Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fancy Shmancy Pumpkin Pie

From the brandy pumpkin custard and hazelnut streusel to the chevre cream topping, this fancy version of pumpkin pie is full of surprises. It's a little labor intensive but the sweet, creamy and crunchy all at once flavor is worth the effort. I promise your taste buds will sing!

Make one recipe of your favorite pie crust. Roll and fit into a 9 inch tart pan or pie tin. Set in refrigerator until other ingredients are ready to assemble the tart.

Chevre Cream
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons chevre (soft goat cheese)
1 teaspoon honey

Just before serving whip heavy cream on high speed until fluffy. Using a whisk or electric mixer on low, add in chevre until well blended. Drizzle in the honey as you mix. Garnish each pie piece with a generous dollop on the side.

2 cups pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
3 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
dash of ground cloves
dash of table salt
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup plain brandy

Add all filling ingredients into a food processor. Pulse until well blended. Pour into a large bowl and refrigerate while making the streusel.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup paked light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
dash of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/8 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Combine flour, sugars, cinnamon, salt, and hazelnuts in food processor. Process until hazelnuts are ground fully. Add butter. Pulse until mixture is crumbly. Transfer mix into a medium size bowl. Fold in ginger and walnuts. Set aside and begin to assemble tart.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour filling mixture into the unbaked crust. Gently scatter streusel evenly over the pumpkin filling mixture. Bake on rack positioned in the center of the oven for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the filling comes out clean. Do not overbake. Let tart cool at room temperature before refrigerating overnight. Serve plain or with chevre cream. Yummy!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pot Roast and Politics

You might be asking what in the world pot roast has to do with politics. Well, it's no secret that I'm a progressive Democrat from Massachusetts and involved in political organizing. And I have a BUSY schedule over the next few days until Tuesday's special election to fill our U.S. Senate seat.

This pot roast recipe is a way to keep a solemn vow I made after nearly three weeks in Ohio working on John Kerry's presidential campaign. You won't catch me eating another campaign pizza if I can possibly manage a home cooked meal and still get everything done I need to do.

Now back to that election ... if you're a Massachusetts voter, I know you have lots of things to do too. Life is always a struggle to juggle. But if you take my advice and get this pot roast going in the morning, you might just save enough time to get out there and do your civic duty. And when you do I hope you'll vote for Martha Coakley, the Democrat.

1 boneless beef chuck roast (about 3 pounds)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small shallot, finely grated
3 cloves garlic, finely grated
¾ cup red wine (use beef broth if you prefer)
2 teaspoons instant coffee
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon arrowroot

Sprinkle roast with salt and pepper. In a large skillet over medium heat, sear roast in hot oil, browning well on all sides. Transfer meat to a crock pot. Saute the onion and garlic in the skillet until lightly browned. Add wine or broth and instant coffee. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring to loosen browned bits from bottom of skillet. Pour all over meat. Add bay leaf to the pot. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or until meat is tender. Remove bay leaf and discard. Transfer meat to a baking pan or ovenproof platter; cover with foil and keep warm in a preheated 275 degree F oven.

Pour meat juices into a medium saucepan. In a small bowl, combine cold water and arrowroot, stirring until smooth. Stir into the meat juices, cover and cook on medium hot stovetop burner for 3-5 minutes, or until gravy is bubbling hot and thickened. Serve sliced meat with boiled red bliss potatoes and baby carrots as sides. Smother with the gravy and enjoy. Feeds 4-6 people.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My New Kitchen Toy

This may not look like much to get excited about to you, but for me? Let's just say that I am thrilled to have a new ravioli stamp. This new tool will give me broader horizons and more daring opportunities than my little old round ravioli press.

Don't get me wrong, little round cheese raviolis have been part of my repertoire since forever. Every year I get a personal call from one Carmino Daniele to make said little round cheese ravioli for his annual holiday office party. Anytime anyone named Carmino likes your ravioli enough to make a request -- I think it's safe to say, my ravioli and red sauce are desirable additions to the buffet table.

But tonight, I'm dreaming about big squares of tender dough stuffed with lobster and smothered with shallot cream sauce for a main course, crystallized ginger apple-filled ravioli for dessert, or a savory Mexican chicken with salsa-style topping for an appetizer. I might even try fried raviolis ... the possibilities are endless! Anybody have any good ideas?

Cheap Imitation or Tasty Alternative?

My first encounter with soufflé was in a nice French restaurant in, believe it or not, Lowell, Massachusetts -- a rich puff of egg and cheese served with a deliriously savory drizzle of melted herb butter. I thought soufflé-making must be the apex of culinary achievement. One that I might reach someday if I managed to win the lottery, then be accepted for a French cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu.

Then I found a recipe for individual asiago cheese bread puddings dusted with grated parmesan, and decided to give them a go one New Year’s Eve. They were puffy, delicious and easy. And they looked and tasted a lot like traditional soufflé. Not exactly the real thing but pretty darned tasty. My next experiment was to try different bread/cheese combos until I came up with just the right balance of flavor.

Pair the cheese puffs with mini-caribou meatballs (pictured), and spiced shrimp as a small plate buffet accompanied by arugula and grape tomato salad. Add a pitcher of warm sangria and invite a couple of good friends over for an evening of good conversation. The art of Tapas doesn’t get much better than that.

Swiss Soufflé Mini Puffs
½ loaf plain white bread (16 ounce loaf – approx. 10 slices)
1¼ cups shredded Swiss or Havarti cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1¼ cups milk
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons butter
Dash of salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Trim crusts from bread slices and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add milk, cheese and Worcestershire sauce, blend well before adding bread. Let stand for 15-20 minutes minutes. Fill buttered mini-muffin cups about 2/3 full with the bread soaked soufflé mixture. Place the muffin tin into a jelly roll pan filled with 1/2 inch of water.

Bake in a 375 degree F oven until set, about 25-30 minutes. The soufflé bites are ready when they have puffed up and are slightly brown on top. Serve immediately. Makes 24 mini-cheese soufflé puffs.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Crème Brûlée: Fit for a King

There is a bit of a tug of war about what country gets credit for coming up with crème brûlée. But Chef François Massialot, born in Limoges in 1660 and died in Paris in 1733, gives the French a leg up on perfecting the recipe, Chef Massialot prepared meals for Philippe, duke of Orleans, who was the brother of Louis XIV. He also fed the Dauphin, and other royalty. Safe to say he was quite successful.

François Massialot wrote two cookbooks: Le Cuisinier royal et bourgeois [...], first printed anonymously in 1691, and which was reprinted many times up to the middle of the eighteenth century, and a year later, the Nouvelle instruction pour les confitures, les liquers et les fruits [...], also reprinted several times in the eighteenth century.

Chef Massialot revolutionized French cookbooks by arranging his recipes alphabetically by ingredient. And he included two recipes with chocolate as an ingredient: in a sauce for duck, and in a sweet custard. Until then chocolate was consumed solely as a drink. François Massialot invented chocolate pudding as well as refined the recipe for crème brûlée -- for those two culinary achievements we owe him eternal gratitiude.

Here's my version of the classic crème brûlée -- I like to think that Chef Massialot would have approved. More about Chef Massiolat and the origins of crème brûlée can be found at

Banana Colada Crème Brûlée
4 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup white sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup half and half
1 Lindt White Coconut chocolate bar (or other good coconut white chocolate bar)
1 just ripe banana
4 tablespoons white sugar

In a medium mixing bowl, beat egg yolks, vanilla and 1/4 cup sugar until creamy yellow throughout. Set aside. Break the candy bar into small pieces or coarse chop in food processor, set aside. In a saucepan, bring the milk and half and half to a low simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whisk in the chopped white chocolate until melted in. Slowly add milk mixture into egg mixture, whisking briskly to insure the eggs don't curdle.

Place four 6 ounce ramekins (ungreased) into a large baker. Next, strain custard mix through a fine sieve and into a pitcher or pouring bowl. Evenly divide strained custard mixture among the ramekins. Add enough hot tap water to the baking pan to come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake on a rack set in the oven's center for 30-40 minutes or until custard is set but still jiggly in the center. Let cool to room temperature then refrigerate at least two hours before serving. Cooked custards store well for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

When ready to serve, add three or four thin slices of ripe banana, sprinkle the tops of each banana garnished custard with 1 tablespoon of sugar, spreading evenly. Using a culinary torch, melt the sugar to form a crispy top over the sliced bananas. Allow to sit just about 3-5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Comer cuando se bebe ...

Comer cuando se bebe, bebe cuando se come: Eat when you drink, drink when you eat. That is the philosophy of tapas. Tapas is Spain's greatest food innovation with a tradition of friendship and sharing and a ritual that is integral to the Spanish lifestyle.

Tapas food is real food - fresh local ingredients presented with flair. Spain is second only to Japan in fish consumption and some of the finest fish are caught in Spain's coastal waters. Many exquisite shellfish are found along the warm Mediterranean as well.

And while Spanish food is not particularly spicy, tapas - by the small quantity served - are often used to liven up a meal with a hot flavor usually tamed with a glass of excellent Spanish beer or wine in summer or a warm sangria in cooler weather. Tapas. The Spanish version of Eat, drink and be merry!

18 raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined (approximately 1 pound)
1/8 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Dash salt
2 garlic cloves
1/2 medium size roasted red pepper (from a jar)
1 whole red hot cherry pepper, stem & seeds removed (from a jar)
1/4 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

In a medium bowl sprinkle shrimp with curry powder, black pepper and salt. Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes. In a second bowl add boiling water to coconut and let sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. Puree garlic, roasted pepper, hot cherry pepper, coconut and water mixture in a food processor until smooth. Set aside.

In a large
heavy fry pan, heat oil on medium high burner. Add shrimp to hot oil in a single layer. Sear one minute on each side. Stir in pepper puree and reduce heat to simmer for 3-5 minutes until shrimp are cooked through. Spear three cooked shrimp on each of six wooden skewers and serve over lightly sauted arugula or spinach. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve. Provides six individual brochetas.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Definitely NOT Stirred!

Gin and vermouth really are the traditional ingredients for martinis. But back in the 1800s, when martinis first arrived on the scene, vermouth was a sweet red dessert drink believed to have special healing powers. It was made from a blend of juniper (a derivative of gin), orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, marjoram and brandy.

Yes, you read correctly. Martinis were sweet and rosy colored! It wasn't until the 20th century rolled around that the idea of more savory martinis, garnished with olives and tiny onions, became a cocktail staple.

The 21st century martini menu features gin, vodka, rum and even tequila based cocktails. There are apple-tinis, lemon drops, chocola-tinis and even peppermin-tinis, to name a few. My closest friends know that I am fond of new-fangled, fruity martinis that mix up in pretty colors. And that I enjoy creating my own yummy concoctions. You might enjoy my latest experiment in mixology ... the Cinnapeach-tini.

3 ounces peach brandy (or peachtree schnapps)
3 ounces spiced rum
3 ounces sparkling peach juice (or sparkling apple cider)
2 tablespoons diced canned peaches (I use my own home canned peaches)

Combine brandy, rum and sparkling juice in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass rimmed with cinnamon sugar. Drop a tablespoon of diced canned peaches into each glass. Makes two cocktails.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Chunky & Dark: New Twist for an Old Favorite

I know, I know ... Christmas is over and my Christmas swap cookies are long gone. But there was one traditional gem that nobody made this year. It just didn't set right with me not to have a few peanut blossoms on that cookie tray.

So I broke down, prowling the candy aisle at Stop & Shop for Hershey Kisses this morning. Horror of horrors, the shelf was bare of the milk chocolate kind. But the holiday wrapped dark chocolate variety was half price. I decided to go with the flow and try something new and I am very glad that I did. Mmm... mmm... good!

½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup chunky peanut butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of salt
1 ¾ cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup granular (brownulated) brown sugar (raw crystallized sugar works well too)
24 dark chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, butter and peanut butter in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and salt; continue beating until well mixed. Add flour and baking soda. Continue beating, scraping bowl often, until stiff dough forms. Shape dough into 1½ inch balls. (If dough is too soft, refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes.)

Roll balls in 1/4 cup brownulated sugar. Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until very lightly golden brown. Immediately press one dark chocolate kiss in center of each cookie. Let sit one minute before moving cookies to cool completely on wire racks. Makes two dozen cookies.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ready for Summer?

The holidays are over. Winter doldrums will soon turn into cabin fever: but it doesn’t have to be so depressing.

Serve up some easy oven baked fried chicken picnic-style in your living room. Turn up the thermostat a few degrees and spread a quilt on the floor. Rent last summer's blockbuster movie. And don't forget to bake a batch of brownies!

Summer won’t feel so far away… at least for a couple of hours.

One 3 pound chicken, skin on, cut up
1 cup milk
1 cup biscuit mix
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
olive oil or butter flavor cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Mix dry ingredients in a one gallon size plastic baggie. Shake well. Pour milk into a medium bowl. One piece at a time, dip chicken in milk then coat with flour mix by shaking each piece individually in the baggie. Place each coated chicken piece in a shallow baking pan in a single layer.

Lightly spray the top of the coated chicken pieces with oil or butter spray. Bake 30-40 minutes or until juices run clear. Internal temperature of the chicken pieces should be 170 degrees F. Serves four.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Perfect Sunday Supper

Nearly everyone has a favorite pot roast recipe. Pot roast begs for inspiration from the cook, roasted red peppers can be a delightful addition. Try mushrooms or whole green beans for a different twist.

Choosing the spices can be daunting, bay leaf or thyme, coriander or clove? Some recipes call for tomatoes, others for a brown gravy base. I even saw a barbecue style pot roast recipe recently; not to mention the cut of beef. There’s brisket, chuck, rump roast, to name a few.

Over thirty plus years of home cooking successes and disasters, I’ve tried many different pot roast recipes but always go back to page 127 of the Silver Palate Cookbook for the best and simplest example of “A perfect Sunday supper.” I follow the recipe closely though not exactly -- you might like my slightly fiddled with version. Starting with the basics is a good start but no excuse for boring – add your own special flair!

3 pound boneless chuck roast
1 teaspoon fresh coarsely ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups beef broth
1 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (1 teaspoon dried)
Dash of salt
3 whole cloves
9 whole peppercorns
1 small shallot (finely grated)
1 small bay leaf
2 cups baby carrots
6 medium sized red bliss potatoes, halved
1 cup canned tomatoes, with juice (I use my garden tomatoes from last summer but commercially canned is fine)
¼ cup chopped celery

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Rub roast with ground black pepper. Heat olive oil in a heavy flameproof casserole (My La Crueset French oven is ideal) and sear roast on all sides, browning well. Add remaining ingredients, starting with the stock and red wine. Stir each new ingredient in to mix well. Bring to a boil on top of the stove. Cover then put hot pot in the oven for two hours. Uncover, baste with the sauce and bake uncovered an hour longer, basting often. If you prefer a thicker sauce, dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch in ¼ cup of wine and stir into pot for the last fifteen minutes of baking.

Transfer roast to a cutting board or large platter for slicing and serve with cooked veggies. Pass additional sauce in a gravy boat. Popovers made earlier in the day can be warmed in the oven for a few minutes before serving. Pour glasses of the bottle of wine, Beaujolais Village or Cabernet is a good compliment for this casual home style meal. Feeds six.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

More From Memere's Kitchen

I promised Memere's brown bread recipe and I always try to keep my promises. Tomorrow I'll toast up a few slices of yummy steam-baked molasses loaf for breakfast with scrambled eggs.

Add a pot of butter rum flavored decaf made in the French press to sip on while reading the newspaper at the table and Sunday morning doesn't get much better! And I'll be saving the coffee can for the next time I mix up this brown bread recipe -- I have a feeling it won't be long.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon melted butter or margarine
1/2 cup raisins, optional

In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, soda, and salt. Add oats and cornmeal. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the dry mixture into a small mixing bowl. Stir molasses, butter, vinegar and milk into the dry ingredients. Mix raisins with the 2 tablespoons of dry mixture to coat raisins, add coated raisins to the batter and blend well. Turn batter into a well greased coffee can, filling about 2/3 full. Cover with foil.

Place covered can in a round soufflé pan or other oven safe baker with three inch or higher sides and pour boiling water into the soufflé/baker to approximately 1/3 the height of can. Steam-bake the bread at 350 degrees F for approximately one hour, makes one large loaf. If you have no can, don’t stress --- use a medium loaf pan and set into a square baker using the same steam-bake method. Bake for 45-50 minutes instead of an hour. This loaf does raise less than egg batter loaves and has a denser consistency. Tastes best when toasted or warmed in oven or microwave.

Memere's Potato Bake

I've been thinking a lot about the Canadian half of my family this week. An invitation from my cousin Herve and his wife for their daughter's wedding came in the mail, my cousin Jim, a good guy with a bad problem, died suddenly two days before Christmas, and I saw my cousin Lisa and her family at Mass over the holidays.

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are more vivid memories than Christmas for me. My Canadian immigrant grandparents doled out little gifts on New Year's Day as was their tradition. Lipstick or pretty soaps for the girls, Matchbook cars for the boys and a dollar for the older kids.
When I think about it now, several dozen grandchildren meant a big expense at a dollar each back in the 1950s and 60s. The family was big, the laughter loud and the food delicious!

2 pounds all-purpose white potatoes (5-6 medium size potatoes)
1 cup milk
1 cup light cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese

Butter a 2 quart round casserole. Peel and slice potatoes into 1/2 inch rounds. Place peeled and sliced potatoes in a medium sauce pan, pour milk and cream over potatoes. Bring to a slow boil, simmer ten minutes. Pour mixture into prepared casseroe, sprinkle cheese on top. Bake at 325 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until sauce bubbles and potatoes are tender. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Makes 4 generous portions.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A French Canadian Tradition

When I was little, we spent every New Year’s Eve with my dad’s family. That meant huge pots of maple baked beans, ham and au gratin potatoes to feed the houseful of aunts, uncles, first and second cousins … and a few neighbors too.

But my favorite memory came a day later, when a quieter bunch (dare I say, hung over from the shots and beers?) of hungry family members started the afternoon with steaming bowls of Memere’s amazing soupe aux pois and homemade brown bread with raisins steam-baked in coffee cans – a true taste of old Quebec.

I’ve adapted her bountiful measurements to a more manageable eight servings for the soup. Tune in over the weekend for the bread recipe!

1 pound dried yellow peas (split or whole)
8 cups water
1 ham bone
1 small shallot, finely grated
1/4 cup diced carrots
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup fresh parsley (1 tablespoon if dried)
1 small bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Wash and sort peas. Soak in cold water overnight. Drain peas and place in a large soup pot. Add 8 cups of water, ham bone, shallot, carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaf, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until peas are very tender, about 2 hours, adding more water as needed. Remove ham bone. Strip off any good meat pieces, chop and return ham pieces to soup without the bone. Discard bay leaf. Remove one cup of peas from soup, let cool. Puree then add puree to soup for a creamy consistency. If desired, season to taste with salt and pepper