Thanksgiving Day Breadbasket: Orange Cranberry Walnut and Brandied Applesauce Spice Quick Breads

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The tradition of creating a Thanksgiving Day bread basket is one of my favorites. I realize that the current trend is to reduce one’s intake of refined carbohydrates, which includes breads, but Thanksgiving is a holiday, and occasional indulgences in moderation are a pleasurable thing. I enjoy putting together a basket with a variety of savory and sweet breads, yeast breads and quick breads. When I know that I am creating a particularly bountiful basket, I may elect to make a lighter, nutritious, non-bread-based stuffing or dressing. The next post features a recipe for a very savory red and brown rice, barley and rye dressing with fruits, nuts and herbs.

After making a few yeast breads–which I love to do, but let’s face it, they are time-consuming and labor-intensive–I love to make a few easy but flavorful quick sweet breads. Homemade quick breads are distinctively different than those usually found at the supermarket bakery, which are often overly sweet, artificially flavored and very cake-like in texture. Homemade quick breads should have an initial crunch as you bite through the exterior, and should then have a moist, light, craggy interior. They can be prepared with all natural ingredients, some of which are sweet, so the sugar can be reduced.

Two of my favorites are Brandied Applesauce Spice Bread and Orange-Cranberry-Walnut Bread. The batters for these breads take just minutes to prepare, and within 50-60 minutes, you have two loaves of each flavor and a wonderfully fragrant kitchen! You can use all organic ingredients, as I did, but the important thing is to use the best quality ingredients that you can source that are compatible with your individual food philosophy.

Orange-Cranberry-Walnut Bread, adapted from a recipe on chow.com retrieved on 11/10/2014
Makes 2 9 x 5 loaves

Ingredients

4 cups all-purpose flour (I used organic, unbleached)
2 cups granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 medium organic oranges
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons fine salt
1 and 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
4 Tablespoons unsalted butte, melted and additional to coat each pan
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pure orange extract
1 and 1/2 cups fresh whole cranberries
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts, your preference

Method

Butter 2 – 9 x 5 inch loaf pans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and place a rack in the center of the oven
Melt the 4 Tablespoons of butter and set aside.
Whisk all of the dry ingredients together, items 1-6, in a large mixing bowl to evenly distribute the ingredients and to avoid clumps.
Whisk together the wet ingredients and eggs in another bowl just briefly, and then add to the dry ingredients.
Stir with a wooden spoon just sufficiently to combine the ingredients, but do not over-mix.
Fold in the cranberries and nuts.
Divide the batter between the 2 loaf pans and make certain to push the batter into the corners and to smooth the tops.
Bake until tester placed into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
Cool for about 5-10 minutes in the pan and then turn the loaves out onto a cooling rack.
Cool to just warm prior to slicing.

These loaves can be prepared a few days or a few weeks in advance, wrapped in foil and frozen in a freezer bag, and then thawed overnight on the kitchen counter prior to the day of serving. This bread should appear golden when done, should have an initial crunch when you take your first bite, and the interior should have a moist, light and craggy texture. There should be the prominent flavor of sweet orange, the tart flavor of fresh cranberries, and the crunch of the nuts.

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If you really love the addition of something special, you can either serve this bread with a Cranberry-Orange Compound Butter, or a drizzle of light Cream Cheese Glaze with Crystallized Ginger.

Cranberry-Orange Compound Butter

Soften 16 Tablespoons of unsalted butter (I like the flavor and quality of Kerrygold)
In a medium size mixing bowl, cream the butter with your mixer with 4 Tablespoons of orange zest and 1/4 cup chopped fresh cranberries until the ingredients are well-distributed. (do not use frozen cranberries–they will add too much water)
Divide the flavored butter into two portions, and shape into 2 logs, using parchment paper, secure the ends and store in the refrigerator. An alternative is to fill 2 4 inch ramekins with the butter and cover with plastic wrap.

Compound butters are best made one day in advance, and then removed from the refrigerator one hour prior to serving for the best flavor.

Cream Cheese-Crystallized Ginger Glaze

Beat 4 ounces of cream cheese with 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar, 2 teaspoons pure orange extract and sufficient half and half to created a glaze that is thin enough to drizzle. This is not intended to be a thick cream cheese cake frosting, and you just want to be able to add a light drizzle to each loaf. Fold in 1/4 cup of finely chopped crystallized ginger into the glaze. I source crystallized ginger from my local Savory Spice Shop, and I find many uses for it in baking. It is a very good partner for the flavor of cranberry in the bread.

Drizzle the glaze on just prior to serving.

Brandied Applesauce Bread
Makes 2 – 9 x 5 loaves
(note: place 1 cup of raisins in brandy to cover them and soak for a few hours prior to mixing the batter for this bread)

Ingredients

12 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened
2 cups of sugar
2 large eggs
2 and 1/2 cups of Applesauce, unsweetened (I used organic, nothing in it but pure apples)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Ceylon or Saigon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground Chinese Ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Allspice or cloves
1 cup raisins, soaked in brandy for a few hours and then drained
1 cup chopped walnuts

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter 2 – 9 x 5 loaf pans.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add the eggs and beat for a minute or two, and then add the applesauce and beat for just long enough to combine well.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in another bowl to aerate and distribute the ingredients well.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon just until combined. Do not over-mix.
Fold in the drained raisins and the walnuts, and notice the heavenly aroma of warm spices plus brandy!

Divide the batter between the 2 loaf pans and smooth the tops.
Bake until a tester placed in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes.
Cool in the pa for abut 10 minutes and ten turn them out onto a wire rack to cool.
Served warm, this bread does not require any embellishment!

This is a moist loaf with a bit of a finer, more tender texture than the Orange-Cranberry Bread. This bread has the flavor of those warm spices that we love so much in the Fall, and just a lovely hint of brandy. If you do not wish to use brandy, you can soak the raisins in apple juice or cider. This is one of my favorite quick sweet breads for Autumn!

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I always add a savory buttermilk scone to my bread basket. It might be a Parmesan-Thyme Scone, or a Chai Spice Scone, or Gingerbread Scones My scones usually begin with a basic Buttermilk Scone recipe, so type “scones” into the search box on this site in the upper right hand corner, and you will see previous posts with recipes for scones.

Readers, share some of your favorite Thanksgiving Day food traditions, favorite breads, and, of course, do let me know whether you tried the recipes posted today and your outcomes! Tell me, how are your preparations for Thanksgiving Day going? There is a Comment box at the conclusion of each post.

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Savory Pumpkin Gratin

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In Autumn as Thanksgiving Day approaches, Americans tend to dream about the flavor of pumpkin in all kinds of sweet indulgences:  Pumpkin Spice lattes, Pumpkin Scones,  Pumpkin Cakes, Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Muffins, Pumpkin Cookies.  However, in Italy, you are more likely to taste pumpkin in savory dishes, such as in fillings for little pillows of tender pasta, such as ravioli or agnoletti, or cooked in cubes and tossed with pasta and bacon, or in soups, gnocchi or pasta sauces.   In the Fall, I have enjoyed a number of memorable dishes in Northern Italy that contained pumpkin:  a risotto with wild mushrooms topped with shards of glazed roast pumpkin just over the Swiss border in Lake Lugano, and as a filling for handmade ravioli served in a cream sauce, savored while dining on a terrace overlooking Lake Como.  Many different varieties of pumpkins are grown in Italy, and you will find them in the cuisine in most regions.

The French are similar to the Italians, in that pumpkin is treated as a vegetable, and is prepared in savory dishes.  Dorie Greenspan, in Around My French Table, provides a recipe from a friend who lives in Lyon, for a glorious stuffed, roasted pumpkin.   David Lebovitz wrote about simply roasting pumpkin wedges in his blog, Living the Sweet Life in Paris, on October 25, 2010. The French do serve Soupe au Potiron, or Pumpkin Soup.   I was intrigued by a recipe by Jacques Pepin for Pumpkin Gratin.  He spoke about eating Pumpkin Pie in the States for the first time and believing that an error had been made, because it was sweet!    Jacques reminisced that this gratin was a dish that his mother used to prepare, and he provided a simple version in his cookbook, More fast Food My Way.

Pumpkin Gratin is a very simple, rustic dish, soufflé-like in texture, but not technique, savory, golden, prepared with eggs, heavy cream and gruyere cheese.  This can be served as a holiday side dish, or could be served as a vegetarian entrée.   You can garnish it with fried sage leaves, or some sprigs of fresh thyme, or even some crumbled, crisp bacon.

Pumpkin Gratin, recipe by Jacques Pepin, More Fast Food My Way, page 138, paraphrased by me here

Serves 4

Prep time 5 minutes

Cooking time:  45-55 minutes

Ingredients

1 – 15 ounce can of pure pumpkin puree

3 large eggs

1 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup grated Swiss chees (I used Gruyere)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

I added 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan

Softened butter to butter a 6 cup gratin dish.

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F

Butter the gratin dish.

Jacques combined all ingredients except the Parmesan cheese in a food processor and processed for about 15 seconds.  I simply beat the eggs and cream with a whisk, added the remaining ingredients and whisked for about a minute, and then poured the mixture into the gratin dish.
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Top the gratin with the grated parmesan cheese.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, according to Jacque, until the gratin is golden, puffed in the center and set.   Mine took 55 minutes.

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Garnish as you wish with sprigs of fresh thyme, or fresh or fried sage leaves, or crumbled, crisp bacon for all those who find it hard not to have bacon included in a Thanksgiving Day dish.

This dish is much more delicious and elegant than I had imagined.  It has a soufflé-like texture, and the flavors of pumpkin, eggs, and cheese are comforting and balanced.   It is beautiful in appearance, all golden and initially puffy on top, although it deflates rather quickly.  It is very simple to prepare, and it can be versatile.  My husband, after tasting this for the first time, asserted that this should be a traditional Thanksgiving dish.  He then added that he could enjoy it as an entrée, as well, or for a brunch dish, because the eggs, cream and cheese made it a very rich, satisfying dish.

Thank you again, Chef Pepin!  This is another great example of delicious, elegant, but simple French cooking!

Readers, please share your inspirations for using pumpkin this season, and let me know your responses if you prepare this gratin. The Comment box can e found at the conclusion of the post.

 

 

 

 

Southwest France-Inspired Comfort Food for Fall: Cassoulet

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While Julia Child waxes rhapsodic about a perfect, authentic Cassoulet prepared with lamb and homemade pork sausage cakes over a three day period of time in her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, page 399, few American home cooks are going to take on this challenge! In Toulouse, in the Southwest of France, Cassoulet is made with preserved goose and sausages that are specific to that region, as well. Geese are plentiful in Toulouse, since this is the region that provides foie gras, those buttery, incredible, plump goose livers! One of my favorite good-reads of all time is A Goose in Toulouse, by Mort Rosenblum, published in 2000, and Mort describes a Cassoulet that he had in Toulouse made with Duck Confit, or duck prepared and potted in its own fat, with a layer of duck fat added at the end to crisp up the crusty top layer of this casserole, and duck so tender that a straw can be passed through to the bone.

But, Cassoulet is not fancy French food! Think of Boston Baked Beans! Cassoulet is a peasant, farm-driven dish, made with white beans and a variety of meats and vegetables and herbs, baked slowly in a rich broth in the oven and occasionally stirred about until there is a deep brown crust on top. I have found through practice, that you can produce a very rich, delicious, economical, and comforting Cassoulet in far less than three days and using common ingredients. I have borrowed some ideas from Sara Moulton, a disciple of Julia’s and a very talented chef in her own right, and one of the masters at simplifying French cooking for Americans, Chef Jacques Pepin.

Susan’s Cassoulet

Serves 8
Ingredients
8 chicken thighs, on the bone, skin on
1 pound of pork sausage of your choice (I used a special boar sausage from my local Italian butcher, because it has a very rich pork flavor and a hint of clove)
1/4 pound salt pork
2 large sweet onions chopped coarsely
5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1 Tablespoon dried
2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, or 1 Tablespoon dried
2 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry red wine
1 and 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
2 hefty Tablespoons Dijon mustard (or, you can use tomato paste, your choice, depending on the flavor you wish to have)
3 – 19 ounce cans of cannellini beans, drained

Method

Use a 5 quart, shallow, round enamel over cast iron Dutch oven or cocotte. This is a slow cook method, so you need a pot or casserole that is appropriate for this method.

Over medium high heat, render the salt pork until it gives off its lovely fat. Salt the chicken pieces generously, and brown them on both sides until richly browned, about 4-5 minutes each side.

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Remove them from he pan, and add the sausages and onion. Brown the sausages and onion for about 6-7 minutes.
Add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up the brown fond on the bottom of the pot.
Add the stock or broth, the herbs, the mustard or tomato paste, salt and pepper.

Mash one can of the beans with all of the garlic and a pinch of salt. Add this mixture to the pot.
Add the remaining 2 cans of drained beans to the pot, and place the chicken pieces back into the pot, nestling all of the meats into the beans and liquid.

Place the pot, uncovered into a 300 degree F oven and bake for about 2 and 1/2 -3 hours. Sit, relax, read a good book or watch a few favorite episodes of Downton Abbey or The Good Wife!

The rich aromas of roasting meats, herbs, garlic, wine and broth are so appealing! Midway through cooking, take a wooden spoon and just crack the crust that has formed on top of the casserole–don’t stir–and then finish cooking. When it is done, you will have a dark crust on top, not unlike Boston baked beans!

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All you need to accompany this very hearty, richly flavorful Cassoulet is a glass of red wine, a simple green salad, ad some crusty baguette!
The beans are creamy and soaked in the porky-garlicky, herbaceous broth; the chicken thighs are buttery tender; the boar sausage is a very rich pork sausage that has some clove added, which is perfect–some Cassoulet recipes actually have clove as an ingredient for spice. However, you can use a smoked sausage if you prefer, or an Italian sausage, or whatever flavorful sausage that you prefer.

Bon Appetite!

Readers, please share your favorite renditions of Cassoulet or your comments about the recipe and about experiences preparing Cassoulet in the Comments box at the conclusion of the post.

Autumnal Breakfast Perfect for a Chilly Sunday Morning! Pumpkin Spice Pancakes and Roasted Pears

 

We awakened to a perfect Florida Fall morning, with bright blue sky, temperature in the 50s, but with wind chill in the 40s, and an appetite for a hot autumn-inspired breakfast before our morning hike through the neighborhood. This is a quick and easy, but flavorful breakfast to fuel your morning walk. This morning will require jeans, light jackets, hats and scarves!

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

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Makes 8 pancakes
Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons Saigon or Ceylon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Chinese Ground Ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Allspice
1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tablespoons melted butter, cooled
1 large egg
1 cup pumpkin puree

2 Tablespoons butter for the griddle.

Method

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl.
Whisk the wet ingredients together in a medium bowl.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until well-combined and smooth.

Heat 2 Tablespoons butter on your griddle or in a large, shallow skillet until melted and sizzling over medium heat.
Add 1/3 cup of batter for each medium size pancake to the griddle, and cook approximately 3 minutes per side. Watch for bubbles to appear across the top of the pancake batter before flipping to cook the second side.

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Stack with butter and drizzle with pure maple syrup!
If you are making pancakes for a crowd, use your warming drawer or an oven warmed to 200 degrees F and turned off to keep the pancakes hot for serving.
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Roasted Pears

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Prepare 1 pear per person
Ingedients
1 Bosc or Bartlett Pear per person, ripe but still with some firm texture
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Method

Slice each pear in half and remove the core. Leave the skin on–it is thin and tender.
Spread 2 Tablespoons olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet, and place the pears cut side down to roast.

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Roast at 375 degrees F for about 30 minutes until the cut side is caramelized and golden brown.
Serve warm. If you would like a bit of added decadence, then lightly sweeten and whip some heavy cream and add a dollop on the side!

This Pumpkin Spice Pancake recipe cooks up light, fluffy, with pronounced pumpkin and spice flavor, perfect with melting butter and warm maple syrup from New England! The Roasted Pears are tender and caramelized with concentrated pear flavor. A cup or Chai tea, or a Viennese coffee are all you need to accompany this Fall breakfast.

These roasted pears can also be sliced atop a green salad with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing and some gorgonzola, bleu or sharp cheddar cheese, or served warm over vanilla bean ice cream with a drizzle of salted caramel sauce.

Readers, please share your favorite Fall weekend breakfasts in the Comments box below this post, or share your experiences with these recipes!

Our walk was wonderful, by the way–the fragrance of burning fireplaces, homes decorated for Fall, still a few Halloween candy wrappers here and there on the breeze, and, because this is Florida, flowers blooming everywhere! Enjoy your Sunday!

Talking Technique: Tips for Richly Flavored Chicken Soup

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Longing for a richly flavored, homemade chicken vegetable soup? Here are a few techniques that make creating one easy.

Richly Flavored Chicken Vegetable Soup
Yields a 5 quart Dutch oven full of chicken soup, enough for 8 bowls

Ingredients

2 and 1/2 pounds of chicken thighs, with bone and skin
1 pound carrots, scrubbed
1/2 pound parsnips, scrubbed
1 large red onion
1 large sweet onion
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 15 ounce can drained red kidney beans
1 15 ounce can drained bianchi or butter beans
1 bunch chard
2 bay leaves
2 Tablespoons dried thyme (you can alter the flavor profile by using dried herbs of your choice)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
64 ounces chicken stock or broth (I used Pacific Organic low sodium, but use your favorite)

Method

Toss the chicken thighs, 1/2 pound of the carrots, cut into large chunks, 1/2 of the parsnips cut into large chinks, and the red onion cut into quarters with the olive oil and a teaspoon of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon dried thyme. Tumble them all out onto a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 375 degrees F for about one hour. There will be some caramelization that is the beginning of the rich flavor of this soup.
Remove the chicken thighs to a plate to cool sufficiently to handle.

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Leave the vegetables on the rimmed baking sheet, and deglaze the pan over medium heat range-top with 16 ounces of the broth, scraping the brown bits up into the liquid.
Strip the chicken from the thighs (set aside for now) and add the bones to the rimmed baking sheet and cook the mixture over medium heat, reducing the liquid, which you will note is developing a nice brown color and a good aroma.

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Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a 5 quart enamel over cast iron Dutch oven over medium heat and patiently caramelize the chopped large sweet onion. This takes about 20-25 minutes and you cannot rush the process.

Once the onions are a deep brown, add the remaining broth, and strain the broth that is in the rimmed baking pan into the Dutch oven as well. Remove the bones and dispose of them.

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Add the remaining 1/2 pound carrots, cut into medium dice; the remaining parsnips, cut into medium dice; the drained beans, and the cut up chicken thigh meat.
Add thyme, salt, pepper and bay leaves.
Place the cut up vegetables from the rimmed baking sheet into your blender and blend with just enough broth to help the process of creating a smooth, roasted vegetable puree. I learned this tip years ago from Martha Stewart as a way to enrich Thanksgiving Day Turkey gravy!
Add the puree to the soup pot.

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Cook over medium heat and skim any foam off the top.
Cover and simmer for about 1/2 hour, adding the chard for just the last 10 minutes of cooking time.

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So, the techniques that help to create a rich flavor in little time are:
1. Roast dark meat chicken pieces on the bone.
2. Roast vegetables with the chicken.
3. Deglaze the roasting pan, add the chicken bones and reduce the liquid until dark and rich in color.
4. Add the puree of roasted vegetables to the soup pot.
5. Properly caramelize the sweet onion.

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This soup is rich in chicken and vegetable flavor, savory with the flavor of thyme, and is richly satisfying comfort food for a chilly Fall or Winter day. Try adding pureed roasted vegetables to your gravy or sauce, as well–it will amplify the rich flavor.

Please share your tips and techniques for creating richly flavored soups, and, of course, share your thoughts and experiences with any of the recipes posted here. There is a Comments box located beneath each post.

Fall Baking for a Rainy Day: Spicy Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

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Gray, drizzly weather all day today, a perfect day for curling up with a good read, candles lit, a good cup of Chai tea, and for baking a cake with the fragrances and flavors of Fall. Bright blue skies, burnished golden and auburn-colored leaves, wind stirring up the leaves as I walk, cool air, scarf about my neck, the fragrance of burning fireplaces. hot apple cider… These are, of course, my fantasies today, and memories of October in Boston! I am in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the highs are still in the 80s, the lows in the 70s, and certainly no fires in fireplaces yet, although I live in neighborhood where that does occur just as soon as the temperatures drop below 68! My mood for all things Autumnal precedes the onset of Fall weather here!

Today, I am in the mood to bake a cake full of flavors and fragrances that I associate with Autumn–a Pumpkin-Gingerbread Cake. This is a moist, tender cake full of warm spiciness that I love to serve for a Thanksgiving Day dessert, topped with Cream Cheese Icing and finely chopped crystallized ginger, or for Christmas events, topped with a Toffee-Caramel topping that oozes down the sides of the cake. The important tip here is to use the very best, freshest spices. Once spices are ground, the oils begin to lose flavor. So, I purchase spices in small quantities from a source that freshly grinds their spices weekly, so I know that they have not been lingering on a grocery store shelf for a year. If you have never tried crystallized ginger, take a taste–I love the sweet, lemony, ginger flavor and use it in scones, cookies, or to top cakes.

Susan’s Pumpkin-Gingerbread Cake

Ingredients
Yields 1 9 inch Bundt cake
2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur Organic)
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger (I used Savory Spice Shop Chinese Ground Ginger)
2 teaspoons Cinnamon (I used Savory Spice Shop Ceylon Cinnamon)
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I like Savory Spice Shop Granada Nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon Allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup unsulfured molasses
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pure orange extract
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (I use Kerrygold)
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in rum for an hour and then drained

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and lightly butter and flour your bundt pan. If you do not have a bundt pan, you can use a 9 inch spring-form, but the baking time may be altered.
Whisk together in a large bowl the flour, spices and baking powder and soda and the salt.
Boil the 1 cup of water and add the molasses to it. Set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs to the butter-sugar, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, until light and thick.
Add the pumpkin puree and extract while beating on low speed.
Add the cooled molasses mixture on low speed and beat until well-blended.
Stir in the dry ingredients with the drained raisins, mixing until just combined. Do not over-mix.
Pour into your prepared pan, This is a relatively thin batter. It is a light, tender cake.

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Bake for 35 to 45 minutes for a Bundt pan. If you us a different 9 inch pan, I suggest checking it for doneness at 30 minutes.
Cool it for about 10 minutes, and then invert onto your cake plate.

 

 

 

You can serve this cake simply dusted with a combination of confectioner’s sugar sifted with some cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, or you can prepare a frosting or glaze.
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Cream Cheese Icing
Yields enough to top the cake.
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 Tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 teaspoon dark rum
a little half and half to achieve the proper consistency

Beat all of the ingredients together in a small mixing bowl, beginning at low speed, so that you do not throw confectioners sugar all about the kitchen! Use the half and half to achieve a consistency that is thick, but will allow you to mound the icing on top of the cake. make certain that the cake has cooled prior to icing it.
I garnished the icing with 1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger.

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This cake is a deep, dark, gingerbread-like color, but will be enjoyed by even those who dislike gingerbread, because the dark molasses flavor is tempered by the pumpkin. The cake is moist, light in texture, and warm with spiciness. The cream cheese icing adds a sweet, creamy finish.

You can tinker with this recipe, omitting the rum-soaked raisins and simply using raisins, if you wish. The spices are really lively in this cake, so you can reduce the amounts of the spices, or substitute just cloves for the Allspice, is you are not an Allspice fan.

Sticky Toffee Glaze
, adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe, from Martha Stewart Living 2007–my copy is sticky and dog-eared!

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 Tablespoon water
Pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
Toffee bits for garnish

Bring the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, water and salt to a boil over medium low heat in a medium saucepan, stirring occasionally.
Boil for 3 minutes, and then remove from the heat.
Whisk in the cream.
Allow the glaze to cool for about 15 minutes.
Pour the glaze over the cake, and garnish with the toffee, bits, 1/4 to 1/2 cup, depending on your taste!

Martha makes a version of this glaze, where she whisks in 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped after she whisks in the cream, and she adds a Tablespoon or so of brandy. I imagine this would be a very good glaze for a Pumpkin Bundt Cake!

Readers, I would love to hear about your favorite aspects of Fall, about your favorite desserts for Thanksgiving Day or for any Autumn day. Please let me know if you try this cake recipe and about your outcome. The Comments box is locate at the conclusion of each post.

Just a reminder that any brands that I mention in recipes are simply my personal preferences. I do not represent any brands, nor do I receive payment for posts. Always use your preferred brands and products from your trusted sources–and let me know who they are!

Easy and Elegant Thanksgiving Day Dinner for a Small Gathering

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I realize that some readers are still preparing for Halloween, creating costumes and confections. While I am selecting recipes for confections for a neighborhood Trunk-or-Treat event, I like to begin to think about my Thanksgiving menu in October, and to begin tweaking or creating new recipes based on our planned gatherings. There are those years when Thanksgiving gatherings are smaller than usual, but you still desire a home-cooked meal with some of the traditional Thanksgiving Day flavors. “Food is memories,” as stated in Richard Morais’ book The Hundred Foot Journey, and Thanksgiving Day meals of past have left many of us with very particular, indelible family and flavor memories. Here is a method for enjoying some very traditional flavors, without fussing with a huge, whole turkey, if you would like to forego that production. Perhaps you would like to prepare turkey during other times of the year. Whether for Thanksgiving, another holiday, or for a Sunday supper any time of year, here is a recipe and technique that has served me well.

Turkey Breast in White Wine Sauce

Plan a quarter pound of poultry per person. Boneless, skinless turkey breast has no waste, and this braising method yields moist, tender turkey breast that can be carved beautifully every time.

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2 and 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless turkey breast. I had a butcher cut one for me in one large half turkey breast portion, and then I cut it in half lengthwise. But, you can purchase those smaller 8 ounce portions at the supermarket, if you wish. The cooking time will be less, 45 minutes versus 1.5 hours for a large, intact half off the bone turkey breast.
Salt and pepper
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup brandy or cognac
2 cups dry white wine or dry champagne
1 cup turkey stock
3 Tablespoons flour
2 and1/2 teaspoons dried sage leaves (if you are not a sage fan, you can use tarragon or thyme with very good results)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Method
Melt the butter in a 5 quart pot suitable for braising. I like enamel over cast iron for this purpose, and it must have a lid. Add the salted and peppered turkey at medium high heat and brown each side, about 6 minutes each side. You want to see some golden caramelization on the turkey.
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Remove the turkey to a platter. Turn off the heat, and add the cognac or brandy. Light the brandy flame with a safe fireplace lighter. Once the fire dies out, add the flour and herb, whisking til nearly smooth. Don’t worry about lumps at this point. Add the stock and wine or champagne and whisk until smooth over medium heat. It will smooth out nicely.

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Add back the turkey, place the lid on the pot, bring to just a boil and lower to simmer to braise for 45 minutes if you utilized the usual turkey breast portions found in the supermarket, or 1 and 1/2 hours if you have an entire half breast in two large portions.
You can test for doneness by inserting an instant read thermometer into the thickest portion of the breast. If it registers 165, it is cooked properly.
The beauty of this technique is, that the breast becomes moist, succulent, infused with wine, herb and stock flavor; and, even if you cook it a bit too long, the consequence is tat it will be falling apart tender and will not slice so attractively.
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After you remove the turkey, add 1/2 cup heavy cream to the pot, whisk, and adjust for salt and pepper.
Allow the turkey to rest for 5-10 minutes, and then slice it and arrange on a platter. ladle some of the sauce over it. Garnish the platter. It is pretty garnished with fresh sage and orange slices.

This recipe was inspired by an old favorite of mine from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, with Sarah Leah Chase, Chicken Breasts in Champagne Sauce. This is a dish that I have served to dinner party guests often, because it is simple, delicious, and allows me some relaxation time with guests. You can use either a favorite white wine or champagne, your preference–I have prepared it with both with very good outcomes.

Dressing with Onions, Apples, Dried Fruits and Nuts

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Every family has its favorite, beloved Thanksgiving Day dressing recipe. In our Italian-American family, the dressing always included some browned, crumbled Italian sausage. Through the years, I have made many variations on bread dressing, sometimes with browned sage-flavored sausage, sometimes very Italian with roughly chopped prosciutto. But, for this year, I think that I am in the mood for an apple-dried fruits-nuts dressing, but with a twist. I always use a good quality bread to make my cubed bread for dressing, but this year, I will use a very special rye bread made by a local Pastry Chef and Baker. This rye is incredibly flavorful, rich and moist, and has a “secret” ingredient, which is sauerkraut! Here is the recipe that I created today.

8 thick slices of good quality rye bread, cut into 1 inch cubes and toasted until dry in a 400 degree oven
2 teaspoons dried sage leaves
1 large sweet onion, coarsely diced
1 cup large dice celery with leaves, if you have them
3 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced small
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/4 cup golden raisins, or dried cranberries, or chopped dried apricots, your preference
2 and 1/2 cups stock
1 and 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 Tablespoons butter, plus butter to butter the casserole dish
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley

Butter a minimum 2 inch deep, medium size casserole and set aside.
Melt the butter in a 12 inch, deep skillet and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the celery and the apple and sauté for just2 or 3 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, sage.

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Add the bread and the stock, and stir t combine.
Add the nuts and the dried fruit. Stir to combine.
I added a small bunch of chopped flat leaf parsley at this point.

 

Spoon the dressing into the casserole, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Top the dressing with dots of butter, totaling just a tablespoon or so. Add additional stock if you think the bread is not sufficiently moist. I did add a bit more, maybe 1/2 cup.
Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 additional minutes til a bit crisp on top edges.

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This dressing is moist, sweet, savory, and the very flavorful rye bread adds to the savory flavor without being identified as rye bread. It is outstanding, coupled with apple, onion, sage and dried fruit. I think that I might add some sautéed mushrooms for Thanksgiving day to add an earthy element of flavor, and I will use the dried apricots again–they are sweet and a bit tangy.

Tonight, I served simply steamed green and yellow wax beans, lightly buttered.

So, now I can preview and tweak recipes for the other elements of our Thanksgiving Day dinner! Perhaps this post will inspire you to try something new with traditional Thanksgiving flavors. Please share your favorite Thanksgiving food traditions with me–the Comment box follows the conclusion of this post.

Easy, Elegant Dinner for Two: Seared Sea Scallops and Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms and Butternut Squash

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Oh, the romance of risotto, that creamy, northern Italian rice dish savory with wine, stock, vegetables and herbs, the flavoring agents changing with the seasons and your desires! We were to have a quiet, relaxing Saturday night at home, and we had gorgeous, fresh sea scallops on hand from the morning market, as well as leeks and butternut squash. So, our easy but elegant Saturday night at home dinner became Seared Sea Scallops and easy Risotto with Leeks, Butternut Squash and Porcini Mushrooms, stiulating memories of northern Italy!

Risotto was not within my father’s repertoire–his family originated around the Abruzzo-Umbria regions of Italy, and rice grows in northern Italy, in the Piemonte and Friuli regions. The origins of rice in Italy are disputed. Did the Arabs bring rice into Sicily, or did Venetian merchants bring rice from the Levant?

Whatever its origins, rice continues to be grown and harvested in Italy today, primarily in Piemonte, or the Piedmont region. There are three types of rice grown for risotto–Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone, which are all large grain, starchy rices, perfect for cooking into creamy but al dente risotto. Venetians seem to prefer the Vialone rice, and make risottos rich with seafood. The seafood risotto that I enjoyed in Venice contained squid, mussels, and shrimp, white wine, stock, garlic and was finished with a drizzle of olive oil. Risotto is a beloved dish in Venice, in the Friuli region north of Venice, and over to the Adriatic coast, where it often features fish or seafood.

In the Lombardy region, adjacent to the Piedmont region, is beautiful Lago di Como, or Lake Como, which is one of our favorite places in Italy due to its surreal beauty, unusual microclimate and for its gastronomy. In Bellagio on a sunny Autumn day, we enjoyed Risotto ai Porcini, creamy risotto prepared simply with the plentiful Autumn Porcini, delicate and earthy in flavor. One day, we ferried across the Lake from Varenna, our home base on Lake Como, and boarded a bus for a curving, hairpin-turn ride up into the mountainside to lake Lugano, Switzerland. There, we strolled the lakeside promenade among colorful flowers. Then, we selected an outdoor cafe for lunch, where I enjoyed a savory risotto rich with duck, a variety of earthy mushrooms, and topped with a great shard of roasted, glazed pumpkin. In Autumn, Italians often use pumpkin, zucca, in stuffed pastas, in risottos (Risotto alla Zucca), or roasted as a vegetable.

In Milan (Milano), Risotto alla Milanese is revered for the flavors of beef bone arrow, beef stock, wine and saffron. Risotto alla Piemontese is a simple risotto flavored with meat stock, butter, lots of Parmesan cheese and earthy truffle, another revered Autumnal product in Italy.

According to Lidia Bastianich, risotto only began to appear in American Italian cuisine within the last twenty years or so. Risotto has taken much longer than pasta to gain in American popularity. We have enjoyed the best restaurant preparations of risotto at Chef Todd English’s small Beacon Hill trattoria, Figs. Chef English created a risotto with duck ragu, porcini mushrooms, and caramelized figs–inspirational!

The basic authentic technique for making risotto is to first toast the grains of rice in fat before adding hot stock gradually, stirring continuously to bring out the starch, which creates the creamy texture. It is a labor intensive process that I like to avoid when October temperatures here in St. Petersburg, Florida are still in the 90s. I learned an easy method from Ina Garten that allows the oven to do much of the work, with brief, vigorous stirring toward the end of the cooking time. It yields creamy, al dente, luscious risotto every time.

The following is my recipe for Easy Risotto with Leeks, Porcini, and Butternut Squash, borrowing ina’s technique.

Risotto with Leeks, Porcini, and Butternut Squash

Serves 6

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Ingredients
1 and 1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli Rice (I used Carnaroli this time)
4 cups simmering stock (I used chicken)
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Chateau St. Michelle Dry Riesling)
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 and 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried sage leaves
1 large leek, cleaned and chopped
1/2 of a large butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 ounces of sliced Baby Bella mushrooms
1/2 ounce package of dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted by soaking in 1 cup hot water for 30 minutes
1 and 1/ cups finely grated pecorino Romano cheese

Method
Soak the dried porcinis in 1 cup hot water for 30 minutes, set aside.
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In a 5 quart enamel over cast iron Dutch oven, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter and sauté the sliced baby Bella mushrooms and the leek for about 4 minutes over medium heat.
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In a large saucepan, heat the stock to simmering.
Add the following ingredients to the Dutch oven: rice and 3 cups of stock, along with the leek and mushroom mixture, the drained porcinis, roughly chopped, the porcini liquid, the squash cubes, and the seasonings. Stir to combine and cover with a lid.
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Place in a 350 degree preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the rice is al dente and most of the liquid is absorbed.
Remove the pot from the oven, and add the wine, remaining butter and the cheese, and as much of the remaining hot stock as needed to achieve a creamy but not wet risotto, stirring vigorously for 2-3 minutes.

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The risotto will become very creamy. Some of the squash will melt into the sauce, but some will remain as soft cubes.

Taste and adjust seasonings, if you wish. Serve hot.

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Seared Sea Scallops
Serves 4

Sea scallops are light, so in order to have 5 scallops per person, you need roughly 2 pounds of large, 10 count per pound sea scallops. Buy from a trusted vendor, who can tell you when and where the scallops were harvested! You are paying a premium price, and so you do not want to be disappointed by tasteless or off-tasting scallops, which will happen when they are treated with a sodium chloride solution. The scallops that I purchased were harvested in the northeast on Thursday, were flash frozen, no solution, and I purchased them Saturday morning for Saturday evening consumption. They should be sweet, and have a firm, not mushy texture.

Sea scallops are the easiest seafood to prepare! Melt 3 Tablespoons of butter in a 12 inch, shallow skillet, over medium high heat, and wait until the butter is really sizzling before you add the scallops. Do not crowd them, and do not touch them until they have seared for 3 minutes on side one. Once side one looks properly caramelized, flip them for an additional 3 minutes of searing. Remove them to the plates. Season with just a bit of seat salt and pepper. They should be cooked through, but with good shape and texture, sweet flavor, and lovely caramelization.

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The sea scallops were sweet in flavor, and beautifully caramelized. The risotto was creamy, but the grains al dente and holding their shape, flavored with sweet leeks, earthy mushrooms, sweet butternut squash, salty pecorino cheese, and herbaceous sage. The wine is added to the risotto after cooking, so there is a wonderful wine flavor that comes through.

Easy but elegant Italian-inspired comfort food. We drank the remainder of the delicious dry Riesling, reminisced about travels in northern Italy, and then enjoyed a movie at home!

Readers, you can use the Comment box below to share your food related travel memories, favorite ways to fix risotto, or your thoughts or experiences about the recipes posted here today. Grazie!

Tampa Bay Times #CookClub Recipe Number 26: A Tale of Two Cakes!

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There are cornmeal cakes in the South, either sweet cakes for dessert or cornmeal griddle cakes.  There are cornmeal cakes in Brazil, sweet Bolo de Fuba, made with a higher than usual cornmeal to flour ratio, often with corn oil and buttermilk for fat.  The cornmeal cake that I am familiar with and love, is, of course, Italian in its approach.  It contains olive oil and some butter for the fat, and citrus flavors.  It is a dense, slightly sweet cake, with a tight crumb, often adorned only with a citrus-flavored sugar syrup.

The featured recipe for CookClub, Recipe No. 26,  is from a new cookbook by Zoe Nathan, Huckleberry:  Stories Secrets and Recipes from Our Kitchen.  Zoe and her husband, Josh Loeb, own a bakery in Santa Monica, California, Huckleberry Bakery and Café.   This cornmeal cake recipe is unusual in that the recipe contains yogurt and ricotta cheese.   I wondered how those ingredients would impact the flavor, and more so, the texture of my usual, beloved, Italian-inspired Polenta Cake.  So, I decided to make two cornmeal cakes, one following the CooKClub featured recipe, and one using my favorite recipe, which is Italian-inspired, but authored by an American living in Paris, David Lebovitz, from his cookbook, Ready for Dessert :  My Best Recipes, page 62, Polenta Cake with Olive Oil and Rosemary.  

Please refer to the Tampa Bay Times CookClub site for Zoe’s recipe and for lovely photos of Janet Keeler’s outcome:  http://www.tampabay.com/things-to-do/food/cooking/

Here is what I learned! Zoe Nathan’s version of Cornmeal Cake is dense, very moist, has a beautiful rise and absolutely luscious flavor! Here’s the primary difference: this cake contains four sources of fat. The recipe calls for ricotta cheese, yogurt, butter and vegetable oil, which contribute to the wonderful moist crumb and the distribution of flavor over your tongue. The ratio of cornmeal to flour in the two recipes is similar, but the higher fat content in Zoe’s recipe accounts for the tremendous moisture and denser, softer crumb. Delightful!

I made only a few alterations in Zoe’s recipe and technique. When I read about the fragility of the cake and difficulty turning it out of a cake pan and placing it face side up on a cake plate, I decided to do two things. One thing was to bake it in a spring form pan, and the second thing was to not only butter the pan, but to dust if with cornmeal. I had no difficulty moving the beautiful cake from the pan to the plate.

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The second alteration was to use half pure lemon extract and half pure orange extract in place of the vanilla. I simply thought that these citrus flavors would contrast the maple syrup in the recipe and the berries well. For the final sprinkling of sugar prior to baking, I used a maple sugar that I had in my spice cabinet. Here is Zoe’s recipe, paraphrased here.

Zoe Nathan’s Cornmeal Cake
Yields 1-9 or 10 inch cake

Ingredients

3/4 cup plus 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cute into small cubes, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 3 Tablespoons sugar and additional 2 Tablespoons to sprinkle on top of the cake prior to baking
1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 eggs
4 and 1/2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract I used half orange and 1/2 lemon extract)
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
2 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoon whole plain yogurt
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon ricotta
1 cup fresh berries (I used a combination of blackberries and raspberries, as they looked good at the market)

Method
Butter and line a 10 inch cake pan (I buttered a 9 inch spring form pan and dusted it with cornmeal)
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and whisk well to combine (I added this step).
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with mixer til light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add 1 egg at a time and beat until well incorporated, scraping the bowl as needed.
With the mixer on low speed, add the oil, yogurt, ricotta, extracts, maple syrup and flour mixture, beating until just combined. Do not over mix this batter.
Spoon the thick, fragrant batter into the pan, distributing evenly. Top with the berries and 2 Tablespoons of sugar. (I would use a flavored or demera sugar for good flavor and some sparkle).
If you use a spring form pan, then place a sheet of foil under your pan to catch any butter that may leak)

Bake for 1 hour or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. My cake took 80 minutes, likely due to the depth of the 9 inch spring form pan.

This cake is best when served the day it is baked, but can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for 2 days.
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This is one gorgeous cake, and I am gifting it to my neighborhood association board for their meeting tonight!

Now, for the Italian-inspired version.

Polenta Cake with Olive Oil and Rosemary, adapted from Ready for Dessert, My Best Recipes, by David Lebovitz, page 62

Please refer to David’s book for the original recipe.  I have paraphrased it here, with my few, small alterations.

Ingredients
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small cubes
6 teaspoons total fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons polenta
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
5 eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla (I used 1.2 teaspoon lemon, 1/2 teaspoon orange, just a preference)
1 and 1/3 cups sugar

Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degress F.
Butter a 10 inch bundt, tube or a 9 inch spring form pan with the 1 Tablespoon of butter. Dust it with the 2 Tablespoons of polenta.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, olive oil and extract.
In a third bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
While the mixer is running, dribble in the egg mixture a little at a time, until well-incorporated.
Stir in the flour mixture and the 4 teaspoons of rosemary until well-combined, but do not over mix.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 40 minutes until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Allow it to cool for 30 minutes and then invert onto a cake plate.

I served this cake with a Fresh Blueberry Compote–1 and 1/2 cups of blueberries, cooked for just a few minutes with 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar. I limited the cooking time, because I wanted the berries to hold their shape. David Lebovitz makes a Blueberry Compote, contained in the same cookbook, with gin! Alas, no gin in the house, so I used lemon juice! I garnished the cake with some slices of crystallized ginger.

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A tale of two cakes! What were the differences? The olive-oil rosemary polenta cake has that savory nuance of rosemary and olive oil and a more rustic texture and appearance. It has a more noticeable flavor of cornmeal. So, if you are looking for a more savory, cornmeal flavored, rustic Italian-style cake, this is it. But, Zoe’s version of Cornmeal Cake is the one to choose when you want a more refined, softer crumb, sweeter, moister cornmeal cake. The surprise flavor here is the slight flavor of maple. I enhanced that a bit by topping the cake prior to baking with maple sugar, but you could alter the flavors by using some dried lavender and lemon zest rather than maple syrup and by dusting the top of the cake prior to baking with lavender-vanilla sugar.

If you try these recipes, or perhaps yet another version of cornmeal cake, please share your experiences in the kitchen by commenting in the designated box below!

Talking Technique: Easy Oven Slow Braise Method Roast Chicken In White Wine, Boeuf Bourguignon and More

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I came upon a Pampered Chef glazed on the outside, unglazed on the inside stoneware oven roaster while organizing my kitchen. I remember this purchase so well, assuring myself that I would use this roaster often. I examined it on rediscovery–not a sign of use, pristine. I reviewed the literature that had informed my choice, words that promised moist, succulent, tender meats and poultry and great versatility. I decided to challenge myself to use the roaster to create some dishes and to decide whether to keep it or to free up some storage space. I will save you the suspense and tell you now that I will be using this roaster frequently throughout Autumn and Winter. I would go so far as to suggest that, if you do not own one, you may consider shopping for one–there are a variety of brands on the market.

Chicken roasted in PC stoneware
I began with one of my favorite dishes to prepare, Roast Chicken. This technique is so simple, so hands-off, and it yields a chicken that is moist, falling-off-the-bone tender, and infused with wine-lemon-herb flavor. I uncovered it and raised the heat a bit for the last 15 minutes of roasting and browned the bird, so it had a lovely golden brown color.
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Emboldened, I decided to create a simple Boeuf Bourguignon, that rather fussy, multitude of steps French beef-red wine stew. The outcome was spectacular. The beef was tender, the vegetables perfectly cooked, and the sauce rich with red wine, stock, caramelized onions and mushrooms.

I decided that this roaster, and the slow braising technique would likely create a luscious Turkey Pot Pie, another comforting Fall or winter one-pot meal. So, I was off to the market to pick up some turkey tenderloin and leeks, fresh sage and a good dry Riesling wine. I think that the possibilities for this little stoneware roaster may be infinite.

Slow Oven Braised Whole Chicken with White Wine and Herbs

Serves 4
Total roasting time 3 and 1/2 hours)
Ingredients
1 – 3 and 1/2 pound roasting chicken, lean and patted dry
Olive or canola oil to brush the chicken
fine Kosher salt, pepper
2 Tablespoons dried thyme (or Tarragon is very good)
2 lemons, quartered
1 large sweet onion, cut into eighths
3 fat cloves of garlic, smashed
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth

Method
If your stoneware is new, then brush the interior of the base and lid with vegetable oil.
Season the cavity of the chicken with salt and thyme. Brush the chicken with oil, and season the exterior with salt, pepper and thyme.
Place the chicken in the base of the roaster and place the onion, lemon and garlic around the chicken.
Pour the wine and broth into the base.
Cover the chicken with the roaster lid.
Place the roaster in the cold oven, and turn the oven to 325 degrees F. (note: these stoneware roasters are sensitive to dramatic changes in temperature, so place it in a cold oven and then set the temperature.)
Roast for 3 hours, and then uncover for the last /12 hour and turn the oven temperature to 375 degrees to brown the chicken.

Remove the chicken to a platter, cover, and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Carve and spoon the white-wine, broth juices over the chicken.

This is the simplest, most hands-off method for roasting a chicken, and the moistness, tenderness, and flavor are excellent. While my chicken roasted, I relaxed and read a book and savored the aromas wafting from the kitchen! And, this is a technique, so you can tinker with the wine, herbs and flavoring agents to suit your taste. Tarragon for the herb, champagne for the wine, and orange for the citrus? You decide!

Easy Boeuf Bourguignon

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I have made very traditional Boeuf Bourgignon, following either Julia Child’s or Jacques Pepin’s recipe. While the traditional French beef stew in red wine is decadent, rich, and very delicious, we do not always have the time to take the multitude of steps that the traditional recipes require. So, here is a simple version that resulted in a hearty, rich, earthy beef stew.

Serves 4
Ingredients

1 large sweet onion diced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1.25 pounds beef stew meat in 1 and 1/2 inch cubes
4 carrots, scrubbed and diced small
2 large parsnips, scrubbed and diced small
8 ounces baby portabella mushrooms, quartered
1 cup fresh garden peas
fine kosher salt
pepper
2 Tablespoons dried thyme
3 bay leaves
3 cloves smashed garlic
2 cups full-bodied red wine (a Burgundy would be traditional–I used a good Italian Pinot Noir)
1 cup beef stock with 2 teaspoons cornstarch or potato starch whisked in til smooth (a slurry for thickening)

Traditionally, Boeuf Bourgignon begins by rendering the fat of salt pork or bacon. I elected not to do this, just as I elected not to enrich the sauce with butter. However, you can use bacon, or pancetta, or salt pork diced to render fat to caramelize the onions in if you wish. I caramelized the diced onion in olive oil. This takes about 15 minutes on medium-low heat.

Add the wine to the skillet and deglaze the pan. Add the broth, and turn off the heat.

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Season the meat and diced vegetables with salt, pepper and thyme. Place the meat and all vegetables into the roaster base, and pour the onion-wine-both mixture over it. Place the lid on the roaster and place in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 325 degrees F.

Roast undisturbed for 2 hours. Make a slurry of 1 cup broth and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch or potato starch, whisking to dissolve. Remove the roaster from the oven, uncover, and stir in the slurry, which will thicken the sauce. Return the stew to the oven without the cover for 1/2 hour.

Remove the roaster from the oven, and prior to serving, stir in a 1/2 cup additional red wine. Garnish with freshly chopped thyme leaves or parsley, if you wish. I served this hearty beef stew over smashed, baked russet potatoes, lightly buttered and then flavored with a few drops of white truffle oil. Another very simple, but rich and delicious dinner that allowed me time out of the kitchen for gardening, reading, looking for my next inspiration.

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For my next easy, oven braised dish, I am going to go for Thanksgiving preview Fall flavors–chunks of turkey breast, leeks, mushrooms, butternut squash, sage, turkey stock, and Riesling wine; and, if I can coax Pastry Chef Michael Ostrander to give me some tips on making a flaky, savory pastry, I just might top this turkey casserole with a bit of pastry,

I would love to hear about your creations using your slow oven roasting tools and techniques, so please use the comment box below to share! Perhaps you have a favorite technique that you find allows you a lot of versatility–share it here!