Pumpkin Pots de Crème Replace Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving Desert!

Like most cooks, I always include a pumpkin dessert at our family’s Thanksgiving celebration, but often it’s not a traditional pumpkin pie. In years past, I’ve prepared frozen pumpkin mousse parfaits, whipped cream-filled pumpkin roulade, pumpkin brownies, and dense pumpkin spice cake as finales for this holiday meal. This year, though, I’ve decided on pumpkin pots de crème with a pecan toffee crunch topping, a recipe I created more than a decade ago.

These pots de crème take only a few minutes to assemble, and about 40 minutes of unattended time in the oven. A simple custard mixture made with purchased pumpkin puree, aromatic spices, and a good splash of bourbon, is ladled into individual ramekins, which are placed in a water bath to bake until set.

The garnishes, however, truly distinguish this dessert. Chopped toasted pecans combined with toffee bits are sprinkled over the silky, smooth custards while warm. Then they are chilled and topped with dollops of whipped cream.

Beside their delicious pumpkin taste, these pots de crème have several other advantages for cooks. They can be prepared two days ahead and kept refrigerated until needed. (You’ll just need to top each one with whipped cream at the last minute.) Plus, a single recipe yields twelve servings, enough for a crowd. So, keep these scrumptious creations in mind when you plan your menu for November 22th.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

 

A Warming Cauliflower Soup for Chilly Fall Nights

Fall has been slow to arrive in New England this year. Throughout September there were many days when temperatures reached the 80s and 90s, and the air conditioning was kept running. My cooking—which included grilled dishes and plenty of salads–was more redolent of summer than autumn. Finally, this past week the weather turned brisk and chilly, signaling the arrival of the new season and the time for me to change my menus. Along with roasting rather than grilling meats, I’ve been making hearty soups like the creamy cauliflower soup featured here today.

When we invited good friends for a kitchen dinner last weekend, I offered, as a first course, bowls of this smooth, ivory-hued potage topped with sautéed cauliflower florets and sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs and parsley. (The fall theme was continued with roast , Continue reading

Fall Apples and Cider Pair Deliciously with Chicken Cutlets

.Across the ocean in London, where my husband and I spent this past week, fall apples had starring roles on restaurant menus and were featured in food magazines as well. At Tom’s Kitchen, in Chelsea, I ordered a creamy, smooth chicken liver mousse served with a deep golden applesauce and a sprinkle of crunchy granola. At Elystan Street, another restaurant near by, an apple and Damson plum crumble caught my eye. Then in the British food magazine, Olive, I spotted roast rack of pork paired with apple/horseradish sauce and a toffee apple cheesecake. So, when I returned home, apples were on my mind, and I knew exactly what I wanted to cook—sautéed chicken cutlets and apple wedges served with a fresh cider sauce.

The recipe is simplicity itself. Apple wedges, with their skins left on, are cooked in a little Continue reading

Dark Chocolate and Apricot Tart for that Special Occasion

When I was a young, beginning cook (several decades ago!) one of my first kitchen triumphs was learning how to make a Sachertorte—a celebrated Viennese chocolate torte with an apricot filling, coated with a rich chocolate glaze. Recently the memory of this cake served as inspiration for a new recipe. If the pairing of chocolate and apricot was so successful in a cake, why not try it in a tart, I reasoned! It took several tries and quite a few hours in the kitchen to work out the details, but eventually I pulled a glorious shinny dark chocolate and apricot tart from the oven.

The crust, made with butter and cream and no water, is rich and bakes to a light golden brown. It will take a little extra time as the pastry crust gets baked first with foil and beans, and again without the beans, and once more with a thin layer of apricot preserves spread over the bottom of the tart. Once the crust is pre-baked more apricot preserves are Continue reading

A Delicious Tomato Soup for This Changing Weather

I think of this time of the year as transitional—not quite the end of summer, but not exactly fall either. Here in New England since September arrived, we’ve seen the thermometer reach a sweltering 90 degrees and just as quickly watched it drop to the chilly 50s. As a cook, the challenge is obvious. What I want is dishes that are just as tempting for those lingering hot, humid days as well as for the cool, crisp ones that hint at autumn.

The following recipe for a creamy tomato soup scented with goat cheese and garnished with tarragon easily bridges both these weather extremes. It can be prepared with the last Continue reading

Creamy Corn Gratin—A Tried and True Classic for Labor Day Cookouts

For my husband’s birthday earlier this summer, I prepared a menu of his favorites—steamed lobsters, heirloom tomatoes drizzled with vinaigrette, and a golden corn gratin. Although the lobsters were the star of the meal, the following day my spouse complimented the corn dish more than once. He liked it so much that I am planning to serve the gratin again over the long holiday weekend.

A sauté of fresh corn kernels and chopped leeks, combined with a savory custard of eggs and Half and Half, as well as a generous addition of grated Gruyere cheese formed the foundation of this classic recipe. When baked the top was firm with golden touches of Continue reading

A Serendipitous Summer Salad Becomes a Favorite

After a long morning of prepping for a cooking class scheduled the following day, my two assistants and I were wondering what to have for lunch. Looking in the fridge we spotted some limes and lemons, a large bunch of cilantro, a couple of ears of corn, and a bag of leftover salad greens. On the kitchen counter we noticed a ripe avocado and a bowl of multi-hued cherry tomatoes. It didn’t take us long to decide we could make a salad with our cache. What we weren’t expecting was for this impromptu creation to be so memorable!

We whisked lime and lemon juices with olive oil for a simple citrus vinaigrette, and for the salad we began by sautéing corn kernels scraped from the cobs. When lightly browned, we combined the golden morsels with halved cherry tomatoes and diced avocado. Since we had only a handful of salad greens, we used a generous amount of torn cilantro sprigs as a substitute. The substantial hit of cilantro’s assertive flavor turned out to be the secret to this salad’s delicious taste.

We piled the salad high on plates and dusted them with some coarsely grated hard-boiled egg. We also added a sprinkle of Mahon cheese, but the latter can be optional. The salad has become such a favorite that we’ve had it three more times for lunch on work days. Now each of us is planning to use it for summer suppers as a side to grilled mains such as chicken, lamb, or shrimp!

 

Glorious Beef Tenderloin with Aioli Anchors a Summer Meal!

This summer one of my most popular cooking classes featured a Provencal menu. Along with a fig and mint pizza, I included a beef tenderloin rubbed with herbes de Provence, that was then roasted and served with homemade aioli, Provence’s celebrated garlic mayo. Haricots verts scented with orange peel and poached summer cherries for dessert rounded out the menu.

The glorious fillet of beef was definitely the winning dish. I discovered that many students, although they loved this cut of meat (which is expensive), were unfamiliar with how to cook it, and were searching for a fail-safe method to prepare it.

Nothing could be simpler than the recipe featured here and in that class. A tenderloin, Continue reading

Summer Tiramisu Instead of Traditional Birthday Cake!

For my husband’s birthday celebration last week, he requested tiramisu instead of a traditional birthday cake. He didn’t have in mind classic tiramisu, the Italian specialty assembled with coffee-flavored ladyfingers and mascarpone. No! He specifically was longing for a delectable summer version he had sampled recently in France.

In Paris last month, at a dinner hosted by our French friends, Brigitte and Guy Bizot, he had discovered Brigitte’s tiramisu d’été, a multi-layered creation prepared with ladyfingers dipped in kirsch and cane syrup (rather than espresso), kirsch-scented mascarpone cream, and juicy strawberries and raspberries. One bite, and he swooned over this glorious dessert that easily serves 10.

At home a few weeks later, I pulled out the French recipe my friend had shared with me, Continue reading

Zucchini and Tomato Gratin- A Delicious Summer Side

When in France, one of my delights is cooking vegetables. With each season the French look forward to the arrival of fresh produce, and always use it imaginatively. Take for example the talented host who served my husband and me a delicious dish of baked veal slices topped with a beautiful asparagus sauce, or the creative restaurant chef who paired roasted eggplant cubes with fresh orange segments and then topped them with thin slices of dried goat cheese.

My own seasonal creations are far simpler since our rented apartment has a small kitchen. Zucchini (courgettes) and tomatoes are bountiful at the near-by fruit and vegetable stands, so I bought both to make a summer gratin.

A tian, a type of Provencal gratin prepared by baking layers of vegetables in a shallow dish Continue reading