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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Trifecta: Scalloped Potatoes & Butternut Squash with Leeks, Deep Dish Caramel Apple Pie & Fabulous Fudge Cake!

I hope everyone had a delicious Thanksgiving 2009! We certainly did with the help of some fabulous recipes from “Savor the Moment.” While the main course was our traditional Roasted Turkey with Rosemary & Sage Butter, done on the grill this year with excellent results (thanks, Hon), we managed to incorporate a delicious side dish and a couple desserts from STM as well.
The side dish we chose was the Scalloped Potatoes and Butternut Squash with Leeks (pg. 221). It sounded like the perfect side dish to go with Thanksgiving dinner and I just love leeks and butternut squash. I doubled the recipe since I was having 12 guests and baked it in a buttered, 13" x 9” glass baking dish. Like a lot of potato gratin dishes, it takes some time to assemble. I grated the Fontina cheese and sliced the leeks and squash the night before. Unfortunately, while slicing the butternut squash, I forgot to use the blade guard on my mandolin and, before I knew it, off went a good portion of my fingertip! Can you say "ouch"?! I think I might have said some other things but, hey, I was in pain. Anyway, I’m happy to report the finger is healing nicely - it definitely could’ve been a lot worse.
After doing most of the prep the night before, the day of the meal I sauteed the leeks in butter until they were nice and tender. While they were sautéing, I warmed the milk in a saucepan. Be sure to keep an eye on the milk because, if it starts boiling, it will overflow onto your stove top and is veerry difficult to get off! Once the milk is hot, you essentially use it to make a béchamel sauce that is layered over the potatoes, squash and leeks – yummy! A béchamel also known as white sauce, is one of the mother sauces of French cuisine. It is traditionally made by whisking scalded milk gradually into a white flour - butter roux (equal parts clarified butter and flour) – which is what this recipe calls for. The thickness of the final sauce depends on the proportions of milk and flour. Be sure to season the sauce liberally with salt and pepper to add some nice flavor.
Once the sauce was ready, I peeled and warily sliced my Yukon Gold potatoes with that menacing mandolin and started layering. It’s ok to slice the leeks and squash the night before but do NOT slice the potatoes in advance or they will turn a very icky gray color. Once everything is ready, layer the sauce, potatoes, squash, cooked leeks and cheese and repeat 3 times until you’ve got a gorgeous looking dish - before it even hits the oven! After baking 30 minutes I removed the foil and unfortunately most of the cheese came with it – be sure the foil is not touching the top of the dish when you put it in the oven. I quickly grated some more and sprinkled it on top and back in the oven. Because the carving of the turkey took longer than expected I think the dish may have baked slightly longer than the recommended 20 minutes which may explain why the potatoes were a little “firm." It looked so beautiful coming out of the oven though, all bubbly and brown on top. The orange of the butternut squash also looked terrific on the Thanksgiving table! This dish had lots of delicious creamy, oniony flavor and was a nice additon to our Thanksgiving meal.
Once sufficiently stuffed with turkey, caramelized onion and corn bread stuffing, ham, potatoes, cranberry sauce and Brussels sprouts with pancetta we sluggishly yet eagerly moved on to dessert. I made the Deep-Dish Caramel Apple Pie (pg. 267) and my standard Pumpkin Gingersnap Trifle while my sister tackled the Fabulous Fudge Cake (pg. 252). I must confess, I recruited my sister Jennifer to make one of the desserts after my kitchen injury.
The apple pie sounded like a perfect choice to follow Thanksgiving dinner. I had never made an “oil pastry” before and, it turns out, it’s pretty easy. The problem, I think, was that there was so much of it. I am not much of a baker but it seemed like there was just a lot of dough for the 10” pie dish. However, I chose to follow the directions as is, and it did turn out a little on the doughy side. The caramel mixture is delicious and, once assembled and baked, it truly is a gorgeous pie (see photo). If anyone has made this recipe I’d love to hear from you. Perhaps I needed to cook it for a longer period of time since the inside was a little watery as well…help! Not sure where I went wrong...
I am happy to report the Fabulous Fudge Cake definitely lived up to its tagline, “sophisticated, yet unpretentious; rich, moist and delicious.” The cake itself is fabulous enough and the marshmallow fudge frosting poured over the top adds an extra layer of decadence. While slightly difficult to transport, simply because you’re supposed to pour the frosting over warm cake, it was definitely worth the effort. We reheated the frosting in the microwave before pouring. Be sure to blend the frosting well to avoid any clumps of confectioners’ sugar but, more importantly, sit back and enjoy this fabulous cake just like we did - it is truly delicious! Also, when you make it, be sure to send some home with your guests because unfortunately, it gets better and better with each passing day - very dangerous.
Many times over the holidays, Thanksgiving in particular, which wine to serve can be quite a conundrum. There are so many diverse flavors, it's hard to pick just one to base your wine choice on. For Thanksgiving, I start by narrowing things down considerable by serving only American wines – being an intrinsically American holiday after all. I also stick with wines that complement a variety of dishes - not too light or too heavy. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are generally good contenders and satisfy a variety of palates as well. Of course no holiday meal is complete without a sparkling wine to create a festive mood and, fortunately, sparkling wine goes very well with a variety of holiday dishes (remember, it's not Champagne unless it comes from the Champagne region of France!) This year we served a magnum of 1999 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage Anderson Valley Brut Rosé, a vintage, sparkling wine from California we had been saving for a special occasion and the 2007 Red Car Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. It’s always fun to open a large format bottle on a holiday - #1 because it makes a very festive presentation and #2 you know it won’t go to waste – at least not in my family! Both wines complemented our meal very nicely and were also enjoyable to sip on their own.
I sincerely hope your Thanksgiving Day was mishap free and was enjoyed with family and friends. I’d love to hear about your experiences and any advice you might have on any of the abovementioned recipes. Overall, it was a fabulous meal on the perfect day of the year to Savor the Moment.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sun-Dried Tomato Deliciousness!

I’m really happy to be writing about this recipe because it’s one of my all-time favorites. It’s actually the first recipe I ever made out of “Savor the Moment” and, in my opinion, one of the best so far. I’ve made it many, many times; at our first Savor the Moment Dinner Club in 2006, various holiday parties throughout the year, and generally whenever out-of-town guests visit for the weekend. Recently, I had a special request for it and once you make it, you’ll understand why. I am talking about the Sun-Dried Tomato Mousse (pg. 72), a delicious and versatile appetizer that your guests will absolutely love!
Don’t be put off by the term “mousse” or that the recipe requires a springform pan to make. I must confess, I rarely ever use a springform pan, opting to serve it in a decorative bowl instead and the “mousse” simply results from blending the ingredients in your mixer – no special French technique needed! It is a delicious mixture of butter, cream cheese, garlic, dried basil, tomato paste and chopped, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes – how can that possibly NOT be good? It has a very low degree of difficulty (yay!); if you can place ingredients in your mixer, you are pretty much there. I like to make it the night before serving, which gives the mousse time to set up and lets all the flavors meld together and make friends. If you do decide to use the springform pan, which does make a nice presentation, be sure to place the pan in hot water prior to releasing. I serve it with Rosemary and Olive Oil Triscuits (highly addictive) or Carr's Table Water Crackers with Roasted Garlic & Herbs, but it would taste great on just about anything. Use any leftovers the next day spooned onto a dish of pasta – delicioso! It's a great dish to bring to a holiday party and the bright, red color looks very festive on a Christmas-themed table. Garnish with toasted pine nuts and/or chopped, fresh parsley then sit back and await the compliments!
The special request for this dish came from my good friend, Christina Price who was re-opening her store, the Linen Closet, here in downtown Delray Beach. She sells fabulous and affordable linens for bed, table and bath as well as chic home décor items such as Lampe Berger and Seda France candles. She also just introduced a beautiful stationery and accessory line from Sigrid Olsen. If you're in the mood for some holiday shopping, check out the Linen Closet at it’s new location: 303 NE 4th Street, Delray Beach, FL 33483.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chutney Chicken Salad & Chardonnay - YAY!

Well, the streak continues with another fabulous recipe that had us going back for more (and more and more). The dish is Chutney Chicken Salad (pg. 130 ) and, let me tell you, this is not your mother’s chicken salad. It is a mouth-watering combination of chicken breast, curry powder, mango chutney, fresh lime juice, raisins, celery and almonds. It has terrific texture and fantastic flavor!
Cooking the chicken breasts adds a little bit of cook time to this dish but it is definitely worth it. The mango chutney was a nice surprise – I had never had it before and it turned out to be delicious. A quick shopping tip though, the chutney isn’t located on the jelly/jam aisle, it’s on the mayonnaise/salad dressing aisle – who knew? I also used golden raisins, my favorite, instead of the brown ones. They just look prettier against the beautiful, yellowy golden curried salad. It really is true, you do eat with your eyes first. I even converted a non-raisin eater once with the goldens’ magic raisin powers – could you be next?
Once you cook, cool and chop the chicken, the rest of the recipe is a snap. Place all the ingredients except the chicken, scallions and celery in a large bowl and mix well. Then, add the remaining three, mix again and you’re done! I served it on a bed of mixed greens and it was just delicious. This dish would be perfect for a Ladies lunch or a weeknight meal and, let me tell you, you WILL be going back for seconds…possibly thirds.
Below the title of this recipe in “Savor the Moment” the caption reads, “As an alternative (to greens), serve on French bread and enjoy with a glass of Chardonnay.” You don’t have to ask me twice! Tonight I selected the 2005 Martin Ray Russian River Chardonnay. The Russian River Valley is located in Sonoma County and is well know for producing beautiful, crisp, cool-climate Chardonnays. This wine is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes and had lush aromas of peach, apple and vanilla. It had a yummy, creamy mouthfeel with flavors of vanilla, honey, ripe peach and some nice toasty oak – it went perfectly with the Chutney Chicken Salad! Because I liked the wine so much, I was glad to discover Martin Ray is known for providing high quality wines at affordable prices.
I am also happy to report the wine for tonight’s dish was sponsored by Republic National Distributing Company. RNDC is a presenting sponsor for the annual "Boca Bacchanal," a fabulous, weekend-long celebration of food and wine featuring some of world’s most renowned Chefs and Vintners. The event benefits the Boca Raton Historical Society Heritage Education Program. Last February Steve and I hosted a Vintner dinner featuring the Chefs of Nantucket’s Straight Wharf Restaurant paired with the wines of Cakebread Cellars. It was such an amazing evening! If you are a fan of food and/or wine I highly recommend attending one or all of the events planned for 2010. Mark your calendars for the 8th Annual Boca Bacchanal Winefest & Auction 2010 which will take place March 19-21. A pre-event party entitled Bacchus Beckon will be held Thursday, November 19th at the Boca Raton Historical Society from 5:30-7:30pm. Come sip, savor and toast the upcoming 8th annual Boca Bacchanal. Tickets are available at Hope to see you there!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Calling all Vegetarians AND Carnivores: Black Bottom Soup!

Vegetarians and carnivores alike looking for something delicious to put on the table tonight – look no further! Turn to page 112 of “Savor the Moment” and make your shopping list for Black Bottom Soup. Calling for canned black beans, onion, garlic, and fresh tomato, this one pot meal is incredibly easy to make and economically savvy as well.
While the total cook time is about 2 hrs., don’t let that scare you! Only about 20 minutes is actual, hands-on prep time. The rest of the time, the pot is simmering away on the stove leaving you free to do laundry, help your children with homework, have a glass of wine – or all three. Love that multitasking!
I used Bush’s canned black beans which I drained and rinsed in a strainer easily enough. I couldn’t find anything fitting the exact description of “Cajun” tomatoes so I used the canned tomatoes with chopped green chilies and they worked out perfectly. Perhaps the ingredient that gives this dish its fabulous flavor, surprisingly enough, is the red wine vinegar. It really enhances all the other ingredients in the dish so please don’t leave it out! Instead of Tabasco, I used my latest hot sauce obsession: Frank’s Red Hot. I had it for the first time on a lobster roll at Woodman’s in Essex, MA this summer and was instantly smitten! Apparently it has quite a following and now I understand why – I could put it on my cereal it’s so good. The saffron rice called for in the recipe is a pre-packaged rice with the flavoring already added. It was very good but contains MSG, so if you are sensitive, white rice would be a great alternative.
When serving, after ladling the soup over the saffron rice, don’t forget to top it with the fresh chopped tomato, scallions and sour cream. It really gives the dish great flavor and, let’s face it, who doesn’t look for an excuse to eat sour cream. Am I right? After Steve and I finished our (second) bowls, I can honestly say, we really didn’t even miss the meat! The next morning, the soup was also delicious topped with two fried eggs (and more hot sauce) – YUM! I really look forward to making the Black Bottom Soup again - it definitely makes the Super Bowl short list as it’s also perfect for feeding a crowd. Try this versatile, affordable, delicious recipe tonight and I guarantee you will be savoring the moment too!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chicken Veronique with Fresh Peaches - Très Chic!

I am happy to report, the past week in my culinary adventure has been particularly “savor-worthy.” By that I mean the recipes have been disproportionately good for the amount of effort that went into them. Tonight is no exception. The recipe is Chicken Veronique with Fresh Peaches (pg. 172). Doesn't it just sound très bien!
The term “Veronique” is of Parisian origin and refers to a dish in which grapes, generally white and seedless, figure in to the preparation. The recipe from “Savor the Moment” calls for seedless grapes as well as fresh peaches that are first marinated in white wine and sugar. The chicken is then coated with ground ginger, paprika, flour, salt and pepper and browned in a tasty mixture of butter and garlic in a large saute pan. The marinade from the fruit is then added to the pan and the chicken is baked in the oven until it is cooked through. Let me tell you, it smells heavenly! Once the chicken is cooked, the grapes and peaches are added and the pan is returned to the oven until the fruit is heated through. By that point it is just bursting with sweetness.
Some helpful hints for preparation are, when seasoning the chicken you might want to use a gallon capacity, plastic bag which makes the “shaking” easier and you don’t risk a paper bag ripping. (I also didn't have a paper bag in my kitchen at the time!) I also had to cut the peach from the pit since it would not cooperate. I had one inch chunks instead of halves which still worked out very well. As an accompaniment, I served the dish with Couscous, perfect for absorbing all the delicious, golden juices.
In keeping with our French-inspired dish, I think a fabulous pairing for our Chicken Veronique with Fresh Peaches would be a white bordeaux. This dry, white wine is generally made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle grapes with Sauvignon Blanc usually comprising the majority of the blend. These wines have a very nice minerality to them and would complement our dish beautifully with delicate notes of lemon, honey and peach. When purchasing, look for the appellations of Pessac-Léognan, Graves, and Entre-Deux-Mers which are know for producing consistently good wines. These underappreciated and frequently undervalued wines can generally be found for around $20 a bottle. Thankfully, they do NOT carry the hefty price tags of the reds of the region!
So invite some friends or that special someone over and dazzle them with a meal that is both très chic and très cheap! Bon Appètit!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Savor the Moment" featured on Mayor Susan Whelchel's Blog

Great news! Mayor Susan Whelchel of Boca Raton will be featuring recipes from "Savor the Moment," the official cookbook of Boca Raton, on her new blog. A different, seasonally-inspired recipe will be featured every week from our fabulous, James Beard award winning book. This week's recipe: Deep Dish Caramel Apple Pie - perfect for the holiday season. Check it out and enjoy!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Perfect for Pinot: Pork with Cherry Sauce

It’s Wednesday night and Pork with Cherry Sauce (pg. 166) is on the menu. Doesn’t it just sound like a perfect dish for Fall? Bone-in, pork loin chops with a delicious sauce of balsamic vinegar and cherries – yummy! Even though we are still struggling with 90 degree temperatures I decided to forge ahead and make it anyway.
While the recipe sounded a little daunting at first, it’s actually pretty easy. The only things I needed to pick up at the store were the pork chops and dried cherries – love that! In fact, you probably have all the other required ingredients in your pantry right now: balsamic vinegar, olive oil and chicken broth. This recipe does take slightly longer to make than some of the others I've made because you need to remove the bones from the chops and use them to make the base for the sauce. The results are definitely worth the effort though. My only issue regarding the prep for the chops is, when removing the bones, I was left with 2 pieces of meat – the bigger, longer piece and the smaller, round piece. I didn’t see any way to keep the two pieces intact and was just a little perplexed as to how to serve it. It would definitely not prevent me from making it again, however. I kept the meal on the lighter side by serving it with haricorts verts – those lovely, French green beans and the two went beautifully together. A simple, elegant weeknight meal!
As for the beverage, this dish just begs for a Pinot Noir with lots of ripe, cherry flavors. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it! A New World Pinot would generally be a better choice than an Old World one like a Burgundy. New World wines are generally more “fruit forward,” meaning the flavors of the fruit are more pronounced and readily perceptible which might be more desirable with the pork and cherry sauce. A New Zealand Pinot Noir would be a great choice and a good value as well. If you wanted to kick it up a notch, try one from the Sonoma Coast appellation in California or the Willamette Valley in Oregon. These two areas are very well known for their Pinots and the wines may be a bit more pricey, not to say good deals can’t be found however. I’d love to hear about your favorite selections as well – let me know!
We attended an "Industry Style" wine tasting this weekend at 32 East here in Delray Beach and there were many delicious Pinot Noirs to choose from: think “kid” and “candy store”! A few favorite Pinot Noirs in particular included the Talley Arroyo Grande Valley, the David Bruce Russian River Valley and the Martinelli Belle Vigna. Definitely worth seeking out! So pick a perfect Pinot and put the Pork with Cherry Sauce on the calendar this week. You will not be disappointed!
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