June 18th, 2013

Some of Dad’s Favorites

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Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding with cocoa dusted whipped cream

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Maple-Mustard Glazed Salmon Steaks, roasted golden cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and sweet onions, scallion-jasmine rice

Always start with chocolate—then work backwards.

That’s my rule, when it comes to making my dad his special Father’s Day lunch. At a spry 87 years, he doesn’t want any thing, but a well-prepared meal capped by a deep dark decadent chocolate dessert insures a happy day for the man.

First I decide on his chocolatey treat, before formulating the rest of the menu. Sometimes I make mousse; sometimes, pots de cremes. Last year, I made chocolate sorbet.

This year, I chose something treasured from his past: chocolate pudding.

For many years, his mother, my Nana, would make chocolate pudding from scratch. She would make it in big batches–chilled in a pretty crystal bowl or served in individual ceramic crocks–at least once a week when he was growing up, a tradition she continued when she came to live with us.

My sisters and I knew we’d have to be patient—puddings take an eternity to make, by a child’s sense of time. But that patience would be rewarded with the pot and spoon–which we attacked, greedily running our fingers along the pot’s sides and bottom to lap up every delicious smidge. And licking that spoon ( the prize–who would get the spoon?) like it was a great chocolate lollipop.

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Chocolate pudding is uncomplicated: essentially milk, sugar, very good bittersweet chocolate, and a little cornstarch for thickening. Vanilla, coffee, creme de cacao, raspberry coulis: any other enhancements are up to you. The beauty of the pudding is in its basic premise: a delivery of creamy smooth chocolate comfort, easy-peasy to make.

The rest is all about hovering over the saucepan, stirring with diligence to insure that smooth texture, waiting for the pudding to bubble and burp. And by an adult’s time sense, it doesn’t really take that long. Maybe 15 minutes.

While the pudding cools, you can whip up the rest of the meal–beginning with the maple-mustard glaze for the salmon steaks.

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Simple components: country-style Dijon mustard whisked with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and a splash of orange juice. It does wonders in a short time, imparting dark tangy sweetness to the fish. You can marinate the salmon for as little as 20 minutes, or several hours (more time is better).

I’ve had this recipe, courtesy of Cooking Light, bookmarked for quite some time, and earlier this year, my friend Faith over at An Edible Mosaic made a variation on the theme with chicken.

I’ve made it on three different occasions–a grilled fillet flaked onto toasts for cocktail party, whole roasted fillets for a large buffet dinner, and now these steaks for Dad.

The combination works really well-a bit of an update on those honey dijon tastes. Maple syrup comes across less sweet, with more complexity. You may use a smooth Dijon mustard, but I like the pop of the mustard seeds, especially when heated. This is a recipe whose elegant result belies its simplicity.

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To round out the plate:

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I found this pretty golden cauliflower at Smiley’s booth at our Nashville Farmers Market. With a cooler start to our spring, it’s been nice to have some of these cruciferous veggies available in June. My dad is not a big eater of vegetables, but he loves onions and (oddly) anything from the cabbage family is tops in his book.

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We’ve talked before about the ubiquitous roasting of vegetables–how it transforms the cauliflower into something crispy and sweet, the way the petals of Brussels sprouts become light caramel chips.

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MAPLE-MUSTARD GLAZED SALMON STEAKS (adapted from Cooking Light)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

olive or canola oil
4 5-6oz. salmon steaks

Place the maple syrup, coarse grain mustard, balsamic vinegar and orange juice into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Stir in salt and pepper.

Place salmon steaks into a large zip lock bag. Pour in the marinade/glaze. Seal and refrigerate. Marinate for a couple of hours.

Prepare outdoor grill, broilerpan, or stovetop grill pan with a little oil. Heat.

Sear salmon steaks–about 6 minutes per side. Baste with reserved marinade. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, remove from heat.

Serves 4

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BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH COCOA-DUSTED WHIPPED CREAM
6 tablespoons turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch sea salt
2 3/4 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%) chopped

1/2 pint heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon cocoa–to dust over the whipped cream

Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan.* Turn on heat to medium. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly, followed by coffee and vanilla. Stir-stir-stir! Over 15 minutes time, the mixture will begin to thicken, coating the back of a wooden spoon. When the rich chocolate mixture begins to burp and bubble, remove from heat. Keep stirring.

Using a heat-proof spatula, spoon and scrape the pudding into individual ramekins. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours. ( If you don’t want “pudding skin,” press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding surface.

Before serving: whip cream and dollop onto puddings. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.

Makes 6 individual ramekins.

*Many recipes call for using a double boiler, which I applaud–this works beautifully. But I will make just as smooth a pudding using my heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan on medium low heat, and that diligent hover-and-stir.

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Who wants to lick the spoon?

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Fish/Seafood, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables | 24 Comments »




September 29th, 2011

Two Autumn Tarts

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Sweet Potato Tart with cornmeal crust

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Maple Pecan Tart with gingersnap crust

Today, an embarrassment of riches!

Between house parties and a special local farm dinner, I’ve been busy-busy cooking this month. In the process, I’ve created a couple of lush desserts suited for fall.

It’s a beautiful day in Nashville, the essence of early autumn: sunny, neither warm nor cool, with that slant of light that makes all things clear.

Ripe for sharing both recipes.

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The first, sweet potato pie with cornmeal crust, was one that I made for the local farm dinner, hosted by Fretboard Journal, a guitar-afficianado’s dream-magazine based out of Seattle Washington. With all the “box” pickers, builders, traders, and listeners, Nashville is one guitar lovin’ town, the perfect site for the Inaugural Fretboard Feast.

My friend, organic farmer Tally May, and her husband, guitar builder extraordinaire, Kipp Krusa hosted the event on their Turnbull Creek Farm, just west of Nashville.

Working with Tally, I designed a menu, basing it on what was seasonal and available at the moment. We sourced meat, eggs, fruit, and vegetables from her farm, and her neighboring farmer-colleagues.

Here are some of the highlights: Rosemary-Sage Roasted Fresh Ham with Fig Sauce, Fall Lettuces with beets, pears, walnuts, chevre, Sherry-Plum Vinaigrette, Butternut Squash-Swiss Chard Gratin, October Beans, Pole Beans, and Leeks with blistered cherry tomatoes and peppers, Yukon Golds and Harukei Turnips roasted with Thyme and Garlic…

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And, this very local pie, distinctively Southern with its slightly gritty cornmeal crust. A drizzle of sorghum, a dollop of lemon-basil scented creme fraiche, and Mer-cy, was it ever down-home elegant good. Have a bite, please!

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SWEET POTATO PIE WITH CORNMEAL CRUST

The Crust
3/4 cup Yellow Corn Meal
3/4 cup All Purpose Flour
2 T. Sugar
1/2 t. Salt
7 T. cold Butter, cut into pieces
3-4 T. Ice Water

Place all dry ingredients in a food processor fitted with a pastry cutter blade (or swivel blade). Pulse quickly to “sift” them together. Add cold butter, and pulse until the pieces are cut throughout the cornmeal-flour mix. Continue pulsing, add water, one tablespoon at a time. The dough will begin to amass. Continue pulsing until it forms a ball. Collect, pat into a firmer ball, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (You can do this well ahead of time–a day in advance.)

The Filling
2 cups cooked Sweet Potatoes (2 medium or 1 large Sweet Potato, baked, meaty insides scooped from the sweet potato shell))
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 cup Cream
1 T. Vanilla
1 t. Ginger
1/2 t. Cinnamon
1/2 t. Nutmeg
pinch ground Cloves
3 Eggs

I used the food processor (swivel blade) for the filling too.

Place sweet potatoes into the food processor and process until smooth. Add brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and spices. Continue processing. Taste, and adjust for seasoning. Add eggs, one at a time, and process until very smooth and well-incorporated.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove doughball from refrigerator and allow to soften. Sprinkle counter with a little flour and roll out crust. Fit into a 9″ or 10″ pie pan. If the dough breaks or crumbles, (which it might) don’t worry. The cornmeal makes it a bit that way, but is very forgiving as far as piecing the crust back together.

Fill the pie with the sweet potato mixture and bake for about 35 minutes. Test in the center for doneness (whatever you stick in to check will be clean when removed)

Cool. Serve with lemon-scented creme fraiche.

LEMON BASIL SCENTED CREME FRAICHE
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 T. Buttermilk

3 T. Lemon Basil Simple Syrup
1 T. Lemon zest

Mix the cream and buttermilk in a clean glass mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit out, in a cool dark place, for 24 hours, to thicken. Stir occasionally. Refrigerate, and allow to culture for 3 days.

Make your simple syrup. (recipe below)

Whip the creme fraiche with lemon zest and simple syrup until fluffy. Serve over pie.

Lemon Basil Simple Syrup
1/2 c. Sugar
1/2 c. Water
1/2 c. Lemon Basil Leaves

Dissolve sugar into water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Plunge in the lemon basil leaves.
Stir well and simmer. Allow to cool. Strain the leaves.

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Next up, Maple Pecan.

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Southern pecan pie is traditionally made with corn syrup, and I’ve generally made it this way, with delicious results. But, for this tart, I wanted to use maple syrup that I was able to source from a farm in neighboring Kentucky. I had always thought about maple syrup coming from New England and Canada—so it’s nice to know that locals are making it too.

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And, a different, “spicier” crust seemed to be in order. For its sweet and heady bite, a crust made from ginger snaps makes a nice shell to hold that pecan studded custard, and is a snap to make.

I’ve used the same recipe, pressed the crust into an 8″X8″ square baking pan, and made Maple Pecan Bars, instead of the round tart. This works, easy-peasy.

I hope you all are enjoying the change of season. Take time outside, have a slice of one of these tarts, sip hot coffee, drink in that rare slant of light.

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MAPLE PECAN TART WITH GINGERSNAP CRUST

The Crust:
24 Ginger Snap Cookies (from an Archway Cookie Bag)
3 T. Melted Butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pulse gingersnaps in a food processor into fine crumbs. Place into a mixing bowl, and stir in melted butter. Press mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan. Bake for 5 minutes.

The Filling:
1 cup Maple Syrup
1/2 cup Sugar
1 stick melted Butter, slightly cooled
1 T. Vanilla
3 Eggs
1/2 t. Salt
2 cups Pecan Halves

Line the bottom of the gingersnap crust with pecans.

Make the filling, using a stand mixer, or a hand-held. Beat maple syrup, sugar, vanilla, and butter together. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Pour over pecans in the pie pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Serve warm or cold, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. (drizzled with caramel sauce!)

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Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 25 Comments »




December 15th, 2010

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple-Sage Brown Butter

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In December, life moves at a crazy pace; it’s a giant snowball, hill-tumbling, avalanching to year-end. With all the demands of the season, it feels like I’m in a race to outrun it. This puzzles me, as my life is scads simpler than it used to be.

When I was full time-full blown catering, outrunning that avalanche was de rigueur for December. Any given day would be crammed with making countless appetizer platters, holiday luncheon spreads, and fruit, cheese, and petite sweet trays while orchestrating concurrent cocktail soirees, dinner parties, and dessert fetes…only to be repeated the next. Days were bleary, and days were Long.

At some point, in the course of this catering mania (We called it The Season We Love to Hate) I’d experience a meltdown. You know, one of those collapses into a tunnel of blind psychotic frenzy that would end with a bout of uncontrolled sobbing. You never knew when it would occur, or what might trigger it.

One morning, in predawn darkness, I spent forty-five minutes ransacking my home, front yard and driveway looking for my car keys—I had to get to the shop to scramble 200 eggs for a company breakfast and I was running horribly late—-only to find them lying on my dresser, under a scarf. Another time, I was talking to a client for the fifth time that day, as she revised her party’s headcount upwards (these late rsvps! we must have enough food!) and dozens of beautifully crafted yeast rolls burnt to a ghastly char in our oven.

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Once the meltdown happened, everything would return to normalcy—relatively speaking. Bill always hoped that “the episode” would occur early in the season. “Get it over with and move on.” I always hoped that it wouldn’t occur at all—wishful thinking. In fairness, we had a share of comedic moments to balance out the drama (like the time I ran over the baked glazed ham !) but I am grateful that those days are behind me.

Nonetheless, I have fallen behind this season–cooking, shopping, reviewing, blogging. I have been meaning to share this recipe with you that Maggie and I cooked up a couple of weeks ago! Maggie had much success growing sweet potatoes this year, and we wanted to try some different recipes. And because sweet potatoes are so versatile—you can pretty much interchange them with winter squashes or regular potatoes in many recipes—this gives you a wide range of possibilities. We chose gnocchi. These pretty little knobs are easy-peasy to make, and make an artful accompaniment to the holiday table.

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There’s not a terrible lot of ingredients. I put a little minced rosemary to the dough, along with cinnamon, salt, and pepper. I like the additional herbal note that it brings. It complements the maple’s sweetness and is a natural partner with sage. Bake your sweet potatoes ahead of time, and have them scooped out, ready to go.

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Working with this dough reminded me of making biscuits—-it takes a similar light (and messy!) hand as you quickly work the potato, egg, and all throughout the flour, massing it into a pliable ball.

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Divide the ball into 4, and roll each into long logs. There is a rustic, non-uniform look to gnocchi that appeals to me. It’s also child’s play! Cut them into bite-size pieces–they are ready to cook.

These are quite tasty, especially after being napped in the savory-sweet brown butter. They are rich, too. I think that you’ll enjoy them alongside smoked turkey, or roast pork, even a baked glazed ham, tenderized under the wheel of a whacked-out caterer’s truck.

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SWEET POTATO GNOCCHI
2 Sweet Potatoes, baked, insides scooped out
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 Egg
4 T. Unsalted Butter, softened
1 t. minced Rosemary leaves
2 t. Cinnamon
Salt and Black Pepper

1 large pot for boiling the gnocchi

In a large bowl, place cooked and cooled sweet potato “meat” along with all the other ingredients and begin mixing them together by hand. It will be a little sticky at first, but continue working the dough, kneading, until it becomes a manageable ball. Beware not to overknead–keep a light hand! Cut the doughball into 4 pieces, and roll them into long log shapes. Cut into pieces.

If you are making these in advance, refrigerate until you are ready to boil them.

Drop the gnocchi into a large pot of lightly salted, boiling water. When the gnocchi float to the surface, (about 5 minutes( they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon or strainer to drain.

Dress with brown butter sauce and serve.

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MAPLE SAGE BROWN BUTTER SAUCE

6 T. Unsalted Butter
1/2 c. fresh Sage Leaves
2 T. Maple Syrup
Salt and Black Pepper

In a small skillet on medium beat, melt the butter. Shake and stir it around the skillet as it foams; you’ll notice the milky solids begin to get a toasty brown color. Add the sage leaves and continue stirring. When the butter gets bronzy, remove from heat and stir in the ample syrup.
Toss over gnocchi and garnish with additional sage.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetables | 29 Comments »