Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Horseradish Mashed Potatoes

Every year my family has a tradition of cooking a prime rib sometime during the holiday season. Let me tell you, I look a good slab of meat as much as the next person, but a whole prime rib is kind of a lot. Like, a very sizable portion of cow. It makes reliance on good side dishes rather necessary.

Horseradish is a pretty traditional accompaniment to prime rib, but not too many people are really that cool a great big dollop of the stuff. So, sneak a little into the mashed potatoes, and it's all good. It makes a great compliment to the beef with the pan juices. Mmm mmm good.

Horseradish Mashed Potatoes

  • 5 pounds Russet potatoes
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • up to 1/2 cup milk, if needed
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped chives
  • 1 - 3 heaping tablespoons prepared horseradish sauce
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • several pats butter
Leaving the peels on the potatoes, scrub the dirt off and cut into 6ths or 8ths. Boil until very tender when pierced with a fork.

I do all of this in a stand mixer, but you can do it by hand if you'd like. Mix all the ingredients (except the milk and butter). and mash together. Horseradish sauces vary widely in strength and bite, so start small and work up to your desired level. I don't like the horseradish flavor to be overwhelming. If the potatoes are too thick, add a little milk to dilute.

Serve in a dish, placing the butter on top and allowing it to melt over the potatoes.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Baked Apples

Baked apples are a rocky tradition in my household. For years we made them, but they had a rough track record. Maybe 60% of the time they were bad, really bad. I personally didn't care for them, and I kind of hoped the tradition would die a silent and painless death, leaving us to enjoy hot chocolate and clam chowder and eggs benedict and cherry chocolates and It's A Wonderful Life in peace. Mom even gave away the special apple baking dishes to a thrift store, hoping to seal the sad fate of the apples. Dad and the internet came to the rescue, however, and more apple baking dished magically showed up on our doorstep.

Determined to make them not gross this year, I kind of exerted a little "I have a cooking blog and I know what I'm talking about" attitude, thinking it would be met with some respect. I got none. Anyone who knows my family can imagine what happened next. Six type A personalities descended on the kitchen with yells of "Put a pie crust on it!" "Nobody wants raisins!" "Peel them!" "Ginger? What are you talking about?" It disintegrated into a contest of who could put an ingredient into the mix before someone else stopped them, but boy were the results good. Unfortunately, there was no recipe followed and no measurements made, so this is approximate. Sorry 'bout that.

Baked Apples

  • Baking apples (we used Rome, but Macintosh work well, too)
for the apples

  • A bowl of melted butter, to coat the apples
  • A mixture of cinnamon and sugar, to taste, to coat the apples
  • Raisins
  • Nuts (we used almonds, but walnuts or pecans would probably be great, too)
for the topping

  • A mixture of equal parts oats, brown sugar, flour, and butter, pulsed a few times in the food processor
for baking
  • Orange zest and the juice of 1 orange
  • A mixture of about 6 parts water to 1 part vanilla (a few tablespoons per individual baking dish, or just enough to coat the bottom of a large baking dish if you're doing them all together)
Peel and core the apples, then coat in the melted butter and cinnamon sugar. Place in individual baking dishes or all together in a large casserole. Stuff the open cores with the mixture of raisins and nuts.

Sprinkle the oat, sugar, flour mixture over each apple. Sprinkle a little orange zest and orange juice over each one. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the water/vanilla mixture in the bottom of each baker, or just enough to coat the bottom a the large baking dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beef Stew

I'm at my parents' house in Utah for the holiday, and let me tell you, it is cold. There is a foot of snow on the ground, it's been snowing off and on for the last three days, the wind has been blowing, and I am cold. I have wanted nothing but warm soup for every meal, and I'm afraid my family has had to suffer through my insatiable craving for liquid food.

Now I realize that beef stew is kind of a basic standard, and this will come as no groundbreaking revelation to anyone, but I was happy with the slightly-sweet heartiness of this recipe. It's really not even much of a recipe--just kind of a list of ingredients with some rough proportions, so feel free to adjust however you want.

Beef Stew

  • A few tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, for sauteeing
  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 -2 pounds stew beef
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped celery stalks (leaves still attached)
  • 2 pounds baby yukon or red potatoes, peels still on, quartered
  • 3-4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • A few tablespoons flour, to thicken
Heat the oil in an a large, heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven on the stove over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic, and sautee until the onions are translucent. Add the beef and stir until the edges are browned. Add the vegetables, then the liquids and herbs. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for about 20 - 30 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Fish out the bay leaves, add the honey, and season with the salt and pepper. Thicken by whisking about 2 tablespoons of flour with a few tablespoons cold water, then pour into the soup. Repeat until desired thickness.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Classic Split Pea Soup

One time my family went sailing in the British Virgin Islands, and it was an all-around amazing experience. We snorkeled and swam in some of the clearest water I've ever seen, played on breathtaking beaches, scubaed to shipwrecks, and billowed in the wind of the sailboat. One night, we picked a tiny little restaurant in a secluded little cove with tables right on the beach. The waves came right up over your toes during dessert. The cook's son swam out to a trap in the middle of the bay to get the lobster my dad ordered for dinner. I am also quite convinced that the only people working there were the waitress, the waitress' mother in the kitchen, and the waitress' brother who swam to get the lobsters. Dinner took about 3 hours, and no one minded one bit.

So, to get to the point, the first coarse was a bowl of split pea soup. As it was being served, I say to myself, "We travel down to an exotic paradise and all I got was a bowl of pureed, green baby food?" However, one spoonful of that soup, and I was made a believer. I adore split pea soup. In retrospect, it was probably about 40% cream, but hey, there's precious little a pint of heavy cream can't fix.

This recipe was necessitated by being forced to take the leftovers from the church Christmas dinner. There are only a few things I know of that one can do with a ham bone, and this is the main one. I'm sorry that there's no crazy experimentation, secret ingredients, twists or turns for this one. Actually, I'm mostly sorry that there's no real recipe. A friend sent over just a list of ingredients without any measurements or ratios, and in my book, that's awesome. I wasn't bound by anything. So, this one is completely up to you. Good luck, and have fun.

Warning: I had a great big ole' ham bone, so I made a whole lot of soup. You can probably half everything and be just fine.

Split Pea Soup

Ingredients (all measurements are approximate)
  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 large russet potato, skin still on
  • 1-2 stalks celery
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 1 large ham bone, with some meat still on
  • 2 pounds split peas (rinsed thoroughly, and bad ones or stray pebbles picked out)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon chopped garlic
  • ample salt and pepper, to taste
  • chicken broth (I used about 2 quarts, plus some extra water)
  • about 1/2 cup heavy cream
I started in a crockpot, but then ended up moving to a stock pot on the stove later because the crockpot just wasn't big enough. You'll have to be the judge for yourself.

In a food processor, I chopped the onion, potato, celery, and herbs then added them to the crockpot. Place in the ham bone, split peas, and garlic in there also, and cover with liquid. Let heat for several hours (or fewer if on the stove: just be sure everything is soft and falling apart). Pull out the ham bone (making sure to get all the parts if some cartilage or other ham parts have fallen off), cut off the meat, and chop finely.

In the pot, still vigorously or pulse a few times with an immersion blender to homogenize the soup a bit. Add the ham back in, thin it with a little water if necessary, add the cream, and stir well.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake

I've been holding out on you guys. Sorry about that. A friend of mine sent over a link to me ages ago to a recipe for this cheesecake on SmittenKitchen, I made it, fell in love with it, and never even told you about it. Not only did that event on Deb's beautiful blog inspire my own food blogging and experimenting, but this cheesecake changed my life in a very literal way. I am a better person for the experience, and like the selfish monster I am, I didn't share it with you at all.

Now, when the big guns came out for Thanksgiving, I knew this one had to make a reappearance after its months in hiding. It takes a lot of work, but the depth of flavor you achieve by slowly caramelizing the sugar first is incredible. It's worth the effort.

Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake


For the crust:
  • 1 10-ounce box Chocolate Teddy Grahams (you really could use chocolate graham crackers if you wanted, but the Teddy's are so much more fun, plus they're a good source of calcium)
  • 3/4 stick of butter, cut up
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • pinch salt
For the filling:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped up
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3 eight-ounce blocks of full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Put the teddy grahams, butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor with the metal blade and pulse until the mixture is the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. Press the crumbs onto the bottom and sides of a greased springform pan (this recipe makes enough crust to go all the way up the side: I like to take it past the top of the cake). Wrap the springform pan in at least 2 layers of wide aluminum foil.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the sugar over medium heat until liquid and golden. Turn down heat to low and add the cream (it will crack, hiss, steam, and make all sorts of a delightfully sugary ruckus). Stir until the caramel is dissolved into the cream. Add the chocolate and sour cream, and stir until melted and even throughout.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese for a few minutes until light (scraping down the sides as necessary). Reduce the speed to low and pour in the chocolate mixture; stir until incorporated.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a few seconds in between each one.  Add the vanilla. Continue stirring until even.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Set the springform pan into a large roasting pan, and pour about 1.5 inches of water in the roasting pan surrounding the springform pan. Bake for about 1 hour 20 minutes, or until the middle of the cake is not quite set.

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight or several hours to set. I have served it plain, or topped with caramel sauce, and both are great. Do whatever sparks your fancy.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


This Thanksgiving was spent with family and friends at my home. Grad students who couldn't travel home for the holidays, missionaries away from family, and some of my family who traveled in for the first Thanksgiving in the new home. Here is the menu:

Heures d'oeuvres:
  • Vegetable crudites
  • 2 wheels of baked brie: one with apricots and honey, the other with cranberries, pecans, and honey
  • A wedge of danish blue cheese, and another of wesleydale with cranberries
  • Roasted asparagus thanks to a good friend
  • Shrimp with grapefruit and avocado

  • Braised turkey breast with apple cider and thyme gravy
  • Dried fruit stuffing
  • Braised carrots with orange and rosemary
  • Roasted purple and red potatoes
  • Brussel sprouts with orange and hazelnuts
  • Sauteed green and white beans with shallots and garlic
  • Sausage with apples and sweet & sauerkraut (sauerkraut is a family Thanksgiving tradition)
  • Crab and new potato salad with dill lemon vinaigrette
  • Cranberry, cherry, ginger sauce
  • Mashed sweet potatoes with maple pecan topping, courtesy of a kind guest
  • Homemade rolls, courtesy of good friends

  • Strawberry and rhubarb pie (again, I have great friends)
  • Blueberry pie (they keep getting better)
  • Coconut cream pie
  • Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies (I love it when other people cook)
  • Chocolate caramel cheesecake
  • Caramel apple cheesecake
  • Pecan pie (other people bringing stuff saved me)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pumpkin Cheesecake

"Light and fluffy" doesn't even almost do this cheesecake justice. This stuff was light and fluffy, almost to a fault, but you couldn't fault it because it was just so good.

I have also taken on cheesecake as a personal challenge. You will notice in the picture that we are still suffering some cosmetic problems, however, I am determined to master these things soon. I will also offer a very strong word of advice: put as many layers of aluminum foil around it as you bake it as is prudent and possible. I have yet to bake one where water hasn't penetrated it somehow. I have no idea how, but soggy crusts really just aren't fun.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

for the crust
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup crystallized ginger
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes
for the filling
  • 3 8-ounce packages cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 4 eggs
for the crust

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wrap a 9-inch springform pan in 3 layers of aluminum foil. In a food processor, place all the crust ingredients except the butter, and process until even crumbs throughout. Add the butter, and pulse until worked into the dough. Press the crumbs onto the bottom of the well-greased springform pan, and bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.

for the filling

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Adds the sugars, and cream them into the cream cheese. Add the pumpkin, cream, spices, and cornstarch and beat until even throughout. Scrape down the sides if necessary. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well in between.

Reduce the heat of the oven to 325 degrees. Pour the filling mixture into the crust in the springform pan, and plan in a large roasting pan filled with hot water. The water should come up to about 1 inch from the top of the springform pan. Bake for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, until the sides are firm and the center is somewhat jiggly.

Reridgerate in the springform pan serveral hours, or overnight to firm. Unlcok the pan and serve with freshly-whipped cream.

Purple Potatoes

So, there really isn't a recipe here, just an awesome little kick I've been on lately. I love foods that aren't the color you expect them to be. Small disclaimer: it has to be natural, food coloring is cheating, big time--white asparagus = cool, green ketchup = sketchy.

I have recently discovered a new joy in life: purple potatoes. They sound ridiculous, but they are awesome. I just saw them in the store, picked up a few, and roasted them with some red potatoes, yukon golds, and carrots. It was a pretty amazing-looking side dish, if I may say so myself.

It just adds so much interest and depth to an otherwise rather boring dish or an otherwise drab-looking plate (it really perked up a plate of braised turkey breast and roasted potatoes, which would have otherwise been quite brown).

So now I'm on the prowl for other multi-colored amazing feats of nature. I've heard rumors of red carrots, but I haven't found them yet (if you see them, let me know). I've also seen white and purple bell peppers, yellow tomatoes, white asparagus, and yellow green beans (that doesn't really make any sense). Any favorites out there?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cranberry Apple Pork Roast

This recipe is a great one to just put in the slow-cooker and forget about it until you're ready to eat. I love cranberries and pork together, and this combo works well for a fulfilling meal on the without a lot of hassle.

Cranberry Apple Pork Roast

  • 2 tablespoons each butter and olive oil
  • 1 approximately 3-pound pork roast
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1 can whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 2-3 cups chicken broth
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
In a large, flat-bottomed skillet, heat the butter and olive oil until very hot. Sear the pork roast on all sides. Leaving the pan on the stove and hot, put the pork roast in a slow-cooker on low heat.

Meanwhile, add the thyme leaves and shallots to the pan and saute until browned. Pour in one cup of the apple cider, and stir, dislodging as many of the browned pork bits as possible. Pour the cider over the pork in the slow cooker, adding another cup of cider and the can of cranberries. Add enough chicken broth to cover all but about 1 inch of the roast.

Let the roast cook for several hours on low. If a shorter period is need, switch to high heat. When ready to serve, take out the roast and slice into about 1-inch thick slices. Pour a few cups of the juice from the slow-cooker into a pan and bring to a simmer. Whisk the cornstarch into a few tablespoons of cold water, then whisk into the gravy. Keep whisking a few minutes until thickened. If the meat has gone cold, put it in the pan and allow it to reheat in the gravy, then serve with the gravy.

Cranberry, Cherry, Ginger Sauce

All right kids, Thanksgiving is coming upon us. Due to weddings, pregnancies, unstable economies, and my lack of forethought, the grand event will be at my home this year. I'm pretty stoked, not gonna' lie, but it's kind of consuming. For about the last month I have been perusing food blogs, daydreaming in the middle of creative ways to cook turkeys, and staying up much later than is prudent trying various recipes.

I love holidays, and I love tradition, but I also love little twists, turns, and unexpected flourishes on traditional favorites. I heard a great quote by some chef I've never heard of before who said that his job is not to educate his patrons as much as it is to provide for them. I think that's true. All the typical elements of Thanksgiving will be there (including the family sauerkraut), but I'm trying to update them just a bit.

This recipe is the first installment of a new kick on an old favorite. I think aluminum cans are an insult to cranberries. Often time the cranberries are just kind of the last thing that no one remembered, so you grab the can opener, plop out the jelly-like blob with the ridges of the can down the side, and call it good.

Not good.

This modern twist is adapted from Orangette, and I love the depth of the flavors. The cherries and ginger really add a nice spark.

Cranberry, Cherry, Ginger Sauce

  • 1 12-ounce jar apricot jam (I didn't quite have this much left, so I subbed about 1/3 with raspberry jam, and it worked very well)
  • 1/4 cup fruity vinegar (I used raspberry white balsamic, but raspberry, or white vinegar with some raspberry jam would work well)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 bag fresh cranberries (make sure to remove any stems still hiding in there)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
Put the jam, vinegar, and orange juice in a pan and bring to a boil. Stir for several minutes until the liquid reduces by about a third. Pour in the cranberries, and continue to stir until they begin popping. Throw in the ginger and cherries, continue to stir until heated through and thickened, a minute or two more. Let cool.

Raw Eggs

Life lesson learned: too much batter can be a bad thing.

One time I made a lot of chocolate chip cookies. Well, there would have been a whole lot of them had they actually all made it to the oven, but they didn't. I literally ate about half the batter (that's a lot). It's not like I pulled out a fork and just dug in, mind you. Things like this slip up on you unexpectedly. Just a little pinch there, licking the beaters, scraping out the very last of the bowl, that cookie that you thought would fit on the sheet but in the end it doesn't, etc.

Well, right quick my body let me know that it did not appreciate the sudden assault on it. Working in the public health field that I do, I have taken a lot of microbiology classes and read a lot of case studies on food poisoning, so of course my find immediately goes to raw eggs, salmonella, food poisoning, and death. I became concerned.

So, I did the first thing any rational person would do: I called my sister, a nurse. I asked her how long it usually takes for symptoms of food poisoning to occur. She listened intently like the compassionate health care professional she is, assured me that it usually takes several hours minimum for symptoms to appear. "You know, I really think that what you're feeling is just a result of having eaten half a batch of cookie dough. In all honesty, that's pretty gross."

Words to live by.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sweet Potato Chicken Chili

This one won awards, folks. Not kidding: the church chili cook off in-the-bag. Some would accuse me of stacking the judges in my favor. While vehemently denying that accusation, I will admit that I had a lot of friends on the panel, and there may have been some unspoken, implied pressure, I did nothing illegal or unethical, so I submit that the verdict stands.

Now, the sweet potatoes will certainly throw a few people, so just be ready for that. It's not your typical recipe, but I really love the flavor of it.

Sweet Potato Chicken Chili

  • 1 medium sweet vidalia onion, diced
  • 1 heaping teaspoon cumin
  • 2 cans white beans (great northern or navy beans), with liquid
  • 1 can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 1 can mild green chilies
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and finely diced
  • chili powder, to taste (about 1 teaspoon)
  • up to 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 cups shredded, cooked chicken breast
  • the juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • splash of apple cider vinegar
  • fresh cilantro leaves
  • fresh sliced avocado
Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan, and saute the onions and the cumin until translucent and fragrant. Add to a slow-cooker with the beans, tomatoes, chilies, sweet potato, chili powder, and some of the broth. Cook on low for several hours. About an hour or so before serving, switch the heat to high add the chicken, lime juice, salt and pepper, and vinegar. If too thick, add some more broth. To serve, top with chopped cilantro and avocado.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Caramel Apple Cheesecake

Wow. That's all I'm gonna' say. I was slightly blown away by this cake.

I'll be upfront with you, my expectations were astronomically low due to some serious cosmetic issues we were having, but inside there, it packed some serious awesomeness. It was like a great big slice of harvest, autumnal goodness right in your face.

This one is going to make an encore right quick, let me tell you.

I am, however, still not the best at making cheesecakes. They're kind of hard and temperamental. I have lately become a fan of the water-baking method (as described in this recipe), but beware--use AT LEAST two layers of aluminum foil. It is a sad, horrific day when you pull the cheesecake out of the oven, only to discover that water has leaked in and your crust is soggy. Sad experience has taught me this truth.

Caramel Apple Cheesecake


for the crust
  • 12-15 honey graham crackers
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
for the filling
  • 2 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 gala apples
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 8-ounce packages cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoon apple juice
  • t tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 small jar caramel sauce
the crust
Preheat the oven to 350-degrees.

Place the graham crackers, butter (sliced into pieces), cinnamon, and honey in a food processor and pulse several times until the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. Pour the crumbs into a well-greased 9-inch spring-form pan, and gently press along the bottom and up the sides as high as you can go. Wrap the bottom and sides of the pan in 2 or more water-tight layers of aluminum foil. Bake for about 10 minutes, then remove and set aside. Leave the oven on.

the filling
Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. Melt the butter in a large, flat-bottomed skillet over medium heat, and toss in the apple slices and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Saute until soft and slightly browned. Drain the juices, and let cool.

In a stand mixer or in a large bowl with hand beaters, whip the cream cheese for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the sugars and cream well. Add the apple juice, vanilla, and cinnamon and continue beating on medium-low. While still beating, add one egg at a time, waiting until thoroughly mixed to add the next. Finally, add the sour cream and heavy cream, and fold in (or beat on lowest speed).

Pour in about half of the cream cheese mixture over the crust, then layer the apples over. Leave a little space between them and at the edge so the cake can fully form around them. Reserve a few slices to garnish the top. Pour the rest of the cream cheese mixture over, then form a little pattern or something on top if you're looking for presentation points.

Place the pan in a large roasting pan, and pour boiling water into the pan, so the water comes about half-way up the spring-form pan. This will help to reduce cracking and improve the consistency of the cake. Bake for about 1.5 hours at 350 degrees.

Pull the cake out of the oven, remove the foil, and regridgerate, still in the pan, overnight (or at least 6 hours). It needs this time to thicken and solidify, so really, don't skimp on it.

Before serving, pour the caramel sauce over the cake.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Menu: Formal dinner for 50

So, it went like this: it started as a pleasant conversation with my roommate. He asked a little favor of me. "Sure," I responded. "I'll throw together a little dinner for the ladies at church." Boy howdy, did I not realize what I was getting myself into. Cooking a 4 course dinner for 50 is a little different than making a pot of soup which would last me all week long. I made sure I had some good help, a lot of very large pans, and away we went.

There were a few trial runs, a few miserable failures (The coconut pumpkin soup sounded so good, but it was so bad; I still don't know what went wrong). There were many a batch of homemade vegetable broth made, 2 gallons of onion soup consumed in a week (I just couldn't bring myself to even look at it, much less make it again for 50 people), and more hours than a reasonable person would consider prudent spent surfing cooking blogs.

I must say, I am proud of the menu. I think the courses balance each other well: a little spice in the soup, a little citrus tang in the salad, a very herby, earthly presence in the main course, and then a not-overly sweet chocolate and berry homerun for dessert.

It was fun putting it all together, planning, experimenting, etc., but I don't know that I would go out and volunteer for these opportunities, if I were you.

Relief Society General Broadcast Dinner for 50
(pictures will definitely follow)

Course 1, Soup: Black bean soup
  • I multiplied the recipe by 3, planning on rather small servings (it's a hearty soup). I served them in 9 ounce tumblers with a long breadstick and dollop of sour cream
Course 2, Salad: Mixed greens with carrot, radish, mandarin oranges, and French vinaigrette
  • I had to remember here, this salad is just a cleanser to go from the spicy to the herby. Keep the dressing light and the serving size somewhat on the smaller end. No one wants to get full on course number 2.
Course 3: Entree: Herb braised chicken breast with a side of autumn risotto with caramelized apples
  • The two of these pair very well together with similar flavors. Make sure you put on some parsley at the end, or some other colorful thing, or else you'll get a very bland-looking plate (and the food tastes too good to be bland looking).
Course 4, Dessert: Baked Chocolate Tart
This dessert is my old-faithful standby. I love it, and it loves me. This time I made a topping out of mixed berries (blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries). It's a romance that keeps getting stronger with age.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Baked Egg Rolls

So, I kind of have this moral aversion to deep-frying things. Although there is a very soft place in my heart for onion rings, sweet potato fries, coconut shrimp, thick french fries with the peels still on them, and Chick-Fil-A, I will probably never in the the entirety of my life ever deep fry anything at home. The first time I walked through a Krispy Kreme donut store where they have the big windows where you can see the gallons of boiling oil in which the fry those things . . . ughh, it kind of grossed me out a lot. I also envision the process being really messy. Maybe I'm wrong, but it's a big hurdle for me. Maybe I'm terrified of getting killed by spilling boiling oil all over me (which apparantley is a real concern in deep frying a whole turkey for Thanksgiving). Well, whatever the reason, I am pretty much always looking for alternatives to dropping perfectly healthy vegetables and goodness in boiling fat. I just don't see how this can turn out well.

However, there is a concession which must happen. These eggrolls aren't going to fool anyone. No one is going to think they're the real thing. However, I wonder how much "real" there really is in the "real thing" sometimes, so who cares. The trick is to have something warm, tasty, and good that you can pick up with your hand and will stay intact the whole time. These things deliver on all of those fronts. Good luck.

Baked Egg Rolls
enough for a crowd

  • 2 large, chopped garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped (white and green parts separated)
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1 head savoy cabbage, chopped into thin strips
  • 4 large carrots, shredded
  • 1 can bamboo shoots, diced
  • 1.5 inches fresh giner root, grated
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 packages (40) egg roll wrappers
Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a a wok or skillet. Toss in the garlic and the white part of the onions. Sautee a few minutes. Add the pork and cook until brown.

In a bowl, combine the pork mixture, cabbage, green parts of the onions, bamboo shoots, carrot shavings, and ginger. Mix well. Pour the oil and soy sauce over, coating well.

Take an eggroll wrapper, wet one surface lightly with a little water, and place a heap of the mixture in the middle. There's a little bit of an art to getting the right amount in there, so experiment. Fold over one corner, then the two sides, then tightly roll to the last corner. Press on the seams to make sure they're in place. Repeat with the remaining wrappers.

Spread the eggrolls out on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes. Serve with sweet-chili sauce, sweet and sour sauce, or something similar.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pears with Gorgonzola

Anyone who has read a little of this blog, or who just knows me at all, will probably have noticed my slight obsession with pears and gorgonzola. Recipes featuring that combo have popped a few times on this blog already (like here, or maybe here), and dinner parties of mine have featured it quite a bit, also. There's just something about the sweet-tangy combo of the cheese and pears that just works. Throw in a few walnuts or cranberries and you've got a happy boy right here.

I really kind of even hesitate to call this a recipe, because it's really just layering a few things together and serving. I don't really have amounts for everything: it's totally up to you on the proportions. However, it looks pretty elegant, tastes really good, and will make your life better.

Pears with Gorgonzola

  • 4 large soft-but-not-mushy pears (I recently discovered and fell in love with comice pears: you should, too)
  • A few ounces crumbly gorgonzola cheese (as much or as little as you want)
  • 2/3 cup walnut pieces
  • a few tablespoons butter and brown sugar for caramelizing the walnuts
  • honey, for drizzling
Caramelize the walnuts by melting a few tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a heavy, flat-bottomed saucepan. Add the walnuts, and stir constantly for a few minutes. Add a few tablespoons of brown sugar and continue to stir until the sugar hardens around the nuts.

Core and slice the pears. Layer the slices in a bowl with the cheese and walnuts, periodically drizzling with some honey. Serve quickly, so the pears don't brown.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Simple French Vinaigrette

Not too in-your face, not too overbearing, not too bad, either, and certainly not too hard. This simple, ready-in-an-instant dressing is great for a simple salad on the side of a very loud-tasting entree or as a cleanser between courses.

I like it with a simple mix of field greens, mandarin orange segments, carrot shavings, and radish slices. Just throw in a bowl, toss around, and serve.

French Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 scant teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/3 shallot, finely minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Whisk all the ingredients together.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Autumn Risotto with Carmelized Apples

This ones comes courtesy of the Gilded Fork, althought I've altered their ratios quite a bit.

I've always been a little scared of risotto: it called for this fancy type of rice, you had to follow pretty precise instructions of adding the liquid a little bit at a time, waiting for the perfect moment when it was soft and creamy, carefully adding the vegetables and cheese, etc. It just seemed like a whole lotta' work for a side dish.

It's worth it. Boy howdy is it worth it. This particular one is has the perfect touch of sweetness and autumn flavor from the cinnamon, allspice, and apples, but also the harvest, Thanksgivingness of the vegetables, chicken broth, and herbs. It's really a great balance. Enjoy.

Autumn Risotto with Caramelized Apples

  • 1-2 whole carrots, diced
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts, chopped (be sure to clean the leeks very well: dirt is almost always trapped in between the dark green layers)
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • butter, to coat pans
  • olive oil, to coat pans
  • 2-3 gala apples, peels left on, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 medium vidalia onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cups arborio rice (yes, it has to be arborio)
  • 1 teaspoon sage leaves
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more to garnish
  • asiago cheese shavings, to garnish
Step 1: Blanch the vegetables

Bring the chicken broth to a boil, and then, one vegetable at a time, blanch the carrots, peas, and leeks for about 3-4 minutes each. Place the vegetables in ice water to stop the cooking process and keep the color very vibrant. Set aside.

Step 2: caramelize the apples

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a flat-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the apples and brown sugar plus a pinch of salt. Stir for 4-5 minutes, until the apples are golden brown. Set aside.

Step 3: make the rice

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and add the diced vidalia onion. Saute until the onion has a golden color. Add the garlic, cinnamon, allspice, and ginger and continue to cook a few more minutes.

Add the dry rice, and stir until coated. Add the sage, then stir for a few minutes until the mixture becomes somewhat milky. Add the apple juice, and stir until it is absorbed. Add 1 cup of the broth, stir until absorbed, then add 1 more cup, continuing until it is soft and creamy.

Stir in the butter, parsley, salt and pepper to taste, then add the vegetables and apples. Serve with asiago cheese shavings and parsely on top.