Monday, December 27, 2010

Castilian Hot Chocolate

I vote we get a snow day after every Christmas weekend...five days off is definitely the way to make merry :). The wind is howling like mad out...which means it's time for Castilian Hot Chocolate :

This is my favorite way to hot chocolate bliss...those Spanish know a thing or two about hot chocolate, let me tell you. None of this powdery mix junk, this is the real deal : chocolate, sugar, milk, simmered together until it's super thick and rich and luscious...almost pudding-like, but still drinkable. Trust me on this one, once you try it you'll never settle for Swiss Miss again.

The recipe is from "The Vegetarian Epicure (Book Two)", by Anna Thomas. I've mentioned Book One in a previous very first cookbook of my very own, given to me when I was just a little girl and giving me a huge start in my quest for culinary greatness. Book Two explores more "foreign" dishes, well at least "foreign" for the time... Spanish, Italian, Mexican, Indian...definitely all with a 70's bent, complete with when to pass around the joint :). Okay, so maybe the books are a little dated now...but both will always hold a special place in my heart. And both still have some damn fine recipes.

The only update I make to this one is to use the darkest cocoa powder I can find...Hershey's makes a Special Dark version which works perfectly.

simmering away

dark and delicious

screaming for whipped cream !!

Castilian Hot Chocolate

1/2 cup cocoa powder (darker the better)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch 
1/2 cup water
1 quart milk 
whipped cream (optional)

Whisk the cocoa and sugar together into a medium-sized saucepan. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water, and stir into the cocoa and sugar until it is a smooth paste.

Begin heating the mixture, stirring it with a whisk, and gradually pour in the milk. Continue stirring with the whisk as you bring the liquid to a simmer.

Allow the chocolate to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until it is thick, glossy and completely smooth.

Serve steaming hot, topped with whipped cream if desired.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Baking

Sugar Cookies
Oh, how I love my holiday baking :) I think I was about 10 when my grandmother gave me her Christmas cookie cutters...and I think I've made sugar cookies every year since then. It just doesn't seem like Christmas until I'm creaming shortening and sugar, smelling orange peel and vanilla, and getting colored sugar everywhere.

As the years have gone by, of course, I've expanded...Pfefferneusse were added first - a traditional German cookie, the name translates to "pepper nuts" - and yes, there is pepper in the dough ! The smell of these...molasses, butter, another of my Christmas must-haves.

Pepper Nuts, anyone ?
Viennese Christmas Snowflakes were added a few years ago - Mark is nuts about anything raspberry, and these nutty, buttery cookies are the perfect vehicle for raspberry nirvana

A much-requested guest the past few years is the Godiva Tiramisu - or, as one of my favorite foodie friends calls it, the Goddamn Godiva Tiramisu. What makes it "Godiva" is that I use Godiva liqueur instead of the traditional Marsala or rum...and boy, does that make it. This, really, is a culinary orgasm.

will post a pic tomorrow after we cut into it...
If I have time, I try and make homemade truffles as well...and I did this year. Flavored with The Knot (a delicious caramel sort of whiskey liqueur....makes the best Irish Coffee ever !), these truffles are definitely a win :

And finally, a newcomer to the Christmas Eve festivities...this year I decided to make a Buche de Noel. (the traditional French "Yule Log"). After the rousing success of Michelle's Mousse Cake, I really wanted to make something similar for Christmas, and I knew the Buche was made of similar stuffs. Didn't fool around - went straight to Martha Stewart  - but made marzipan mushrooms instead of the traditional meringue (I am not a meringue fan), and used bittersweet chocolate instead of semisweet (we love dark chocolate around these parts).  I also didn't cut off the ends to make knots - didn't really see the point, and mine came out plenty log-like as you can see :

really, it's marzipan !

The components of this recipe all taste fantastic...but I don't know that the cake "rolled" as well as it should have. Maybe I just need to practice more....I like the idea of that :).

Here are the rest of the recipes and/or links....Happy Holidays everyone !!

Sugar Cookies

2/3 c shortening
3/4 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 t vanilla
1/2 t orange peel
2 c flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2 -4 t milk

With an electric beater, cream together shortening and sugar. Add egg, vanilla and orange peel, and mix until well combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add to shortening mixture, and add milk as needed to make a workable dough. Chill for one hour.

Roll out 1/8 inch thick, cut out and place on cookie sheets and decorate as desired. Bake in a 375 oven for 8 - 10 minutes, or until just starting to brown the tiniest bit on the edges. Cool on racks.


1/2 c (1 stick) butter
3/4 c molasses
2 eggs, beaten
4 c flour
1/2 c sugar
1 1/4 t baking soda
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t cloves
1/8 t ground black pepper

Combine molasses and butter in a small saucepan, and heat until butter melts. Let cool a bit, then add eggs and mix well.

Sift together remaining ingredients, and stir in molasses mixture - will make a fairly stiff dough. Let the dough chill at least two hours.

Roll into 1 inch balls and place on cookie sheets. Bake in a 350 oven 12 - 14 minutes, until starting to brown. Roll immediately in powdered sugar, and cool on racks. These actually improve after a day or two, though they're great anytime !

Viennese Snowflakes

These are a Silver Palate recipe, which you can find here. The only changes I make are to cut them into the shapes you see in the picture, which is (I think) a flower shaped cutter. The dough falls apart really easily, and I kept losing points off the tree branches - rounder works better. I also use jam with seeds, as that's Mark's preferred type.

Irish Knot Truffles

This was a great find from Canadian Living, of all places...though they called them "Scotch on the Rocks Truffle Cups". I had to use my beloved Knot, of course :) They are much easier than the rolled truffles and just as good !

Godiva Tiramisu

7 oz Godiva Liqueur, divided
3/4 c strong black coffee or espresso
24 - 30 ladyfingers (depends on size - the crunchy ones, not soft)
1 1/2 lbs mascarpone cheese
3 eggs, separated
2/3 cup plus 2 T confectioner's sugar
4 oz dark chocolate, grated

Mix 4 oz of the Godiva with the coffee. Dip ladyfingers quickly into this mixture, and lay in baking or casserole dish. Beat together the mascarpone, egg yolks, 2/3 cup of sugar and remaining Godiva until smooth. Whip egg whites (with clean beaters) and remaining sugar until stiff, and fold into the cheese mixture. Spread cheese mixture over the ladyfingers, sprinkle with chocolate and refrigerate overnight.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pasta Bolognese

I really need some new dishes :)

*this post made possible by the Dutiful Dish Slave, aka the best son in the world. He's been a trooper during the evolution of this blog, doing stacks and stacks of dishes with nary a complaint. Thank you, Alex :) *

Busy times here at Chez C.O. ...we just love Christmas around these parts. Decorating, present shopping, caroling...and, of course, fun in the kitchen. Preliminary baking has been completed, with much much more to happen this week. My actual dinnertime cooking has been suffering a bit as a result...which is good news for Mark, as he's been able to get into the kitchen unhindered

We've both been craving Bolognese sauce for a while...not that we've ever made it, mind, but we wanted it all the same. Bolognese is a rich, meaty sauce...a combination of beef and pork, with ingredients such as chicken livers and milk or heavy cream often added to enhance that rich, luscious taste and feel. Traditionally there is not lot of tomato going on - the focus is the rich meaty flavor.

Other than coming out strongly in favor of chicken livers, I really left Mark alone on this one...and, as usual, he has come up with a winner here :

Mark's Pasta Bolognese

1/4 c olive oil
1 T butter
5 oz Canadian Bacon
1 good sized yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, minced
2 celery stalks, minced
3/4 cup tiny mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb ground beef
1 pound sweet Italian sausage (casings removed)
6 chicken livers
1/2 cup veal or beef stock
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup Marsala
1 28 oz can whole Italian plum tomatoes
3 oz tomato paste
1 t salt
1/2 t thyme
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1 t smoked paprika
1/4 cup heavy cream
fresh chopped parsley

1 to 2 pounds mafaldine pasta , cooked according to package directions

Melt the butter in a heavy saute pan and add half the olive oil. Saute the onions, carrot and celery for about five minutes, then add the mushrooms and garlic and saute another 5 - 10 minutes (until soft, not brown) . Transfer to a heavy stockpot or Dutch oven.

Heat the remaining oil to brown the meats, and let the meat mixture cook a bit - until almost dry. Transfer the meat to the pot, and deglaze the pan with the red wine. Add the wine, Marsala, and stock to the pot.

Drain the liquid from the tomatoes into the pot, then crush the tomatoes themselves with your hands and add them as well. Add the tomato paste and spices, mix well, and let simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours, uncovered. Stir in the heavy cream at the end, and sprinkle with the parsley.

*Mafaldine pasta is not super easy to find....other pastas would work as well; tagliatelle, fusilli, fettuccine, or whatever you like. Amount to make depends on your personal pasta-sauce ratio preference. We cooked two pounds and had about half a pound left over.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Scallop and Bacon Pizza with Maple-Cider Agrodolce drizzle, Tavolino, Foxborough

Oh's that good :)

Scallop and Bacon Pizza - light lemon-herb cream sauce topped with grilled scallops, crispy bacon, asiago and mozzarella cheeses, with a maple-cider agrodolce drizzle.

Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Anadama Bread...or, I Have A Bread Machine And I'm Not Afraid To Use It.

Anna, damn her !!

Yeah, that's right....I have a bread machine. And I like it :)

Now, don't get me wrong....I love making bread by hand. There's something inherently satisfying about the whole kneading and punching down process...excellent way to work out your aggressions. And I also love the dough hook option on my Kitchen Aid stand mixer...the hook is especially good for sticky doughs, as it takes a lot less time to extract than your fingers. I'm not ashamed to admit, though, that I've gotten a lot of use out of my breadmaker in the 15+ years I've owned it. I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the soups I like to make take about 2 1/2 hours...which just so happens to be the amount of time it takes for my Regal to turn out a loaf of yummy bread. And though I would dearly love to spend every minute of my day in the kitchen, the sad truth is that sometimes the rest of life (laundry, family, super-awesome football teams) get in the way.

If you use the same quality ingredients that you do for "by hand" bread - and you keep an eye on the dough for the first 20 minutes to make sure it looks right - bread from a machine will taste just as good as bread from your oven. And you won't have to worry about finding a warm spot for the bread to rise or anything - the machine takes care of that (in fact, I use the "dough" setting all the time for making dough for pizza, rolls etc). Just follow your machine's guidelines, adding ingredients in the recommended order (mine is liquid, then butter, then flour, then yeast and salt) and you'll be all set.

Today I decided to tackle Anadama Bread, as a compliment to my turkey soup . I've always wanted to try making Anadama Bread, as I love the various stories behind it - none of which are probably true, but that doesn't make them bad :). The most often heard version is that the bread was named by a husband cursing his wife for serving him nothing but cornmeal and molasses porridge, which he decided one day to add yeast and flour to, then bake - cursing "Anna, damn her !" the whole time. A less-heard version has it that Anna was such a skilled baker that her husband says "Anna, damn her" while happily eating her delicious bread. Regardless of where the name comes from, Anadama Bread has been a New England specialty since the 1800's, best known on the North Shore (Massachusetts, where your intrepid blogger is based), and it is known for a reason - it is absolutely delicious. Recipes vary, but all of them contain flour (always white, sometimes whole wheat and/or rye), cornmeal, and molasses.

When I set out to make this today, I came up with a recipe using a method that's worked pretty well for me in the past...research a few recipes, take the parts I like from each, then add my own twist. Often times, doing it this way requires a bit of tweaking...but this one was a winner from the start. Sweet, but not overly so...sturdy but tender texture, lovely crust, beautiful golden brown color all the way short, a win :).

Anadama Bread

1 1/4 c water
1/3 c molasses
2 T butter
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
2 1/4  t yeast
1 t salt
Pinch of nutmeg

Add ingredients in order specified by your bread machine manufacturer, and use the setting for a larger loaf (as opposed to smaller). Dough tends to be heavy and sticky, so make sure it's kneading when it's supposed to...

Turkey Soup with Barley and Mushrooms

Soup is good food....

ahhh, Thanksgiving...the holiday that keeps on giving. At least the leftovers do...

How good is turkey soup ? I mean, chicken soup is great and all...but there is just something about turkey soup. So rich, so flavorful...just so good. Growing up, my aunts in Maine made the best turkey rice soup on earth - probably the most requested dinner by the various cousins staying at the house (myself included). Whatever might be wrong in your world, this soup would fix. Once old enough to make my own soups, the turkey rice was one of the first I did...and I have to say, I really got it down. (When my sister was staying at the hospital with my newborn nephew, she wouldn't eat anything except my soup). Eventually, though, we needed to alternate with something a bit different...enter barley. Barley just elevates turkey soup to the stratosphere - the richness of the turkey complements the nutty barley perfectly. And mushrooms and barley are just so good together...

For this one, rather than a recipe I'm just going to give you the general method I follow. If you'd like more specific directions, definitely email me. (The Anadama Bread I made with it - included in the photograph - will be written up as a separate entry, because that's got a pretty cool story behind it).

My method of making soup out of leftover birds - Thanksgiving birds in particular - is a bit, well, odd. This, I am sure, will surprise no one that knows me. :). Since we tend to cook ridiculously large birds around here (26 pounds, this year) I've discovered I'm better off splitting the goods into two soups - for one thing, half a giant bird is a heck of a lot easier to fit in a stockpot. We basically pick and pick until we can't look at the carcass anymore, and then I take my poultry shears and split whatever's left in two. (I have the most amazing German-made poultry shears, inherited from my grandmother...those bad boys will cut through anything). The halves go in to heavy duty freezer bags until I'm willing to say the word "turkey" again.

Once the muse strikes me (like, say, on a rainy Sunday full of Christmas shopping and a late Patriots game) , I take one of my turkey-sicles and throw it into a stockpot (still frozen), with a handful of tiny onions or a couple of small ones (skin on) and plenty of salt and pepper. I add enough water to cover, bring everything to a boil, and turn it down to a simmer. I then start my bread and get on with my afternoon.

An hour and a half to two hours later, I turn off the turkey pot and start chopping some vegetables..usually leeks, carrots and celery in equal amounts, maybe two cups of each. I start these in a clean stockpot in which I've melted about half a stick of unsalted butter, and saute them until they start to cook down a bit. (I picked up this tip from the Silver Palate - it really makes a huge difference in the flavor). I add salt and pepper again, then measure in eight cups of broth from the turkey pot and a cup of barley, bring it to a boil, and reduce it to a simmer.

Once the turkey remains in the other pot are cool enough to handle (okay, truthfully I always end up burning my fingers a bit :) ), I collect up all the usable meat from the stockpot, stripping it off the bones and chopping it up a little if needed. I also slip the onions out of the skins, and I add all the good turkey and onion parts to the simmering pot with the vegetables, stock and barley. I taste it at this point, and if I feel like the broth isn't strong enough I'll add 2 - 4 Knorr's Chicken Bouillon cubes (yes, it has to be Knorr's...everything else is just salt and yuck). The last step is to slice up about a cup of mushrooms and add them to the pot. If you feel like the soup needs more broth, add a few ladlefuls of whatever is left from your turkey stock pot, or use chicken stock - broth ratio is a personal preference, we tend to do it a little thick around here - make it however you like it, it's your soup ! In any event, once the mushrooms are cooked to your liking the soup is done.

Soup is, indeed, good food....

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

lobster mac + cheese

Culinary Orgasm...defined
Seriously, what could possibly be better than mac and cheese...oh yeah, mac and cheese and LOBSTA. This is the kind of stuff that makes you moan and sigh while you eat it....that you eat way too much of (and yet you can't stop)....that you dream about...this, readers, is a Culinary Orgasm.

I've been making homemade mac and cheese for years...never been able to abide the powdery orange stuff, but once I figured out how to make the real deal I was hooked. The key to good mac and cheese (without embellishments) is the cheese...a mix of Cabot Extra Sharp and Seriously Sharp (or Hunter's Sharp). My basic version plus lobster is quite tasty, but I've been tweaking it a bit for the lobster version the last few times I've made it. You want it cheesy, but you also want to be able to taste all the lobstery goodness - so not as sharp as when the cheese gets star billing. I think I've now hit on the proper combination; a mix of a good but mild cheddar, a nice, creamy Fontina, and some Gruyere. 

Herewith, I think, is the direct route to nirvana :

Lobster Mac & Cheese

Cooked, canned frozen lobster meat is available at Shaw's....and that's usually the only place I can find it. I think the cans are 12 oz (I've used all mine up, so can't look and tell you :) ) . Though I am a lobster snob by birth (fresh Cushing lobster is the only way to fly), I have to admit this product works perfectly in this dish.

Makes a huge amount...which will all be eaten, I promise :) Easily halved...

1 lb cellentani, cavatappi or similar pasta
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), plus 4 T for topping
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups cream
6 cups grated cheese (cheddar-fontina-gruyere mix highly recommended)
1 1/2 lbs lobster meat
1 cup dry plain breadcrumbs (panko are great here)

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.

For cream sauce : melt the stick of the butter in saucepan and whisk in flour. Slowly whisk in milk, then cream. Simmer 5 minutes or so, to get rid of raw flour taste. Whisk in about 2 cups of your cheese mixture.

Melt the remaining butter, and stir in the panko crumbs.

In a really large casserole dish, layer the pasta, lobster, cheese, and sauce...then another layer of pasta, lobster,cheese, and sauce...then top with a last layer of cheese. Top with the buttered crumbs, and bake in a 375 oven until bubbling and a bit golden (20 - 30 minutes, depending on your pan)

Inman Square - spices and sustenance

off to Inman Square last weekend to hit Christina's Spices (no website, but reviews and info here )...what a treasure this place cool !! You walk in and your nose doesn't know what to make of it...every smell you can think of and a few you've never considered. The spices are tucked in everywhere - bags, jars, bins and boxes, you name it - not to mention unique groceries, loose teas...could get lost in there for days. It's not a fussy store, and that seems to extend to the hours...though scheduled to open at 10, no one had bothered to open the door by the time we got there.

So, what does one do at 10 AM on a sleepy Sunday in Inman Square ? Why, go to the S + S for breakfast, of course. I adore the S + mother has been taking me there literally all my life, it's one of her very favorite places. An Inman Square fixture since 1919, it's a traditional deli gone wild...the menu is huge, everything is reliably fantastic, and I can satisfy my lox-and-eggs addiction day or night. "Es" means "eat" in Yiddish, and you'd best be prepared to "eat and eat" when you get there.

In a slight departure from my traditional choice, I went with Eggs Copenhagen - a truly delectable take on Eggs Benedict :

oh yeah baby !
Poached eggs, Nova Scotia lox, sauteed onions and Hollandaise sauce over really good English muffins, home fries and fresh fruit on the side. Serious culinary incredibly good.

My dining partner opted for another take on Eggs Benedict - Eggs Oscar :

unfortunately, Mark opted out of appearing on camera :)

This was amazing - poached eggs on potato pancakes topped with crabmeat, asparagus and Bearnaise sauce. Putting this over potato pancakes was brilliant - the perfect foil.

Spicy !
The S also does a decent take on a Bloody Mary...not super strong, but quite tasty.

Perfect start to a shopping expedition !!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Turkey Tetrazzini with Spinach

can there be Thanksgiving every month ??

I love Thanksgiving leftovers. So many things you can make out of one meal...the hard part (for me anyway) is choosing which ones to make. Just plain turkey with Hellman's is heavenly, but Turkey Terrifics are even better...we call them "Turkey Terrifics" because there's a little deli near here that used to make them all the time and that's what they called them. Good bread for a base (a nice potato bread is perfect) for a base...then Hellman's (yeah, I'm picky about mayo...people around here tell me Miracle Whip is good too, but I don't talk to those people ;) )...turkey, stuffing (slightly warmed), and cranberry sauce. I love post-Thanksgiving omelets, too...turkey and leftover spinach are the basics, but other party guests are welcome too. When I lived at home I always threw in some Alouette Cheese, because my mom always had it around. Good stuff.

Eventually, though, you have to get back to cooking real dinners - and if you're like me, you still have a ton of leftovers, because you are crazy and like to cook at least twice as much as you need. Turkey Tetrazzini is a very popular home for Thanksgiving leftovers, and there are probably as many versions as there are cooks. The dish supposedly was named after the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini and created about 1910 by Ernest Arbogast, then chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California. Generations of cooks faced with way too much turkey have been grateful ever since. The basics of the dish are turkey and mushrooms mixed with a cream sauce, pasta, and Parmesan cheese, then topped with breadcrumbs and baked. Sherry and peas are common additions, but as I'm not a huge sherry and cream sauce fan (owing to an unfortunate Newberg incident in my youth) I use white wine. And since I tend to have Spinach Provencal left over...and since it already involves Parmesan cheese....and spinach and cream sauce are such good friends...I just use some of that instead. And OMG, is this stuff the bomb...absolutely fantastic.  I have included directions for making it with baby spinach instead, which I promise will come out just as good...guaranteed culinary orgasm !

oh, yeah....

Turkey Tetrazzini with Spinach

1 pound cellentani / cavatappi or similar pasta
1 pound sliced mushrooms
2 T dry white wine
1/2 C plus 2 T unsalted butter
1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 C milk
1 C cream
2 C chicken broth
4 C coarsely chopped cooked turkey
1 1/2 C leftover Spinach Provencal (or see Note at end)  
1 C freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1/3 C shredded Swiss cheese
Salt and Pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 C panko (breadcrumbs)

Preheat oven to 375°F, and start the water for the pasta

Cook the mushrooms in 2 T of the butter and the wine over medium heat, stirring, until all of the liquid the mushrooms give off has evaporated, 5-10 minutes. Set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt 1/4 C of butter. Stir in the flour, and cook the mixture over low heat, stirring, for 3 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until al dente.

Into the saucepan with the butter and flour, slowly whisk in the milk, cream, and broth. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 to 8 minutes.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and return it to the pot. Mix in the cream sauce, the mushrooms, the turkey, and the spinach. Stir in half the Parmesan and the Swiss cheese. Add salt and pepper , and a pinch of nutmeg to taste. Transfer the mixture to a large buttered casserole.

Melt the remaining butter, and stir in the bread crumbs and the remaining Parmesan. Bake the Tetrazzini in the middle rack of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it is bubbling and the top is golden.

Note : if you don’t happen to have Spinach Provencal made, this works just as well using an equal amount of baby spinach. If you go this route, chop a shallot and sauté it with your mushrooms, then stir the spinach into the mushrooms when they are just about done . Throw in another handful of Parmesan, too, when you're mixing everything together.

yes, this makes a lot - easily halved

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Menu

one heck of a spread !!

Had an absolutely wonderful Thanksgiving with my family. Most people would assume that as crazy as I am, I'd take over in the kitchen and do the whole thing. Surprisingly, that's not the case. For years, we had a tradition of going to my sister's Wednesday night, making pie and ordering takeout, then the three of us cooking the meal together the next day. Since she's moved out of state we don't do it as often, but this year we didn't have much going on at home, so we decided to pack up the kitchen and head on up. I am so, so glad we did....I almost forgot how much fun this was :). We're pretty casual about the meal itself (this year a few of us were in Pats shirts, and the meal was served at halftime). As long as there's seriously good food, we're happy.

I think this year was our best yet :)

Here for posterity, the menu...with links to some items and recipes. Will post a few more (well, mine at least) at some point...for now, I'm just impressed looking at it all together :)

Brined Turkey (we basically used this brine - the one from Alex's wild turkey - but used maple syrup instead of brown sugar)  - with plenty of gravy of course ! Mark and I did the brine earlier in the week, and Mark took charge of turkey maintenance this year. Best. Turkey. Ever.

Cornbread-Sausage Stuffing - usually we add pecans, but had to leave them out this year for health reasons...still an amazing stuffing though!! Truly the three of us together on this one.

Mashed Potatoes - pretty stock, says little sister, but she did use heavy cream instead of milk. Yum !!

Spinach Provencal - I have made this for every Thanksgiving I have ever cooked was from the very first cookbook anyone ever bought for me, the original Vegetarian Epicure. I was...eleven, I think. (Thank you LG...I still use this book constantly. As you can see :) ). This will convince even spinach haters to give it a try...I up the cheese a bit (maybe 1 1/3 cups, max), and I use baby spinach so I don't have to de-stem it.

Baked Acorn Squash - this is something my sister and I make all the mother taught us years ago. Halve and gut acorn squash, microwave 10 minutes cut side down and 5 cut side up (more if you're doing multiple...upside down until squishable, right side up until soft). When you flip them, add a generous pat of butter and seasonings...sister did them this year : brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon. I usually do maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Ginger, allspice, cardamom would work...go forth and spice it up !

Cranberry Sauces - we have to do both kinds. Most of us like my homemade, but some people - who shall remain nameless - insist on the canned kind - with lines, no lumps. So, we go both ways :)

Crescent Rolls - yup, the tacky refrigerated kind. I do make homemade bread and rolls quite often, but we end up doing these for Thanksgiving. Guilty pleasure, I guess...damn things really are addictive.

Corn - our youngest diner is a bit picky, so some plain corn for him. At least it looked Thanksgiving-y

Desserts were Maple Pumpkin Pie (mine) and apple pie (Mark's) - both using my crust - and a butterscotch Kaluha pudding pie, courtesy of my sister. Did plain whipped cream along with cinnamon...both tasty and delicious.

A note about wine...we had a serious amount of wine. For reds, Beaujolais Nouveau is perfect - comes out only at this time of year, and matches up beautifully with the typical Thanksgiving menus. We also did some Zinfandel and Shiraz....always fun to mix it up. For whites, we mostly had Rieslings - a nod to our German heritage that happens to go really, really well with turkey - but we also finally cracked open the perry (pear cider) from the Russell Orchards road trip. We were right, it goes perfectly with turkey as well.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving to you and yours...will leave you with some pictures. Thanks to all of you for reading along !!


spinach Provencal
apple pie

looks well done because of the sugar in the brine...really perfect though !!

Pumpkin Waffles with Spiced Whipped Cream...and J Pear Mimosas

Pumpkin Waffles with Cinnamon Spiced Whipped Cream

J Pear Mimosas

Started Thanksgiving off with a bang...after all, need to be well fortified for all that cooking :) Got the idea for the waffles from the amazing Pumpkin Pancakes at In a Pickle...basically, I used pureed pumpkin instead of water in standard waffles. (Same way I make Eggnog Waffles...that post will be next month :) ) Made the Spiced Whipped Cream I created for the Maple Pumpkin Sundaes...OMG, perfect perfect perfect ! My sister was kind enough to do up some great applewood smoked bacon she got...mmm yum.

The Mimosas are straight off the J Pear website...I know I've been talking about this a lot, but this stuff really is amazing. The first time we made a pitcher of these, we looked at each other and said "uh oh"...yes, that good :)

J Pear Mimosa

3 oz. champagne
1 ½ oz. J Pear Liqueur
1 oz. Tangerine Juice (or OJ. Tangerine is better, but we used OJ today and it was just fine..)

What a way to start off !!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Maple Pumpkin Pie

Sadly, I only have the BlackBerry, not the real camera...

Maple Pumpkin Pie

1 3/4 c pureed pumpkin (canned will work fine, I cook my own though....)
3/4 c maple syrup (real, please)
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ginger
1/8 t cloves
1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 c sour cream
2 eggs, separated

preheat oven to 425

unbaked 10" pie shell

puree all ingredients except egg whites in food processor
beat whites until stiff, fold into pumpkin mixture
pour into pie shell

425 for 15 minutes, then lower heat
350 for 45 minutes

Pie Crust

I don't make pie crust all that often, but when I do, I go all out....lard all the way, baby :). It just adds that something extra...the flavor is amazing and the texture is fantastic, plus the dough is very easy to work with. If you really are opposed to lard, use a combination of 1/2 cup Crisco (for the texture) and 1/4 unsalted butter (for the flavor)

2 c flour
pinch of salt
1 t sugar
2/3 cup lard, cold, cut into cubes
about 1/4 cup ice water (see directions)

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in food processor fitted with steel blade until mixed. Add lard, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Keep pulsing, and dribble ice water in until mixture pulls away from sides of bowl and you can ball it up. Remove from bowl and divide into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Makes two single crusts or one double crust.

Cranberry Sauce, CO style...

so yes, there is Thanksgiving food love going on...first up : cranberry sauce. I got this recipe out of the Boston Herald about a million years ago, and have made it for every Thanksgiving since. The combination of ingredients looks a little unusual, but I promise - this one always gets rave reviews.

Cranberry Sauce

1 1/2 c. sugar
3/4 c. water
12 oz bag cranberries
6 oz apricot preserves
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

In a large saucepan, bring the sugar and the water to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes; do not stir. Add the cranberries and simmer until they all burst. Remove from heat and add preserves and lemon juice. When cool, stir in the nuts.

Makes about one quart - keep refrigerated until needed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

one hell of a Cassoulet

in my article on crockpot cooking, Crockpot Conversations, I mentioned Cassoulet as one of the dishes that adapts very well to the crockpot . As I also mentioned, one of the really cool things about Cassoulet is that you can change around the ingredients to suit whatever you happen to have. Another thing I love about this dish is that you set it all up and basically forget about it...making it perfect for NFL Sundays. Today's version was so good, it gets its own entry :)

Basically, I followed my own recipe as written, with the following variations :

Used one bag of navy beans, and about a third of a bag of cannellini beans (to use them up) . Had to do the Quick Soak method, as I was too wiped out from Sprigs to do much prep last night.

Buried a smoked wild turkey wing in the soaked beans, then added about four cups of chicken stock and a cup of leftover sauce from the Sprigs chicken livers (saving the livers themselves for later in the process).

Let the beans simmer about two hours on high, then added chicken thighs that I had browned on both sides, three chorizo sausage links from Hager's (cut into quarters and browned), and the sauteed veggies as per my recipe.

After another hour on high, I stirred in the rest of the livers and turned the temperature to low .

Two hours later...the breadcrumb topping, with chopped fresh parsley mixed in, a loaf of fresh bread, and happy fed football fans.

Ah....Sundays :)

Cassoulet on FoodistaCassoulet


ah...Sprigs. Mark discovered this place quite by accident - some months ago he was trying to find a spot for a business dinner between two of his company locations, and this one popped up during a Google search. Once he saw the menu - and showed it to me - we knew we had to try it out. The restaurant is located in a rambling antique (218 years old) house in Acton - feels quite homey, a really cool looking bar and a number of smaller rooms with tables. Intimate, but still lively. The owners are amazing - so friendly, making sure every table is thoroughly enjoying the experience. Last time we were there, they were so excited about the liqueur used in my martini they brought me some from the bar just so I could try it (and yes, it really is that good -  J Pear, a pear eau-de-vie - totally hooked on it now.) 

Last night was our second trip, and oh, was even better this time, I think. The drink menu was in the process of being reprinted, but luckily we knew exactly what we wanted : the absolutely delightful Pear Martini, made with  that J Pear :

pictures for this entry not the greatest, as I only had the BlackBerry and didn't want to use flash...
We started off with an appetizer I mentioned in my Melting Pot review...Brie and Black Truffle Fondue drizzled with imported Italian White Truffle Oil.

Sex in a fondue pot...mmmmm....
This is what the fondue at Melting Pot wants to grow up to be...the minute this hits your mouth you can't help but start moaning. Ultimate Culinary Orgasm, for sure. Sprigs also serves a delicious Olive Tapenade with some very tasty warm bread...we did start off eating the tapenade, but ended up using the rest of the bread with the fondue...and then attacking the fondue pot with teaspoons. Yeah, it's that good.

really,'s great tapenade !!
Sprigs serves tiny scoops of sorbet between courses, which I just love. The table next to us got Peach Champagne Sorbet, which sounded lovely...but we got Spiced Pear Sorbet, which was absolutely awesome...I think it involved more J Pear, but would need more to know for sure. Our friend Ben needs to get busy with Sarah's ice cream maker and whip this one up pronto.

The main courses are really the perfect size...not overwhelmingly huge, but not tiny precious things either (I hate that). Mark went with what I got last time...Sautéed Chicken Livers with Veal Demi-Glace, Madeira, Mushrooms and a Gruyere- Leek Bread Pudding.

absolutely terrible picture of an absolutely heavenly dish

Words cannot express how good this actually is...yes, it's liver. Get over it :) The bread pudding is the perfect foil. Neither of us was able to finish the dish - it's so rich and filling - but we were very happy to try. Luckily, I have the perfect home for the leftovers, which will be the next blog post.

I'm not usually drawn to beef dishes, but for some reason the House Made Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Braised Short Rib, Creamed Spinach and a Truffled Demi-Glace just called to me...and I am ever so glad I answered. The ravioli were perfect - perfect filling to pasta ratio, perfect flavor, perfectly cooked. The short rib was melt in your mouth - exactly as it should be - and the creamed spinach accented the whole thing perfectly.

I need to learn to cook short rib, I think....
I should also mention the wine's huge, and really pretty reasonably priced, considering. We went with a 2007 Mauritson Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel which was absolutely perfect with both dishes.

Of course, there was no way we were going to skip dessert...this was a birthday dinner, after all - but we had to go light, and we had to split it. Lemon Raspberry Tart with a Citrus Short Crust, served with Blueberry Gelato fit the bill perfectly

lemon, blueberry, sweet, tart, perfect :)
So many things on this menu to try...really have to go back soon !!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

now this is a lunch

just what you need for an afternoon of Thanksgiving food shopping...Steamed O'Brien, Paddy's, West Newton. Pastrami steamed in beer, caramelized onions, Swiss, horseradish sauce. Onion rings and Guinness.

oh yeah baby !

Friday, November 19, 2010

Turducken Burger Sliders

Readers, I can't make this stuff up...this is, in fact, a pair of Turducken burger sliders. Ground Turkey, Ground Chicken, and Duck Confit...with cheese. Biltmore Cafe, lunch today.

Taste was actually pretty mild, surprisingly. Needs more confit, I think :)

Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake ! ! !

Michelle's Mousse Cake on left, White Chocolate-Amaretto Cheesecake on right

I love making birthday cakes. Well, I love all forms of cooking (and eating !), but there is just something special about desserts, and birthday cake in particular. Anticipation is high, the "ooh...ahh..." factor is ramped up, there's a lot more moaning and sighing...for me, it's just the ultimate reward...culinary orgasm, indeed :).

My brother and sister both have November birthdays, and ever since I can remember we've always had one birthday party for both of them. They actually don't seem to mind, but ever since I took over the duties of birthday cake I've always felt that it was important to make them each their own...gotta feel a little special, after all. Birthday "Cake" is in this case a loose interpretation...for a few years running, my sister got a Birthday Godiva Tiramisu...nothing wrong with that !

One of our family deals is that you get to pick whatever you want for your birthday dinner, and of course you get to pick your cake as well. My brother, for the past few years, has selected my White Chocolate-Amaretto Cheesecake. This cake is based on one from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook (one of my very favorite cookbooks...the original cheesecake, which is hazelnut based, can be found here ), and it was actually invented for my brother-in-law, who loves white chocolate and Amaretto. Basically, I swapped out the hazelnuts, hazelnut praline, and Frangelico/vanilla for slivered almonds, almond praline (or a mix of almond toffee bits and glazed almonds), and Amaretto. I am not a fan of white chocolate (seriously, why does it even get to be called chocolate ? Heresy !), but the qualities I dislike - the sweetness, the mouthfeel - actually work perfectly in cheesecake. Strange, but true. The first time I made this cheesecake and tasted the filling in the mixer, I knew I had a's just a perfect combination,  somehow even greater than the sum of its parts.

Half the order thus secure, I went about trying to collect the rest of it. I'm not sure if my sister was being indecisive or just trying to be easy, but all I could get was "surprise me...something chocolate", with random mutterings about mousse. While I'm all over making whatever the recipient wants, I do like whatever I make to be one sort of unit that I can stick candles in, so I didn't want to make dishes of mousse. But it seemed to me I should be able to find some sort of layered cake-mousse thing that would fit the off to search the interwebs I went.

After a lot of searching, the recipe I liked the best was Cooks Illustrated Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake (recipe here, but you have to sign up...various bloggers have also mentioned it, which is where I mostly read about it). Flourless chocolate cake for the bottom layer...chocolate mousse for the top two layers. Unfortunately, the recipe as written uses a white chocolate mousse for the top layer - which looked delicious, but I didn't want both cakes to involve white chocolate. The recipe I liked next best was Martha Stewart's Triple Chocolate Mousse Cakes ...the top layer on those was a milk chocolate mousse, but the cakes were individual, I didn't like the cake part as much, and (typical Martha) the mousses looked WAY more complicated than they needed to be. I love complicated (someday I'll post the rack of lamb that takes three days to cook and is worth every second), but I saw no need to coat myself in boiling sugar syrup, which I'm sure would have been a result of the Martha method. The CI mousses were much simpler and looked, I decided to darken up the first mousse layer (for more contrast), and make a milk chocolate mousse for the top layer instead of white by simply subbing out chocolates. In a word : WIN. This cake was and chocolately, but light and delicious. The three layers complimented each other beautifully. The only change I'll make next time is to put a round of parchment paper at the bottom of the pan, as the slices were a bit difficult to get off cleanly.

And so, another successful Scorpio party...happy birthday to the best little siblings anywhere :)

White Chocolate-Amaretto Cheesecake

As noted, if you can't find (or don't want to make) Almond Praline, a mix of almond toffee chips (aka Heath bits) and glazed almonds (such as Almond Accents Honey Roasted) works just fine...both are easy to find. Use about 2/3 cup of the Heath bits and 1/3 cup of the almonds. Also, if your springform is smaller that 10 inches you will have extra filling, as this thing puffs while it bakes. Have an extra pie plate graham cracker crust ready, pour whatever's left inside, and bake it until done. Someone will appreciate it I'm sure ! 

Ingredients :

1 cup Almond Praline
1 package (9 oz) chocolate wafers (Nabisco Famous are the most common brand)
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 T sugar
1 t cinnamon
14 T (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 pound good quality white chocolate, melted (microwave is fine)
1/4 cup Amaretto
pinch of nutmeg

Directions :

Process praline (or substitutes) in food processor until ground; set aside . Process wafers, slivered almonds, sugar and cinnamon until finely crushed. Butter 10 inch springform pan with 1 T of the butter. Melt 5 tablespoons of the butter and stir into the cookie crumb mixture. Set 3 T of this mixture aside to top the cake while it bakes. Press the remainder into the bottom and about 3/4 way up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate while you make the filling

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until light and fluffy (stand mixer is easiest for this part if you have one). Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then the egg yolk. Beat in the remaining 8 T of butter, then the white chocolate (cooled, but still melted). Mix in the Amaretto, the praline, and the nutmeg. Carefully pour the filling into the crust, about level with the crumbs.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours, sprinkling the reserved crumbs over the top after an hour. Let cool completely, then refrigerate until cold.  (For the look above, decorate with more glazed or slivered almonds before refrigerating).

Michelle's Mousse Cake

just perfection :)


For the bottom layer:
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces (plus extra for greasing the pan)
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¾ tsp. instant espresso powder
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
4 large eggs, separated
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

For the middle layer:
2 tbsp. dark cocoa powder (Hershey's Special Dark is perfect)
5 tbsp. hot water
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1½ cups heavy cream
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
Pinch of salt

For the top layer:
¾ tsp. powdered gelatin
1 tbsp. water
6 oz. milk chocolate chips (use really good quality milk chocolate - Ghiardelli are great)
1½ cups heavy cream

For garnish:
dark chocolate curls or shavings (I ran a vegetable peeler along the long edge of a Ghiardelli Bittersweet bar)


To make the bottom layer, butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.  (line the bottom of the pan with a parchment round for easy removal later.)  Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325˚ F.  Combine the butter, chocolate, and espresso powder in a double boiler, whisking occasionally until smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.  Whisk in the vanilla and egg yolks, and set aside.

Beat the egg whites and salt on medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds (again, stand mixer is perfect if you have one). Crumble half of the brown sugar into the mixing bowl with your fingers to remove any lumps.  Beat until incorporated, about 15 seconds.  Add the remaining brown sugar and continue to beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute more.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the beaten egg whites to the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining egg whites gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake until the cake has risen, is firm around the edges and the center has just set but is still soft (should spring back after pressing gently with a finger), about 14-18 minutes.  Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour.  Do not remove the cake from the pan.  (If not making the second layer right away, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to proceed.)

To make the second layer, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water in a small bowl; set aside.  Melt the chocolate (microwave works fine), stirring occasionally until smooth.  Once melted, remove from the heat and let cool slightly, 2-5 minutes.

Using clean beaters, whip the cream, sugar and salt on medium speed until the mixture begins to thicken, about 30 seconds.  Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 30-60 seconds.  Whisk in the cocoa powder mixture until smooth.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream to the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Pour the mousse into the springform pan over the cooled cake and tap gently on the counter 3 times to remove air bubbles.  Gently smooth the top with a spatula.  Wipe the inside edge of the pan to remove any drips.  Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes while preparing the top layer.

To make the top layer, sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let stand at least 5 minutes to soften.  Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl.  Heat ½ cup of the cream until almost boiling in a small saucepan.  Remove the pan from the heat, add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved.  Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate chips and let stand about 1 minute.  Whisk until the mixture is smooth.  Cool to room temperature, about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Using clean beaters, whip the remaining 1 cup of cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken. Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 30-60 seconds. Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream to the white chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Spoon the milk chocolate mousse into the pan over the middle layer.  Smooth the top with an offset spatula. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings, and return the cake to the refrigerator and chill until set, at least 2½ hours. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.