cooking. baking. recipes. eating out.

cooking. baking. recipes. home economics. eating out.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Spectacular Christmas Dinner

This Christmas dinner is nothing short of a decadent, indulgent, rich feast. It incorporates so many wonderful food elements of the holiday season that just reading the menu makes one's mouth water. This meal is actually much easier to prepare and serve than it looks. You simply need to be prepared and think through the meal beforehand. I made and served this meal without help, so it can be done, and still had enough energy for church and presents and all that good stuff. Also, the first two courses are the only courses requiring much work. You see, aside from the spicy dates, the starters simply require being arranged on a platter. The same goes for the cheeses and the desserts. Because there are so many courses, you will want to offer small portions.

Below is the menu of what we had and the recipes for the soup and the veal. The recipe for the salad is already on this blog. I always order my buche de Noel, when in Chicago, from Bittersweet Bakery. They make a beautiful, generous buches de Noel and also stunning croquembouches.

Pate de Foie Gras Truffe
Toast Points
Rolled Prosciutto
Dalmatia Fig Spread
Spicy Sauteed Dates

Soup Course:
Perigord Black Winter Truffle Soup

Plat Principal:
Rolled Veal Tenderloin with Morel Mousse
Carrots Vichy
Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Salad Course:
Herb Salad

Cheese Course:
Selection of three goat, sheep and cow's milk cheeses

Buche de Noel
Petit Fours

Perigord Winter Truffle Soup

This recipe, and the recipe for the veal, are adapted from Cooking for Madam.

Multiply this recipe as needed.

5 ounces raw chicken breast meat
1 cup homemade chicken stock

Poach the chicken breast in the stock for 10 minutes. Let rest for a few minutes then cut into 1/4" dice.

1 teaspoon olive oil
5 Tablespoons freshly peeled, minced carrots
2 Tablespoons freshly minced celery
6 Tablespoons freshly minced mushrooms, any kind
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Thyme flowers

Coat the inside of a small saucepan with the olive oil and heat it. Add the diced carrots and cook, covered, over medium heat for 3 minutes then add the diced celery. Cook for 3 minutes then add the mushrooms and cook 3 minutes. The vegetables should cook 9 minutes in all, covered. The idea is to have the vegetables give up their juices, not to brown. Add the salt and pepper and a pinch of thyme flowers.

1 fresh Perigord Black Truffle (available at fine food stores such as Fox & Obel)
3 cups chicken stock
few drops of truffle oil

Using a truffle shaver, slice the whole truffle very thin. In a small saucepan, heat the stock, truffles and truffle oil over a low heat.

4 sheets phyllo pastry, or puff pastry
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg yolk, beaten

While the vegetables are cooking heat the oven to 450F. Lay out one of the layers of pastry on a counter top. Use a pastry brush to paint it with melted butter. Fold the pastry in half and paint again, then do it one more time. Use a tureen as a pattern, and cut a circle of pastry an inch bigger than the opening. Repeat with the other three pieces of pastry.

Place a spoonful of the mirepoix vegetables in the bottom of each tureen and a quarter of the chicken breast meat. Add 3/4 cup of stock (divide the truffles evenly among the tureens). Brush the rims of the pastry circles with the beaten egg yolk and press the pastry, yolk side down, over the tops of the tureens, using the egg to seal the edges tightly.

Set the tureens on a jelly roll sheet and place them in the over. They will cook very fast. The pastry will expand and turn golden and when that happens, they're done. The aroma when you first break through the crust is amazing!

Rolled Veal Tenderloin with Morel Mousse

You will need to find a good butcher in order to find a veal tenderloin. They are not common at grocery stores. Whole Foods said they couldn't even order them. However, Paulina Meat Market did have them and they were perfect. For this recipe, the tenderloin needs to be butterflied. Unless you are especially skilled with meat this should be done by the butcher. Just explain what you are doing with the tenderloin and for the veal to be butterflied. A good butcher will know what to do.

10 ounces ground veal, preferably tenderloin
1 shallot, finely chopped
6 dried morels, soaked, lightly rinsed and patted dry
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 egg white
1/4 cup heavy cream

Place the veal, shallot and morels in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Add salt and pepper then the egg white and cream and pulse until the mixture is smooth. You want it really moussey. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until you need it.

2 pound eye of veal loin, completely trimmed and butterflied
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
10-15 large spinach leaves, washed and dried
1/2 cup coarsely chopped small white turnps
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onions
1/2 cup coarsely chopped carrots
2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 ounce dried morels, soaked in hot water, overnight
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups homemade veal or chicken stock
1 teaspoon butter
2 shallots, minced
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat 450F. Open the veal out flat on the counter and season the inside with kosher salt and pepper. Lay large spinach leaves down the natural crease along the center of the veal. Spread the mousse over the spinach, making sure that the mousse covers only the middle section of the loin. Cover the mousse with the remaining spinach so it is completely encased in spinach. Roll the loin up carefully so the mousse stays in place, then tie kitchen string around the roll every couple inches.

Place the turnips, onions, carrots and garlic in a roasting pan with the rolled loin on top. Roast for 20 minutes then lower the heat to 375F and roast another 15 - 25 minutes, or til mousse is set.

While the meat is roasting, drain the morels through a double layer of cheesecloth. Save the liquid they were soaking in. Wash the mushrooms well and set them aside. Remove the meat from the oven and keep it warm on a covered platter. Leave the vegetables in the roasting pan. Put the roasting pan with the vegetables still in it over a burner. Pour in the white wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the little bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Scrape the contents of the pan in a saucepan - with the cooked vegetables, too. Add 1 1/2 cups of the stock and the reserved morel soaking water. If that is skimpy, add more stock. Cook over high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1 1/4 cups. Strain it through a fine seive, discard the vegetables and set the sauce aside. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and lightly saute the shallots. Add the morels and the cream, stirring over low heat until thickened. Stir constantly to keep the mixture smooth, as you slowly add the sauce base. Serve immediately with the sliced veal. Serves 8.

The cheese course looked like this...

The buche de Noel looked like this...

The drinks looked like this...

Here is the Christmas tree before dinner and the opening of presents...

Now, onward to 2012!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gingerbread House

I love making a gingerbread house! I have made this one every year since I found a recipe online at Here is the link. It is the best gingerbread house recipe I have seen. It is thorough and step-by-step and comes with pattern pieces you can print out and then use to cut the walls and roof of your house.
The question I am asked most often about gingerbread houses is: do you eat them? The answer is yes and no. It is made entirely from safe, common, edible ingredients (flour, sugar, butter, etc.) However, some people do not like the idea of eating something which has sat out for a long time. And I would never destroy a gingerbread house before Christmas Day. I personally consider it something to snack on during the twelve days of Christmas. If you wait to eat your house until a couple weeks after it is made it will, indeed, be hard. But I enjoy breaking off a small piece, like the corner of the roof, and dipping it in hot coffee, tea or chocolate. The spices with the drink make for a very Christmasy experience. It also seems like quite a waste of food to make the gingerbread house and then never eat it. So, as long as you enjoy it, it is perfectly fine to eat a gingerbread house, even after it has sat out.

Some helpful tips:
1. Left over dough can be used to make gingerbread men cookies or ornaments for your tree or other pieces for your gingerbread house scene..
2. Roll the dough used for the roof a little thinner than the walls. You will have to attach the roof with royal icing "mortar." The less it weighs, the more easily it will attach.
3. This is such a large batch of dough you can be generous with the spices. I use an extra teaspoon of ginger and cinnamon to make this house especially fragrant.
4. I've used various things over the years to make snow on the ground, including marshmallows, shredded coconut, and royal icing. Here, I piped royal icing.
5. Assemble your house on whatever platform it will rest on. For example, I often use a foil covered cutting board. This will save you from having to move the assembled house to a display board.
6. Be creative. Gingerbread houses are pretty whimsical. You needn't be afraid to try a different design. If you think it might be cute, try it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Gingerbread Men Cookie Ornaments

I have made these fellas to hang from the Christmas tree for ages. They are darling, edible and make cute gifts. They are also a great project for the amateur artist. You can craft your gingerbread men (or women!) to look however you want. This year, I gave a few of mine beards. I'm keeping up with the trends.


3 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup butter

2/3 cup brown sugar (light or dark)

1/3 cup molasses

1 egg

1/2 cup softened butter
2 cups powdered sugar, possibly more
1 Tablespoon milk, possibly more
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla

Measure the flour and whisk in the baking soda and spices. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attached, cream the butter. Add the sugar and whip until incorporated. Add the molasses and the egg and whip until light. Scrape down the bowl and whip for another 10 seconds or so.

Remove the whisk attachment and switch to the dough hook. Dump in the flour and spice mixture and knead on low until the wet and dry ingredients have combined well. Refrigerate about one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll out one quarter of the dough to 1/8" thickness on a well floured surface.

Using a gingerbread man cookie cutter, stamp out pieces. Use a plastic straw to punch out a hole in the head of the cookie in order to put a ribbon through. Make the hole a good size; it will close some during baking. Line the men up about 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. If there is a lot of residual flour on your cookies, use a pastry brush to remove it. Too much flour will result in a lighter colored cookie. I like the rich brown color to contrast well with the white icing.

Bake 6 minutes. Cool completely on wire wracks or on another heat-proof surface.

Make the icing: Whip the butter until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla and whip until light. You may need to adjust your icing to be the right consistency. Add milk 1/4 teaspoon at a time to thin it. Add powdered sugar 1 tablespoon at a time to thicken it. You want your icing to be piping consistency. (I will mention here that it is also possible to use royal icing for this part. The English certainly would. Royal icing is a brighter shade of white, though this icing, once dry, is very nice, too.)

Decorate the ornaments as you see fit. Here, I used a piping bag and a number 3 tip to ice these cookies.

Here are how some of mine turned out iced.

Once the icing has dried, cut an 8-10 inch piece of red ribbon (1/16" to 1/4" works best). String through the hole and tie a knot, adjusting for the length you want. Hang from your tree or give them away as gifts.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Advent Wreath

Advent - the four weeks preceding Christmas - is really a fantastic season in the Christian calendar. It works well for those who love everything about what Americans know as the "holiday season" (me) and those who hate the commercial thrust of Christmas the second Halloween is over (me, too). It presents a terrific chance to let your inner rebel out and become, briefly, counter-cultural. Essentially, Advent gives you the rightful opportunity to reject those secular parts of the lead-up to Christmas that don't enhance your spirituality, or, in the words of St. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians, that don't "set your hope on Christ." After all, Advent in its most traditional understanding is a season of preparation. Finally, I will add that I like Advent because it permits me to actually celebrate the 12 days in the season of Christmas, right up to Epiphany on January 6. I always think it such a shame to go out Boxing Day morning and see countless Christmas trees already thrown out on the tree lawn. There are eleven more days to go! Though more and more parishes, both Protestant and Catholic, will display with more or less prominence an Advent wreath, it was originally, and remains, primarily an object for home devotions and prayers. Some families like to light the candles before having dinner and let them burn throughout. Others will light the candles briefly before saying their evening prayers, either alone or in a family setting. Since I am a self-avowed foodie, I prefer the option of lighting the candles before saying grace and then burning them through dinner. A proper Advent wreath will ordinarily have three purple candles and one pink candle. Some Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and low-church Lutherans and Episcopalians will also opt for four blue candles. Regardless, one additional candle is lit each week for the four weeks preceding Christmas until all four are burning on week four. The pink candle is lit on week three, or Gaudette Sunday. The pink symbolizes joy. Advent wreaths are also a fantastic craft and there's really not much of a way to mess one up. Since its components are largely natural, no strict rigidity is required. The wreath can be as plain or plush or sparse as you wish.

Here are the tools and supplies I use (and please forgive any incorrect or imprecise botanical language):

1 Advent wreath form

balsam branch clippings

juniper clippings
long-needle pine clippings

holly clippings

round pine cones

long pine cones

floral wire

small wire cutters

sturdy clippers for cutting branches

3 purple tapers

1 pink taper

purple ribbon, optional

The instructions and technique are quite simple. Clip several pieces of floral wire to about 3 inches. (You will need to clip more once you use these up.) Use these wires to attach the branches to the Advent wreath form. If you are unsure how to do this, the easiest way it to make all your greenery point in one direction, such as clockwise. Start in one place on the wreath, add one piece and then continue around the wreath until you come full circle. You can then add to fill in an any empty or sparse places.
Once the greenery is attached, you can tie wire to the pinecones and attach them, as well. Finish with the Advent candles and, if you wish, some purple ribbon. (I left the ribbon off this year for no good reason other than simplicity.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pasta and Lentil Stew

I am in a Worship class at LSTC in Chicago. For our retreat, we, as a group, engaged and conducted the Triduum services (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter) all in one November Saturday. For our supper, we were each asked to contribute a simple dish. I was a little apprehensive at first. The idea of making soup first thing Saturday morning to take to nine hours of church seemed to be too much. Really, though, the retreat turned out to be a wonderful, transformational experience. I would even call it a "heart-warming" John Wesley-esque conversion experience. So, what does one make for Easter in November? (My teacher reminded us that having Easter in the autumnal season is really no big deal; Christians in the Southern Hemisphere do it every year!) This stomach-warming dish is what I brought. It seemed to go over well, or else my classmates are just too friendly. Regardless, this is a savory, hearty and very healthy stew. It is chock full of fiber from the vegetables and lentils. It is also impossible to mess up. Give it a try.

1/2 cup olive oil, filtered or unfiltered
2-3 leeks or 1-2 large onions, halved and sliced thin
1 pound carrots or baby carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4" slices
1/2 pound celery, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups (1 bag) lentils
12 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
4 Tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups homemade or low-salt vegetable, beef, chicken or veal broth
4 cups water, possibly more, if needed
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound ditalini

First, prep all your vegetables according to the list above.

Heat a huge pot over high heat. Once hot, add the olive oil. Then add the leeks, carrots and celery. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften/sweat, but don't brown them. Add the garlic, stir and cook another 1-2 minutes. Never burn garlic.

Stir in the lentils and tomatoes, hand crushing as you add them. Stir in the tomato paste, broth, water, salt and pepper. Cook at a steady simmer for 45 minutes to one hour.

In the meantime, cook the ditalini in well salted water (1+ Tbsp kosher salt per gallon of water) to al dente. Drain and set aside.

Taste the lentils to see that they are tender. When the lentils are finished, the broth will thicken some and form a nice sauce.

Add the pasta to the lentils and stir to distribute evenly.

Serve with plenty of fresh Parmesan cheese for topping and a warm, crusty baguette.

Serves: one army with leftovers.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Arugula, Orange and Toasted Walnut Salad

This is a flavorful salad that tastes best in the fall and winter as the ingredients are so seasonal, almost Christmasy, with the oranges and walnuts. In this recipe you will need to "supreme" the oranges. This may seem a bit elaborate in concept but once you do it a few times you'll be able to do a whole orange in a minute. You will also be able to use this skill in other dishes. I think it's a beautiful way of cutting up an orange.

1-2 oranges, number and type by preference
1/4 cup walnuts
2 oz. arugula

1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black or white pepper
1/2 Tbsp olive oil

On a cutting board and using a sharp knife, cut the top 1/2" and bottom 1/2" off an orange.

Next, using vertical cuts, cut strips off the side of the orange. Be sure to cut off all the white part (pith) but try to leave as much of the flesh as possible.

Over your salad bowl and using a very sharp paring knife, start removing the segments from the orange leaving behind the membranes. Let the excess juice fall into the salad bowl and set aside the segments in another small bowl.

Once you have removed all the segments, squeeze what remains in your hand over the salad bowl. You'll have a good tablespoon or two. The juice will be part of the dressing.

Add the vinegar and salt to the orange juice in the salad bowl. Whisk to disolve the salt. Add the pepper. Then whisk in the olive oil. Set aside.

Place a small skillet over high heat. When hot, toast the walnuts for a few minutes until fragrant and changing color. Remove from heat and set aside.

Toss the arugula, half the orange segments and half the nuts in the dressing. Plate on salad plates and garnish with the remaining nuts and orange segments. Using a spoon, drizzle a little of the remaining dressing from the bowl over the salads.

Pan-Roasted Chicken and Rosemary Mac & Cheese

There is no excuse for this dish. Any respectable cardiologist (aside from the cheese-munching, chain-smoking French cardiologist my friend dated) would recoil at this recipe. Nonetheless, it is delicious and the ultimate seasonal comfort food. I always serve this in small portions - though your guests will plead for more - and also with a sharp or citrusy winter salad, like the Arugula, Orange and Walnut Salad above. The acid in the salad (and wine) will help cut the richness and fattiness of this dish.

Olive oil, any kind
2 split chicken breasts
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp brandy

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried or 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
4-5 oz. goat cheese or chevre

1/2 pound dried rigatoni

Heat a frying pan large enough to hold the chicken breasts over high heat. While this heats, season both sides of the breasts with the salt and pepper.

When the pan is hot, add a swirl of olive oil.

Add the chicken breasts to the pan.

Sear the breasts until golden brown on both sides.

Reduce heat to low and cook another 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the heat and cover the pan. Let the chicken sit in the pan while you continue with the recipe. It will keep cooking and will become quite tender.

Fill a large pot with cold water and place over high heat. Season the water to taste like the ocean. This will take a good tablespoon of kosher or sea salt, or less iodized table salt (a product you shouldn't own, anyway).

Put a teaspoon of rosemary in the mortar and give a few grinds with the pestle. You do not want to create a powder; you just want to break up any particularly hard or brittle pieces. If you are using fresh rosemary, chop it to the desired texture.

In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, milk, salt and rosemary over medium heat. Once the cream mixture reaches the boiling point, reduce the heat to very low and allow this mixture to cook for a few minutes. You want a little of the moisture to come off this, but don't let it boil. Once it thickens just a little, add the goat cheese in chunks.

Stir or whisk this into the sauce until melted and smooth. After a few more minutes of cooking, the sauce should coat the back of a spoon. When it does, turn it off and let sit.

Add the pasta to the seasoned water that is now at a roaring boil. Cook until al dente, usually 10-12 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the water in which the pasta was cooked. Return the pasta to the pot in which it was cooked.

Meanwhile, remove the cooked chicken breast to a cutting board. In the skillet you should have about 1/4 or 1/2 cup of pan juices. Turn the heat back up to high and reduce this down to a syrupy tablespoon. Deglaze the pan, scraping up any remaining bits, with the brandy. Reduce this for about 15-30 seconds and pour this dark, delicious and aromatic glaze into the cream mixture and whisk.

Reheat the sauce on a low simmer. On a cutting board, slice the chicken breast into 1/4" slices.

Add the sliced chicken to the cream sauce and turn off the heat.

Dump the cheese sauce over the cooked and drained noodles. Gently turn over to coat the noodles well. The sauce will continue to thicken as this cools, especially once it is plated. So, don't worry that the sauce is too thin. If the sauce is too thick, use some of the reserved pasta water to thin it.

Plate in wide rim or cream soup bowls. Top with a little grated Parmesan, if you wish. Serve with dry wine, a salad and Lipitor.

Serves 4-6.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bruschetta Three Ways

Here is another easy, quick recipe that I hope you will try. These are three finger foods great to make for entertaining that all go well together. The peppers recipe is a modified version of a similar one from Ina Garten. The olive tapenade is a recipe I made up, a copy of what I remember Jac's in Cleveland doing. The tomato bruschetta recipe is the classic American version of this treat. All three are great for serving guests with cocktails before going out, or staying in, for dinner.

Should you be tiring of my simple recipes, worry not. Christmas is only about 10 weeks away and I will merrily be posting many great holiday treats and crafts. Like gingerbread houses. Those are neither quick nor terribly easy.

All three of these, along with the toasts, can be prepped, cooked and assembled in under an hour. They should serve 6-8 people with cocktails.

The Bread

1 baguette
Olive oil, filtered or unfiltered
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450F.

First, take a baguette and slice it into thin rounds 1/4-1/2 inch thick. You will get 30-40 slices from an ordinary baguette. Place in a single layer on a dry cookie sheet.

Brush the bread slices lightly with olive oil. Season lightly with some kosher salt and a few grinds of the peppermill.

Bake in the hot oven until golden brown and toasted dry, about 8-15 minutes depending how moist the bread was. The mositure should be baked out of the toasts or else they will be tough when cool.

Once out of the oven, allow the bread to cool on the cookie sheet then set aside to dress with the following toppings.

Olive Tapendade

15 pitted Kalamata olives
1 medium clove garlic
4 sun dried tomatoes
1 Tbsp unfiltered olive oil
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Chop the olives until they are between a mince and a dice.

Set aside in a small mixing bowl.

Mince the garlic and add to the chopped olives.

Chop the sun dried tomatoes to the same texture as the olives and add to the bowl.

Add the pepper and olive oil and stir to combine well. Cover and set in the refrigerator to keep cool.

Tomato Bruschetta

3-4 Roma tomatoes
1 medium clove garlic
1/4 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 oz. Romano, shredded
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Few grinds freshly ground pepper

Core and dice the tomatoes and set aside in a mixing bowl.

Mince the garlic and add to the tomatoes.

Chop the parsley leaves and add to the mixing bowl.

Add the olive oil, salt and pepper and combine well. Cover and set in the refrigerator to keep cool.

Roasted Peppers and Chevre Bruschetta

1 Tbsp olive oil, filtered or unfiltered
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
Kosher salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp capers, drained
8 basil leaves, chiffonade
2 oz. chevre (goat cheese)

Core and seed the peppers.

Slice into thin strips.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet large enough to hold all the peppers without cramping. Once the oil is hot, almost to the somoking point, add the peppers all at once. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Saute for about 10 minutes then add the sugar. Cook another 5 minutes until the peppers have carmelized and look deeply roasted. Remember, the peppers need to be cooked enough that they are maleable and fit on a toasted slice of baguette. Large, hard pieces of pepper will make assembling the bruschetta more difficult. Add the capers and saute a few minutes more. Add the basil and remove from the heat and set aside until you are ready to assemble the bruschetta.

To assemble:

Scatter the cooled toasts on the tray on which you will serve these. Top each toast with a heaping teaspoon of olive tapenade, chopped tomato mixture, or the pepper mixture. All three mixes should make about 40 toasts. Sprinkle some freshly grated Romano on the tomato toasts and use a fork to break a little piece of chevre onto the roasted pepper topped toasts. Serve.