A Great Roast for Christmas Dinner!

photo by Susie Cushner

photo by Susie Cushner

Last week my son, Mike, who hosts our family’s Christmas dinner, asked what we should make for this special meal. It took me only a second to answer, “Let’s do those racks of pork from my Sunday Roasts.” He wasn’t convinced so I continued to push my choice, enthusiastically listing the recipe’s merits. Racks of pork are inexpensive, but they look stately and impressive. They cook in far less time that a turkey, and pair well with countless vegetables and sides, I explained. Finally, I got his attention.

This recipe for racks of pork is one of my favorites and is simplicity itself to prepare. The Cranberry Apple Chutney 1 a 3084x2583 2969x2446racks are brushed with curry oil (made by whisking curry powder into olive oil) and baked with red onion wedges. I suggest using two racks of five ribs each to serve ten generously, but you won’t find these racks displayed in your grocery’s meat department. You’ll need to call the butcher, and order them ahead. In the original version I served the pork with a fall apple chutney, but for this holiday variation I reworked that condiment adding cranberries for color and replacing cider vinegar with balsamic. Continue reading

7 Holiday Gifts for Food Lovers!

 

If you’re  still trying to finish your holiday shopping, here are some suggestions (all favorites of mine!) for the cooks on your list. From $4.99 for a unique little metal pot scrubber that would make a great stocking stuffer to $99.99 for a six pound gift pack of pulled pork barbecue from Corky’s Barbecue in Memphis (where I grew up!), each is special. All are available online–an easy way to shop when the weather in so much of our country is unpredictable!

Stonewall Kitchen Towels

I discovered these towels, which are so soft you could wrap a baby in them, while teaching at Stonewall Kitchen in Maine. They launder beautifully even though they curl along the ends slightly after the first wash. That’s never bothered me (and doesn’t affect their great absorbency). They are white and with a colored border that comes in varying hues.

Stonewall Kitchen Tea Towels. $5.95. Available online and in stores.

Metal Scrubbing Brush

Brushtech’s petit metal scrubbing brush is a tool I use every day to clean my pots and pans. Its scrubbing power is amazing, and It takes up only a small amount of storage (unlike other bulkier brushes or balls). Just don’t use them on your fine china, they’ll take the decorations right off! Great as a stocking stuffer!

Brushtech Same as Steel Wool Brush. $4.99 (most retailers). Available online and in specialty cookware stores such as Sur la Table. Continue reading

Pistachio Brownies—A Hit at the Party!

Dark Chocolate Pistachio and Orange Brownies 3 3194x2676One of my favorite parties of the year is the late fall dinner my husband and I host for his freshman seminar class at Amherst College. The students, bright, lively, and engaging, come from around the country as well as from several continents. This year the group hailed from New York to California and from cities in Ethiopia, Uruguay, and Viet Nam. So, I decided to plan a menu with global accents, and offered as openers baked Medjool dates filled with Gorgonzola Dolce and almonds, followed by vegetarian Greek moussaka and French daube de boeuf à la provençale. All-American brownies, prepared with an unexpected flavor combination, made a fine finale.Freshman Party students 1 3648x2736

Freshman Party  Students (boys) 2 3648x2736The dark chocolate, fudgy brownies, studded with chopped pistachios and scented with fragrant orange peel, quickly disappeared and were given a thumbs up by the crowd. I was delighted since I had spent several days tweaking the recipe, replacing traditional nuts with pistachios and omitting vanilla in place of grated orange zest. Extra festive touches included decorating the brownies with a zigzag pattern of ganache and adding a sprinkle of finely chopped verdant pistachios.

These brownies are petite and slim perfect for a holiday indulgence. A single recipe yields 16 squares and can be stored for several days in the fridge. I was so pleased with their popularity that I’m making another batch for a neighborhood potluck this weekend!

Continue reading

Happy Thanksgiving!

From my table in New England to yours, Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers! Just click on any of the photos for a quick slide show!

 

 

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.

Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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