cookies in an airtight container, separated by layers of wax paper, with a single slice of bread.  I really don't know why, but the slice of bread keeps the cookies tender and soft.  Leave the bread out and the cookies become hard.  Christmas magic!

Molasses Crinkles
(makes about 7 dozen small cookies)

1 1/2 cups best quality butter, softened at room temperature
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs, room temperature
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I prefer White Lilly)
4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
coarse granulated white sugar (about one cup)
1/4 cup water
1 slice bread

Butter and eggs MUST be at room temperature.

In the bowl of a mixer combine room temperature butter and brown sugar.  Cream better and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping sides of bowl occasionally (about 5 minutes).  Add molasses and cream for an additional minute.  Add room temerature eggs and cream for 3 more minutes until very light.

In a separate large bowl combine all dry ingredients except coarse granulated sugar, and whisk until well-combined.  Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix on low speed until. all dry ingredients are just incorporated.  Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Roll cookie dough into 1-inch balls, dip in water and then coarse granulated sugar.  Place on a greased baking sheet, sugar side up.  Bake 9-11 minutes until cookies are puffed and slightly cracked on top.  Remove from oven and let cookies "deflate" for 2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

 Cookie balls covered in coarse sugar before baking...

 ...and after!

Cool cookies completely before transferring them to an airtight storage container, separated with layers of waxed paper.  Place a slice of bread on top and seal.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Roast Brussels Sprouts with Red Grapes and Walnuts

                                                                                     Photographs by Rachel Horesovsky

I saw this dish on the cover of a Martha Stewart publication at a hotel we stayed at a few weeks ago when we were moving Emma to Massachusetts.  I didn't read the recipe, but somehow the image from the cover of the magazine was permanently seared into my memory and I couldn't stop thinking about it for weeks .

This is probably because I LOVE Brussels sprouts.  When I was a kid, my mother would boil them until they were mush and I hated them more than anything on earth.  But in college I had a properly cooked sprout, and it was an epiphany.  These little cabbages weren't mushy and bitter like the ones from my childhood.  No, if cooked properly, they were nutty and sweet and earthy and crunchy and buttery.  Mmmmmmmmm.  I was hooked.

Since then I have loved Brussels sprouts.  The trick is to not overcook them.  Doug and I have been making a balsamic roasted brussels sprout dish for thanksgiving for a few years now, and I decided to add some red grapes and walnuts to the mix (thanks for the inspiration Martha!).  These were great!  The red grapes enhanced the sweetness, but were still tangy, the walnuts gave just the right crunch.  Next year I may even throw in a little bacon!

Roast Brussels Sprouts with Red Grapes and Walnuts
(serves 8)

1 lb. brussels sprouts, bottoms trimmed and cut in half.
1 1/2 cup whole red seedless grapes
3/4 cup chopped walnut halves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar.

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl combine brussels sprouts, grapes and walnuts.  In a separate bowl, combine remainng ingredients and whisk together like a salad dressing.  Pour dressing over sprouts mixture, toss to coat, and roast on a parchment lined baking sheet for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.  Serve hot.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Roasted Winter Vegetables with Honey and Thyme

                                                                                                  Photographs by Rachel Horesovsky

This was my favorite dish at this year's Thanksgiving dinner.  It was sweet and earthy and fragrant.  I think I would love this just by itself.  It was also ridiculously easy to make.

Please try to use golden beets in this dish.  They can sometimes be hard to find, but you will be well-rewarded for your efforts.  YUM!

Roasted Winter Vegetables with Honey and Thyme
(makes a 9x13 pan of vegetables)

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
6 golden beets, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup fresh thyme, leaves plucked

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line 2 9x13 jelly roll pans with parchment.

Peel and dice all the vegetables.

 Golden beets before peeling...

... and their beautiful golden yellow flesh!

In a large bowl, combine all vegetables plus olive oil, salt and dried thyme.  Toss to coat well.

 Simply toss the vegetables with olive oil, sea salt and thyme

Spread vegetables on prepared baking sheets in a single layer.  Roast at 350F for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven, drizzle vegetables with honey and fresh thyme.  Toss to coat, then bake 10 additional minutes.  Serve immediately.
Note* (Vegetables can be roasted ahead of time, refrigerated and reheated.)

Sage and Onion Sourdough Stuffing

                                                                                                 Photographs by Rachel Horesovsky

Over the years I have made a lot of different kinds of stuffing.  Oyster, chorizo and cornbread, apples pecan and sausage, wild rice with nuts and dried fruit, you name I have made it!  I love them all, but sometimes they are too complicated and tend to overshadow the rest of the meal.  This is always one of my favorite stuffings.  It's basic and simple and is packed with subtle herb and onion flavors.  This stuffing is the perfect partner to every flavor, and is just delicious as a leftover on its own with some turkey gravy.

The trick to an exceptional stuffing is to start with the best bread you can find.  For me that meant a trip to our local German bakery, Guglhupf, for a loaf of sourdough bread and a loaf of rosemary olive oil bread.  I will buy the bread a full week before thanksgiving, cut it into 1-inch cubes and place it in the turkey roasting pan and let it slowly dry out in the oven (no heat).  I just toss it once a day to make sure everything dries out equally.  This way the bread is ready to absorb all the flavor you are going to add, without becoming a soggy dense brick.

I also recommend making your own turkey stock for this.  How do you make turkey stock before thanksgiving you ask?  Easy!  Buy two large uncooked turkey wings and about 6 turkey necks, roast them at 350 for three hours, then add them to a pot with one large onion, 3 stalks of celery and a cup of carrots, some rosemary and thyme and slowly cook, covered, overnight on low heat (about 6-8 hours).  Strain through a colander and you are good to go!  The flavor difference in remarkable!

Sage and Onion Sourdough Stuffing
(makes enough to stuff a 21 pound turkey and make a 9x13 pan of dressing)

one loaf sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes and air dried
one loaf rosemary olive oil bread, cut into 1-inch cubes and air dried
2 large onions chopped
2 large shallots diced
5 stalks celery, diced
1 1/2 sticks butter
2 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary
1/4 cup fresh sage minced
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp salt
4 cups turkey stock, preferably homemade (or chicken stock)
3 eggs, beaten

In a large deep skillet melt butter.  Add onions, shallots and celery and cook over medium high heat, tossing occasionally until onions are translucent, about 20 minutes.  Add rosemary,sage, thyme, pepper and salt, and cook for 5 minutes longer.  Add turkey stock and stir.  Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, place the dried bread cubes, and pour turkey stock mixture over.  Toss to coat.  Add 3 eggs beaten slightly and toss to combine. 

Stuffing mixed and ready to be baked both in the bird and in a separate baking dish

Stuff Turkey.  Place remainng stuffing in a well-buttered 9x13 pan.  Top with additional pats of butter.  Cover with foil.  Bake stuffing 30 minutes at 350F, covered with foil.  Then remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Panko-Crusted Crab Cakes with Arugula Salad

                                                                                                                                 Photographs by Rachel Horesovsky

I first had these crab cakes at the legendary Fearrington House in Fearrington North Carolina.  I think they are the perfect crabcake.  Very moist and meaty with loads of flavor.  There is just enough binder to hold these delicate patties together.  YUM.

I have made a few modifications to the Fearrington recipe.  I substitute fennel for celery.  I think the anise flavor is a perfect companion to the sweet crab.  I also added a simple panko crust to the outside because I love the crunch of panko.
Scallion, red bell pepper and fennel...

For a perfect first course to a meal, these are best served on a very simple arugula salad with a light champagne vinaigrette.

A large platter of crab cakes and arugula salad...

Panko-Crusted Crab Cakes with Arugula Salad
makes 2 dozen small crab cakes

1 lb lump crabmeat
1/2 cup finely diced fennel
1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
3 Tbsp butter
4 scallions, thinly chopped
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 cup, plus 2 cups panko bread crumbs
2 egg whites, whisked until just frothy
1 stick butter for frying.

Gently squeeze handfuls of crab to remove excess water.  Place crab in a medium bowl.

In a large skillet melt 3 tbsp butter.  Add fennel and red pepper and scallions and saute for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat. 

In a large bowl combine lemon juice, pepper, salt, mayonnaise, egg, mustard and worcestershire sauce.  Whisk to combine.  Add sauteed vegetables to bowl. and mix gently.  Add crab to bowl and toss gently to combine.  Add one cup of the panko to the crab mix and toss gently until just combined.  Gently press mixture into 24 small patties.

On two small plates, place frothy egg whites, and 2 cups panko crumbs.  Carefully dip crab cakes in egg whites and then roll lightly in panko.  Place on wax paper until ready for frying (These can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to fry).

In a large non-stick skillet melt 1 stick of butter.  When butter is melted add half of the crab cakes and fry over medium heat until cakes are golden brown, flipping once.  Serve immediately with arugula salad.

Arugula Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette
1 lbs baby arugula, rinsed and patted dry
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/8 tsp salt and pepper
4 Tbsp olive oil.

Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until combined.  Drizzle dressing over Arugula and toss to coat.

Gougere with Wild Mushroom Duxelles

                                                                                                                                 Photography by Rachel Horesovsky

Doug has been having fun teasing me about the name of this dish.  He has been mincing around saying, "for Thanksgiving we are having faw faw faugh faw faw " in an affected, cartoonish french accent.  What can I say?  I could call these Cheese Puffs with Mushroom Paste, but that really wouldn't do this dish justice. 

These were a huge hit at our Thanksgiving dinner this year.  I like to serve the hot gougere (cheese puffs) on a large platter and put a bowl of the hot duxelles (mushroom paste) next to it.  The Gougere are crispy and light and scream of gruyere cheese, and are wonderful eaten on their own.  Or tear the top of them and fill them with Duxelles for an out of this world flavor explosion of cheese and wild mushrooms.  Faw faw faw indeed! 

Everyone loves crispy cheesey Gougere!

This is one of those dishes that is really pretty simple to make, looks very rustic, but is the essence of autumnal elegance.  The Gougere dough is simply a pate choux with milk and cheese.  As far as the mushrooms go, I think patience is key in slowly sauteing them, and when you are using such amazing mushrooms as Morels and Chanterelles, less is more when it comes to seasonings. While Duxelle is usually made with ground mushrooms, I prefer a more chunky duxelles and just chopped them finely.

Beautiful fresh chanterelles!

Gougere with Wild Mushroom Duxelles
makes 2 dozen bite-size appetizers


1 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz.)
1 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour
4 eggs plus one egg, separated
1/2 lb grated gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium sized pot, combine milk, butter and salt over high heat.  Cook until butter is melted and milk comes to a boil.  Remove from heat, and add flour.  Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture pulls together in a ball.  Let dough rest 15 minutes off heat to cool.

Add eggs to dough, one at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon after each adition until egg is completely incorporated.  After all 4 eggs have been added, add reserved egg white to dough and mix in.  Add gruyere cheese and stir into dough.

Drop spoonfulls of dough onto parchment lines baking sheets, about an inch apart.  In a small bowl, mix reserved egg yolk with 1 tsp water, and then brush egg glaze on top of dough.  Sprinkle glazed gougere with grated parmesan cheese.

Cheesey pate choux ready for the oven...

Freshly baked, crispy gougere!

Bake 30 minutes until gougere are puffed and very golden.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Wild Mushroom Duxelles

1 pound fresh wild mushrooms (I used chanterelles), finely chopped
1/2 oz. dried morel mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 shallot finely minced
1/4 cup tawny port
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced (or 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled)
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt

Combine dried morels and 1 cup boiling water, allow to steep 30 minutes.  Remove morels from liquid and chop finely, reserving mushroom soaking liquid.  Strain grit out of reserved mushroom soaking liquid by pouring liquid through 2 layers of cheesecloth in a sieve.  Reserve liquid.

Strain the steeping liquid through a sieve lined with a double layer of cheesecloth

Have everything ready to go before cooking!

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium high heat.  When butter is melted add garlic and shallot and cook 20 seconds.  Add chopped mushrooms to pan and saute.  Mushrooms will eventually sweat out their liquid, continue to cook until liquid is reduced and mushrooms are slightly caramelized (about 15-20 minutes).

Mushrooms will sweat a lot of liquid, cook until this liquid is 
completely reduced and mushrooms are caramelized.

Deglaze pan with port and cook until liquid is reduced (about 1 minute).  Add honey, rosemary, thyme, pepper and reserved steeping liquid.  Cook until completely reduced and no liquid remains.  Season with 1 tsp kosher salt.

Serve with freshly baked Gougere.

(Duxelles, can be transfered to an airtight container while hot, and refrigerated for several days before using).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Well, it's that time of year again.  Time to begin obsessing about holiday menus... I love it!  After some debate, we have finalized the Thanksgiving menu.  This year we decided to put an emphasis on clean and simple flavors, avoiding heavy sauces or drowning things in cream, and also avoiding overly trendy gimmicky food.

I intend to post most of these recipes on the blog in the next few weeks, some are already here, and some still need to be written.   I hope you will try some of these during the holiday season and let me know what you think!

Thanksgiving Menu 2011
Warm olives with Lemon Thyme

Haricots Vert in Brown Butter
(butternut squash, rutabaga, parsnip, carrots and golden beets)

Pecan Pie
Apple Pie
Pumpkin Cheesecake

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mama Ozzy's Beef Stew with Mushrooms and Red Wine.

There is something about an autumn Sunday afternoon and beef stew.  The two were just made for each other.

Doug and I are working on a fairly involved restoration project in the "World Famous Tiki Lounge" (our garage-cum-cocktail lounge in the backyard).  We discovered some fairly extensive dry rot over the garage door and so we have decided to install some new french doors in place of the old garage door.  It's perfect weather for construction work, cool and sunny.  And while we work, this beef stew is happily simmering away inside, just waiting for us to come in for dinner.
Doug looks a little too happy to be using a buzz saw...

The new french doors!

I started this stew early this morning, and am going to let it just... well, stew all day.  The trick to an excellent beef stew is to get a really good sear on the beef.  And the best way to do that is to cook the beef a few pieces at a time over medium high heat.  Just like Julia Child says, you must not overcrowd the beef!  Caramelizing the beef like this develops a rich brown patina in the pot that gives a really intense beef flavor.

This recipe makes a gracious plenty, which is never a problem around here.  This stew reheats perfectly in the microwave and makes an excellent brown bag lunch!

Mama Ozzy's Beef Stew with Mushrooms and Red Wine
(serves 10)

4 lbs beef, cut into bite-sized cubes
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp butter

2 medium onions, diced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 lb mushrooms, quartered
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup flour
2 cups red wine
4 cups beef stock
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 bay leaves
2 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
4 unpeeled medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
2 cups mixed frozen vegetables (peas, carrots, green beans and corn)

In a large heavy stock pot, heat oil and butter over medium high heat until butter is melted.  Add  beef cubes 1 lb at a time, do not over crowd, and cook turning frequently until beef is very well seared on all sides.  Transfer browned beef to a large bowl and repeat until all the beef is browned.

Add onions and celery to beef drippings and cook 10 minute over medium high heat until onion wilts.  Add Mushrooms and cook, tossing frequently until mushrooms are very soft.  Add thyme, black pepper, tomato paste and stir well.  Add flour and stir until mixed.  Add wine and stir until a very thick sauce is made.  Add Beef stock and stir.  Add rosemary sprigs, bay leaves, salt, sugar and worcestershire sauce.   Add beef cubes back to pot and bring just to a simmer.  Reduce heat to low, cover pot with a lid and simmer 4 hours.

Add potatoes and continue to cook 1- 2 hours, stirring occasionally until beef and potatoes are very tender.  Remove rosemary sprigs and bay leaves.

Add frozen vegetables, stir and cook 10 minutes.  Serve hot.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Parsnip Gnocchi with Madeira-Creamed Mushrooms and Toasted Walnuts

Are you looking for a showstopper dish for your next dinner party?  This is it!  It is decadently rich and has a beautifully balanced autumnal flavor.  Even better, it is completely vegetarian (though the addition of  crumbled bacon would make it even better).  The spicy sweetness of the parsnips balances perfectly with the madeira and cognac.  The paradoxically light but chewy gnocchi pair perfectly with the meaty mushrooms, and everything is held together with a rich herbal cream sauce.  Finally crunchy toasted walnuts give a perfect counterpoint that will have everyone at the dinner table calling for more. 

I have been promising my daughter Emma to make this dish for several weeks now, and since she is moving to Massachusetts tomorrow, today was the day.  It was the perfect meal for a crisp cool and clear fall day.

If mushrooms at your local grocery are too expensive, try checking out the produce section at an Asian supermarket.  For me, in Durham that means a visit to Li Ming Global Mart.  The produce is always incredibly fresh, the selection is staggering and the prices are insanely affordable.

I hope you'll take the time to try this dish sometime, it is well worth the effort and is definitely not your run-of-the-mill dinner party fare.

Parsnip Gnocchi with Madeira-Creamed Mushrooms and Toasted Walnuts
(serves 8)

1 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Coarsely chop walnuts and place in a pie pan.  Toast for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

Parsnip Gnocchi
12 oz. parsnips peeled and chopped into chunks
12 oz. Russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
4 eggs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups flour plus cup for dusting the work surface

Place peeled and chunked parsnips and potatoes in a large pot.  Cover with water by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Once boiling, cook uncovered until tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain potatoes and parsnips and press through a ricer into a bowl.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

Make a well in the center of the riced potatoes and parsnips, and add eggs, parmesan, salt and nutmeg to the well.  Mix gently with your hands until just combined.   Add one cup flour and fold into mixture.  Add remaining cup of flour, 1/4 cup at a time, mixing with hands gently.  Do not over work!

Divide dough into four parts.  Heavily flour a work surface and turn out 1/4 of the dough onto the flour.  Roll the dough gently into a rope about 1/2 in diameter.  Cut dough into 1-inch lengths and transfer to a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.  Cover uncooked gnocchi with a tea towel until ready to cook. (Alternatively, gnocchi can be frozen on the baking sheet and stored in a plastic bag until ready to use).

To cook gnocchi bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil.  Ad 1/2 the gnocchi to the boiling water.  When gnocchi float to surface, remove with a slotted spoon and place in the prepared mushroom sauce.

Madeira-Creamed Mushrooms
1 small onion, finely diced
1 cup celery, finely diced
1 cup carrots, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs mushrooms. thickly sliced (I used shiitake and oyster mushrooms)
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup cognac
1/4 cup madeira
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

In a large skillet, melt butter.  Add onions, celery, carrots and garlic and cook over medium high heat until tender, about 10 minutes.  Add sliced mushrooms to pan and cook until tender , tossing frequently.  Add Thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Add cognac and madeira and toss.  Add cream and cook until slightly reduced.  Add cooked gnocchi to sauce and gently toss.  Add toasted walnuts and toss.  Serve hot with grated parmesan cheese.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Coq au Vin

Welcome fall!  Red leaves, grey skies, pumpkins and cold weather.  All these things put me in the mood for french food.  Not Haute cuisine french food either, but real flavorful country french food like Coq au Vin (which means rooster in wine).  This dish will scent the entire house with an incredible aroma of bacon and chicken and wine.
Coq au Vin is traditionally made with a whole cut-up chicken slowly cooked in red wine.  This is my version.  I actually prefer chicken breasts and a sweet white wine for this dish.  Chicken breasts are meaty and juicy and the white wine enhances the flavor of the carrots.  YUM.  This dish doesn't require any special techniques, or special equipment.  The key is patience.  Make sure to slowly render all the fat from the bacon, and then slowly brown the chicken pieces until they are a deep golden brown... this coaxes the maximum flavor from the simple ingredients.
Please do make sure to use bone-in skin-on chicken pieces, the difference in flavor is remarkable.  I like to serve this with a nutty wild or brown rice (or combination of the two) cooked in chicken stock, and a crispy french baguette for sopping up all the delicious wine sauce.  Food doesn't get much better than this!

Bon Appetit!

Coq au Vin
(serves 6)

6 slices of bacon, cut into 1 -inch pieces
1/2 stick butter
6 large chicken breasts, rinsed, and patted dry
salt and pepper
3 cups baby carrots
1 lb. button mushrooms, quartered
3 large shallots, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups white wine (I like Riesling for its sweetness)
salt and pepper
3 bay leaves

In a large deep heavy skillet with a lid, cook the bacon over medium heat, tossing occasionally until bacon is browned and fat is completely rendered, about 20 minutes.  Remove bacon from pan and reserve.

Add butter to hot bacon fat and increase heat to medium high.  Place seasoned chicken breasts, 3 at a time, into hot pan, skin side down, and cook until well-browned (15-20 minutes).  Remove chicken from pan and brown remaining chicken.

Brown the chicken very well in bacon fat and butter

After chicken is browned and removed from pan, add baby carrots.  Cook carrots over medium high heat for 15 minutes until they begin to brown.  Add shallots and mushrooms.   Cook for 10-15 minutes, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the vegetables begin to sweat.   The mushrooms will initially soak up most of the fat and then as they become fully cooked they will once again release the fat.  When the mushrooms release the fat, add thyme and stir.  Add flour and toss to coat.  Add the wine and stir to make a gravy.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper.   Add bay leaves.

Return the bacon to the sauce, and then nestle the chicken back in the skillet.  Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low, cover with a lid and cook for one hour to completely poach the chicken in the sauce.

Serve chicken hot with rice and french bread.

Friday, September 30, 2011

S'mores Cupcakes with Scotch Whiskey Marshmallow Icing

This week was my youngest daughter, Rachel's, 21st birthday!  I can't believe my baby is 21, when did I get to be so darn old?  To celebrate we are heading to Washington D.C. where Rachel is a photojournalism student.  We will go to the National Zoo where Rachel works as a volunteer in the invertebrate house, will definitely spend some time trudging around the museums and will probably eat in a lot of the city's great restaurants.  I am excited.

I wanted to create a cupcake for Rachel's birthday that captures her love of candy, nature, and since it's her 21st birthday, has some booze in it!   I came up with these little beauties.  S'mores cupcakes!

The first problem with capturing the flavor of a s'more is getting a cake that tastes like graham crackers.  The solution?  Substitute crushed graham crackers for part of the flour!  These cakes are exceptionally delicious on their own.  They are dense and chewy and buttery and... well, just YUMMY.  I filled them with ganache and topped them with a fluffy dollop of home made marshmallow cream infused with smoky scotch for that real campfire flavor.  If you want, you can use water instead of scotch, but why would you do that?

Finally I toasted the marshmallow icing with a small butane blow torch. (alternatively you can just brown these under the broiler in your oven).

I can't wait to present these to Rachel!  Happy Birthday sweetie!

S'mores Cupcakes with Scotch Whiskey Marshmallow Icing
makes about 18

Step One: Make ganache

3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Heat cream in a small heavy saucepan over high heat until it boils.  Remove from heat, and add chocolate chips.  Stir until smooth and glossy.  Transfer to a shallow bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 hours, stirring every hour, until ganache is set and has the consistency of chocolate pudding.

Step Two: Make the graham cracker cakes

1 1/2 cups of finely ground graham cracker crumbs
2/3 cup of flour
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup of unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup of sugar
2 eggs room temperature
1 teaspoon of vanilla
3/4 cup of milk
1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, combine cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder and salt, stir until well combined.

In another bowl cream the softened butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Mix in vanilla.

Add 1/4 cup of milk and mix to combine, then ad 1/2 of the cracker/flour mixture and mix until combined. Repeat, alternating between wet and dry ingredients until everything is added.  fold in the miniature chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly between 18 paper-lined cupcake wells.  Bake 25 minutes.  Cool completely.

Step Three: Fill the cupcakes with ganache.

After the ganache has set up to the consistency of pudding, transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a round metal tip with a wide opening (about the diameter of a pencil).  Pierce each cupcake in the center with a knife, then insert the tip of the piping bag and fill each cupcake with 1-2 Tbsp. of chocolate ganache.

Step 4:  Make the Marshmallow Icing.

2 tsp (one envelope) unflavored gelatin
2 Tbsp scotch whiskey (or water)
1 cup sugar (separated into two portions of 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3 Tbsp  water
pinch of salt
3 egg whites

In a small microwave-proof bowl, place the scotch whiskey (or water). Sprinkle gelatin over liquid and allow to soften.

In a medium sized heavy saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar, corn syrup and water.  Bring to a boil, with stirring, over high heat until sugar is dissolved.  Reduce heat and keep syrup warm.

Combine egg whites and salt in a clean bowl and whip until frothy and light, then with mixer still running, gradually add 1/4 cup sugar and beat on high heat until whites are stiff and glossy.  With mixer still running on medium speed, slowly pour hot syrup into egg whites.  Once all the syrup has been added, increase speed to high and whip for 5 minutes.

Heat gelatin in microwave for 15 seconds until it is completely melted, then pour into egg whites with mixer running.  Whip until gelatin is completely incorporated.  Transfer to a Piping bag and frost cupcakes immediately before marshmallow sets.

Step Five. Toasting the cupcakes.
Allow marshmallow icing to set up for 30 minutes.  With a hand held blow torch, gently toast the marshmallow icing.  Alternatively, this can be done under the broiler in the oven, but watch carefully so as not to burn!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Red Posole with Pork and Chorizo

So yesterday afternoon was cool and rainy.  We had finished all the French Onion Soup from the previous day and were trying to decide what to make.  I had been making a giant pot of home made chicken stock using the carcass of a rotisserie chicken from earlier in the week and it was happily simmering on the stove.  What to make? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm?

Doug and I like to play the game where we cook using only things we happen to have in the house.  No cheating and running to the grocery store.  We found some frozen chicken and pork tenderloin, and various odds and ends.  Then our friend Chris Pfitzer (author of Delicious) posted on facebook that he was going to make a pork posole.  Bingo!  That was the perfect thing, and we had all the ingredients on hand in the house.  Thanks for the genius idea Chris!

There are probably as many recipes for posole as there are cooks who make this hearty Mexican soup/stew.  The one thing they all have in common is posole (hominy), hence the name.  We loved this version made with spicy Mexican chorizo and red salsa.  You can make your own salsa if you like, but commercially prepared salsa works just fine.  The Mexican chorizo we use is soft, sort of the consistency of breakfast sausage.  It is loaded with achiote and other spices and is really quite hot/spicy, so we didn't add any additional jalapenos etc., but feel free to adjust the heat according to your taste.

The only problem is we finished the entire pot, so now we have to think of something else for dinner tonight!

Red Posole with Pork and Chorizo
serves 6-8

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs. pork tenderloin, cubed into 1-inch chunks
4 oz. soft Mexican chorizo
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground corriander
1 tsp dried oregano
1 jigger tequila
2 cups tomato-based salsa
28 oz. drained hominy (pozole)
6 cups chicken stock
juice of one lime
salt and pepper to taste

Accompaniments:  Cubed avacado, tortilla chips, sour cream, napa cabbage, radishes, shaved jicama

In a large heavy soup pot heat the oil over high heat.  Add the cubed pork and cook, tossing occasionally until very well browned, about 15 minutes.  

 The pork must be well-browned in order to get the maximum flavor.

Remove browned pork from the pot and reserve. Reduce heat to medium high and add chorizo to pot and cook briefly until browned, about 2 minutes,  Add onions, garlic, cumin, corriander, and oregano and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Deglaze pan with tequila.

De-glazing the onions, herbs and chorizo with Tequila, fills the air with an intoxicating aroma!

Add salsa, stock and hominy.  Return pork to pot.  Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bring soup to a boil, then reduce temperature to low and simmer for 45 minutes, partially covered.  Serve hot with tortilla chips, diced avacado and sour cream.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

French Onion Soup

Fall has dramatically descended upon North Carolina.  On Thursday the temperature was 92 and on Friday the high temperature was 62!  After months of relentless sunshine and 90+ temperatures, the skies are gloriously cloudy and grey and rainy!  Everyone is thrilled to pull out sweaters and cardigans, and I am in the mood for French food.  So yesterday I decided to spend the afternoon in the kitchen making Julia Child's French onion soup.
This soup is the essence of simplicity.  It is rich and elegant and comforting.  It is not something you can just throw together in 30 minutes, but instead it requires time and patience to coax the maximum flavor from the ingredients.  Thankfully it doesn't involve a great deal of difficult techniques, just your time.
I recommend finding the best french bread you can find for this dish.  For me that meant a trip to La Farm bakery in Cary, North Carolina.  La Farm is owned and operated by bread superstar Lionel Vatinet.

"Lionel Vatinet’s passion for bread was first nurtured when he joined France’s prestigious artisans’ guild Les Compagnons du Devoir as an apprentice at age 16. Emerging 7 years later with the distinguished and hard-earned title of Maitre Boulanger (Master Baker), Vatinet pledged to devote his life to teaching, sharing and preserving the ancient art and science of bread baking.  Among Vatinet’s achievements, his participation with Team USA at France’s competition La Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in 1999 is one of his most proud; the American team earned the Gold Medal for the fist time ever at this International Olympic style baking competition."

I made a few adjustments to Julia's recipe (I slightly increased the amount of onions), but mainly adhered to her meticulous directions.  The key is to very, very slowly brown the onions in butter in order to coax the release and caramelization of the natural sugars.  Too high of a temperature will burn the butter and singe the onions making the soup bitter. The result was fantastic! 

If you can find it, try to use real French Gruyere cheese for the gratinee.  Yes it will make your house smell like old socks, but the flavor is incomparable! 

Serve this with a simple green salad and plenty of extra bread for dipping into the soup...perfect for a cool rainy fall evening. Bon appetit!

French Onion Soup
Serves 6

2 lbs yellow or Vidalia onions sliced thinly
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp granulated sugar
3 Tbsp flour
2 quarts good quality beef stock 
1/2 cup dry white vermouth
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup Cognac

1 baguette, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 lb Gruyere cheese grated (Swiss cheese can be substituted)

In a large heavy pot, melt the 4Tbsp butter over medium heat.  Add onions and toss to coat with melted butter.  Cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes (this "poaches" the onions in butter and causes them to sweat).

 The onions after "poaching in butter" for 15 minutes.

Remove the lid and add salt and sugar to onions. Increase the heat a tiny bit above medium, and cook the onions, uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring frequently until the onions are a deep and even gold color.  DO NOT increase the temperature to speed this process along unless you like a bitter burnt onion soup.

Delicious, slowly-caramelized onions fill the house with an amazing fragrance!

Ten minutes before the onions are finished caramelizing, heat the beef stock to boiling.

When the onions are caramelized, add the flour and stir to coat. Remove from heat and add boiling stock and vermouth.  Whisk briefly to break up any flour clumps.  Return soup to medium high heat, and cover partially with a lid and allow soup to simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Adjust seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  At this point the soup can rest, off heat until ready to serve.

One hour before serving, preheat oven to 325.  Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 15 minutes, then flip slices and toast an additional 15 minutes until bread is completely dry.

Bring soup back to a simmer, and add cognac.  Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls, leaving about 1/2 inch space at the top.  Float dried bread slices on top of soup and top with grated cheese.  Place soup bowls on a baking sheet and bake 20 minutes until cheese is melted.  Turn oven setting to broil, and broil until cheese is bubbling and golden.  Serve immediately with lots of sliced french bread.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Crab Empanadas

We made these tasty savory cuban pastries as an appetizer for our Hurrican Irene party.  Moist flavorful crab, scented with sherry encased in a delicate pastry crust.  YUM.  These are like a pastry-wrapped crab cake.  They can be eaten as is, or served with a simple remoulade or hollandaise sauce.

I used whole wheat pastry flour for the dough, but all purpose flour also works well.

Crab Empanadas
serves 8

Empanada dough
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all purpose flour)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp sugar
8 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (room temperature)

Combine flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a sifter and sift into a bowl.  In the bowl of a stand mixer combine cream cheese and butter and mix until well blended.  Gradually add sifted dry ingredients and mix just until a soft dough forms.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

While dough is chilling prepare crab filling:

Crab Filling
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped red bell peppers
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped white onion
2 cloves garlic minced
1 lb. lump crab meat
2 eggs
1 Tbsp dry sherry
1/2 cup bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over high heat, then add peppers and onions and saute until onions are translucent.  Add garlic and saute an additional minute. Remove from heat, and add crab, gently fold into vegetables. season with salt and pepper to taste.   Allow to cool to room temperature.

Sauteed peppers, onion, garlic and crab...

Once crab mixture is cooled, combine eggs and sherry in a small bowl and whisk to mix with a fork.  Add egg mixture and bread crumbs to crab, and gently fold together.

Pre-heat oven to 400F.

Remove dough from refrigerator and gently roll into a log about 12 inches long.  Slice into 8 equal pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each slice into an 8-inch circle about 1/8 thick (this will be rustic).

Divide crab filling equally among dough circles, then fold in half and roll edges to seal.  With your fingers make a decorative fluted edge. Transfer empanadas to an un-greased baking sheet.

Assembling the rustic empanadas...

Combine 1 egg and 1 Tbsp water in a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Brush egg wash over empanadas.  Bake 20 minutes at 400F.  Serve immediately with remoulade or hollandaise sauce if desired.

Mama Ozzy's quick and easy remoulade sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp coarse ground brown mustard
1 Tbsp hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl or ramekin, mix to combine.