Curried Cashews Make a Great Last-Minute Gift from the Kitchen

If, like me, you are running late, but still hoping to make edible gifts for this holiday season, consider these delicious curried cashews with currants. They take only about 30 minutes to assemble, roast, and cool!

I included these nuts at a Holiday Open House cooking class last week, and was thrilled when almost everyone in the packed room said they were planning to prepare them!

These nuts are definitely addictive. Just try eating a mere handful! Seasoned with a tempting blend of both sweet and salty notes, cashews, along with currants, are coated with a maple syrup mixture scented with curry, cardamom, and ginger. The nuts are Continue reading

What to Grill for the Big Holiday Weekend

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Tomato Avocado SalsaFor much of this coming holiday weekend, my husband and I will be caught up in reunion events at Amherst College where he teaches. There will be tent parties with catered food as classes of alums gather to reconnect, many receptions, plus scores of interesting seminars and talks. But by Sunday the festivities will have wound down, and that’s when I plan to pull out the grill and start cooking!

I’ve been tweaking a recipe for Grilled Chicken Thighs with Tomato and Avocado Salsa for several days now, and finally have the seasonings and timings fine-tuned. Exceptionally easy and inexpensive (if you’re serving a crowd), this chicken entree takes less than an hour to assemble plus some marinating time, and then about 25 minutes atop the coals. Why thighs instead of breasts? Because the dark meat stands up to grilling beautifully, and doesn’t dry out as quickly as does the white flesh.

Marinated simply in lime juice and olive oil along with coarse salt and red pepper flakes, Continue reading

Spicy Chili Bake for Simple Holiday Entertaining

chipotle-chili-baked-under-a-cornbread-crust-1For many of us who entertain, December is the most important month of the year. Whether you’re cooking for an open house, a caroling party, an end-of-the year office fête, a neighborhood potluck, or a Yankee swap (my daughter-in-law’s favorite), the holidays offer endless opportunities to share food with others. The real challenges are finding tempting, but uncomplicated recipes and the time to prepare them.

The spicy chili baked under a cornmeal crust featured here just might fill your needs. Although the chili is prepared classically with ground beef, beans, and a generous kick of heat from both chipotle and traditional chili powder, it is served in an unusual way. Spread in a casserole dish, it is topped with a cheese-scented cornmeal batter, and then baked. When done, a thin layer of golden cornbread covers the bubbling chili beneath. A sprinkle of cilantro and a bowl of sour cream make simple garnishes.

This dish has other bonuses as well. The chili itself can be prepared up to three days ahead—a gift to holiday chefs—so that all that is necessary at serving time is a quick assembly of the cornmeal batter to spread atop the casserole. And, if you’re expecting a crowd, you can double the ingredients easily.

So, during this season of gatherings, consider serving this spicy chili bake. Add a favorite salad and some holiday cookies, and you’ve got a party menu!

 

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!

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A Stunning Roast Beef Tenderloin for Christmas Dinner!

Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Tomatoes,  Goat Cheese, and Watercress 3 If you’re like me and have waited until the last minute to decide on what to serve for Christmas, worry no more. A glorious beef tenderloin roasted with plum tomatoes and garnished with a sprinkle of creamy goat cheese might just be the answer. For the past few years my son and I have planned and cooked together our family’s holiday meals. But, this year we are behind and still haven’t chosen our menu for 2013. Since our clan clamors for beef on the 25th, I culled my files, and found a favorite recipe for beef tenderloin roasted with plum tomatoes garnished with creamy crumbles of goat cheese.

I created this dish several years ago for my syndicated column, and am still amazed that it is so deceptively uncomplicated to assemble, and calls for such readily available ingredients. Continue reading

Cappuccino Cheesecake—A Holiday Indulgence!

Cappuccino 2a resizedLast night at my book club’s annual holiday potluck, guests brought two appetizers, two soups, and a half dozen desserts. Obviously, this group of avid readers had forgone diets to indulge in sweet temptations. There were three kinds of cookies, big (not petit) vanilla frosted cupcakes topped with pomegranate seeds, dense brownies, and a loaf cake studded with fruits. At the end of the evening the few remaining desserts were quickly divvied up and carted off to enjoy at home!

“Tis the season to eat without guilt,” so I am including a new recipe for a rich and creamy cappuccino cheesecake. Just like a cup of cappuccino, this cheesecake has an espresso-scented base (made with both cream cheese and mascarpone) and is garnished with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I also added a drizzle of chocolate sauce to complement the coffee flavor. Continue reading

A Casserole for Every Season

Baked Salmon and Spring Vegetables 1

It’s a big week for me. I am putting the finishing touches on my latest book, Sunday Casseroles! Over the past year, I have spent hours with a talented team of assistants poring over ideas for the recipes in this collection. I wanted to update many classic  casseroles (think mac and cheese with a hint of crème fraîche), and invent enticing new ones.

 Heavily salted canned soups called for in the casseroles of yesteryear were banished, and replaced with easily made sauces. Fresh vegetables appear in countless dishes, and instead of pouring bread crumbs from a box, I opted for quickly toasting homemade ones in a skillet. Continue reading

Champagne with a Twist!

A couple of years ago while my husband and I were in Paris, two of my spouse’s former Amherst students, who live and work in the City of Light, invited us for drinks and appetizers. They set out a luscious block of foie gras with a basket of crispy baguette slices along with bowls of olives and cornichons, but the attraction of the evening was the champagne drink they served.

Ardent foodies, they offered us coupes de champagne avec St. Germain. They were certain that I would be familiar with the fragrant elderflower liqueur known as St. Germain. Mais non! This was my first experience, I confessed, and after one sip of champagne paired with St. Germain, I was in heaven.

This clear, aromatic liqueur adds an amazingly fresh, floral note to a glass of bubbly. St Germain (that’s the brand name) comes in tall, sleek bottles, and is available on this side of the Atlantic in wine and spirits stores. I had no trouble finding it in my small New England town in both large bottles and nip-sized ones.

Photo by Susie Cushner

With Christmas and New Year’s Eve almost here, I thought that my readers might like to add a little extra sparkle to their flutes of champagne. Here are two recipes to get you started. Also check out www.stgermain.fr for more recipes.

Cheers and happy holidays to everyone!

 

 

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A Fabulous Holiday Brunch Dish

One of the challenges for many cooks (myself included!) during the Christmas holidays is figuring out what to serve overnight company for breakfast or brunch. A dish that is simple to prepare, that can be mostly assembled in advance, and that delivers a bit of dazzle is what we all want. This casserole of baked French toast topped with a glorious mélange of fresh and dried fruits will definitely fit the bill.

All you have to do is to arrange slices from a good peasant or country loaf in a baking dish, cover them with purchased eggnog, then refrigerate overnight. At baking time, you spoon apple wedges, diced dried apricots, and dried cherries that have been sautéed in butter and brown sugar atop the soaked bread, and add a sprinkle of walnuts. Then this breakfast gratin goes into the oven to bake unattended for about 40 minutes. Oh, did I mention that the fruits can be sautéed a day ahead? Continue reading