Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Butternut Squash Crepes with Salsa Verde

My mom and I made this recipe after Christmas both because it looked delicious and also to use up some leftovers. You can use whatever fillings you wish or have on hand; everyone in the family chose a different combination of fillings from the recipe below! I liked the crepes with butternut squash, bacon, and onion. These were yummy and quite filling along with some fruits and veggies on the side. The crepe batter cooked up beautifully and the resulting crepes were sturdy enough to hold dinner fillings without tearing.

Butternut Squash Crepes with Salsa Verde (adapted from Bon Appetit)
Serves 4 (about 3 crepes apiece)

1/4 cup butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk (I used 2 %)
6 T water
pinch salt
1 cup flour

5 slices bacon
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp fresh rosemary, diced
1 tsp dried sage
1/2 butternut squash, roasted, peeled, and diced
Leftover cooked turkey, diced
Juice of 1 lemon
Sour cream

Salsa verde
1/2 cup parsley
1/4 cup fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh tarragon
3 T chopped shallots
1/3 cup olive oil

1. Make the crepe batter: Brown the butter in a skillet. Set aside to cool slightly. Blend eggs, milk, water, and salt in a blender. Add the flour 1/4 cup at a time, blending until smooth after each addition and scraping down the sides as needed. Blend in 2 T browned butter, reserving the remaining butter. Blend in more milk as needed to reach the consistency of thick cream. Let sit at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Blend 5 seconds before cooking.
2. Cook the crepes: Heat a non-stick skillet (about 10-inch diameter) over medium-high heat. Brush with reserved butter (you may need to remelt it first). Add a scant 1/4 cup of the batter, shaking and rotating skillet to get a round-ish crepe. For me, the crepes didn't reach the edges of the pan...just tilt it to spread out the crepes as thin as they will get. Cook until brown on the bottom, and then flip with a flexible spatula and cook the other side until brown in spots. Turn out onto a plate and repeat to make the remaining crepes. You can stack the crepes right on top of one another.
3. Make the filling: Cook the bacon until crispy. Set aside and crumble when cool. Cook the onions in the bacon fat until soft and browned. Off the heat, stir in the rosemary and sage. Squeeze lemon juice over the onions and the butternut squash.
4. Fill the crepes: Lay out a crepe on your work surface. With a spoon, spread a thin layer of sour cream down the middle of the crepe. Fill with your choice of fillings. We made bacon-onion-turkey, bacon-onion-butternut squash, butternut squash-onion, and butternut squash-turkey crepes, and all were much enjoyed! Fold the crepe in thirds and place in a greased baking pan, seam side down. Repeat with remaining crepes.
5. Bake the crepes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes or until warmed through.
6. Meanwhile, make the salsa verde. Place everything except the oil into a food processor and pulse to finely chop. Stream in the oil with the food processor on and process until a coarse sauce forms.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lavendar Sponge Cupcakes with Citrus-Cream Cheese Frosting

I made these cupcakes for my friend Peter's birthday back in October and have finally gotten around to posting the recipe. It's slightly adapted from Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit, an excellent cupcake site that has since shut down but still has lots of delicious recipes in the archives.

This makes a light, delicate cupcake that is absolutely delicious. The flavors of lavender and citrus go very well together, and the frosting is quite versatile and tasty on other types of cupcakes as well. Whenever I make it, I usually select three different citrus fruits from the store (such as a lemon, an orange, and a grapefruit), but you could equally well use three of the same fruit to make, for instance, a lime-cream cheese frosting. Do use all the zest of whatever three fruits you choose, as it's needed to allow the citrus flavor come through. Don't add too much of the juice, though, or you will need to add too much sugar to get a spreadable frosting, making the frosting too sweet. The leftover mixed-citrus juice makes delicious cocktails with gin or vodka (or, for non-drinkers, you could mix it with simple syrup and water).

Lavendar Sponge Cupcakes with Citrus-Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit)
Makes 8-12 cupcakes

4 T unsalted butter
1 T lavender flowers
3/4 cups sugar
1 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg whites

1. Cream the butter alone in the mixer for 1-2 minutes.
2. Rub the lavender flowers and sugar between your fingers. If you like, spin them together in the food processor to get smaller pieces of lavender, though this isn't necessary.
3. Add the sugar to the butter and beat until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl
5. Measure the milk and vanilla.
6. Add the flour mixture and milk mixture to the creamed butter in three parts, starting and ending with the flour and beating well after each addition. Set aside.
7. In a clean mixer bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the batter until incorporated
9. Scoop batter into the prepared cupcake pans
10. Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.


4 T butter
8 ounce package cream cheese
Zest of three citrus fruits (lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, tangerine, etc.)
1 tsp citrus juice (same as above)
2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
Orange gel food coloring

1. Soften the butter in the mixer on high speed.
2. Add cream cheese and beat until combined.
4. Add about half of the confectioner’s sugar and the citrus juice and zest to the butter/cream cheese mixture and beat on high speed to combine.
5. Add the remaining confectioner’s sugar in stages until desired consistency and sweetness is achieved.
6. Add food coloring and mix until consistent color is achieved. Beat until light and fluffy.
7. Frost cupcakes and sprinkle with lavender flowers.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

December Daring Bakers: French Yule Log

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

This was an awesome challenge! It turned out much better than my disastrous Yule Log of last December (my first month in Daring Bakers). My housemates and I all enjoyed it, and my French housemate even said it was like the ones in France! Although the recipe is really intimidating, the result is delicious and each individual component is pretty easy. Please check out other Daring Bakers blogs for other flavors and variations, as I didn't have room to list them all here!

So, here are the layers from top to bottom!

On top is a milk chocolate icing. This was my least favorite layer, as I found it a bit too "gelled". I think next time I would use a regular chocolate glaze or just leave it without icing as the Yule Log is already very rich. The glaze was really pretty, though!

I chose to use a strawberry mousse as my base, and the flavor came out really was also very pretty! I think frozen strawberries are fine here since it gets cooked anyway. Just make sure to get the plain kind rather than strawberries in syrup.

crème brulée layer was tasty but took the longest to thaw, meaning it was a little icy when the other layers were ready to eat.

The praline crunch layer was probably my tasted like a rich, homemade Crunch bar. Yum! I used Scharffen Berger milk chocolate, which has less sugar than most milk chocolates and is extra rich. I also replaced about 1/2 ounce of the milk chocolate with some bittersweet to really boost the chocolate flavor. If you can't find Scharffen Berger, I would recommend upping the proportion of dark chocolate. It turned out great, even for my housemate who isn't so into milk chocolate. Because I didn't have gavottes (a crispy French crepe), I used crushed butter crisps. I couldn't find a picture of the exact ones I bought, but they were something like this.

The ganache layer was intense but amazing, especially when spread on a little dacquoise. I would definitely make this again as ice cream sauce.

The dacquoise had a subtle almond taste and was very sweet, but a good combination with the less sweet ganache.


French Yule Log (adapted from Flore from Florilege Gourmand)
1. Make vanilla crème brulée.
1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling in a small saucepan. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.

Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks in a small bowl, but do not beat until white.
Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.

Wipe an 8-1/2 inch long loaf pan with a very wet cloth and then cover with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
Let cool, wrap well, and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.
2. Make the praline insert.
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) Nutella
2.1oz (60g) lace crepes (gavottes) or thin and crisp butter cookies, coarsely crushed

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
Off the heat, add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes or cookies. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.
3. Make the dacquoise biscuit.
2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
Sift the flour into the mix.
Beat the eggs whites in a separate bowl, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than the top of a 9-inch long loaf pan.
Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.
4. Make the strawberry mousse.
10-12 oz. bag frozen strawberries, completely thawed
2 medium-sized egg yolks

2 Tbsp (17g) cornstarch
1/3 cup (80g) whipping cream
3.5 oz (1/2 cup / 100g) granulated sugar
1.3 oz (36g) water
2.5 gelatin leaves or 5g / 2+1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium-sized egg whites

Place the strawberries in the blender and puree until smooth. Force through a sieve to eliminate as many seeds as possible. Measure out 7 oz. of the puree and reserve the rest for another use.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the cornstarch until thick, white and fluffy.
Heat the cream in a medium saucepan and once hot, pour a small amount over the egg yolks while whisking vigorously. Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the rest of the cream in the saucepan, add the strawberry puree, and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens considerably, at least 3-5 minutes. Let cool to lukewarm temperature.

Make an Italian Meringue: Cook the sugar and water on medium heat until temperature reaches 244°F (118°C) when measured with a candy thermometer. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, test the temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water. If it forms a soft ball, you’ve reached the proper temperature.
Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until foamy in a stand mixer. With the mixer running, pour the sugar syrup into the whites in a thin stream. Whisk/beat until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The meringue should be thick and glossy.

Soften the gelatin in 1 tsp cold water and melt in a small saucepan with an additional 1 tsp of water or melt in the microwave for 1 second (do not boil). Put the melted gelatin in a mixing bowl and, while whisking vigorously, pour the lukewarm strawberry cream over the gelatin.
Carefully fold the Italian meringue into the mango mixture.
5. Immediately begin to assemble the log.
Line a 9-inch long loaf pan with plastic wrap, making sure to cover all surfaces completely. Pipe one third of the strawberry mousse into the mold, or just use a rubber spatula.
Take the vanilla crème brulée out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse. Pipe second third of the mousse around and on top of the crème brulée.
Cut the praline insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold. Pipe the last third of the mousse on top of the praline insert.
Freeze the log for a few hours to set.
6. Make the ganache insert.
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color.

While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny. Let cool until lukewarm but not hardened.
7. Continue assembly of the log.
Pipe the ganache insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the dacquoise on top. Close with the dacquoise.
Wrap well and place in the freezer overnight.
9. Make the milk chocolate icing.
1.5 gelatin sheets or 3g / 1/2Tbsp powdered gelatin
4.2 oz (120g) milk chocolate
2 Tbsp (30g) butter
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
1 2/3 Tbsp (30g) light corn syrup

Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
Coarsely chop the chocolate and butter together.
Bring the cream and corn syrup to a boil. Off the heat, add the gelatin. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and butter. Whisk until smooth.
Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.
10. Immediately finish assembly of the log.
Unmold the log and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan. Carefully cover the cake with the icing. Let set and return to the freezer.

Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving.
Cut thin slices (it’s rich!) and enjoy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pumpkin-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Cookie Blog is a fabulous blog with the theme of oatmeal cookies. I never would have imagined there could be enough oatmeal cookie recipes to fill a whole blog, but Greg manages to do it! The various oatmeal cookies are really creative and all look incredibly delicious. These ones were not a disappointment--excellent pumpkin flavor, nice chew from the oatmeal, and of course some chocolate chips because what's an oatmeal cookie without chocolate chips? :) These cookies are great for kids and adults alike. I made them for my housemate Jessie's middle school class, and also for a Halloween party at our house, and both groups seemed to really enjoy them. Make sure to really brown the butter--even though it's a subtle taste in the final product, it really adds something and smells great as well.

Pumpkin-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (slightly adapted from Oatmeal Cookie Blog)

2 sticks unsalted butter
1 3/4 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar.

1 egg yolk

1/3 cup canned pure pumpkin

1 T vanilla

1 T milk

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice, divided
3 cups oatmeal
2 cups flour
1 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

1. Brown the butter in a wide skillet. Pour into the bowl of a standing mixer and let sit at room temperature until it begins to solidify.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
3. Add the brown sugar to the butter and cream until light and fluffy.
4. Combine the yolk, pumpkin, vanilla, milk, and 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
5. Combine the oatmeal, flour, chocolate chips, baking soda, salt, and remaining 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
6. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the creamed butter and mix well to combine. Slowly add the flour-oatmeal mixture to the bowl and mix to combine.
7. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil and scoop 2 T portions of the cookie dough onto the sheets, leaving some room between the cookies. Bake 10-12 minutes (less if you make smaller cookies), or until the bottoms of the cookies are just golden brown. Be careful not to overcook!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Salad

I made this salad with my Aunt Jane for Thanksgiving dinner this year and it was a great addition to the table. Next time, though, I might save it for a time when you can really keep the rest of the food hot in the kitchen during the salad course--the rest of our food ended up getting a bit cold! But, it was still a very tasty salad that I would really recommend...lots of strong flavors but they still go together well with nothing overpowering anything else. It also looks very elegant with the endive leaves and would be a great start to any dinner party. With the jewel-toned orange of the butternut squash and red of the cranberries, it's also perfect for the holidays.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Salad (adapted from Bon Appetit)
Serves 5

1 T balsamic vinegar
1 T fresh lemon juice
3 T extra-virgin olive oil

Olive oil
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 tsp (packed) dark brown sugar
1 2-pound butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded
Coarse kosher salt
2 heads of Belgian endive, root ends trimmed, leaves separated into individual leaves
1 heart of Romaine lettuce, chopped
1 unpeeled firm apple, halved, cored, cut into very thin slices
4 ounces blue cheese (such as Maytag), coarsely crumbled
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Freshly ground black pepper

For dressing:
Whisk vinegar and lemon juice in small bowl; gradually whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper.

For salad:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush 2 large rimmed baking sheets with oil; spray with nonstick spray. Whisk vinegar and sugar in small bowl; set aside. Cut squash halves crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange squash in single layer on prepared sheets; brush with oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Roast 5 minutes; brush with sugar-vinegar mixture. Turn squash over and brush with sugar-vinegar mixture; roast 5 minutes. Roast until squash is tender when pierced with small knife, about 15 minutes longer. Cool on sheets and let stand at room temperature.

Arrange 4 endive leaves on each plate. Coarsely chop any remaining endive and toss with the romaine lettuce and dressing in a large salad bowl. Place butternut squash slices in center of each plate. Scatter apples, cheese, and cranberries over squash. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bacon Cheddar Quick Bread with Dried Pears

Bon Appetit has a new column by Dorie Greenspan that I'm just in love with...she always has some great insights about cooking as well as a delicious new recipe each month. It's one of the few saving graces of Bon Appetit since they have this strange new photography style that seems to make all their dishes look incredibly unappetizing. This one turned out really well anyway, though. :)

This is a tasty savory quick bread that's a great accompaniment to a light dinner (I enjoyed it with a spicy potato dish) or brunch. It's got lots of flavors going on, but they go together quite well. I used black walnuts, which I think were too strong for this bread and did tend to overpower the more subtle sage and pears; next time I would use toasted, chopped pecans or regular walnuts. Bacon may sound a little strange in a quick bread, but trust me, it's delicious!

Bacon Cheddar Quick Bread with Dried Pears (from Dorie Greenspan in Bon Appetit)

5 bacon slices, chopped
1 cup coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese plus 1/2 cup 1/4-inch cubes extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces total)
1/2 cup finely chopped moist dried pears (about 3 1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 large eggs
1/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Generously butter 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch metal loaf pan. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.

2. Combine bacon, all cheese, dried pears, walnuts, and sage in medium bowl. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and black pepper in large bowl to blend. Whisk eggs, milk, and olive oil in another medium bowl to blend. Pour egg mixture over flour mixture and stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Add bacon-cheese mixture and stir until incorporated (dough will be very sticky). Transfer dough to prepared loaf pan; spread evenly.

3. Bake bread until golden on top and slender knife inserted into center of bread comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool bread in pan 5 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Depths of Fall Pie

This autumn pie from Dorie Greenspan is unusual yet also would be a great addition to any fall or winter table. My housemate was craving pumpkin pie, but I was feeling all pumpkin-ed out, so this was the perfect compromise...squash pie, presented in a way totally different from your usual pumpkin pie!

We used banana squash because our grocery store had it precut and it was less expensive than the more common butternut squash, but I think either would work perfectly here. We also used pears that were too crunchy because there wasn't a ripe pear in the store! If you can only get crunchy pears, I would recommend cooking them a bit first to help them soften up in the oven, although they were still tasty. You can substitute any sort of dried fruit for the cranberries that you like, though they gave a nice tart element to the pie; you can also add nuts for some crunch.

Depths of Fall Pie (adapted from Dorie Greenspan)

Your favorite pie crust, enough for a double-crusted pie, rolled into two rounds and chilled
1 1/4 pounds peeled banana squash, cut into 1-inch cubes (feel free to substitute butternut squash)
2 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup moist dried cranberries
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
Grated zest of 1/2 orange
2 T freshly-squeezed orange juice
2 T plain dry bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (or, if chilling the pie in step 4, wait to preheat the oven).
2. Cook the squash in the microwave for 6 minutes, or until almost cooked through. Pat dry and toss into a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, and turn gently with a spatula to blend. Let sit five minutes, and then gently stir again.
3. Put one pie crust round in a pie plate, pour in the filling, and cover with the other pie crust round. Pinch together the edges, and pierce the top of the pie in a few places to let steam escape.
4. Refrigerate the pie for 30 minutes if you have time. Then bake 55-60 minutes, or until the crust is deeply brown and the filling is bubbling. Check the pie at 40 minutes and cover with tin foil if browning too quickly.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Roasted Butternut Squash-Tomato Soup

This is the ultimate comfort soup--smooth, creamy, and a combination of two of the most comforting soups ever, butternut squash and tomato. I am often not a fan of pureed soups, but this one really hits the spot both flavor- and's perfect for a chilly evening along with some nice crusty bread. It takes a bit of work what with roasting all the vegetables and pureeing the soup, but it's totally worth it!

Roasted Butternut Squash-Tomato Soup (adapted from Sara Foster's The Foster's Market Cookbook and Cooking Books)

1 large butternut squash, halved and seeds removed
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
6 plum tomatoes cored and halved, seeds removed
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 stick butter
1 red onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, diced
6 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper
1 large handful fresh thyme, leaves stripped
1 T fresh sage, cut in chiffonade
Juice of 2 oranges
Sour cream, to serve (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Pour 1 cup of water and a little of the olive oil into a baking pan and place the squash cut-side down in the pan. Roast the squash for 35 minutes, until tender.

2. Meanwhile, toss the tomato halves and the garlic cloves with more of the olive oil and with the vinegar, then put them in another baking dish and roast them for 30 minutes until soft and with shriveled skin.

3. Heat the rest of the olive oil and the butter over medium heat in a Dutch oven. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, then add the carrots and celery and continue to cook until all the vegetables are soft. Stir often. Add the broth along with salt and pepper to taste and reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. In the meantime, scoop the squash out of the skin and add it to the soup. Continue simmering for another 20 minutes.

4. Mash the tomatoes and garlic into smaller pieces with a potato masher, reserving the juices. Add tomatoes, juice, and garlic to the soup along with the herbs and orange juice. Blend in a blender in batches, being careful not to overfill the blender and burn yourself. You can also use a food processor or immersion blender. After each batch, pour into a clean pot until all of the soup is nicely pureed. Reheat the soup to make sure everything is nice and hot, and serve with freshly cracked black pepper and sour cream.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce and Amazing Potato Gratin

We made this delicious dinner for some friends, and it's the perfect meal for guests...not too much last-minute work, but it feels special and is really delicious. The pork chops taste amazing slathered in rich mustard sauce. The potato gratin is rich but not too rich to enjoy a big scoop, and the flavors meld together perfectly. A green salad rounds out the plate well to give something cool and a bit healthier between bites of cream sauce and cheesy potatoes. :)

Amazing Potato Gratin (adapted from Fine Cooking)
Serves 8

2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch rounds (a food processor is great for this task)
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 oz. pancetta, cut into small dice
4 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
3 oz. Gruyere cheese
3 oz. Cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper

1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup Gruyere

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 3-quart gratin dish (I used a 9x13 Pyrex pan).
Combine the potatoes, cream, and broth in a Dutch oven. Add 1/2 tsp salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Simmer, partially covered, over medium to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally and gently with a rubber spatula, until barely tender, about 8-12 minutes.

2. Saute the pancetta in a non-stick skillet until nicely browned. Remove from the skillet and add the artichoke hearts. Saute until just starting to brown.

3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer half the potatoes to the gratin dish, spreading evenly. Layer on the pancetta, artichoke hearts, and cheeses (excluding "Topping" cheeses). Top with the remaining potatoes, spreading evenly. Pour over any remaining liquid.

4. Combine the "Topping" cheeses and scatter over the potatoes. Bake until bubbly and brown, and until the potatoes are completely tender, about 25-30 minutes. Let sit for 10-30 minutes before serving.

Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce (from Fine Cooking)

Eight 1/2-inch-thick boneless pork chops (about 3 oz. each)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 T all-purpose flour
1 T unsalted butter
1 T extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup lower-salt chicken broth
1/4 cup stoneground or country-style mustard

1. Season the chops lightly with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour, shaking off the excess.

2. Put the butter and oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When hot, add 4 of the pork chops and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes total. Transfer the pork to a serving platter and tent with foil. Repeat with the remaining chops, adding another tablespoon of oil to the pan if necessary.

3. Pour off any fat in the pan, add the wine, and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Increase the heat to medium high and boil until the wine is reduced to about 2 Tbs., 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cream, chicken broth, and mustard and boil until reduced to a saucy consistency, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Serve pork with sauce on the side.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Beer Braised Pot Roast

This recipe for beer braised pot roast is perfect for fall and winter (whichever season it might be for you right in Berkeley it still mostly just feels like fall). The recipe changes up the usual veggies, adding in rutabegas and parsnips, which we thought was a really delicious change of pace from the usual potatoes. The meat itself was super tender and flavorful. This is also a great dish to make if you have most of a keg of PBR in your backyard due to the miscalculations of a housemate (no, nobody wants to drink that after they turn 21). Given the beer used, I can definitely say that in this recipe at least, bad beer will not make for bad sauce, probably because it cooks for so long.

We used two 2-pound pieces because that is what was available, and did not tie anything up with worked out fine. :)

Beer Braised Pot Roast (recipe from Fine Cooking)
serves 6

2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 sprigs fresh sage (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
5 whole black peppercorns
1 4-lb. boneless beef chuck pot roast
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
5 oz. thick-sliced (1/4 inch) bacon, cut into 1/2-inch squares (to yield 1 cup)
1-1/2 cups finely chopped onions
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1-1/2 cups beer or ale
1-1/2 cups homemade or low-salt chicken or beef broth
2 cups peeled, diced carrots (3/4-inch chunks)
2 cups peeled, diced parsnips (3/4-inch chunks)
2 cups peeled, diced rutabagas (3/4-inch chunks)
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard or prepared horseradish

1. Brow the aromatics and prepare the meat: Set a rack on the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F. Select a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Cut a large single-layer square of cheesecloth, and rinse it to remove any loose fibers [we used a little "make your own teabag" teabag]. Spread the cheesecloth flat and pile the garlic, sage and peppercorns in the center. Gather the edges to form a pouch and tie tightly with kitchen twine. Set aside. Tie the roast into a snug shape with twine, pat it dry with paper towels, and season with salt and pepper. In the Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Brown the meat thoroughly on all sides, turning with tongs, about 5 minutes per side. The meat should sizzle but not scorch; adjust the heat accordingly. Transfer the meat to a large plate.

2. Lower the heat to medium, add the bacon, and cook until just browned and beginning to crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to the plate with the beef. Spoon 2 Tbs. of the fat from the pan into a small dish and discard the rest.

3. Evaluate the drippings on the bottom of the pot. They may be very dark, almost black, but if there are any scorched bits, wipe these out with a wadded paper towel (if in doubt, taste a fleck; as long as it doesn't taste acrid, it's fine). Return the pot to medium heat and add the 2 Tbs. reserved fat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook until they start to soften, about 5 minutes.

4. Deglaze and braise: Add the balsamic vinegar, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up any remaining drippings on the bottom of the pot if necessary. Bring to a boil over high heat, and cook until the liquid has reduced to about 2 Tbs.

5. Add the beer, beef or chicken broth, and the cheesecloth pouch of flavorings to the pot. Bring the liquid to a simmer. There should be at least 1 inch of liquid in the pot. Add more broth or beer if needed. Return the meat to the pot, along with the bacon and any juices that have accumulated. Return the liquid to a simmer, and cover the pot with a sheet of parchment, pushing down so the paper touches the meat. Set the lid in place. Slide the pot into the oven and cook for 2 hours, turning the roast with tongs after 1 hour.

6. Turn the roast over once more and then scatter the carrots, parsnips and rutabagas into the liquid around the roast. Continue braising, covered with the parchment and the lid, until the meat is fork-tender, about an hour longer. Test for doneness by spearing the meat toward the center with a carving fork. Pull out the fork carefully: If it lifts the meat along with it, continue cooking for another 20 to 30 minutes.

7. Transfer the pot roast and vegetables to a shallow platter (don't worry if a few chopped onions or bits of bacon come along too); tent with foil. Strain the remaining liquid into a measuring cup, discarding the spent onion and bacon, and the cheesecloth sachet of flavorings. Let the fat rise to the surface and spoon it off [We had a tough time getting the fat skimmed off, but our sauce tasted just fine]. Wipe out the braising pot with a paper towel.

8. Return the strained juices to the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Taste and evaluate. If the flavor seems weak, simmer vigorously over medium-high heat to reduce the volume and concentrate the flavor, 5 to 15 minutes; season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk in Dijon mustard or prepared horseradish.

9. Snip the strings from the pot roast and carve the meat across the grain into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange the meat on a serving platter. Ladle about half the sauce over all, garnish with the vegetables, and serve, passing the remaining sauce at the table.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Easiest Chicken Pot Pie

I've been sick with pneumonia for the past week or so, and my baking/cooking has been pretty much non-existent. But, here's a recipe I made a while back that's perfect for a night when you're not feeling so well and don't have the energy to cook a huge dinner.

This recipe from Bon Appetit is sort of a fancied-up Sandra Lee-style recipe...while it uses good ingredients, it definitely takes a lot of short cuts. It's a great recipe for a weeknight when you want something filling but don't have a lot of time to make dinner. The results are impressive for all the shortcuts...probably not as good as if everything was homemade, but pretty darn tasty for semi-homemade! Good chicken flavor, not too heavy, and a good ratio of crust to filling.

Easiest Chicken Pot Pie (Adapted from Bon Appetit, original recipe here)

5 slices thick bacon
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
16-20 oz. frozen mixed vegetables (I used an organic frozen veggie mix including corn, carrots, peas, and green beans)
4 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram
1 3/4 cups low-salt chicken broth
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon crème fraîche
Coarsely shredded chicken from 1 small purchased roasted chicken
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3-ounce package), thawed

Preheat oven to 450F. Cook bacon in heavy large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Chop/break into bite sized pieces. Add onion to drippings in skillet; sauté until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the vegetables; stir 1 minute. Add broth; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium high and boil until some liquid is reduced, about 4-8 minutes. Stir in 2/3 cup crème fraîche, chicken, and bacon. Bring to simmer. Season with pepper. Divide among four 2-cup soufflé dishes or use one larger casserole dish.

Unfold puff pastry onto work surface; roll out to 12-inch square. Cut into 4 equal squares. Top filling in soufflé dishes with pastry; fold edges down onto rims of dish. (Or, just roll the pastry out to the size of your casserole dish.) Brush top of crusts (not edges) with remaining 1 tablespoon crème fraîche. Cut small X in center of crusts; pierce all over with fork. Bake until crusts are golden brown and filling is heated through, about 22 minutes.