Pumpkin Panna Cotta for Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Pecan Brittle 1 2425x2634A few weeks ago my long-time assistant, Emily Bell, suggested that I offer readers a chance to end their Thanksgiving feasts with silky smooth pumpkin panna cotta in place of the traditional pumpkin pie. She had a favorite recipe for this Italian specialty–typically a mixture of cream, milk, and sugar bound with gelatin–and quickly convinced me that we could rework it, adding pumpkin puree and spices. My mouth was watering just thinking of this confection, so I wasted no time heading into the kitchen.

It took several tries before the flavors were balanced and the texture perfectly creamy, but finally we had a winner. I proposed that we add as garnishes dollops of softly whipped cream and crushed pecan brittle. The snowy white cap of cream contrasted nicely with the dusty orange hue of the “cooked creams,” while the glistening pecan brittle with its crunch was a great foil for the smoothness of this dessert. Continue reading

Cooking Smart –A Delicious Soup to Make Ahead

Tomato, Fennel, and Italian Sausage Soup 1 A 3254x2432This fall has seen the coincidental publication of my Sunday Casseroles and When Paris Went Dark—The City of Light During the German Occupation, my husband’s new book. As a consequence, the past two months have been a blur of travel for us. I’ve been to Maine, Boston, and Ohio for book events, and tagged along with my spouse to New York, Washington, and Connecticut for his talks and signings. This chaotic schedule has meant that I’ve had to cook smart, and make plenty of dishes in advance. Soups, it turns out, have been my salvation since they are so easy to do ahead. One of my favorites has been a comforting Italian –style zuppa of tomatoes, fennel, and sausage.

This hearty soup is made by sautéing slices of sweet, fennel-scented Italian sausage along with leeks and then gently simmering the duo in chicken stock and tomatoes. Simple seasonings of basil, red pepper flakes, and garlic round out the robust flavors, while a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano provides a fitting garnish.

A Rustic Fall Stew of Chicken and Chanterelles

Fall Ragu of Chicken and Chanterelles 1  3648x2736After a spell of unseasonably warm weather, it’s turned cold, damp, and overcast in western New England. But rather than bemoan the change outdoors, I use it as an impetus to spend time in my kitchen cooking warming, comforting dishes, like a rustic ragù of chicken with chanterelle mushrooms.

Here is a stew that will take about 45 minutes to prep, but then needs only to simmer Skillet photo Fall Ragu of Chicken and Chanterelles  1824x1368 gently on the stove top about an hour. For this hearty dish, I season chicken thighs with herbes de Provence, coarse salt, and freshly ground pepper before browning them. Onions, carrots, and brown mushrooms are sautéed next and combined with garlic, bay leaves, and tomatoes. Then the chicken and the vegetables are simmered in stock and wine until the poultry is fork tender.

What really gives this dish its star power, though, is some dried chanterelle mushrooms. After being soaked in hot water until reconstituted, the mushrooms (along with their flavorful soaking liquid) are added to the stew, providing a meaty, autumn taste to the humble chicken and vegetable mélange. Continue reading

An Apple Crisp from the Past

Apple and Prune Crisp 2 1794x1113“What’s old is new again!” That adage applies to theatre, design, and fashion, and certainly to food. Look at all those revivals making their way back to Broadway. (I adored Alan Cumming in the Roundabout’s latest production of Cabaret.) And, who could have foreseen that mid-century modern furniture would command such hefty prices today. (I naively discarded a late 40s chair that my parents had owned a few decades too early.) Oh, and those Audrey Hepburn-style dresses that abound in trendy shops everywhere were just as beloved when I was growing up. As a cook, I love to revive and tweak dishes from my past. That’s what I did several days ago when I pulled out a recipe for a delectable apple and prune crisp I first made more than 25 years ago.

Apple and Prune Crisp with Cheddar Cheese 4 1824x1368For this dessert diced apples and brandy-soaked prunes are baked under a crumbly cover of crushed walnuts, butter, sugar, and flour until the fruit mixture beneath is hot and juicy and the topping golden and crunchy. During the last few minutes of baking the crisp is sprinkled with cheddar cheese that melts and melds into the crust.

Kale—A Quick and Colorful Fall Side Dish

Kale Sauteed with Apricots, Walnuts, and Feta 1 1728x1334Everywhere you turn there are newspaper articles, blog posts, and tv clips imploring us to add healthy greens to our diet. Kale, collards, and chard are among those mentioned most, so lately I’ve been incorporating these nutrient-charged foods into meals. What I’ve learned is that many of my favorite recipes for these greens require slow cooking (like the collards and kale I simmered in a Beans and Greens Soup in a recent post). And, even when I use these vegetables in sautés, it takes time to trim the tough stems and bases from the leaves. Imagine then my delight when I discovered tender baby kale in two of my local markets this month. Packages filled with small, tender verdant leaves of kale were being sold cleaned and ready for cooking. Irresistible! I put several in my cart.

At home, I devised a simple and quick way to cook the baby version. A few handfuls at a Kale with Arpicots, Walnuts, and Feta in a Skillet 1 1824x1368time, I sautéed the kale in olive oil until wilted, and then stirred in finely diced dried apricots, chopped walnuts, and feta. A good pinch of red pepper flakes and some balsamic vinegar rounded out the seasonings.

This dish makes an exceptionally colorful autumn side—the dark green kale canvas with pops of orange, snowy white, and brown from the fruit, cheese, and nuts—is inviting. Count on 15 minutes from start to finish, and serve this vegetable with a rotisserie chicken, pan-seared lamb chops, or grilled sausages for a fast and easy supper.

Quick Little Appetizers to Make Ahead

Artichoke and Feta Toasts 1 1824x1368Last weekend when good friends were scheduled for a last minute overnight visit, I knew we would all want time to talk and catch up, so I prepared our entire dinner from starters to dessert in advance. Artichoke and Feta Bruschette, delicious and colorful appetizers, were followed by bowls of simmering Beans and Greens Soup (featured in last week’s post), warm, crusty whole wheat sesame bread from my farmers’ market, and a red leaf lettuce and Belgian endive salad tossed in a lemon dressing. An apple crumble with a brown sugar, butter, and hazelnut topping served with scoops of vanilla ice cream completed our menu.

The appetizers were a snap to make and yet looked as if they took far more time to put together than the 20 minutes needed. I toasted baguette slices until crisp and then topped them with a puree of artichoke hearts and a sprinkle of crumbled feta. In the past I’ve assembled such artichoke toppings using marinated artichokes in a jar, but found that the flavor varied depending on the brand. This time I used frozen artichoke hearts, then added my own seasonings of parsley, lemon, garlic, and Parmesan, and loved the consistent results. Continue reading

A Warming Soup for Chilly Autumn Nights

Emily's Beans and Greens Soup 1 1824x1368Almost a year ago while visiting my good friend and long-time assistant, Emily Bell, in Columbus, Ohio, I fell hard for a delicious soup she served me. On a cold November night, she sat a shallow bowl in front of me with a mound of brown rice in the middle and a beautiful rust-hued broth with chopped greens and beans ladled over it. A basket of cornbread set near by. One spoonful and I was begging for the recipe.

I couldn’t put my finger on all the flavors, so my host willingly shared the recipe. She had sautéed diced smoked sausage along with onions, carrots, and celery. Next, diced potatoes and minced garlic were added to the soup pot and finally the big flavor makers—chopped collards and kale plus black-eyed peas and field peas. Chicken broth and a can of tomatoes with their juices were the braising liquids for this mélange, which needed to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.

Old Fashioned Baking—Molasses Spice Squares

Molasses Spice Squares 2A few days ago we invited friends over for a last-minute Sunday night supper. The week had been frenetic, leaving me with no time for special cooking, so I opted to make part of the meal and purchase the rest. As appetizers I served cheeses bought at our local farmers market with toasted baguette slices, and radishes that were dipped in a bowl of softened sweet butter and another of sea salt. I ordered several pizzas from a local pizzeria, and served them with a fall salad that our generous guests contributed. And, for dessert I baked old fashioned molasses spice cake squares.

The recipe for the dark, moist squares, studded with walnuts and raisins, came to me back in 2007 from Kelle Quist, a talented personal chef in western Massachusetts. The scrumptious squares, created by her grandmother many years ago, have been a long time family favorite, and it’s easy to see why. The combination of spices, paired with molasses and surprisingly with brewed coffee, results in a beautiful blending of flavors. In fact the only change I made to the original directions was to replace vegetable shortening with sweet butter.

Roasting Fish Deliciously in a Breton Way

Roast Salmon with Pernod and Creme Fraiche 1 1799x1366This summer while my family spent ten days in Brittany, I was lucky enough to meet a Breton woman named Manou Gorin. the contact person for the house we had rented. Trim, petite, and charming, this grand’mère (French grandmother) became an instant friend when we discovered that we shared a love of cooking. She brought us treats such as coconut crème caramel as well as crêpes with salted caramel sauce, and gladly shared some of her Breton recipes. One in particular, for lobsters roasted with Pernod and crème fraîche, caught my attention.

She explained that she halved the shellfish (while alive!), and arranged the halves on a baking sheet. The lobsters were topped with pats of butter, sprinkled with cayenne, and then roasted in a very hot oven. Finishing touches included pouring a little flamed Pernod (an anise-scented liqueur) over the fish, then topping them with small dollops of crème fraîche. I couldn’t bring myself to do in lobsters by plunging a knife into them, so I substituted thick salmon fillets instead, and loved the results.

Rich, Delicious, and Indulgent—A Fall Pasta Dish

Rigatoni with Parmesan Cream, Prosciutto, Arugula 3  1824x1368 1824x1368Lately, I’ve become weary of the food police, a term coined by Julia Child for those focused on the questionable health benefits of her beloved butter and cream. Today it seems like the “food police” are everywhere. Newspapers and magazines, online features (especially those that list the top 10 worst ingredients you can consume!), national radio and TV broadcasts–all routinely offer up some new food that is verboten. “Keep fat to a minimum, give up evil carbs, lower your salt, only eat meat occasionally.” I listen, and dutifully adjust my recipes to follow the guidelines. Every so often, though, I throw caution out (much to my husband’s delight) to prepare, guilt-free, an indulgence like Rigatoni with Parmesan Cream, Prosciutto, and Arugula.

Here is a dish that I first tasted in a small neighborhood bistro in Paris. From my first bite I was smitten, not only by the delicious combination of tastes and textures, but also by the creation’s sheer simplicity. Rigatoni, cooked al dente, were tossed in a smooth-as-silk sauce that had been prepared with equal amounts of milk, crème fraîche, and grated Parmesan along with a hint of fresh nutmeg. The pasta, garnished with a small mound of arugula dressed in lemon juice and a sprinkle of julienned Serrano ham, was served in shallow bowls. Continue reading