Friday, December 29, 2006

Luscious currant relish

  A few weeks ago, a friend called. We don't get together as much as we might like, so we just planned on cooking together at her house. I showed up with nothing exactly in mind, with some salad makings, and some fruit. She had beautiful lamb chops. We raided her fridge for the currant preserves. I'm not sure exactly how the following sauce evolved that evening, but here's what I do know: it would be perfect with your holiday dinners. And it's so easy!

I had brought Granny Smith apples, but any tart crisp apple would work equally well. I used the wine we were going to drink later, and thyme from my garden.

The slightly tart flavor of the currants, the tang of the apple, the thyme scented wine base, all made for a sauce that was quick and easy to do, stores well, and was wonderful on the grilled lamb chops. It would be a superb complement to a turkey, ham or roast pork dinner. It would also be tasty with a firm full flavored fish like salmon or swordfish, simply grilled. It's good warm from the pan, or chilled.

Or put into pretty jars, it would be a thoughtful hostess gift. Just make sure it stays refrigerated!


2 tbsp butter or vegetable oil
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large tart cooking apple, peeled and cut into 1/4" dice
3/4 cup (half a 12 ounce jar) black currant preserves
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 tsp dried
Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until just soft and translucent. Add the apples and toss to combine well. Add the preserves, wine and thyme and simmer until the wine has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 2 cups relish. May be doubled or tripled with no change in measurements. Posted by Picasa

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Weekend Brunch for a Bunch

  I grew up in Louisville, where there are two holiday seasons: the month of December and the couple of weeks leading to Derby Day, the first Saturday in May. Both are a whirl of parties and entertaining. The trick for both was to plan your party so you would have the most people come, and your wouldn’t miss a really good one given by someone else.

As a young bride, I found a solution that worked best for me. I tended to be a bit more moderate in my fun-having than some. So my traditional party was a brunch, the Sunday after Derby Day in May, and on New Year’s Day in January. Everyone came, since I was the only one entertaining on those days, and all appreciated not having to cope with getting breakfast together themselves.

The trick to this is to have dishes that can be mostly prepared in advance. Recently a group of friends got together for a leisurely brunch. We set out a platter of assorted cheeses and crackers to start. The main event was a made-ahead mushroom-cheddar sauce with hard-cooked eggs and Canadian bacon on toasted English muffins and served with a salad. For a sweet, we had an easy lemon coffeecake from a recipe I’ve had for a while. It probably came off the back of a Bisquick box.

The last minute work on this is minimal. The day before, make your sauce, cook your eggs and make your cake. Then for the brunch. all you have to do is reheat the sauce and add the eggs, warm the Canadian bacon and toast the muffins. Toss a bag of spring greens with a small can of Mandarin oranges (drained), sliced strawberries and purchased poppy seed dressing. Make a big pot of coffee. Set out pitchers of orange and tomato juices with bottles of vodka and sparkling wine if that’s your inclination.

We made a sort of Kir Royal with champagne and pomegranate juice (available in the produce section of most supermarkets). It was an experiment and a felicitous one, since it wasn’t too sweet.

Why don’t you start your own New Year’s Day tradition? Invite your friends, feed them and then let them put their feet up to watch the football games, work the crossword puzzle or just nap a bit. They’ll be so grateful!

Mushroom-Cheddar Brunch Muffins

1 lb white mushrooms, divided
8 tbsp unsalted butter (one stick), divided
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup half-and-half
1 tsp each dry mustard and sugar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup dry sherry
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
1/2 small onion
1 cup sliced black olives
1 jar (12-ounce) roasted red peppers, drained and sliced
24 slices Canadian bacon
12 English muffins
12 eggs, hard cooked, peeled
Sweet paprika, for garnish

Slice about half the mushrooms. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and sauté the sliced mushrooms over medium heat until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the remaining butter to the pan. When it starts to foam, whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly for a couple of minutes. Whisk in the stock until smooth, then whisk in the cream. Add the mustard, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and sherry. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened.

Meanwhile in a food processor, combine the remaining mushrooms and the onion and pulse to make fine “crumbs.” When the sauce is smooth and thick, add this mixture and continue to simmer for about five minutes, stirring often. Add the reserved sautéed mushrooms, the olives and the roasted peppers. Stir in the cheese until melted. At this point you can cover, cool and refrigerate until ready to use, up to three days.

When ready to serve, peel and slice the eggs. Warm the sauce and gently stir in the eggs. Split the muffins and place on a baking sheet. Put the slices on Canadian bacon on another sheet. Preheat the broiler. Place the Canadian bacon on a lower shelf with the muffins above. Toast the muffins, watching carefully (they go from toasted to charred very quickly!). On dinner plates, place two muffin halves, top each with a warmed Canadian bacon slice, then the sauce. Sprinkle with paprika and serve immediately.

You can also put the sauce in a chafing dish, set out the muffins and Canadian bacon, and let folks serve themselves as they wander in. Serves 12.

Bisquick Lemon Coffee Cake

2-1/2 cups Bisquick baking mix
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 lemon (peel and all) warmed, seeded and cubed
3 eggs
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 tbsp milk
1 cup powdered sugar
5 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350o. Stir together Bisquick, sugar and poppy seeds. In a blender or food processor blend lemon pieces until finely chopped. Add eggs and butter and blend well. Pour into dry ingredients. Add milk and stir until just moistened. Pour into a greased 9-inch cake pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool about 15 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar and lemon juice. Drizzle over the cake. To store, let glaze set, then wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. Makes 12 modest sized servings.
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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Menu for Hope

Once a year, in a tradition started by Chez Pim, the food bloggers of this world unite for a world-wide virtual raffle in which proceeds are donated to a charitable cause. Last year's event raised over $17,000 and with the number of foodblogs and their audience having at least tripled in the last year, we are hoping to raise even more this time round.

And here's how it works: many participating foodbloggers donate a prize which is advertised on various Menu for Hope portals around the world. From there on it's over to you, really!

Readers can buy raffle tickets for just $10 each on a secure website, specifying which prize (or prizes) they'd like to win. The more tickets they buy, the more chances of winning, obviously. Winners will be announced on Chez Pim on the 15th of January and your prize will be shipped at no cost to you. All proceeds will be donated to the United Nations' World Food Programme - no foodblogger will ever touch the money collected, it will go straight to the UN.

Take your pick of prizes: wine and cheese from Sonoma County? Chef's knives? Perhaps you'd rather have gourmet olive oils or European food baskets?

Then go to the donation page and donate to support the fight against world hunger and for a chance to win one of hundreds of prizes!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pastitsio--Greek Baked Pasta

 Finally! We got weather that really said “It’s winter!!!” And there’s almost nothing that I like better when it’s really cold outside, than a good baked pasta dish. The Greeks have a good one, pastitsio, that is among my favorites.

Recently I made this for a group of friends. Earlier in the day I peeled and seeded cucumbers, sliced red onion very thinly and cut up a couple of tomatoes that looked surprisingly appealing for winter tomatoes. I covered them with a vinaigrette made of red wine vinegar, olive oil and dried oregano and left them sitting on the kitchen counter. When I would think about it, I gave them a little toss. By dinnertime they were ready to put on top of a bed of lettuce for a salad that made a perfect complement to the pasta.

I want to encourage you to make the sauce at least a day ahead and refrigerate it, so the fat can be taken off the top once it is cold. If that’s not possible, just skim off as much fat as you can once the sauce is done.

If you are one of those people who think they don’t like lamb, I would like to encourage you to try this. If you are absolutely sure you don’t like lamb, you can use lean ground beef instead. Either way, it will make you feel warm and toasty when the weather outside is not!


3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 large cloves garlic
1 lb ground lamb
1 tsp each oregano, cinnamon, and ground cumin
1/2 tsp each ground ginger and ground coriander
2 bay leaves
1 cup dry red wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cans Italian herb diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1 cup parmesan, freshly grated
1 lb rigatoni
4 eggs

Make the sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the lamb and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is cooked through and crumbly. Stir in the herbs and spices and cook, stirring, another 5 minutes. Dissolve the tomato paste in the wine and add with the tomatoes. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook until thickened, another 30 minutes or so. Cool, cover and refrigerate.

Preheat your oven to 350. Cook the pasta according to package directions until just barely tender. Drain well.

Meanwhile make the topping: In a saucepan, cook the garlic in the butter over very low heat for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Don’t let it brown. Slowly whisk in the milk, Stir in the salt and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, whisking to avoid lumps, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in one cup of the grated cheese.
Warm the lamb sauce gently. Separate two of the eggs. Whisk the whites until frothy and stir into the lamb sauce. Toss with the cooked pasta. Pour into a four-quart baking dish.

Add the remaining two eggs to the two yolks and whisk to blend well. Stir into the topping. Pour evenly over the pasta and sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese over the top. Bake in the middle of the oven until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes before serving. Serves 8 very generously. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 01, 2006

Chicken Tortelloni Soup

  After several days of unusually warm weather, winter has arrived! At least we missed the worst of the winter storm, but it's still pretty nippy out there...a perfect day for soup!

There have been some studies done that indicate that folks who either start their dinners with soup, or make soup the main course, tend to eat fewer calories overall during that meal. With all the holiday parties coming, some of us (including me!) should probably be eating soup at every meal. I, for one, would be quite happy to do that.

I had some friends coming for a casual dinner recently, and running late, as usual, I didn't have time to do a lot of cooking. Fortunately I always keep some good bread in the freezer. When I bring it home, I wrap it first in foil, then put it in a plastic freezer bag. I can take it out of the freezer when I need it. It thaws fairly quickly at room temperature, and then it crisps up nicely in a hot oven. You'd never know it wasn't fresh from the bakery.

I also had all of the makings for this soup. I like using the fresh stuffed pastas--ravioli, borsellini (little purses), tortellini (modeled, by legend, from the navel of Venus)--that you find in the refrigerated section of all the supermarkets now. There is a great variety with all kinds of interesting fillings. They freeze well, too, right in their package. Usually you can cook them from the frozen state but they should be thawed before using in this particular recipe. I think you could use sausage stuffed ones in this recipe very nicely for a little variation of flavor. And I know it would be a great way to use up any holiday turkey leftovers.

With a pre-packaged bag of salad greens topped with a handful of toasted walnuts, some crumbled gorgonzola cheese and red wine vinaigrette, we had a lovely meal, This soup was declared quite tasty by everyone, so of course I must share it with you!


2 tbsp butter
1 cup onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups white mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
8 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp diced roasted red bell pepper or pimento
1 package fresh cheese tortellini
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2" cubes
Fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped, for garnish

In a large saucepan with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to get soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until lightly browned. Add the curry powder and ground cumin and stir well. Add the chicken stock and roasted pepper or pimento. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes. You can do this ahead of time. When ready to serve, bring back to a boil. Add the tortellini and chicken cubes. Bring back to a boil, cover, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and top with minced cilantro or parsley for garnish. Serves 6 as a main course. Posted by Picasa