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.