Sunday, November 30, 2008

Green Beans with Bacon, Shallots & Mushrooms

I made these for my own Thanksgiving dinner this year -- very very good. Healthy? Not so much... but definitely delicious! The cooking time might seem like a lot, but for fresh green beans it works. If you can only get frozen, cut the cooking time to about 7 minutes after adding the green beans.

  • 11/2 pounds fresh green beans
  • 8 ounces bacon, chopped
  • 8 ounces fresh white mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 Knorr ham or chicken boullion cubes
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
Trim green beans to remove ends. Rinse in cold water. While trimming the beans, cook bacon in a large pot until crisp. Add mushrooms and shallots and cook for two minutes. Add sherry and let cook down for two minutes, stirring frequently.

Add water and stock cubes. Let come to a boil and add green beans. Cook 30 minutes and add butter. Serve immediately.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Twice Cooked Not-Sweet Sweet Potatoes

I made 10 pounds of sweet potatoes into my Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Pepper and Thyme for other people; for my own dinner, because one person reflected that the mashed version was too mushy for his tastes, I did them a little differently while keeping the same flavors.

Sliced thinly, sweet potatoes cook tender in almost no time in boiling water; I spread the cooked slices in a baking pan and topped them with a savory shallot-laced butter and baked for about 20 minutes. Wow. (and yes, I do have a serious affinity for shallots. Looking into a support group soon.)

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
Scrub sweet potato very well and slice 1/4 inch thick. Cover with cold water and add 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt. Bring to a boil and cook five minutes.

Drain and rinse in ice water to stop cooking. Remove any peels that come off easily; don't worry about the rest.

Melt butter in a small pan and add shallots, thyme, pepper and remaining salt. Cook five minutes over medium heat or until shallots are tender. Place sweet potato slices in a single layer in a buttered baking dish. Drizzle with the butter and shallot mixture. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Savory Corn Pudding with Herbs & Shallots

I made several Thanksgiving dishes for my friend Margie and her family this year. Margie's daughter loves corn, and Margie asked me to find a corn dish for her similar to the corn souffle that Margie used to make before a bad back inhibited her ability to spend hours on her feet in the kitchen. Of course, souffle's can't be made ahead, so that was out of the question.

Anyway.... I searched a LOT and found Sagaponack corn pudding by Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, and I liked the technique in it, but not the combination of flavors. The pudding is incredibly easy to assemble despite the list of ingredients, so I recreated it with flavors I thought worked better than those in the original.

So,apologies to the Contessa, but here's my version:
  • 5 cups frozen corn
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Melt butter in a large skillet. Add corn, onion, garlic, shallot, thyme, dill and pepper. Saute about 8 minutes and let cool.

Step 2:
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups half & half plus 1/2 cup milk OR
  • 1 cup half & half plus 1 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup fine cornmeal
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar or Gruyere or Swiss cheese, divided
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan-Romano cheese blend
Whisk eggs in a large bowl. Add half & half and milk and whisk together. Whisk in ricotta (it will dissolve). Whisk in cornmeal, a tablespoon at a time. Add seasonings and salt, then corn and vegetables. Add 3/4 cup cheddar, Swiss or Grueyere and 2 tablespoons Parmesan blend. Pour into a buttered large casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining cheeses over the top.

Heat oven to 375 while making pudding. Place a large roasting pan in the oven and fill halfway with very hot water. Place casserole dish in roasting pan so the pudding will cook with more gentle heat and some steam. Bake about 45 minutes or until the center is set and tester inserted into the middle is clean.

Let stand 15 minutes before serving. With a green salad, this is a great unexpected lunch and also the perfect side to roasted chicken or roast beef.

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

I created this particular version of this several years ago for an Italian food company I was working for (they needed something with nutmeg). That year for Thanksgiving, I made this as individual portions in a muffin tin and it was a huge hit. With the small ones, you get more flavorful crust if that's what you're into. This year, I made two, a 10" and an 8" for customers. I forgot to take pics before delivery unfortunately, but trust me that's it really pretty when baked.

For an 8 inch cheesecake:

First the crust:

  • 1/2 bag gingersnaps, crushed into fine crumbs (FOOD PROCESSOR!)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

Combine all and press on the bottom only of an 8 inch springform pan. Bake 8-10 minutes at 350. Let cool.
  • 3 pkgs cream cheese, softened
  • 3 eggs, room temp (take them out when you take the cream cheese out to soften)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue beating until sugar is absorbed. Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each one is added. Add vanilla with one of the eggs. Sprinkle cornstarch over the batter and stir by hand, then beat one more minute with the mixer.

Divide batter in half. Set one half aside. To the other half, add the following:
  • 1 cup solid pack pumpkin
  • 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon (depending on your taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar

Whisk gently until combined.

Spray the sides of the springform pan with cooking spray. To fill the pan, place half of plain batter onto crust. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat with both batters and then swirl with a knife, working across and back and forth over the batter.

Place a big roasting pan in the oven and fill with boiling water. Place cheesecake on rack above the roasting pan. Bake 50 minutes at 350 -- resist the temptation to peek! -- and then turn the oven off and open the door a little bit. Let the cheesecake cool in the oven for an hour, remove and finish cooling before refrigerating it. Refrigerate at least 8 hours before serving.

Cheesecakes crack -- it's a fact of life. This recipe is written with the tips and tricks that help stop that from happening: greasing the sides of the pan, adding cornstarch to stabilize the batter, not over-beating the eggs and adding a pan of water to the oven. If it still cracks, and it may, that's what whipped cream is for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Loaded Potato Salad

This seems an odd time of year for potato salad, but I live in south Florida where it's picnic time year round, and I made this for a friend's barbecue a few weeks ago!

My mom and grandma made the best potato salad in the world when I was a kid. Potatoes, hard cooked eggs, celery, onion, mayo and mustard. About seven years ago, I decided to play with the recipe and sort of update the ingredients - giving it a French twist in the process.

I used red potatoes instead of white, red onion rather than plain yellow and swapped out the regular yellow mustard for Dijon. After that, I added some grated Parmesan cheese, freshly ground black pepper and tarragon or dill to the dressing, and finished the whole thing off with crumbled cooked bacon. Make sure to use good mayonnaise; cheap stuff will ruin the whole dish. I only use Hellman's, Best Foods or Kraft. One of those dishes that actually tastes better the second day, this is perfect to make ahead and take on a picnic.

To make enough for a crowd (at least 10 people):
  • 4 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and diced into bite sized pieces
  • 8 Perfect Hard-Cooked Eggs, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 8 slices bacon (turkey bacon is fine!)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2-2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill or tarragon, or 1 Tablespoon fresh (or to taste)
  • Few tablespoons milk for thinning dressing
Dice bacon and cook until crisp. Drain well.

Cover diced potatoes with cold salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until just tender enough to pierce with a fork, about 10 minutes. Do not overcook! (The goal is NOT mashed potato salad!) Drain and let cool.

In a food processor or small bowl, combined mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, pepper and herbs. Blend until smooth. Add Parmesan cheese and a few tablespoons milk and blend so that you have a smooth dressing that can be poured easily - sort of the consistency of a thin milkshake.

In a large mixing bowl, gently toss cooked potatoes, celery, onion and diced hard cooked eggs until combined evenly. Pour dressing over, and combine gently until coated.

Cover and chill for two hours; taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Notice there is no salt in the dressing -- potatoes absorb salt during cooking, and since both Dijon mustard and Parmesan cheese are fairly salty tasting, so I didn't add any to the recipe. Plus there's the bacon -- toss it into the salad just before serving and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Spinach Artichoke Dip

This steakhouse favorite has plenty of variations but I think it's worth making at home. It's easy and relatively inexpensive for enough to feed a crowd and can be made ahead and reheated in the oven closer to serving time. Shallots and chicken broth add an extra flavor punch! Serve with tortilla chips, pita or bagel chips or just toasted French bread.

  • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach
  • 10 ounces frozen artichoke hearts (Bird's Eye makes them)
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and minced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and minced
  • 1 Knorr chicken bullion cube
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 3 cups half and half -- fat free or non dairy is fine (but why??)
  • 2 cups shredded four cheese Italian blend
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Freshly grated pepper to taste

Thaw spinach and drain well. Thaw artichokes and chop coarsely.

In a large deep skillet, heat butter or margarine. When foamy and bubbling, add garlic and shallots. Saute until shallots soften, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add chicken stock cube, crumbling it over the skillet. Stir well to combine. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper.

Add spinach and artichokes. Over high heat, cook until almost completely dry, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add half & half. Mix well. Return to medium heat and heat until small bubbles just form around the edges.

Stir in four cheese blend. Pour into a buttered baking dish.

At this point, the dip can be cooled to room temperature and chilled until about 45 minutes before serving time. To serve right away, sprinkle with grated Parmesan and a little more black pepper and bake in a 400 degree oven until top is browned and bubbly.

To serve later, if at room temp, the dip will need to be reheated about 15 minutes in a 375 oven after sprinkling with grated Parm. If chilled, dip for 30 minutes at 350, then raise heat to 400 and bake for 20 minutes after sprinkling with grated Parm. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fresh Cranberry Relish

Holidays bring out my Grandma's and Mom's recipes. I had to call my mom a couple of times on this one since I haven't made it in several years. It has fresh vibrant flavor and is a nice alternative to canned cranberry sauce (not that there is anything wrong with that!). When I make this at Thanksgiving, I always end up with enough for Christmas too -- luckily, it freezes very well! I also keep some out to use on English muffins or to top a plain bagel and cream cheese.

Grandma (and sometimes Mom) made this using an old hand-cranked food grinder that clamped to the side of the kitchen table. Thanks to the food processor, I get to make this with far less time and effort than it took Grandma, but I still get the same great results!

To make a bunch (seriously, a lot):
  • 1 bag fresh cranberries
  • 3 navel oranges
  • 6 tart apples - Granny Smith, Gala or MacIntosh - don't use Delicious apples
  • 3/4 cup sugar or more to taste
  • splash red food coloring, optional

Rinse cranberries and pick through them for any that are soft; discard those. Place the rest in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Put into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Wash the apples and cut into quarters. Do not peel. Pare the seeds and core out of the apples; put into the bowl of the food processor, and again, pulse until coarsely chopped. Add to cranberries.

Wash the oranges and quarter. Once again, put quarters in the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, peels and all. Remove any really large pieces of peel. Add to cranberries and apples. Stir to combine.

Sprinkle with sugar, mix again and let set several hours or overnight. Taste for sweetness before serving. If desired, add red food coloring. For the picture here, I didn't add the coloring for two reasons: 1. you can better see how the fruits combine, and 2. Publix was out of red food coloring!

Great with turkey, roast pork, roasted chicken and more.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Green Beans & Mushrooms in Olive Oil & Garlic Sauce

We've all had countless servings of the "classic" French fried onion, green bean and mushroom soup casserole at the holidays. Personally, I'm good if I never have it again. I came up with this dish, an easy hybrid of several other recipes, to have green beans and mushrooms at the table but healthier and with more flavor.

  • 1 pound whole fresh green beans, trimmed of tough ends
  • 2 cups chicken broth - I like College Inn and Progresso
  • 1 cup sliced white or cremini mushrooms
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and chopped
  • 2 shallots, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

 Bring chicken broth to a boil. Add green beans and steam for 5-7 minutes. Drain.

Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet or wok until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and shallots and, when fragrant, add mushrooms. Cook five minutes, stirring constantly. While cooking, add salt, pepper and thyme. Add green beans and stir fry until hot and well combined.

If desired, sprinkle with grated Parmesan or French fried onions before serving.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Perfect Hard-Cooked Eggs

Ever had a hard-boiled egg that had a yucky green tinge to the yolk? That's because the egg was overcooked by boiling. Julia Child refers to hard-boiled eggs as hard-cooked, and hers are never boiled. I tried her technique several years ago and they turn out perfectly. The trick is to not actually boil the eggs!

I've read so many of Julia's wonderful books that I can't remember which one this comes from; I think she repeats it in several of them.

For 8:
GENTLY place 8 raw eggs into a pan and cover with cold water.

Bring to a boil over medium heat. AS SOON AS the water starts boiling, turn the heat off and cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. Let sit, covered for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Let sit until cool enough to handle.

To peel eggs, roll them on the counter top and gently remove shell. Don't worry if eggs don't peel easily; you didn't do anything wrong! Eggshells are easier to remove when the egg is a little older. Hard to remove shells mean the egg is really fresh.

If planning to make deviled eggs, when the eggs have to look good as well as taste good, I look through the egg cartons to find one a little older and buy them a few days ahead of when I need them. No guarantee, but it's worth the shot -- eggs can vary by age even within the same carton. To make sure I have enough that look good, I always make extras. (The ugly ones get used for egg salad!)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Thyme & Pepper

I HATE sweet potatoes -- at least I hate sweet potatoes as most of us were introduced to them: sickly sugary, mixed or coated with some combination of brown sugar, maple syrup, pineapple or, God forbid, marshmallows!! Ack. Tooth-achingly sweet and bearing so little resemblance to the actual flavor of a sweet potato, I was repulsed by these even as a kid. Thankfully, so was my mom, so I was only subjected to them at the homes of relatives and well-meaning church family members.

However, I cooked all the food for my boss's Yom Kippur dinner last month, and at her request, found a recipe for non-sweet mashed sweet potatoes. Took some serious digging, but I found one that had no added sweet ingredients and then took it up a step by adding in dried thyme (which goes so well with ALL root veggies and tubers!) and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Because sweet potatoes retain more water than some regular varieties of potatoes when boiled, I used half & half instead of milk to make them, as well as REAL butter.

Please, please do not use margarine when making these. They need the creamy texture that only real butter can give, and besides, if you don't have cholesterol problems, butter is better for you than margarine. It contains the same fat, no trans fats and has the added nutritional value of protein and calcium! Can't get those from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil!

Anyway, here's the recipe:

  • 4-5 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup or more half & half
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves o 2 tablespoons fresh leaves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt for cooking potatoes

Scrub sweet potatoes and cut into large chunks. Place in a pot of cold, salted water and boil until tender; depending on potatoes, this could take 30 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Potatoes are done when they pierce easily with a fork. Drain and let cool. When cool to the touch, remove peels and place potatoes in a large mixing bowl.

With a mixer, mash potatoes until smooth. Add butter (cut in small chunks), thyme and pepper. Add in just enough cream to make smooth. Depending on your potatoes, this could be as little as 2 tablespoons! Mix by hand until combined. Taste, and adjust for salt and other seasonings. Garnish with an additional sprinkle of pepper and thyme leaves.

Serve immediately, OR refrigerate up to two days and reheat at 325 for about 60 minutes before serving.

Note: making these this weekend and will update with a photo!