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

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.

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.

Goodbye Summer! Hello Fall!

Fall Salad with Apples in Cider Honey Vinaigrette 1  1816x1320In the space of a week our weather here in New England has gone from reaching a high in the 90s during the day to a low of 40s at night. Fall is definitely making an early arrival this year! The markets are also beginning to reflect a change of seasons, especially in the produce aisles where the bins are filled with apples. Macintosh, Mollie’s Delicious, Ginger Gold, Gravenstein, and Macouns (my personal favorite) are all on proud display.

I’ve been buying them in varying hues, slicing them thinly, and using them along with fresh sage leaves (from my herb garden) to garnish wedges of local blue and aged goat cheese. This week I branched out and used them in a robust fall salad.

Pan-Braised Pork, Butternut Squash, and Greens-A Recipe Serves More Than One Purpose!

Pork Chops, Butternut Squash, Farfalle 2When a local supermarket chain in our town recently ran a “buy one, get one free” special on pork chops, I couldn’t resist the bargain, tucking two packages into my cart. I knew immediately that the thick, boneless chops could be used to make a double recipe of pan-braised pork and butternut squash, a delicious all-in-one fall dish. One batch would be for our family, and the other a gift to a dear friend who was having out-patient cataract surgery the next day. Since this main course could be cooked ahead and was easy to transport, it was perfect to take across town. Continue reading

Spicy Lamb Chops–Weeknight Quick and Easy!

Lamb Chops with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce 1It’s a recurrent theme at our house and maybe at yours too. Does this sound familiar? You’ve worked all day and arrive home feeling as if the last thing you want to do is cook. The temptation looms large to order a pizza or take out from the local Chinese or Mexican place, but what you really crave is something homemade for supper.

Because I play out that scenario often, I’m always searching for easy homemade fixes for weeknight meals. When I discover a new dish such as Spicy Lamb Chops with Yogurt Cucumber Sauce I love to share it with my readers. Continue reading

Cider-Roasted Pork –Perfect for Crisp Fall Nights

Cider Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Apples, Shallots 1As soon as the first bottles of local cider appear in our markets, I put one in my cart, not just for sipping, but for cooking as well. I love to cook seasonally, and nothing says fall more clearly than fresh cider.

This year, along with serving mugs of warm spiced cider, I’ve used this fall libation to baste pork tenderloins seasoned with sage, thyme, and rosemary. After browning the tenderloins with some sliced shallots, I add cider to the pan, slide it into the oven, and then halfway through the roasting arrange apple wedges around the pork. As a finishing touch I prepare a quick pan sauce with more cider, a hint of cider vinegar, and some butter. Continue reading

Swiss Chard – A Great Side Dish for Fall

asTurnip greens and collards were familiar staples at our table when I was growing up in the South, but Swiss chard, another nutrient-packed green, was never on the menu. Not until many years later, did I discover this delicious, leafy vegetable. Chard comes in green, red, and yellow varieties and is available throughout the year, but right now it’s at its peak in my farmers’ markets and local groceries.

Mediterranean cooks have long used chard imaginatively, but I only recently started cooking with this vegetable that ranks as one of the healthiest in the world. Like spinach, it can be sautéed with garlic, added to vegetable soups, or baked in a casserole with a creamy sauce, all with tempting results. Continue reading