Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I was planning to share a couple more recipes before Christmas, but I just don't have enough time! If you feel as overwhelmed as I do, maybe this will cheer you up!



Recipes from my blog that I am making this year:

For Christmas Eve:


Rumaki


Seafood Newburg

For Christmas Morning:


Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Gruyere

For Christmas Dinner:


A Burst of Camembert on Baby Greens

Sweets:


Meringue Mushrooms


Seven Layer Jello


Chocolate Truffles au Naturel


Lacy Nut Cookies

Feliz Navidad! Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Blue Christmas and a can of Febreze!

The holidays are in full swing with parties galore, but what should you bring your holiday host? The standard gift is a bottle of wine, and in my opinion always appropriate. However, during this festive season, a homemade gift alongside makes it even better! Instead of something sweet (like peppermint bark, meringue mushrooms, or lacy nut cookies), how about something savory, like "Walnut Blue-Cheese Coins!" 

These rich crackers are unbelievably easy to make (as long as you have a food processor), and can be refrigerated a few days ahead to be baked off when needed. I recommend using Roquefort (the king of cheeses and my personal favorite), Stilton (English classic), or Gorgonzola (for a mild, sweeter version). One note of caution: if you are planning to make these for your own holiday party, make sure to bake them the day before your guests arrive or they will be greeted to an overwhelming bouquet of funk! (Febreze anyone?) These savory crackers make a nice presentation when packaged in cellophane sleeves and seasonal ribbon. You can also attach them with ribbon directly to the wine bottle. It is a gift that you will be proud to bestow and your host will truly enjoy!


Walnut Blue-Cheese Coins

Makes about 30

Ingredients:

1 cup toasted walnuts (3 1/4 ounces)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/4 pound blue cheese, crumbled (2 ounces)
Coarse salt for sprinkling (I use French grey sea salt.)

Directions:

In a food processor, finely grind 1/2 cup walnuts. Add the flour, table salt, pepper, and baking soda; pulse to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cheese; pulse until the dough comes together, about 15 seconds.

Transfer dough to lightly floured surface; divide into two equal parts. Using your hands, roll dough into two 1 1/2"-diameter logs. Coarsely chop remaining 1/2 cup walnuts; sprinkle over a clean work surface. Roll logs in walnuts. Wrap each log in plastic wrap, and chill until firm, at least 3 hours.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice logs into 1/4"-thick coins. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet; sprinkle lightly with coarse salt. Bake until centers are firm to touch, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container, at room temperature, 3-4 days.


Recipe from Christmas with Martha Stewart Living.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

How Napoleon, an Opera, and The Belgian Revolution gave us White Gold

Belgian endives (aka., witloof - "white leaf") are a member of the chicory family, which includes frisee, escarole, and radicchio. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and have a moist, crisp, and pleasantly mild bitter taste. Extremely low in fat and calories, endives are a great source of vitamin A, B, and C, fiber, and are loaded with minerals such as manganese, iron, and potassium. In fact, one head of endive delivers almost 60% of the potassium found in a banana! So beloved in Europe, they were nicknamed "white gold" when they first arrived in Paris in 1872. But where did endives come from?

In 1814, following Napoleon's exile to the island of Elba, the Congress of Vienna united the primarily Protestant state of Holland with the primarily Catholic state of Belgium, creating the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. With the many religious and cultural differences between the northern Dutch and southern Belgians, tensions were high. In 1830, during the Brussels showing of the patriotic- and revolutionary-themed opera The Mute of Portici, the Belgians were so inspired that a riot broke out, thus beginning The Belgian War of Independence. By the end of the year, European nations began recognizing Belgium as an independent country; and, in 1831 the new national congress elected German Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg as their new King. In the spring of the same year, a man named Jan Lammers returned from the war to his farm near Brussels. Prior to leaving, Jan had stored chicory roots in his cellar to later be dried and roasted for use as a coffee substitute. However, to his surprise, the roots had sprouted small, white, leafy shoots. He tried the leaves and endives were discovered! 

When purchasing endives, choose crisp, firmly-packed heads without any discolored spots or insect damage. They are best stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in a paper towel and placed in an open plastic bag. They are at their best November through April, making them a perfect choice for the holidays. One of the easiest, and most delicious ways to enjoy these bitter gems, is to make "Endive Leaves with Roquefort, Honey, and Walnuts." It's a combination that can't be beat! These elegant hors d'oeuvres are a perfect way to start a meal and equally welcome to any cocktail party repertoire.


Endive Leaves with Roquefort, Honey, and Walnuts

Makes approximately 20 leaves

Ingredients:

2 Belgian endives, washed and leaves separated
4 ounces Roquefort or other strong blue cheese
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream, or enough to make a smooth paste
2 tablespoons toasted walnuts, chopped (you can also use spiced or candied nuts)
Honey

Directions:

With a sharp knife, carefully cut a small slice from the back of each leaf to ensure they sit flat on a serving tray. Using a food processor or a fork, mix the Roquefort and cream together until smooth. Pipe a small rosette of the cheese mixture at the bottom of each leaf. (I like to top each rosette with a tiny slice of additional Roquefort, because I adore Roquefort!) Drizzle each leaf with some honey. Sprinkle with the toasted walnuts and serve. Enjoy!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bake in Your Pajamas!

As most of the country is being blanketed in a winter wonderland, I was quite pleased to wake up to a snow day (aka., no school)! How wonderful to throw the usual daily grind to the wind and spend the day warm and cozy, and probably in your pajamas! So, with all cares swept away, I always make the ultimate snow day treat, Laura Calder's "Crisp Chewy Meringues!" These light as a cloud meringues have a nice crisp crust encasing a soft marshmallowy interior. These elegant little confections are a favorite of my kids, and are the perfect treat along side a cup of The Best Hot Chocolate

This recipe is very simple, as long as you take the extra minute to sift in the icing sugar and cornstarch. Although this may seem a little fussy, it is essential to prevent unpleasant clumps of icing sugar/cornstarch in the meringues. In addition, instead of hot chocolate, you can serve them with coffee, along side fruit desserts, and even partially dip them in melted chocolate for extra confectionery delight! So, enjoy the surprise day off and treat your family to one of the best meringues you'll ever have! Bring it on Mother Nature, I could care less!


Crisp Chewy Meringues

Makes about 16 cake-of-soap-sized meringues

Ingredients:

4 egg whites
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract (or orange flower water, or maple extract, etc.)
Pinch of cream of tartar
2/3 cup (140 g) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (85 g) icing sugar (aka., powdered sugar)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) cornstarch

Directions:

Heat the oven to 225 degrees F (110 C). Whip the egg whites with the salt to soft peaks, add the vanilla, and continue beating to stiff peaks. In a separate bowl, stir the cream of tartar into the granulated sugar, and whisk into the egg whites a spoonful at a time, until the sugar has dissolved and the meringue is stiff and glossy. Sift together the icing sugar and cornstarch. Sift over the meringue, and gently fold until fully incorporated.


Pipe or spoon the meringues onto 2 parchment-lined (or Silpat) baking sheets.


Bake until cream-colored and crisp on top when tapped, 1-1 1/2 hours. Cool on the baking sheets. Store in an airtight container.

(They remind me of snowballs, but taste much better!)

Recipe adapted from French Taste, by Laura Calder.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving and a Twist on Traditional Stuffing!

This year for Thanksgiving, my husband is going to smoke a turkey breast and ham, instead of roasting a traditional whole turkey. (Sorry neighbors, the smoke will be flowing!) Not only does this provide the option of turkey and/or ham, it allows me to use my oven for all the sides and desserts sans turkey! YES! So, while my Thanksgiving feast is straying from tradition, so is the stuffing. I first saw this recipe in the October 2013 issue of Real Simple for "Mushroom and Gruyere Bread Pudding" and just had to try it. After all, it has all my favorite things: mushroom, leeks, and cheese. Mmm! It was so stunningly delicious that I knew I would be making this savory delight again for Thanksgiving! In addition, it allows me to deplete all the random pieces of baguettes that I always have lurking in my freezer! So, why not throw tradition to the wind (along with some smoke), and mix things up with this exceptional recipe!


Mushroom and Gruyere Bread Pudding

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 leeks (white and light green parts only), cut into half-moons (see Techniques for more about leeks.)
10 ounces cremini mushrooms (aka., baby bellas), trimmed and sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 pound country bread, cut into 1" pieces (about 5 cups) (I use crust-less baguettes.)
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften, 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, tossing frequently, until the mushrooms are tender, 3-4 minutes more. Transfer to a bowl and let cool slightly.

Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the bread, Gruyere, and mushroom mixture and mix to combine.

Transfer to an 8" or other 2 quart baking dish. Cover with foil and bake until the edges are set but the center is slightly wobbly, 20-30 minutes. Uncover and bake until browned, 20-25 minutes more. Sprinkle with the chives before serving.

What else am I serving?





and for dessert:

Traditional Pumpkin Pie and Chocolate Ganache Cake (I haven't posted this recipe yet, but will very soon!)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

How to Battle the Bland Turkey Blues!

Let's face it, turkey isn't the most flavorful of meats! So, I like to serve it with homemade "Cranberry Chutney with Orange and Ginger." This ruby red cranberry sauce is flavored with fresh orange juice and grated ginger, which brightens the tartness of the cranberries, makes a perfect accompaniment to any holiday turkey. Not only is this lovely chutney super simple to make, you can make it a few days ahead of time, always a bonus when planning a Thanksgiving meal. So, skip the gelatinous sauce from a can, and serve this instead! Your guests will thank you!


Cranberry Chutney with Orange and Ginger

Makes 3 cups

Ingredients:

3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon peeled, minced or grated, fresh ginger (I use my microplane.)
1, 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
Squeeze of fresh lemon, to taste

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, add the orange juice, sugar, salt, and ginger. Bring to a boil and dissolve the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved, add the cranberries and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and partially cover the pan. (This prevents spatters as the cranberries begin to pop open!) Simmer until the sauce has thickened and all the berries have popped, about 5 minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon and refrigerate until ready to use. (This sauce looks particularly lovely when served in a clear crystal or glass serving dish!)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

La Crostata

Nothing says fall to me more than apples! One of my favorite ways to prepare them is to make Ina Garten's "Apple Crostata!" A crostata is a rustic free-form Italian tart, which can be sweet (filled with fruit jams or fruit) or savory (filled with meat and/or vegetables), all tucked into a shortcrust pastry and then baked. This recipe, from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties!, is so simple and wonderful that I make it all the time! The addition of orange zest and a dash of allspice gives it that "je ne sais quoi." I've never served it to anyone who didn't love it!

This recipe makes enough pastry for two crostatas, but you can halve the ingredients for just one. Although, it's so delicious you might as well have the other half waiting in your freezer to make another, or fill it with your favorite jam and top with powdered sugar for a more traditional Italian version. In addition, the most important thing to remember is to keep the pastry COLD or it can melt while baking. Sometimes, I even fill and shape the crostata ahead of time and store in the refrigerator, to be popped in the oven 30 minutes or so before serving. Whether you serve this at a dinner party, casual family meal, or even Thanksgiving, this recipe will not disappoint!


Apple Crostata

Serves 6

Ingredients:
For the Pastry (enough for 2)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 pound very cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup ice water

For the Filling (enough for 1)
1 1/2 pounds (about 3-4) McIntosh, Macoun, or Empire apples
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

Directions:
For the Pastry
Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and toss quickly with your fingers to coat each cube of butter with the flour. Be careful; the blades are sharp! Pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the 1/4 cup ice water all at once through the feeding tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and form into 2 disks. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate one of the disks for at least an hour. Freeze the rest of the pastry.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Roll the pastry into an 11" circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (I actually prefer to roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap and then store it in the refrigerator while I prepare the apples. Remember: cold, cold, cold!)

For the Filling
Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Cut each quarter into 3 chunks. Toss the chunks with the orange zest. Remove the dough from the refrigerator (remove the plastic wrap) and then top with the apple chunks, leaving 1 1/2" border.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and allspice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Pour into  a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts holding together. Sprinkle evenly on the apples. Gently fold the border over the apples, pleating it to make a circle.


Bake the crostata for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the apples are tender. Let the tart cool for 5 minutes, then use 2 large spatulas to transfer it to a wire rack.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sometimes, Simpler is Better

Now that fall is quickly sliding into winter and the holiday rush is just beginning, it's time for some comfort food that everyone loves, specifically, "Stuffed Shells." Although stuffed shells are more American than Italian, it has everything you could want: pasta, cheese, and hopefully a delicious homemade tomato sauce. I've tried many recipes that include spinach, ground beef, and even sausage, but sometimes simpler is better. These shells are stuffed with a creamy filling of ricotta, Parmesan, and eggs, topped with an easy homemade marinara sauce, and sprinkled with chopped parsley and Parmesan. The result is a "lighter" version that is not forbidding or heavy, and has a burst of freshness from the homemade marinara. Not only is this recipe very satisfying, it's fast and easy! While the sauce simmers, you can make the filling, cook the shells, and stuff them all within about an hour. Then you can cover it and tuck it into the refrigerator until you're ready to bake it, even a day in advance! Serve it with a Caesar salad and garlic bread, and everyone will be happy!


Stuffed Shells with Homemade Marinara Sauce

Serves 8, and can easily be doubled for a crowd.

Ingredients:
For the Marinara
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2, 28-ounce cans whole, peeled roma tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

For the Stuffed Shells
1, 12-ounce box jumbo shells
2, 15-ounce containers of whole milk ricotta cheese
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, for serving

Directions:
For the Marinara
In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. When you smell the garlic, carefully (it usually spatters) pour in the tomatoes, juice and all, and remaining ingredients.


Break tomatoes up with a wooden spoon, stir and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover, and simmer for 1 hour. When done, remove the bay leaf and basil sprig and whiz up with an immersion blender (see Gadgets) or blender. Season to taste, if necessary. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Stuffed Shells
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the shells until al dente, about 5-6 minutes. (You don't want them too soft or they can fall apart when stuffing.) Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain again and spread out on a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, salt and pepper until well mixed. Fill each shell with a large spoonful (about 2 tablespoons) and lay side by side in a buttered 9"x13" baking dish. (You may have to "stuff" them in, but they will fit.) At this point, the shells can be covered and refrigerated, even overnight.

Pour some of the red sauce over the shells, just enough to cover and moisten them.


Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve with the remaining reheated sauce and Parmesan cheese, on the side.

Creamy Goodness!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Happy Halloween and Goulash Madness!

Want to go mad? Try finding an "authentic" recipe for Goulash! Goulash, which is considered to be a national dish of Hungary, can take many forms, depending on which region of Europe it is made. Goulash is not the hamburger helper-like ground beef/macaroni/tomato bastardization peddled by cafeteria ladies across the US. From what I can tell, Hungarian goulash is a beef (or veal or pork) soup, made with equal parts onions and meat, seasoned with garlic, paprika, caraway, and sometimes additional vegetables, like turnips, parsnips, potatoes, and peppers. Goulash is traditionally served with steamed dumplings or tiny egg noodles called csipetke (like German spaetzle), which are pinched off (csip means pinch) and added to the simmering soup. Traditionalists consider tomatoes a faux pas, as well as using flour to thicken the soup.

Goulash, or "guylas" meaning "herdsman," originated with the cowboys of the region. Comparable to what chili is to Texas cowboys. It's also important to note that paprika was not an original ingredient in the dish, as paprika was not introduced to the region until the 16th century. Let's add a little bit more confusion, enter "porkolt." Porkolt is a meat stew that also has it's origins in Hungary. Porkolt is a stew, not soup, made with meat, vegetables but not potatoes, and seasoned with the ever important paprika. In fact, most goulash recipes that I have tried (which is a lot!) are actually the rich porkolt stew. In addition, I've also read that goulash is soup made with leftover porkolt!?! Oh, and then there are "paprikas" (aka., Paprikash) which are made with meat, paprika, and thickened with sour cream. Feeling a little mad, yet?

Anyway, with Halloween almost here, I can't think of a better meal to ward off the sugar comas my kids are soon to induce, than a nice rich bowl of hearty goulash! This recipe is adapted from Wolfgang Puck's recipe for Beef Goulash. I found his version to produce a more complex and appealing flavor, from caramelized onions to the addition of a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Changes I made were to brown the meat first, reduce the amount of caraway as it is quite strong (note: caraway and cumin are not the same thing, nor do they taste similar), upped the amount of paprika, added a dash of cayenne pepper, and opted to serve it with buttered egg noodles rather than spaetzle, to make it a little more streamlined. Although this delicious recipe is more accurately a cross between goulash and porkolt, the name "goul-ash" is just more fun to say and perfect for All Hallows' Eve!

Beef Goulash

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 pounds beef chuck, cut into approximately 2" cubes, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cups onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and ground (don't leave them whole!), optional
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (can also use red wine vinegar instead)
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced (if you don't have fresh, use 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
Sour cream, for serving
1/2 pound cooked and butter egg noodles, to serve

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When shimmery, add the beef cubes in batches, as to not overcrowd the pan, and brown on each side, adding more oil if necessary. (This step is very important to ensure a nice beefy flavor.) Set aside.


Reduce heat to medium and add the onions and sugar. Stir until the onions are caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and caraway. Cook for 1 minute. Deglaze with the vinegar and add the tomato paste, paprika, cayenne, marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, stock, reserved beef cubes, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven until the meat is very tender, about 2-2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. If the mixture looks too soupy, remove the cover the last 30 minutes in the oven.


When tender, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in some of the parsley, reserving some for garnish. Serve over egg noodles with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of parsley. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

A French Chef, an Italian Diva, and a Luxurious Lasagna

One of my favorite ways to spend my Saturdays is to cook something elaborate and listen to The Splendid Table on NPR. Last Saturday, Lynn Rosetta Casper spoke to Daniel Boulud, French Chef, author, and owner of his three-star Michelin restaurant Daniel, as well as many more, who was promoting his new book Daniel. I was so inspired, that I pulled out his recipe for "Lasagna with Chicken, Wild Mushrooms, and Fontina Cheese." This bechamel based lasagna combines tender chicken with spinach, wild mushrooms, and an entire pound of fontina cheese! The mixture is seasoned with white wine, nutmeg, and white pepper, then topped off with a generous layer of Parmesan cheese! It's very rich and extremely delicious! Although somewhat time consuming, this luxurious lasagna is the ultimate comfort food! 

After presenting my wondrous concoction, and after my husband took his first bite, he made a reference to Chicken Tetrazzini. What? WHAT? Well, on second thought, given the ingredients, it should be reminiscent of Chicken Tetrazzini; although, much tastier and definitely a more sophisticated presentation. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Chicken Tetrazzini originated in San Francisco and was created for and named after Luisa Tetrazzini. Luisa Tetrazzini was a world renowned opera singer from Florence, who moved to San Francisco to sing in the early 1900s. Her most famous performance was on Christmas Eve in 1910, when she got up on a platform and serenaded an estimated 200-300,000 San Franciscans! She was also the fat lady of "it's not over till the fat lady sings!" No wonder such an uber-rich dish was created for this larger-then-life and deeply revered performer!   

I baked this lasagna in a standard 9"x13" Pyrex baking dish, and it did bubble over a little in the oven. So, if you have a slightly deeper pan, I would recommend using that. If not, place a baking sheet underneath the pan in the oven, to catch any possible drips. In addition, one 9-ounce bag of spinach works well because after you remove the stems, you will be pretty close to the 8-ounces that the recipe calls for. And finally, serve this luscious lasagna with crusty bread or breadsticks, a big green salad, and a bottle of white wine. So, whether you are singing for your supper or feeding a crowd, everyone will love this decadent lasagna, which just might summon an encore!

   
Lasagna with Chicken, Wild Mushrooms, and Fontina Cheese

Serves 10-12, Can be assembled a day ahead.

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, finely diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
1 pound wild mushrooms (I used cremini mushrooms), trimmed and roughly chopped
1/2 pound spinach leaves, stems removed, washed
4 tablespoons butter, plus extra to grease pan
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into approximately 1/2" pieces
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
3 cups milk
1/2 bunch Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
16 dried lasagna noodles
1 pound fontina cheese, cut into small dice
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste


Directions:
To cook the vegetables, chicken, and bechamel:
In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and celery with a sprinkle of salt and white pepper, and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high, and add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, then add the spinach with a sprinkle of salt and white pepper. Cook until the spinach is wilted and the mushrooms are tender. Remove the vegetables from the pot and reserve. (After sitting, my vegetable mixture seemed to release some liquid, which I was slightly concerned about, but didn't cause any problems when added to the bechamel. So don't worry!)


Add the butter to the same pot, and adjust the heat to medium. Season the chicken pieces on all sides with salt and white pepper, and add to the melted butter. Cook, stirring, until the chicken is almost cooked through but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until almost completely reduced. (This took about 10 minutes, which made me afraid that the chicken would be overcooked, but surprisingly it remained very tender.) Sprinkle the flour over the chicken, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, allowing the flour to coat the chicken and absorb the liquid. Gradually stir in the cream and milk, scraping the pot to release any cooked flour from the bottom and sides (if necessary, stir with a whisk to break up any lumps). Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, allowing the liquid to thicken. With a spoon or ladle, reserve 1 cup of the liquid. Remove the pot from the heat, and add the cooked vegetables. Add the chopped parsley. Season generously with nutmeg, salt, and white pepper to taste.


To assemble the lasagna:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the noodles for about 8 minutes; they should be not quite cooked through. Strain the noodles in a colander, and rinse in cold water. Drain, then toss noodles with 2 tablespoons of olive oil to prevent sticking. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter a 9"x13" baking pan. Place a layer of 4 noodles on the bottom, overlapping them slightly. Top with one third of the chicken mixture, then one third of the diced fontina. Repeat layering twice, finishing with a layer of noodles.


Spread the reserved 1 cup sauce on the noodles and then sprinkle with Parmesan.


(At this stage, the lasagna can be covered and refrigerated overnight.) Cover with aluminum foil or a lid and bake for 30 minutes. (I would recommend buttering the foil to prevent the Parmesan from sticking once removed.) Increase heat to 400 degrees, remove the foil, and continue to bake until golden brown, 10-15 minutes more. (If not browned, run under the broiler for a minute or two, don't let it burn!)


Recipe slightly adapted from Elle Decor.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Batter Up!

The Major League Baseball Playoffs are in full swing, with the Red Sox versus the Tigers and the Dodgers versus the Cardinals, it's time for a baseball party! Sliders (tip: 1 pound ground beef makes 12 sliders), chips, and cracker jacks makes a fun menu, but baseball cupcakes make it a grand slam! While I have nothing against store-bought cake mix, I do detest that miserable excuse for frosting in a can. Yuck! In fact, buy the cake mix, but make James Beard's Butter Cream Frosting, instead. It's so easy! No boiling, no cooking, just cream together butter and confectioners' sugar, mix in some heavy cream and whatever flavorings (e.g., vanilla, instant coffee, liqueur, maple syrup, orange juice, etc.) to create a delicious frosting that will send that canned frosting back to the minors! 

These "Baseball Cupcakes with Butter Cream Frosting" are so cute and just what the catcher called for! In addition, you can add orange food coloring to make "Basketball Cupcakes," or yellow for "Tennis Ball Cupcakes," or make half the frosting black to make "Soccer Ball Cupcakes," etc. It's an easy and fun way to celebrate whatever sport you're into! Oh yeah, one more thing, Go Cards!


Baseball Cupcakes with Homemade Butter Cream Frosting

Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:
For the Cupcakes
1 box cupcake mix of choice
White cupcake liners
1 recipe James Beard Butter Cream Frosting (follows)
2 red gel icing writing tubes (available in the cake section of most grocers)

For James Beard's Butter Cream Frosting
1/3 cup softened butter
3 cups confectioners' sugar
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (for alternative flavorings: use 1 tsp. liqueur, or 1 tbs. instant coffee, or 1/4 cup maple syrup omitting the cream, or 1/3 cup orange juice omitting the cream, etc.)

Directions:
For the Cupcakes
Make cupcakes according to package directions. Allow to cool on wire racks before decorating.

For the Butter Cream Frosting
Cream together the butter and sugar. Then vigorously stir in the heavy cream and flavorings of choice. (For these baseball cupcakes, I just used vanilla extract.) Spread the frosting evenly over each cupcake. Allow the frosting to set. Using the gel icing writing tubes, decorate each cupcake with two semicircles, then add the "stitching" along the semicircles. How fun!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Chocolate Truffles au Naturel

Truffles are a subterranean fungus which have been found in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America. The most prized and exceedingly expensive are from France and northern Italy. Truffles grow symbiotically with oak, hazelnut, poplar and beech trees. These gnarly looking lumps, called "the diamonds of the kitchen" by Brillant-Savarin, have a very strong mushroomy, meaty, and earthy taste that is hard to describe, but enhances any ingredient that it touches. For instance, once I was served warm popcorn generously adorned with black truffles and it was astonishingly good!

So, while real truffles are a rare treat for most people, on a regular basis, chocolate truffles are not! In fact, with careful instructions, they are fairly easy to make at home and don't cost a lot! Unlike the fancy, perfectly round, decorated truffles that are mass produced by chocolatiers everywhere, my favorite are chocolate truffles that resemble real truffles, having emerged from the earth covered with "dirt." This recipe for "Chocolate Truffles au Naturel" have a smooth creamy ganache filling encased in a crisp, cocoa-coated chocolate shell. They are quite delicious and positively addictive! You'd be proud to serve these to anyone at anytime!


Chocolate Truffles au Naturel

Makes 30-40, depending on the size (sounds like a lot, but trust me they will be gone very quickly!) (recipe can also be doubled successfully)

Ingredients:
For the ganache filling
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons liqueur of choice (e.g., Grand Marnier, Cognac, Rum-which is what I prefer)

For the chocolate coating
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions:
For the ganache filling
In a saucepan, heat the chocolate and heavy cream over low heat, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Stir in your liqueur of choice. Place the mixture in the refrigerator until it is firm, a minimum of 2 hours.


Cover a baking sheet with a piece of parchment or wax paper. Using two spoon, scoop out and drop mounds of 1/2-1 teaspoonful, depending on the size you wish to make, onto the paper. Refrigerate until very cold or overnight.

When cold, loosen the mounds from the paper and use your fingers to make them as round as you can, if not already so. (This can get messy, but remember these are supposed to look natural, so they don't have to be perfect!) Refrigerate until ready to coat.


For the chocolate coating
Place a jelly-roll pan or plate in the refrigerator to chill well.

Place the chocolate in a oven-safe saucepan and place in a very low oven. Check after a few minutes, stir to see if the chocolate is melted. If not, place back in the oven and gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally until melted. (Alternately, you can melt the chocolate in a microwave over 15-second bursts, stirring after each burst until melted.)

When the chocolate has melted, stir it well from time to time as it cools to body temperature. (This is determined when you notice no difference in temperature when you touch the chocolate with the knuckle of your pinky finger.)

Remove the chilled pan or plate from the refrigerator and sift the cocoa powder evenly over it. 

Remove the truffles from the refrigerator and drop two at a time into the coating chocolate. Using two forks, turn the truffles, coating them well with chocolate. Lift a truffle with one fork, tapping that fork with the other to knock off excess chocolate, then drop the coated truffle onto the pan or plate containing the cocoa powder. Using a spoon, quickly roll and coat with the cocoa powder, then push it to the side. Continue with the remaining truffles. When done, place the pan or plate into the refrigerator to cool completely and firm the chocolate coating.


After the coating has cooled and the truffles are firm enough to handle, using your fingers, palm-side down, shake each truffle to remove excess cocoa powder. Transfer them to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. (They will keep well in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks and can be stored in the freezer for several months.)


To serve, mound the truffles in a serving dish. Can be served at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator. They are quite indulgent!