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Archive for November, 2009

For all you who have been asking me for this recipe, here you are! Enjoy. Unlike many other “food bloggers” who threaten hell and damnation if you use their recipe, well they must not be professional chefs. I say this because my friends, it has all been done before! I am sure Antonin Careme or Fernand Point or Escoffier or Jim Beard all had a variation upon this and any other theme. One may think it is their own ‘original’ creation, but alas, it is simply not so. Not in origin anyway, tweaking something still does not mean you and you alone invented it. So without further ado, here you are.

Cognac Pumpkin Cheesecake ~

2 lbs cream cheese ~ philly please

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp molasses

1 tsp GOOD vanilla + 1/4 cup cognac or brandy

2 eggs + 2 egg yolks

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup canned Libbys pumpkin ( not the pie filling!)

1/4 tsp cinnamon, pinch of cloves & sprinkle of nutmeg + pinch kosher salt

Take a 10′ spring form pan ( I make mine in a 10′ deep cake pan, but trying to explain the unmolding w/out showing a video of how to do it, might be confusing). But fear not, I will get there eventually!

Spray the pan w/ vegelene or pam. Wrap pan very tightly in aluminum foil all around the bottom & sides.

Pulse a 1/2 box of Famous dark wafer cookies in cuisinart, into a bowl, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup melted butter. Press into to the bottom of the pan. Whew the hard parts over!

*You could also make a crust using Amaretti cookies.

Beat cream cheese until smooth, and LUMP free, scraping bowl frequently, mix in sugars, molasses, vanilla, cognac, eggs, yolks, sour cream, pumpkin & spices.

Pour into the prepared pan. Set into a deep hotel pan & fill w/ warm water.

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let sit for another 20-30 minutes. Cake should be set & fairly firm! I stick the blade of a very thin paring knife thru the center, it should come out clean. Your going to cover the top, so don’t worry if you have a few cracks. I usually don’t. Let cool in the water bath. Chill overnight.

Remove foil wrapper, run a hot wet knife around the cake & unmold. I turn mine out onto a saran wrapped 10′ cardboard cake round , remove the metal pan bottom, place another cake board on the ‘crust’ and flip it over.

You can press crushed chocolate wafers into the sides or ditto w/ amaretti cookies.

You can cover the top w/fresh whipped cinnamon cream, or white chocolate buttercream or a smooth layer of chocolate ganache or a simple glaze of apricot jam & sprinkle w/ more crumbs.

There you have it! Just make sure to cut it w/ a hot wet knife for clean smooth slices. And if someone wants the recipe, well send them here! Thanks.

PS ~ to go one step further, you can serve this w/ caramel sauce or white chocolate espresso anglaise. Or my favourite! Ben & Jerry’s Ginger Snap Ice Cream, yum.

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I will try to keep this quick and to the point. A few ‘rules’ ~ vegans do not consume dairy in any form, nor meat, nor fish. This also goes for anything containing gelatin, as it is made from animal product. Some don’t do gluten, either due to celiac disease, or just wanting to avoid processed flours and refined sugars. Watch what you cook with, no butter please, though canola oil or extra virgin are fine. It really depends upon your guest and how strict they are. Just like Jewish people who keep kosher, some vegans ( my daughter is one of them) are very particular about how certain foods are stored in the refrigerator and what cooking equipment is used for whom.  I.E ~ I would never make my daughters golden sesame tofu in the same saute pan that I cook my fathers chicken in, and so forth.

Nibbles ~ to whet the appetite:

1) Bowl of  marcona almonds and a platter of finger fruits ~ quartered figs, cognac soaked dried apricots, seedless grapes, peeled clementines, nice wedges of granny smith apples dipped in a little lemon juice to prevent browning.

2) Crudite ~ take a beautiful woven basket line w/kale leaves and fill w/ quartered artichoke hearts, roasted 1/2 or whole baby bella mushrooms & cauliflower florets and mini yukon gold potatoes, tiny new carrots, stem on, radishes, steamed asparagus tips, good pitted green & kalamata olives. Bowl of red pepper hummus and maybe a basket of crunchy wheat pita triangles.

The Begining~ offer one item from each selection. Start with a soup followed by a salad. *

Soups:

Smooth tomato w/ dollop of eggplant caponata.

Curried carrot, apple & chickpea.

Chunky white bean & new red potato & escarole.

Salads:

Baby spinach, roasted beets, sliced carmelized shallots, sun dried cranberries & drizzled w/ a poppy-citrus sauce. Sprinkling of pistachio’s optional.

Romaine hearts tossed w/ a julienne of apple & carrot, miso-ginger-yuzu dressing.

Fresh Bibb lettuce, grape tomatoes, english cucumber, red onion &  lemon- dijon vinaigrette.

Sides:

Roasted root vegetables ~ parsnips, sweet potatoes, turnips, cipollini onions, red & yellow pepper, zucchini & yellow squash w/ red wine balsamic glaze.

Wild rice w/ pears, golden raisins, pecans or toasted pine nuts & scallions, cooked in a rich vegetable stock.

Main Course:**

Winter vegetable lasagna ~ bottom layer : creamless vegetable sauce, layer of phyllo dough, top w/sliced cooked butternut squash & sautéed mushrooms, sprinkled w/3 soy cheese blend, layer of sauce, top w/ layer of phyllo dough, dollops of tofu whipped w/ fresh basil & sautéed chopped spinach w/ a touch of nutmeg, sprinkle  of 3 soy cheese blend, layer of sauce, top w/ last layer of phyllo and spread w/ creamless vegetable sauce. Bake 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes. Sprinkle w/ 3 soy cheese blend just at the end.

Bread basket ~ French baguettes & small whole grain rolls.

Spreads~ Eggplant caponata & rosemary olive oil.

Dessert ~ Apple-cranberry  walnut crunchy oat topped cobbler  w/ soy whipped cream. ***

Layered silken chocolate & vanilla cheesecake, topped w/ raspberries.

Pumpkin “tofuti” whipped fluff!

Big platter of chocolate dipped stem on strawberries.

* See next post for recipes & how to make rich vegetable stock ( or the cheaters version!).

** Recipe for “creamless”  vegetable – cream sauce to follow also.

*** Omit nuts if anyone has allergies.

I will also list stores and sources to buy soy milk, silken tofu (or how to make your own), 3 soy cheese blend or it’s equivalent, soy whipped cream & soy ice cream & soy yogurt. And include detailed recipes & instructions.

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This got started because of my ‘lovey”. Lauren, my daughter and a vegetarian since birth. She has never eaten meat, whole eggs, fish, poultry, not ever! As a baby she would clamp her lips shut if I so much as tried to feed her something containing meat or fish. Pasta yes, fruit yes, veggies yes. Me being a chef, I made her baby food  from scratch so that I knew she was getting what she needed, nutritionally. Lauren also had ( still does) a lactose and refined sugar intolerance, so this very quickly became the only “food” she knew. We spent many visits with pediatric allergists, and “trying” to incorporate new foods. Some did well, some did not.

Can you imagine being 5 and going to a birthday party with your own dairy free-sugar free treats, and pasta salad and veggies to munch on, while the other kids got jacked on soda, and greasy pizza. Thankfully it just didn’t appeal to her any more by then. I always explained to her friends parents about her food allergies, but sometimes one of the moms would try to make her try a grilled cheese or chicken nuggets. She politely refused. Good for her.

Once during a visit to Montreal, we had reservations at a well-known restaurant, LeExpress, got seated, ordered ~for her plain pasta~ no butter, no cheese, no problem, side of raw carrots, for me a grilled Filet Mignon w/ sautéed wild mushrooms and a gorgonzola butter sauce. No sooner did the waiter set our plates down, La started to gag. The smell of my entrée was making her sick. Doggie bags were not going to be needed, so I paid the bill and we promptly left. Back at the hotel I ordered room service~ french fries, steamed broccoli, a bowl of strawberries and grapes, watched a movie and had a great time.

It has gotten much easier finding foods that appeal. Hummus, whole wheat pita, lentils, white beans, escarole, broccoli, new red potatoes, butternut squash, and fruits of all kinds. Mangos being a particular favourite. Asian these days is huge part of her diet, brown rice, seaweed, tofu, avocados, tofu noodles, miso soup, scallion pancakes, veggie maki rolls, carrot & cabbage & mushroom dumplings in a spinach dough (sans egg). And so much more! Desserts too!

We were recently at a friend’s house for a party and La had her ‘lunch’ bag with her. Out came brown rice w/grilled pineapple & pistachios w/ flax seed & ginger dressing (to eat warm), then sautéed sesame tofu w/ scallion brushes and peanut sauce, and a carrot-apple-raisin- chickpea salad in thai sweet chili glaze. Bag of homemade wonton crispys ( brown rice flour, water, salt). Soy strawberry yogurt w/mangos & raspberries.

More than a few foodies and chef friends of mine not only wanted  a ‘taste’ but were asking me for the recipes! So the point of this is, you can eat very well even if meat, dairy, fish, white flour & refined sugars are not part of your diet. Allergies are no laughing matter to the person who has them, believe me. Better to feel good about what you eat, and enjoy it as well.

So ~ Happy Turkey Day to all the vegans/vegetarians out there. This next ones for you. Just remember to thank Lauren too.

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Wouldn’t that be cool if there was nothing to dessert?  Making them, consuming them, ‘wearing’ them, in essence a sweet little nothing. I mean we all can dream, can’t we? With that thought aside I shall commence with the subject at hand. Dessert, the end, the grande finale. Dinner is over, everyone has had some down time to digest, the kitchen is almost cleaned up, the coffee is brewing, tea kettle ready, so now it’s time to linger one last time at the table.

Now most people make the obvious, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie. But why not shake things up a bit? This is the end of the meal and it is what people most remember, a ‘lasting impression’ if you will. If thought of baking terrifies you, assign the task to someone who loves to bake, or if all else fails, get thee to a really good bakery! Just please, no grocery store-bought generic mass-produced pumpkin pie. Cardboard would taste better.

We will have 3 desserts at my house this year, none to difficult or requiring a degree in pastry arts. I save that for the Christmas meal! Think pastry 101.

First up is a pie. This recipe is so easy it will astound you. A gift from a Southern friend who simply called it ‘The Pie’.  Fresh whipped cream is an absolute must. No exceptions.*

My next offering is going to be a Pumpkin Creme Brulee with very thin crisp gingersnap cookies. I am going to ‘cheat’ and buy the swedish brand of Anna’s cookies. They are full of flavour and the time saved can be put to other uses.**

With that I am serving a Raspberry Tart in a puff pastry crust. Good vanilla ice cream optional. ***

Lastly, a beautiful platter of Dark & White Chocolate dipped Strawberries, stem on. These are aren’t really dessert, more of a sweet treat, requiring only your fingers.

*1)  ‘The Pie’ ~ 3 egg whites  ~ 1 tsp.baking powder ~ 1 cup sugar ~ 1 cup (12 single) crushed graham crackers ~ 1 cup chopped pecans ~ 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips ~ 1 tsp. vanilla.  Beat egg whites until soft, then add baking powder, sugar. Fold in the rest of the ingredients. Spoon into a 9′ sprayed or greased pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool. Serve in wedges w/ huge dollop of fresh whipped cream.

**2) Pumpkin Creme Brulee ~ 2 cups heavy cream ~ 8 egg yolks ~ 1/2 tsp. cinnamon~ 1/2 vanilla bean/split ~ 1 cup sugar ~ 1/2 cup canned pumpkin ( not!! pumpkin pie filling) if you have fresh cooked pumpkin that has been oven roasted to reduce the water content, use that instead.

Heat cream, vanilla bean, cinnamon, over medium heat, do not boil. Set aside to a few minutes so the vanilla can infuse. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar & pumpkin. Slowly add the hot cream. Strain into a pitcher. Arrange 8 low ramekins on 1/2 sheet pan w/ sides, line the bottom w/ a tea towel to keep ramekins from sliding. Fill w/ mixture and fill sheet pan w/hot water. Bake 300 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Mixture will still be ‘jiggly’ in the center, it will set as it cools. Remove from water bath, chill. Sprinkle the top w/ sugar & torch or run under a salamander. Serve w/ gingersnap cookie or a tuile.

***3) Raspberry Tart ~ 1 jar good raspberry jam (I make my own) ~ 1 box Trader Joe’s puff pastry sheets ( or the next best brand, Pillsbury frozen being your last resort) ~ egg wash made w/ 2 eggs & splash of cream. Apricot glaze to finish.

Open 1 sheet of the puff, roll it slightly into a long rectangle. Brush puff w/ egg wash, and spoon a thick layer of jam from one end to the other, along the left side. One the right side, make a series of small slits. Fold that half over to make the ‘top’. Pinch all seams to seal & fold edges to make a border. Egg wash & sprinkle w/ gran. sugar. Bake in 375 degree oven, for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown and the bottom is fully baked. Cool on a rack, glaze w/ apricot glaze. Make this the day of! Cut in slices and serve w/ some fresh raspberries & scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The End ~ thats all folks!

****One more post to follow for “The Vegans”, hey vegans need to eat well too!

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Wow! I can’t believe I am getting close to the end. So far, so good. The next objects of my obsession are very important to the overall outcome of your thanksgiving feast. I mean what good is a beautiful juicy turkey, skin crisp and golden, light and fluffy mashed potatoes, moist stuffing, if the gravy is greasy and tastes like paste, and the cranberry sauce was plopped out of a can, with ridges no less! The only food that needs ridges are Ruffles potato chips. Enough said.

Yup, that’s what I’m talking about, pan gravy and fresh cranberry sauce.  Two of the easiest things to make, yet so often badly executed. Why cooks fear making pan gravy is beyond me, same with the cranberry sauce. Me thinks that cooks get tired by this stage of the dinner preparation, so they take the easy way out. In my opinion gravy from a packet or jar belongs in the trash, ditto with cranberry sauce from a can. This is not rocket science my friends.

Sink or swim, the gravy boat holds some of the most flavour enhancing goodness of the entire dinner. With a little knowledge you can have this done in a snap. From Scratch. Quickly. By Yourself. With the turkey carcass ( that you had the butcher give you) from your deboned, rolled & tied turkey breast, make a stock. The night before or the morning of. Big pot, bones, onion (be lazy & leave the skin on) cut in 1/2, 2 carrots, black peppercorns, bay leaf, sel, 1 quart or so water, bring to a simmer, lower heat, skim any crud that floats to the top. Let it cook for an hour or so. Cool, stain, toss solids. Back into pot, let reduce until you have about 2 cups.

After turkey has roasted, remove from pan, set aside. With a ladle, skim visible grease/fat from pan. Do scrap up the little bits w/ a wooden spoon. Sprinkle in 1/2 cup flour. Stir to cook. Add stock slowly. Whisk until thick, just barely coating the back of a spoon. Add more water if necessary. Strain for smooth, leave as is for more body. Taste for seasoning. Ta-Da! Gravy. Now wasn’t that easy?

Now for a visit to the cranberry bog, and if you are nowhere near Cape Cod, don’t fret, the store will have plenty of bags of fresh cranberries awaiting you. So, to create that ruby-red jewel of the table, here is what you do. Into a large heavy bottomed sauce pot put 2 bags cranberries ( I sorta look them over first) 2 cups of sugar, the zest of 2 oranges, plus the flesh, chopped small, no seeds please, a small cinnamon stick tied w/ twine, to retrieve it later, tiny sprinkle of kosher salt & if you are feeling frisky, a few finely ground pink peppercorns and a big glass of port or Merlot ( one for you too!). Cook until berries ‘pop’ and sugar is dissolved and sauce has thickened. Cool*, stir, final taste, into gorgeous crystal bowl. Bingo! There you have it.

Okay so that leaves just a few loose ends, to tie up. No, not your sisters out of control 5-year-old, though the thought will undoubtably cross your mind. Just smile at him/her and tell them their father is looking for them, the kid will be scarce in no time, believe me. No, what we have left is the good stuff. Bread and dessert. Short and sweet, no wait, that’s me!

On to the bread basket, by now you are ready to get this show on the road, so to speak. So my advice? Keep it simple! Offer 1 or 2 at most, a bread and some good biscuits. By all means get the bread from your local bakery, a lovely chewy crusty loaf. It will make excellent sandwiches around 11pm. Put it out on a beautiful cutting board, and let your guests have at it. If you fear a trip to the ER in the making, simply slice and place in cloth lined basket. Next, a quick buttermilk biscuit nice & rich, soft and flaky. A crock of sweet cream butter of spreadable consistency and maybe some really good lavender honey. Thats it! Almost as good as winning the lottery. Well almost.

Your dinner is now complete, with the exception of dessert, which is its own entity. So eat well, don’t rush, enjoy the food, the wine, the conversation, the company, you may not have the same chance again next year. Be here now. Clean up can wait!

* Cranberry sauce can be made up to this point and stored in a plastic container in the refrigerator 5 days before.

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Of course one must include some form of vegetable, the trick is to make it so tasty and appealing that your guests will actually want to eat it! The obvious being fresh frenched green beans or asparagus spears. Well, I tossed the ubiquitous frozen green bean, cream of mushroom soup & fried onion casserole out the window years ago. No one ever ate it anyway. Banished into a wasteland only Mad Max could navigate. May it rest in peace. Roasted or blanched asparagus, well frankly my dear, boring at best.

Now, you have your spuds & stuffing so its time to round things out a bit so to speak (by the end of this meal everyone will be round!). HaHa. Belt loosening to commence later, not just yet.

Of late I have been enjoying Brussels sprouts. Eww you might think, smelly, gas inducing little green buggers, not so! Properly treated very good indeed. I trim the sprouts, make a small ‘x’ in the stem and briefly blanch. Drain. Saute some shallots and bacon in a pan, add the sprouts and glaze with a grainy Dijon mustard & white wine sauce. Bliss. Good for you too.

What to go with that? Why roasted root vegetables, of course. Easy to prep, and they cook on their own requiring little or no hovering on your part, leaving you free to move on to something else. Hey, nothing wrong with that! Since you already have butternut squash in your gratin, omit them. Do use small thin baby carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, cipollini onions and baby bella mushrooms. Keep the carrots whole, if they are small enough, cut the parsnips on the bias, cube the sweet potatoes, keep the cipollinis whole and ditto w/ the bellas. Toss all in good olive oil, sprinkle w/ kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper and some whole peeled cloves of garlic. Place on a foil lined 1/2 sheet pan and roast at 375% for about 30-45 minutes. Do not turn them into mush, please. Drizzle with some good balsamic vinegar, a squirt of honey, splash of red wine and toss gently. Serve!

If you think the butternut squash & yukon gold potato gratin is too rich, or you feel offering 2 potato dishes is a bit of an overkill, then by all means don’t make them. I would suggest serving something along that same vein instead. Corn souffle or corn pudding or even corn spoon bread, which is not a bread at all. Since not everyone froze quart bags full of fresh shucked summer corn, as I did, then use green giant or bird’s eyes frozen white shoepeg corn. Don’t even think about opening a can, you risk kitchen excommunication if you do! This can be made the day before and kept in the refrigerator until needed.

One last side, and you are good to go! This one will appeal to children and adults alike. Escalloped apples*. I do not mean the Stouffer’s red box of baked sugar mush that resembles canned pie filling. No, just a nice bowl of peeled, sliced, apples. Sauteed in butter with some cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, and few golden raisins until soft and that is all she wrote!

*Just a word: if you do make a sweet stuffing with apples in it, then leave these out/off the menu. You don’t need the same flavours competing with each other.

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Stuffing, dressing, call it what you will every family has a version of their “one & only” never to be touched, altered, added to, spiced up or changed in any way. Ever. Frozen in time for all eternity. Which is okay, but it is 2009, not 1989. So why not make a good thing even better.

My mom had a big green Tupperware bowl, which looked enormous to me! All the better to make lots, with ample leftovers for snacking later on. She would fill this with cubed dry day old white bread, then saute onion, celery and crumbled sweet sausage in lots of butter. This went on top of the bread along with dry sage, and pepper. Next came a broth she’d make with the turkey neck, giblets, & gizzards, and a few chicken bouillon cubes tossed in for good measure. More butter, and over the mix it all went, then cover it & let it stand for about 20 minutes. This is when my brother and I would sneak in and eat it by the spoonful.

We still have that stuffing every “T” day, my family would revolt if we didn’t.  I just don’t make quite so much, and always have a 2nd offering. This changes upon the weather that November, what’s available, looks good or in general strikes my fancy.

I am not about to post a recipe, just give a few ideas to nudge you in a different direction*. Keep the old, bring in the new. Think of it as a legacy in the making. Who knows, 20 years from now it could be “the” stuffing that graces the holiday table.

So whether you want to use day old baguettes, brioche, sourdough, or cornbread, by all means be my guest. I have even heard of stuffing made with dry rye bread or pumpernickel! Who would have thought. Not my cup of tea, but probably very interesting to say the least. Additions could include, but are not limited to: leeks, apples, pears, chestnuts, apricots, dried cherries, cranberries, shallots, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, pecans, mushrooms, oysters, parsley, chives, tarragon, scallions, cubed pumpkin, bacon, parmesan, cooked wild rice and even black or white truffles.

There are no rules! Just be creative, have fun and above all remember to taste as you go, and leave the fusion/funky combinations for another day.

To bake in the bird or not? My family gave up stuffing the turkey long ago, it got soggy and we prefer it drier. Bake in a side dish for about 30 minutes and drizzle w/ a small amount of the turkey juices to moisten. This year I plan on making stuffing muffins, certainly not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, but a fun presentation and not to mention easy to eat & clean up. With the added benefit of a crisp exterior and moist interior. Best of both worlds! How can you go wrong?

*You can have all the ingredients prepped out the day before, and just assemble on “T” day. Just a note: Stove Top is not an option! Nada, nope, zip, forget about it.

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Now its time to get serious and pay attention to those well loved, but often under rated side dishes. A “prelude” to a feast if you will.  You may even get lucky enough to warrant a prelude to a kiss from your better half, for your outstanding display of culinary expertise and skillful demonstration of keeping your cool ‘under pressure’. *

Now, not to waste precious time, I will get to the subject at hand so that we may continue onward with this seemingly endless ode to the thanksgiving feast. Yes, I know it was my idea, so I best get on with it since I also have to post recipes, take some pictures and upload a song or three. That said, without further ado, here are some ideas for everyone’s beloved side dishes. Some conventional, some not. The choice is up to you.

Ah, potatoes! Thank god for the ancient Incas or we may never have discovered the joys of this humble tuber. From the earth to your table, every one loves potatoes, and has a firm opinion on what to do with them. The #one preparation being mashed. Now I love mashed potatoes, especially with turkey & gravy, the big debate here comes with what type, how to prepare them, and who does it best. If more than a few cocktails have been consumed things could get ugly, so stick with your classic mashed potatoes** and to quell the beasties from uprising, pull out a showstopper. You know, the kind of dish that illicits an ‘ooohh” when you bring it to the table and then your guests take a bite and promptly shut up! Having been rendered speechless by your sheer genius in the kitchen.

Now, I will give a few guidelines for making mash for those novice intrepid souls attempting them for the first time, but the vast majority of us can do this blindfolded. When craving something a little less ordinary, I make a butternut squash & yukon gold potato gratin. Rich, creamy, decadent, indulgent and seductive. Slightly caloric yes, but who cares! Thanksgiving only comes once a year.

Breaking from my idea of posting recipes after I complete the thread of this blog, I decided to include it now. Maybe you want to have a ‘trial’ run before next week, or just an excuse to be bad. I say, do it!

Butternut Squash & Yukon Gold Potato Gratin: serves 6-8

Butter a deep oval baking dish and set aside ( about 9 x 13)

1 very large butternut squash~ you want about 2 lbs after it is peeled & seeded

3 lbs yukon gold potatoes

1 quart whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups imported gruyere cheese~ grated

2 Tbsp sweet butter~ well chilled and cut in small cubes

Kosher or sea salt ~ fresh ground white pepper ~ fresh grated nutmeg to taste

Small bouquet garni~parsley sprigs, mini bunch of thyme, and 1 leek (cleaned!) wrapped in cheesecloth and tied w/butchers twine

Cut the squash into slices by hand or w/ a mandolin. Peel and do the same w/ the yukon golds. Place both into a large pot & cover w/ the milk, add the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil and reduce to low heat & simmer for about 5 minutes until they are fork tender, but not falling apart. Discard the bouquet. Save some of the milk in case you need it.

With a slotted spoon remove half the squash & spuds to the baking dish & sprinkle w/ salt, pepper & nutmeg. Pour 1 cup cream over & top with 1 cup of the cheese. Dot w/ 1 tbsp butter. Add 2nd layer of spuds, season, finish with remaining 1 cup cream & 1 cup cheese. Dot w/ butter. If the gratin looks to dry, add some of the milk to cover.

Line a 1/2 sheet pan ( or cookie sheet w/ sides) w/ foil, this will catch any spills and make clean up easier! Place gratin dish on pan. Into oven &  bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Until golden brown and bubbly and a knife inserted in the center pierces easily. Serve immediately.

Note: if the gratin is getting to dark, lower the temp to 350.

* Might be a good time to ‘cue’ Queen’s Under Pressure!

** Always use well scrubbed Idaho potatoes & when incorporating the liquid to make sure it is warm & add the butter a Tbsp at a time. Never, ever make mashed potatoes in a food processor!  Unless you want elmers glue. I prefer to use a mouli (french food mill) then add my other ingredients one by one. If desired stir in 2 Tbsp of sour cream for richness & snipped chives for flavour & color.

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By now your guests have had a nibble to whet their appetite, a libation to slake their thirst and are now leisurely relaxing in front of a roaring fire watching snowflakes gently falling from the afternoon sky while the aroma of pine cones, cinnamon and roasting turkey fill the air. Okay, that last bit could be purely fantasy, but I am the one writing this! More like the sounds of go team! or you idiot emanating from beyond as the football game plays in the background, and Aunt Sally is yelling at little Johnny to go see what his cousins are up to. Here’s where an Xbox or play station in a room far from the kitchen is desirable.

Now its time forge onward and start thinking about getting the actual meal underway and on the table. Quickly! Before the natives get restless and start poking around the kitchen trying to snag something and getting in your way. Not good.

So, to pull off this next act with a minimum of fuss here are a few simple rules for you to follow, making the reality of it all seem like child’s play.

1) Keep it Seasonal! No garnishing w/champagne grapes when their season is long over. Think of where you live and what’s available.

2) Keep it Simple! A dish that requires a 3 day lead time to buy, prep, assemble & finish is best left to a restaurant and its professional kitchen staff to do it justice. Make what you are familiar with. It is a recipe for success, not failure.

3) Keep it Clean! You do not need wasabi, chai, or sirrachi sauce muddling together on the plate. Do by all means taste ~ taste~ taste as you cook! Find a nice balance of flavours and stick with it. Keep your work space clean too! You will be grateful later.

4) Feel no Shame! Ever. If you know of a superb baker, go buy the artisanal wild yeast bread from him. Ditto a deli with sublime smoked salmon. If you have never made it, now is not the time. Save the kitchen “play-date” for a snowy winter day. Never be embarrassed to use a product that is as good, or better than your own. Trust me. Caterers do it all the time.

With this in mind, here we go. Starters can be a soup, salad or appetizer. I always make something that can be prepared in advance and put together with little or no effort in just minutes. Choose only one offering! Remember you still have a full meal ahead of you.

Think of what appeals to you and your tastes. You are the chef here! Recipes and plating techniques to follow.

Salad *

Fennel, blood orange, shaved red onion & smoked salmon over baby field greens with a simple light lemon vinaigrette.

Romaine Leaves w/small crunchy rye & pumpernickel croutons, shaved parmesan curls and homemade classic caesar dressing.

Baby spinach w/ roasted beets, crispy fried shallot rings, sprinkling of sun-dried cranberries, pecans & balsamic dressing.

Soup **

Tomato fennel soup w/dollop of kalamata olive tapenade.

Creamy roasted corn chowder w/ smoked bacon lardons & frizzled leeks.

Curried butternut squash, leek & apple soup w/ brunoise of caramelized squash & red apple.

Appetizer***

Wild mushroom & goat cheese phyllo w/port wine reduction.

Terrine de mousse of foie gras w/ toasted brioche & quince jam.

Feuilletee of white and green asparagus spears in a champagne veloute.

*Have all your salad mise en place at the ready, greens cleaned & kept chilled, dressings in a squirt bottle or bowl w/ large oval sauce spoon. Plates should be chilled. Assemble no more than 20 mins before sitting down at the table, dress the salads at the last-minute.

**Soups can be made the day before and warmed over low heat. Have the bowls warmed, ladle in soup & top w/ appropriate garnish.

***Appetizers can also be prepared almost to the point of completion the day before or the morning of with the exception of the terrine & jam. **** See note about both in recipe that will follow. Then it is only simply a matter of warming, plating & serving.

Eat well and enjoy for there is more yet to come.

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Okay, sorry this is already over due ( like my daughter was!) but not nearly as painful as giving birth. Thankfully that was years ago and the memory has long since faded away, Thanksgiving on the other hand has not. If those 3 words “Thanksgiving Dinner & Company” send a shiver of dread down your spine and have you running for the liquor cabinet or a xanax, relax. Such drastic measures are not necessary and with some very simple tips, you too can achieve that WOW factor on Nov 24th. Maybe even get a smile and a “that was wonderful” from your in-laws or the foodie know- it -all in the family (everybody has one!).

So armed with a little knowledge, some great music and yes, perhaps a glass of wine you are on your way to creating a memorable meal. Just remember to take your time and above all enjoy yourself in the process. That is what cooking is all about. *

Now that you have the bird well in hand, it is time to think of what to serve with it.  Here are some ideas for the perfect “nibbles” to set out and let your guests help themselves. The point here is not to be slaving away in the kitchen trying to produce a massive spread of hors d’oeuvre. Simply not needed. What you want to do is to “whet” the appetite without getting too full. I have found these to be the perfect starters for pretty much any occasion.

Nibbles #1

1) A beautiful crystal bowl filled w/ spanish marcona almonds.

2) On one of grandma’s heirloom platters or a lovely wooden board set a wedge of good creamy french d’affinois cheese. A small ceramic crock of pitted imported green & kalamata olives that you have tossed w/ some orange zest & cracked black pepper. A nice piece of aged Italian salumi sliced very thin and arranged in ovals. Some beautifully ripe quartered figs and a few sun-dried apricots that have been softened in small amount of cognac.

3) Basket of  good water crackers and maybe some english wheat biscuits or slices of a french ficelle.  Set it out w/ a cheese knife, tiny olive fork and mini tongs for the meat and bread.

4) A crisp Prosecco or Riesling will do nicely here. If your father or mother-in law or Uncle Buck are screaming for a scotch on the rocks, smile and pour them one. Stop at 2. Now is not the time to get hammered. Retreat to the kitchen and let your guests help themselves.

Nibbles #2

Get some large fresh 21/25 shrimp.** Bring pot of water to a boil, add bay leaf, whole black peppercorns, sprinkle of red pepper flakes & 1/2 a lemon. Drop in shrimp (shell on) cook til just pink 3- 5 minutes tops, drain & run under cold water to refresh. Peel & devein leaving tails on, they function as a “handle” & serve in a lovely bowl nestled in a bed of ice. Traditional cocktail sauce and lemon aioli on the side. Making your own is preferred though you can buy store bought cocktail sauce and jazz it up, ditto w/hellmans mayo mixed w/ lemon zest, chives, small amount of pureed roasted garlic.

With that set out a bamboo tray w/ a wedge of mild creamy blue cheese and a side dish of pear chutney. Serve w/ water crackers. Don’t forget a cheese knife and tiny jam spoon.

If you are having vegetarians or vegans, put together a very small elegant crudite w/tiny carrots ( I leave the leafy green stem on and oh so briefly blanch), oven roasted baby bella mushrooms ( if they are large cut in 1/2 or quarters) drizzle w/ evo & sprinkle w/ grey sea salt, some steamed asparagus tips ( I prefer the thick ones) & some baby radishes. Roasted red pepper hummus is perfect.

Nothing that needs to be heated and passed around, thus taking away from your precious time! Just some light tasty treats that will take the edge off with out filling anyone up.

If you are unsure of what wine to pour while people are nibbling you can never go wrong with a good champagne (no not korbel) I mean a Veuve Clicquot or a Taittinger, good bubbly costs a few bucks, but is well worth it.

Get a stunning floral arrangement for the table, a few tiny plates & nice small linen cocktail napkins and you my friend are in business.

* Quick tip! Make sure to have a note pad and pen at hand so you can write down what you bought (and from where!) the cost, how it was received by your guests, what was leftover ( or not!) and any other ideas you may have come up with. Don’t believe for a second that you will actually keep all this in your head for the next go round.

** 21/25 refers to the count per lb. Figure on at least 4 -5 shrimp person.

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