The week before Thanksgiving my husband and I hosted our annual dinner for his freshman class at Amherst College. This year along with worrying about getting food cooked for fifteen, I was also concerned about the weather. Forecasters were predicting a hearty snowfall for the night of our party. Since we live two miles from campus, we were keeping our fingers crossed that the storm would start later than expected.
Luck went our way with the students arriving around 6, and no snow in sight. For appetizers I had set out a wheel of Camembert, halved and stuffed with chopped Medjool dates, dried apricots, and toasted walnuts, all scented with orange zest. Toasted baguettes slices and apple wedges made fine canvases for the stuffed cheese. A big dish of rigatoni baked with a spicy tomato sauce, a salad of mixed greens and shaved fennel tossed with lemon and olive oil, and a basket of warm artisan breads followed. Still, no snow.
But when the desserts–pumpkin brownies served with vanilla ice cream and caramel Continue reading
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!
Earlier this fall in a cooking class, I included the recipe for some polenta squares with Gruyère, walnuts, and fresh rosemary. In the class they were served as a side dish to racks of lamb, but later I discovered that they worked beautifully as appetizers. A few days after that class, my husband and I ended up hosting an impromptu Sunday supper for family and friends. There were ten of us and I needed a quick opener. Why not turn that delicious side dish into a starter, I reasoned! The polenta squares turned out to be the stars of the evening, and were simple to assemble well in advance.
I have loved polenta since I first tasted it prepared by Italian chefs back in the 80s. Those chefs used water and coarse meal. However, when I started making polenta, I found that replacing the water with chicken stock added another layer of flavor. Instead of coarsely Continue reading
In the file cabinet wedged into the closet of my study, I keep folders filled with recipes clipped from magazines and papers or printed from the internet. These recipes are not categorized by type of food (which would be the most practical organization), but rather haphazardly by season with headings like: “fall/winter” or “spring/summer.” There are hundreds in countless folders. Recently, I spotted a recipe from the late 90s for roasted grapes and olives. It called for wine grapes and Picholine olives to be cooked in a skillet in a wood-fired oven. Because I didn’t have access to either wine grapes or a wood-fired oven then, I left the instructions filed away as a memory. But fast-forward almost 20 years, and I saw the recipe in a new light!
Red and green seedless grapes plus pitted Kalamatas stand in beautifully for the original ingredients. Walnut halves add crunchy texture, and herbes de Provence and bay leaves an herbal accent. Nothing could be simpler to prepare. I tossed everything with olive oil Continue reading
Last week I wrote about the delicious overnight oats we enjoyed at our hotel on Nantucket, but that wasn’t the only culinary inspiration the island sparked. I was also taken with some unusual appetizers prepared with baguette slices spread with cream cheese and topped with roasted red grapes and sunflower seeds.
At home I couldn’t wait to make these little treats in my own kitchen. I tried several cheeses, and settled on some snowy white chèvre to replace the cream cheese in the original version. And, toasted walnuts were just as good as sunflower seeds.
Roasting the grapes was a breeze. You coat them with olive oil, pop them in the oven for Continue reading
Everywhere 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 time, 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.
It’s hard to turn down delicious temptations when you’re in Paris. This week alone, my husband and I have dined out with friends at five different restaurants. At Semilla, the stuffed pintade (guinea hen) served with white polenta and fresh truffles was irresistible, as was my creamy risotto with chorizo and fresh orange segments at Muxu, a Basque restaurant. Petite grenaille potatoes sautéed in duck fat at La Laiterie Sainte-Clotilde, and an incredible apple dessert garnished with lime ice cream and a streusel crust at Pirouette were good for our spirits, but hard on our waistlines.
After eating without counting calories, we felt the need for a light entrée such as the winter salad of mixed greens, sliced apples, and smoked trout that I made a few days ago. It takes only about 20 minutes to assemble, and bursts with flavor and color. I marinated sliced apples, Belgian endive, and radishes in a lemon/mustard dressing, then tossed them with mixed greens. For serving, the salad was mounded on dinner plates, garnished with smoked fish, and sprinkled with coarsely chopped walnuts. Continue reading
There would be a rebellion in our family if our Thanksgiving menu did not include certain dishes. Everyone expects herb-roasted turkey with shallot pan gravy and cornbread dressing prepared with leeks, onions, and sweet peppers. My spouse adores the glistening cranberry chutney I’ve made for close to two decades, and our grandkids look forward to decadent pies and other sweets to end our feast.
When it comes to side dishes, though, I can vary the offerings without a major protest. This year there will be tender green beans sprinkled with crispy bacon, green onions, and parsley along with buttermilk mashed potatoes with grainy mustard. I’m also adding roasted butternut squash and pears with blue cheese and walnuts, a glorious fall dish that bursts with vibrant fall colors and tastes. Continue reading
Years ago when my husband and I were newly married, we were invited to dinner one night by another young couple, both of whom were Italian. Although the entire meal was delicious, the dish I remember best was their gnocchi made with farina. Gnocchi (Italian for dumplings) can be prepared with potatoes, flour, or farina, and are usually enriched with eggs and cheese. Today, flour-based gnocchi are fashionably popular, but farina ones have long been my favorite. These gnocchi, garnished with crumbled gorgonzola, chopped walnuts, and minced fresh rosemary can be assembled ahead and served as a first course or a side dish.