Pantry Essentials: Luscious Lemon and Leek Pasta

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During the busy days as holidays approach, or during any busy week, it is helpful to have certain essential ingredients in the pantry and certain fresh items in the refrigerator. Then, you can put together a simple, quick but delicious dinner in half hour or less. My pantry is always stocked with a variety of pastas, stocks, beans, lentils, rice, canned tomato products and anchovies. I keep a well-stocked spice and dried herb cabinet. In terms of fresh items, fresh lemons are always available in a bowl on my kitchen worktable, garlic and shallots are in a terra cotta cellar on the counter, onions are always in my root vegetable drawer, and you will always find mushrooms in my refrigerator. My cheese drawer always has a grating cheese in it, as well as a variety of cheeses suitable for an impromptu cheese board or for cooking. If you happen to be an herb gardener, then you may have a choice of fresh herbs to use as flavoring agents.

Recently, I had a long day away from home, do I began to look for inspiration for dinner upon return. In the refrigerator, I had some beautiful cremini mushrooms, a large leek, a bit of heavy cream, and I had some beautiful large organic lemons and a package of Garofalo pasta. Luscious Lemon and Leek pasta was born.

Luscious Lemon and Leek Pasta
, recipe by Susan Rebillot
Serves 4 generous servings

Ingredients
1 pound pasta of your choice (I had Garofalo Mezze maniche Rigate on hand, a stubby, lined tubular pasta)
8 ounces mushrooms of your choice, cleaned and sliced
1 large leek, tough outer dark green leaves trimmed away
Zest of 3 large lemons
Juice of 2 large lemons
2 Tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces frozen peas
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
Grating cheese, such as Pecorino Romano
1 bunch fresh parsley (sage would be a good herb for this flavor palate, too, or thyme. Use what appeals to you and is on hand)

Method

While you boil the water for the pasta, clean the mushrooms with a brush or damp paper towel. Trim the leek, slice it lengthwise, and rinse it thoroughly. Dry the leek.
Slice the mushrooms and the leeks.
Chop your herbs finely.
Zest and juice the lemons.
Cook the leeks and mushrooms in the oil over medium-high heat in a deep 12 inch skillet for about 10 minutes, until; the leeks are softened and the mushrooms a bit browned.

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Put the pasta in the boiling water to cook and set the timer according to package instructions.
Add the lemon juice to he skillet and stir.
Add the cream and half and half and stir to combine over low heat. Salt and pepper to taste.

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Add the frozen peas and cook on low until the sauce is just bubbling, thick, and the peas are cooked.
Drain the pasta, and add it to the deep skillet.
Add the lemon zest and the chopped herbs and toss to coat the pasta.
Adjust the salt and pepper, and you can add additional lemon juice if you really like a powerful lemon flavor. We find that the juice of two lemons is perfect for our palates.
Serve in pasta bowls with grated cheese.
Serve with a green salad, and perhaps a good Pinot Grigio!

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This pasta dish is creamy, has luscious lemon cream flavor, with mild onion flavor of the leek and the earthy flavor of the mushrooms. We used parsley, which adds that fresh, grassy, herbaceous flavor. The petite peas are sweet. The Pecorino Romano adds a saltiness. This dinner was reasy in 30 minutes and took little effort.

Saturday is our market day, and whether we are entertaining or having a quiet dinner alone, as we were yesterday following a day of markets and Christmas shopping, then we look to market finds inspire our meals. So, yesterday at Mazzaro’s as we shopped for our beef tenderloin for Christmas dinner, we noticed D’Artagnan Venison and Pork Sausages with Cherries at the meat counter. We decided to try these. Next, we visited the new Locale Market in downtown St. Petersburg, a newly opened farm-to-table, market-retail-restaurant concept, a very appealing rustic contemporary space. Here, you can purchase prepared foods, or you can source quality ingredients to prepare yourself.

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Dry-aged beef

Dry-aged beef

Bakery

Bakery

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We chatted with Chef Pedro, who makes handmade pasta. We selected a mixed mushroom-filled ravioli, and one filled with prosciutto. When we arrived home, we decided to cook the sausage in small chunks with sliced cremini mushrooms in a bit of olive oil. This added the earthy mushroom and meat flavor to the oil, and then we tossed in the cooked ravioli and added salt, pepper, and finely chopped parsley. The handmade pasta took less than 2 minutes to cook. We grated a bit of parmigiana over each serving.

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The pasta were tender pillows with earthy flavored fillings, and they paired well with the rich flavor of the venison and pork sausage. There was a slight sweet cherry flavor, and the cheese added saltiness. Umami!

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Readers, please share your pantry essentials with me, and how they inspire you when you have busy days, and share your local market experiences, as well! The Comment box follows each post!

Appetizers for Special Occasions: Italian Stuffed Mushrooms and Alsatian Tarte Flambe

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When I am entertaining for special occasions, I like to prepare a few special hot appetizers, and these are two of my most requested by family and friends. Whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or a dinner party, I consider the occasion, the entire menu, and, if these will be served as prelude to dinner, the time that dinner will be served when selecting the recipes. For example, on Thanksgiving Day, friends and family had hours of chatting and sipping wine prior to dinner, so an appetizer table with a charcuterie board and Italian Stuffed Mushrooms was welcome. However, there would be a savory bread dressing and some heavy dishes, so I did not prepare a Tarte Flambé for this occasion, which is rich and has a crust.

I did prepare the Tarte Flambé for a neighbor’s annual Christmas party. I make a few variations on this French Alsatian dish, which I fist savored in Colmar, France, while sitting in an outdoor café near a petite canal lined with colorful flower-boxes. This tarte traditionally has a thin, flaky crust, gruyere cheese, caramelized onion and bacon. For this variation, I used a fresh pizza dough crust, rolled very thinly, and then smeared with crème fraiche, sprinkled with fresh thyme leaves, and topped with slowly caramelized onions, smoky bacon, and Italian Fontina cheese. Both the tarte and the mushrooms were very popular items on the party buffet. Both are delicious served with a dry Reisling, although the stuffed mushrooms pair well with a Pinot Noir or a full-bodied Tuscan red, too.

Italian Stuffed Mushrooms, Recipe by Susan Rebillot

My Italian-American father had some food traditions for holidays. His family was from the Abruzzi region of Italy, where prime pork is raised and revered, and my father made a meat stuffing that he used to stuff roast capon for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and a Roast Breast of Veal for Easter. This stuffing was legendary in our family, and I decided to use a rendition of it to stuff mushrooms. This turned out to be a very happy marriage of earthy funghi and savory, spicy, porky filling!

Ingredients
Makes 60 large mushrooms

1 and 1/2 pounds of bulk Italian sausage from your trusted source (my local Italian market, Mazzaro’s, has incredible sausages!)
1 pound of Angus ground chuck
1/2 pound finely chopped prosciutto
1 and 1/2 cups fine fresh breadcrumbs (I use crumbs from either a Tuscan load of a Rosemary loaf from my Italian baker)
1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
5 fat cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
60 very large white mushrooms for stuffing

Method

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
You will need a full sheet pan with lip, brushed lightly with olive oil. (You can line the pan with foil to minimize the clean-up or use a disposable baking tray, as I did).
Clean the mushrooms with a brush or damp paper towel, changed frequently.
Trim out the stems, chop the tender bits and add to the stuffing, and save the tougher buts for making vegetable stock.
Lightly mix together in a large bowl, all of the remaining ingredients.
Stuff the mushrooms with a generous tableware tablespoon, rounding the top.

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Bake for 35 – 45 minutes. Check them at 35 for browning, and cut into one to check for any pinkness in the meat stuffing.
The mushrooms are done when there is no longer a pink color to the meat stuffing, and the tops are nicely browned.
Arrange them on a platter, garnish with fresh herbs, and serve warm.

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The mushrooms are tender in texture and earthy in flavor. The meat filling is powerful in pork flavor, with a hint of the prosciutto, garlic, cheese and herbs. This is a very savory bite with plenty of umami! Notice that there is no salt in the recipe–the salty flavor is contributed by the prosciutto and the Pecorino Romano cheese.

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Alsatian Tarte Flambé, Recipe by Susan Rebillot
Approximately 40 squares, one full sheet pan
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Ingredients

1 and 1/2 pounds quality pizza dough (when I have much to do and am making an unusually large tarte, I allow myself the convenience of using my local Italian market’s pre-made pizza dough, which is very high quality)
1 cup crème fraiche
1 and 1/2 cups finely grated Gruyere of Fontina cheese
6 large sweet onions, peeled, sliced thinly
1 bunch fresh thyme, leaves stripped from the stems
salt and pepper
Cornmeal
12 ounces Applewood-smoked bacon, cooked

Method

Line a full size sheet pan with lip with parchment paper and dust with cornmeal.
Peel each onion and cut them in half vertically. Place the cut side down, and cut thin 1/2 circle slices.
Sauté the onions in 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet (I use a 12 inch, shallow copper skillet for good heat conduction) over medium-low heat for about 45 minutes until caramelized a deep golden brown. You cannot rush this process. Put your feet up, relax, read or catch up on email!
Once the onions are ready, and the pizza dough has risen until double in volume, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it will completely fill a full sheet pan.
Transfer the dough to the cornmeal dusted parchment in the sheet pan.
Combine the crème fraiche with 1 cup of the grated cheese and 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves. Add salt and pepper. You can make your own crème fraiche by whisking 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup heavy cream together in a small mixing bowl.
Spread the crème fraiche mixture over the uncooked tarte dough, leaving a 1/3 inch border of dough.
Spread the caramelized onions over the crème fraiche.
Scatter pieces of bacon over the tarte.
Scatter the remaining cheese over the tarte.
Scatter additional fresh thyme leaves over the tarte.
Bake at 450 degrees F until the edges and bottom are deep golden brown. The rust should have a nice crispness. This will take approximately 30 minutes.
Cool for 15 minutes prior to cutting it into squares and placing on the serving platter. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs.

Caramelized onions

Caramelized onions

Pizza dough for crust

Pizza dough for crust

Crème fraiche and cheese mixture

Crème fraiche and cheese mixture

The tarte crust

The tarte crust

The assembled tarte, ready to bake

The assembled tarte, ready to bake

This version of Alsatian Tarte Flambe has a crisp, savory crust, the sweet and savory flavors of caramelized onions and herbs, and the smoky, salty flavor of bacon. Again, umami!! This is good served hot from the oven, or just warm. It pairs well with crisp, dry white wines, such as a dry Reisling or a Sauvignon blanc. For those who enjoy beer, this tarte pairs well with wheat beers.

I confess that I was so busy on party day that I neglected to take the final photos of the Tarte Flambé! The photo of a completed tarte in a fluted pan that is seen at the beginning of the post was taken at a previous dinner party, and was made with a buttery, flaky, savory tarte dough recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. If time allows, and you are making smaller tartes, then use removable bottom tarte pans and a good tarte dough recipe!

I hope that readers are enjoying the holiday season, and that you are cooking for friends and family! Gathering others around a table of thoughtfully. lovingly-prepared food for conversation and laughter is the best way to spend the holidays, don’t you think?

Please se the Comment box below to share your favorite special occasion appetizers and entertaining ideas, and your experiences if you try these recipes. I love to hear from you!

Savory Comfort Food for Cold Weather: Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine with Gorgonzola Sauce

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When cold weather arrives, we crave comfort foods–those higher-in-fat, creamier, often slow-cooked dishes that warm us and encourage us to linger over the meal, and that elicit exclamations about how good the food felt in our mouths. There was a very talented chef working in our area of the world, who began introducing short ribs in several forms to the menus of the several restaurants that she graced before moving on to somewhere else. There were braised short ribs served with polenta, short rib sandwiches, and short rib egg rolls served with gorgonzola sauce on the side. All were memorable for being very flavorful and tender and perfectly satisfying.

Short ribs are the cut off ends of the prime rib, and the meat becomes meltingly tender when braised in liquid. They are high in fat, and since fat is a great distributor of flavor, the meat is very flavorful. So, we had a drop in temperature recently, and I had a day when I could complete my Christmas card writing while I slow-cooked something, so my choice was Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine, with Gorgonzola Sauce on the side. I consulted Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, a favorite resource on my bookshelf, page 433. Short ribs are no longer an inexpensive cut of meat–they have grown immensely in popularity, appearing on many restaurant menus, sometimes ground up as part of the mix for gourmet burgers. Mark’s tips on browning and de-fatting were very helpful.

You may want to try this on some very cold January day, fireplace and candles lit, with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon!

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Susan’s Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine

Serves 4
Ingredients
2 and 1/3 pounds short ribs
2 sweet onions, peeled, cut into quarters
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 bottle Cabernet Sauvignon, a good one that you would enjoy drinking
32 ounces beef stock
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 large Yukon Gold or Red-skinned potato per person, scrubbed, halved
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned, whole

Method

You can brown the ribs in olive oil in a shallow skillet to achieve caramelization before placing them in a deep pot that is good for slow-cooking. But, I elected another method that Mark mentioned–I roasted the ribs at 450 degrees F for about half hour until deep brown and aromatic, with just a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. In this way, fat was rendered and I poured this off before deglazing the pan with a bit of wine.
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Then, place the ribs in the 5 quart pot; add the onions, mushrooms and garlic; add the wine; and add the stock and herbs.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and then reduce heat to simmer.
Cover the pot and simmer the ribs for 2 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone and can easily be shredded with a fork.
During the last 45 minutes, add the potatoes.
Stir the pot very occasionally, just to insure that the potatoes and all ribs are submerged so that they will absorb all of the good wine, stock and herb flavors.

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If there appears to be substantial fat slick on the surface, use your handy de-fatting tool to de-fat, or follow Mark’s recommendations to refrigerate the pot long enough to be able to easily skim the fat from the surface.

To serve, remove the sprigs of herbs. Remove the ribs and pull the meat from the bone, shredding.
Place the potatoes, onions, mushrooms and some of the braising liquid into a serving bowl.
Place the shredded meat on a platter.
Serve with ladles of the delicious braining liquid and a crusty bread to mop up every last delicious, rich drop!

Gorgonzola Sauce
Makes about 1 cup

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If you would like to serve a decadent, rich sauce that compliments these short ribs, or a holiday roast prime rib, or beef tenderloin, or a grilled steak, or a burger, then try this one.
Ingredients
1 cup heavy cream
1 ladle of the braising liquid
4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
salt and pepper
2 Teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stem

Method

Pour the cream into a medium saucepan and reduce over medium heat for about 10 minutes, reduced by about 1/3 volume.
Add a ladle of the hot braising liquid, or if making for burgers or a steak, hot beef stock
Whisk in 4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbles, and stir until smooth and slightly thickened.
Add the thyme leaves and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve in a sauce bowl.

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The short ribs, potatoes, mushrooms and onions were all meltingly tender, and rich with savory flavor of beef, wine and herbs. The mushrooms really absorb the wine and stock and add a richly earthy flavor. The Gorgonzola Sauce added a luscious creamy texture and piquant gorgonzola flavor.
Very satisfying, and pairs well with a Cabernet Sauvignon

I served some gorgeous fresh Brussels sprouts, first browned a bit in olive oil with some slices of garlic, then, garlic removed, cooked in a syrupy combination of balsamic vinegar and honey, salt and pepper, just until tender.

This was a richly satisfying meal for a cold evening, and I am now searching for some other recipes for short ribs!

Readers, please share comments if you try this recipe, or if you have comments to share about favorite comfort foods for cold days! The Comments box follows each post.

Decadent Holiday Desserts, Pumpkin-Ganache-Tiramisu Trifle and a Classic Chocolate Cake!

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As the holidays approach, I gather all of my old favorite recipes together, but I am always excited to create and share something new. This year, I consulted my niece, Heather–a terrific cook and baker–about Thanksgiving Day desserts. She chatted with me about a recipe that she found for a Pumpkin and Chocolate Tiramisu. Pumpkin and chocolate definitely have an affinity for each other. I began to think about a light, silky pumpkin mousse containing mascarpone, a fudgy river of dark chocolate ganache, and Italian ladyfingers brushed with rum, all layered in an elegant cut-glass bowl. And, there you have it–Pumpkin-Ganache-Tiramisu Trifle!

My husband’s birthday falls within a few weeks of Christmas, and this year, he requested a classic chocolate layer cake with chocolate frosting. So, I turned to an old Martha Stewart favorite recipe for Devil’s Food Cake. When I thought about the icing, I decided that it was time to attempt Italian Meringue Buttercream, that silken, luscious buttercream that is an essential reason why we all love quality wedding cake so much! Last year, I took a pastry-making class from a Master Pastry Chef, and this icing was one of our assignments in his commercial kitchen. It is a bit labor intensive and a fussy process, but I decided to follow my favorite advice from Julia Child and to be fearless in the kitchen. Although I was creating this for John’s birthday, I decorated it in a way that would be suitable for a holiday table–some fresh mint leaves and red candied cherries!

Pumpkin-Ganache-Tiramisu Trifle
, adapted from a recipe for Gingerbread-Chocolate Pumpkin Mousse Trifle by The Smart Cookie Cook blog

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8-10 servings
Ingredients
14 ounces of imported Italian Ladyfingers ( I used Vicenzi Vicenzovo ladyfingers, imported from Italy, found at the local Italian market)

For the Mousse
15 ounces pumpkin puree, not pie filling
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened
2 cups heavy cream chilled
1 and 3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Ganache
16 ounces of dark, semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream

Method
You will need an attractive large glass bowl for best presentation.
This dessert is best made 24 hours prior to serving and stored in the refrigerator.

First, make the ganache. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until it just comes to a boil.
Place the chopped chocolate in a large, heat-proof bowl, and pour the hot cream over it.
Stir the chocolate and cream until all of the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth. Set is aside.

Make the Pumpkin Mousse.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the mascarpone, the pumpkin the spices and salt until well combined and smooth.
In a separate bowl, beat the heavy cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form.
Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture, folding it in gently so that you do not deflate the mousse.

The Assembly
Brush the ladyfingers with rum or brandy.
Place a layer of lady fingers on the bottom of the bowl to cover and then stand ladyfingers on end around the perimeter of the inside of the bowl.
Add one-third of the Pumpkin Mousse. Add a layer of rum-brushed ladyfingers. Drizzle with ganache in rivers, allowing it to flow down the sides of the bowl between the ladyfingers.
Add another third of the mousse, additional ladyfingers, and ganache.
Add the last portion of the mousse, and drizzle with ganache.

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Chill at least 6 hours prior to serving.

This dessert is festive in appearance, and our guests loved it on Thanksgiving Day! They enjoyed the traditional flavor of pumpkin and spices, but in a new form. The lady fingers soften and absorb the rum and some of the mousse filling. The Mousse is light, creamy and warmly spiced, very silky in the mouth. The rivers of ganache are dark, luscious chocolate and pair beautifully with the Pumpkin Mousse.

This is one of those recipes that I love so much, because you can create other flavors using this basic technique for a Tiramisu Trifle. For Christmas, brush the ladyfingers with Limoncello, omit the pumpkin puree, and flavor the Mousse with vanilla and lemon zest. Layer the Tiramisu Trifle with fresh, sweetened raspberries and raspberry sauce. Perhaps just a drizzle of dark chocolate ganache on top! Let your creativity go, and create your own original!

Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake with Chocolate Italian Meringue Buttercream, adapted from The Martha Stewart Cookbook, pages 517 and 559. The recipe is paraphrased by me here, with just a few little alterations.

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When you want a decadent, class chocolate layer cake for a special occasion, whether it is a birthday or Christmas, this is it! The end result is a tall layer cake, tender and moist with rich chocolate flavor, with silky, incomparable Italian Meringue Buttercream. I used a bit more melted chocolate–bittersweet–to the cake batter recipe, and I added 5.3 ounces melted and cooled bittersweet chocolate to the buttercream as the final step.

You will need 3-9 inch cake pans. I actually used 1-9 inch cake pan and 1-9 inch, deep springform pan out of necessity–I was missing one cake pan! Butter the pans and set aside.
Preheat eh oven to 350 degrees F, and place the rack in the center of the oven.

Ingredients
The Cake
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate (I used 5.3 ounces bittersweet)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour sifted (I used Fine Cake Flour)
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method
Preheat the oven and butter the pans.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water and set aside.
Pour the boiling water over the baking soda in a heat-proof bowl. Add the melted chocolate. Set aside to cool a bit.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light, pale yellow, and fluffy in a medium bowl.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
Alternately add the buttermilk and the flour to the butter/eggs mixture in small amounts, incorporating well after each addition.
Add the melted chocolate and the vanilla and stir well.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth well.
Bake for 30 minutes or until a tester placed in the center comes out clean.
Cool the cakes in the pan for a few minutes, and then invert onto racks to cool thoroughly.

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Chocolate Italian Meringue Buttercream

Ingredients
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
6 egg whites
pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
5 sticks of salted butter, room temperature ( 1 pound plus 8 Tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons Grand marnier or brandy

Method

Combine the sugar and water in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring it to a boil without stirring, covered, for 3-5 minutes.
Uncover it and boil until it registers 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer, or until a drop of in in cold water forms a soft ball.
While the syrup is cooking, beat the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.
Drizzle 1/4 of the sugar syrup into the egg whites, a few drops at a time, beating at high speed as you add the syrup.
Gradually add the rest of the syrup, drizzling it in a fine stream as you continue to beat at high speed for 8-12 minutes.
The meringue will cool down as you beat it. This is essential, because next, you will add butter.
In a separate bowl, beat the butter until it is light and fluffy.
Add the butter, just a few tablespoons at a time to the meringue, beating well after each addition, until all butter has been incorporated.
The mixture will be very thick and creamy.
Add the cooled melted chocolate, if you are flavoring with chocolate. Fold gently until it is incorporated.
If the icing does not seem thick enough, place it over a bowl of ice and stir–the ice will cool the butter and the meringue, and it should thicken nicely.

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Cake Assembly
Place a layer on a clean surface and brush the top with brandy. Then, apply a thin crumb coat of buttercream on the layer.
Repeat this crumb layer with the other layer or layers.
Place the layers in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.
Place a layer on the serving plate. Ice the top generously.
Place the next layer(s().
Apply the buttercream to the sides smoothly.
Apply the buttercream generously to the top.
Garnish as you like. I used fresh mint leaves from my herb garden and candied red cherries.

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Italian meringue buttercream does not freeze well, so share this cake with friends and family, ad refrigerate any leftovers. Best if eaten within a day or two.

This cake has tender, moist crumb, a rich, dark chocolate flavor, and makes a tall beautiful layer cake. Brushing a brandy or rum or liquor on the layers is certainly optional. The Italian Meringue Buttercream is decadent, lush and silky in the mouth, light, creamy, dreamy! It is almost light whipped cream. Once you have this buttercream. other types of icing are not so appealing!

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16 days until Christmas Eve! What decadent, traditional, or new desserts will you serve? Share your favorites in the Comments box, as well as any questions or comments about this post.

Pantry Essentials: Holiday Condiments that Sparkle!

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When the holiday season arrives, I begin to think about those special extra touches, those added conveyors of layers of flavor that I may not add to the table on an everyday basis.  I want condiments that sparkle in both flavor and appearance and that are versatile.  Can they be utilized in more than one way?  In savory or sweet applications?  On a cheese board or served alongside a gorgeous roast?  Is it possible that they can be gifted in a lovely jar with ribbon for guests to take home?  Those are the condiments that I want to create!

Blackberry-Cranberry-Raspberry Sauce

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This recipe is really a mash-up of multiple recipes that I have prepared through the years to serve with Thanksgiving Day roast turkey. During one year, I used a Bobby Flay recipe, Cranberry-Blackberry Relish, which I loved. But, I have family and friends who are not as fond of cranberries as I am, and do not like jalapeno, but I found that if I added a good proportion of other fruits, they enjoyed the sauce. The recipe is a savory-sweet-tart sauce that is excellent paired with poultry, is beautiful presented in jars as gifts, and, I must confess, is delicious over raspberry or vanilla bean gelato.  It would  be gorgeous in appearance and a wonderful pairing with Christmas holiday capon, turkey, or even ham.  It is delicious served on a cheese board with brie.

This recipe made sufficient sauce for serving 8 for Thanksgiving dinner, and a few small jars for gifting. It can be stored for about 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 sweet onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 and 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
12 ounces cranberries, divided in half
1 pint fresh blackberries
1 pint fresh raspberries
honey
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flake
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (this time of year, tangerines are fragrant, bright orange, which makes beautiful zest, and they are sweet!)

Method

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent.
Add the ginger and cook for 1 minute.
Add the orange juice, half the cranberries, and the red pepper flakes.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries pop and are soft.
Add the remaining cranberries and cook for just a minute or two.
Remove from the heat and add the blackberries, raspberries, about a Tablespoon of honey and the orange zest.
Add 2 Tablespoons finely chopped flat leafed parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Taste and adjust seasonings.
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This version of cranberry sauce is sweet and tart, and the flavors of the raspberries, blackberries and cranberries are distinct flavors. There is a hint of ginger and red pepper flake for a slight heat, and there is fresh flavor of orange juice. The flavors are well-balanced. This sauce can be made ahead, and the flavors deepen as it cools.

Roasted Pear-Cranberry-Raisin Chutney
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I love the sweet-tart-tangy-savory flavor of chutneys! The inspiration for this particular chutney began with my love of roasted pears. In years past, I often prepared pears poached in wine as a dessert, as a gift-in-a-jar, or as a great garnish for holiday roasts. But, this year, I began roasting pears and discovered that roasting results in concentrated pear flavor with caramel-sweetness. Roasted Bosc pears began making appearances on charcuterie boards, with a dab of Point Reyes Bleu cheese and a drizzle of Cinnamon-Pear Balsamic. Roasted, beautifully golden brown and sliced and fanned out on a dessert plate with a scoop of gelato and a drizzle of sea salt and caramel sauce. Then, I created this chutney, beginning with roasted pears, which will pair well with roast pork or poultry, and will be equally welcome on a cheese board with a triple crème cheese, or a Huntsman, which is a Gloucester-Stilton combination.

Ingredients

6 ripe but still firm pears, Bosc or D’Anjou, halved and cored, skin on
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in brandy for 1 hour and then drained
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup vinegar of your choice (apple cider would be traditional, but6 I used a pear-cinnamon infused balsamic from Italy)
1/4 teaspoon crushed brown mustard seed (a Savory Spice Shop product)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flake
1/4 cup White Moscato wine (or another sweet, white wine)
2 teaspoons lemon zest
orange zest for garnish

Method
Roast the pears, halved, cored, placed cut side down on parchment lines baking sheet with rim in a 425 oven for 30-40 minutes. The cut side will be caramelized and browned when down, but the pears will still hold their shape. Set aside to cool.

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Place the cranberries, sugar, vinegar, wine, and all seasoning in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to simmer and simmer for 30-60 minutes, or until all the cranberries have burst and softened, and the sauce is thick.
Remove it from the heat.
Dice the pears, and add the pears and drained raisins to the chutney. Stir to combine.
Serve in a clear glass bowl or compote dish and garnish with grated lemon or orange zest. Actually, some candied orange peel would be lovely if you have some on hand, or have the time to make some!
This will keep for 1 month in the refrigerator.

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This chutney has the flavor punches that you expect from chutneys, but with the softer, milder balsamic vinegar and the sweet, deep flavor of the roasted pears. You will taste the savory shallot, a hint of garlic, an innuendo of brown mustard, and a harmonious blend of warm spices, and then the tart cranberries. This chutney would be wonderful with a roast pork loin or crown roast of pork, or with a ham.

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Here is an example of the versatility of roasted pears–I served a platter of them, dabbed with Point Reyes Bleu Cheese, drizzled with a bit of Cinnamon and Pear-infused balsamic vinegar as an appetizer on Thanksgiving Day.
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As the Christmas holiday approaches, there will be additional features about condiments and flavorful extra indulgences, such as Fig Port Wine Compote, to accompany a good brie, or a Pork Roast; a Gorgonzola Sauce to accompany your holiday Beef Tenderloin or Short Ribs; and a variety of Compound Butters. Please let me know if you have any requests for condiment recipes, or share your favorites as well as any other comments in the Comment box that follows each post.

Italian Soup Traditions and Minestre con Spinaci e Salsiccia

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In the aftermath of Thanksgiving Day, after the leftovers have been exhausted or frozen, we tend to crave light but flavorful soups before the indulgences of the Christmas  holiday season arrive.  Italian soups are rustic but flavorful fare, no cream-based veloutes as in French soup traditions, but hearty and satisfying.     Italian soups originated during lean times in Italy, from a working class who made soups from boiling water and bread.     Through the years, seasonal fresh produce, beans and herbs were added and sometimes meats.  Italian soup may be a brodo, a clear broth-based soup, such as a favorite of ours during the winter or hen we are under the weather, Pasta en Brodo.    This is simply a filled fresh pasta, such as tortellini, or raviolini, cooked in clear chicken broth, perhaps with some chopped chard or spinach added at the end.   Then, there are the zuppas.  These are soups that are thickened with bread.  Tuscan Ribollita, has a flavorful tomato-based broth, vegetables, beans, greens, and bread for thickening, and we fell in love with it in Florence.

The third type of Italian soup is Minestre, which is a vegetable soup, and may also contain a combination of beans, pasta and meat.  Pasta e fagioli was served often in my childhood home, a thickened broth with a variety of beans, and a small pasta.   Minestrone was a favorite, as well.   My father’s Stracciatella allA romano, or Roman-style egg drop soup, was legendary!  He would cook a whole hen with aromatics and soffrito in order to have a flavorful broth, and then he would add escarole and beaten egg, as well as grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and freshly ground black pepper.      Dad served Italian soups as main courses, rather than a primi piatti, or first course, often with an insalata mista–mixed green salad–and a crusty bread and some cheese.   I do the same now.

Today’s Italian soup is Minestre con  Spinaci e Salsiccia, a simple tomato broth-based soup with that begins with a soffrito to build flavor.  Soffrito is a combination of onions, celery, garlic, perhaps fennel and diced carrots, slowly sautéed in olive oil, and then deglazed with wine and the stock or broth for the soup.  I chose to utilize a meat, Italian Sausage, vegetables, a bean, and farro rather than pasta.

Minestre con Spinaci e Salsiccia  (Italian Vegetable Soup with Spinach and Sausage)

Serves 6 main course portions

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Ingedients
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 pound mild Italian Sausage, cut into 1 inch rings
2 large sweet onions
4 fat cloves garlic, minced
4 ribs celery, sliced
1 cup dry white wine
28 ounces of crushed tomatoes with basil (I used Muir Glen organic)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 Tablespoons dried Italian blend herbs (I used Savory Spice Cantanzarro blend, a blend of lemon peel, garlic, marjoram, basil, rosemary and thyme)
1 an 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 large carrots, cut into 2 inch chunks
1 cup fresh cauliflower florets
1 cup fresh broccoli florets
2 zucchini cut into 1/4 inch thick half-moons
1 – 15 ounce can cannellini or pink beans, drained
1 cup faro (you can use a small pasta, if you prefer, such as ditalini)
10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
chopped fresh parsley
grated pecorino romano

Method

Place olive oil and cut up sausage in a cold 5 quart soup pot.  Cook over medium-hi heat until the sausage has little pink remaining.
Add the coarsely chopped onion, minced garlic and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.
Add the celery and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add the wine and cook for about 3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and stock and beans
Add the herbs and seasonings.
Add all vegetables with the exception of the spinach.
Add the faro or pasta.

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Cook over medium heat for 20-30 minutes. The celery should still have a bit of crunch, the vegetables should hold their form, and the faro or pasta should be perfectly cooked and not overdone.
Add the spinach and stir, just for a minute until the spinach wilts.
Serve and garnish with cheese and parsley.

This is a very simple soup with an easy method. The preparation and cooking time totals about 40 minutes. Yet, the soup has a rich flavor, very harmonious and balanced, with no one flavor dominant. The flavors of the vegetables are clear and fresh, the tomato-wine-herb broth mellow with sweetness. The beans add a creamy texture. This is a hearty and very satisfying cool-weather dinner with Italian flair.

This can easily be a vegetarian or vegan meal by eliminating the chicken stock and using a vegetable stock or broth and by eliminating the sausage. Worried about refined carbs or wheat? Then, eliminate the faro or pasta. You can alter the vegetables based on your market day. Chard is very good rather than spinach. This is a versatile minestre recipe–you can tinker with it to suit your palate!

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Serve with Insalata mista, or mixed green salad, a bread and a bit of Italian hard cheese, and a good Tuscan Red wine. Buon appetito!

Readers, please share your favorite soup recipes, Italian or not, or other lighter, post-Thanksgiving Day feast dishes. The Comments box follows the post.

Countdown to Thanksgiving, Richly Flavored Turkey Stock Basics

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My sister, niece, and paternal cousins have been reminiscing about the Italian-American food traditions of our childhood, and especially holiday traditions. We all recall that my father made the best turkey gravy ever–none of that pale yellow sauce. He created a rich, deep brown, full-flavored, savory, silky smooth gravy every time! He made his base stock from scratch. My dad was a very hard-working man with professional responsibilities, and he and mom were raising five children. But, this did not prevent him from taking over the kitchen frequently and cooking fantastic meals from scratch. I think that it was his real passion. He came from a family and a cultural tradition of creating handmade food from fresh, seasonal ingredients. and he believed in “the right” techniques. So, I come by my food philosophy honestly, learning by osmosis from my dad and then from other experiences.

The day prior to Thanksgiving, dad would brown turkey parts in his largest stock pot–remember those Silver Seal Dutch ovens that every family of the 1950s bought from door-to-door salesman?
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Dad used the largest oval Dutch oven to brown the turkey parts, add vegetables, aromatics and water, and then simmered it for hours. The aroma would waft through the entire house, and dad would eventually chop up any gibbets and meat finely to add to his stuffing and the gravy. If we were lucky he’d smile and offer us a nibble. He always had plenty of stock to make gravy, to baste the turkey, and to flavor and moisten the stuffing before he tucked it into the turkey. He was a master at making roux, which accounted for his silky smooth gravy. So, I learned some important basics from dad.

One of the tricks that I learned somewhere along the way in my culinary adventures, is to brown the turkey parts, carrots and onions in the oven at a high temperature, which provides caramelization and brown fond on the bottom of the baking tray. When that tray is deglazed with white wine, it provides the basis for rich stock color and flavor. Here is my basic Homemade Turkey Stock recipe.

Homemade Turkey Stock

Makes approximately 4 cups of stock

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F

Ingredients
Olive oil to coat the turkey pieces and vegetable chunks
Several pounds of fresh turkey parts–backs, necks, wings (in my case, parts were scarce, and I settled for 3 pounds of legs)
1/2 pound turkey giblets (hearts, gizzards, livers)
1 pound of carrots, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
2 large sweet onions, scrubbed, quartered
3 ribs celery with leaves, cut into large chunks
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons peppercorns (I used the blend of green, black and pink)
2 large bay leaves
a few sprigs each of fresh parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme if you have it.
1 cup white wine
slosh brandy
5 cups cartooned turkey stock.

Method

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You will need a large rimmed baking tray and a 5 quart stock pot good for slow cook method.
Coat the turkey parts and carrots and onions with olive oil and place on the baking tray.
Roast for 30 minutes at 475, until you see lots of browning action and brown fond on the bottom of the tray.
While the turkey parts are browning, place the cut up celery, giblets, herbs and seasonings into the stockpot.

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Add the turkey parts and vegetables to the stockpot.
Place the baking tray over tow burners on medium-high heat and add a slosh of brandy and then 1/2 cup dry white wine to deglaze the pan. Scrap up the brown fond carefully with a wooden spoon, bubbling it over the heat for just 2-3 minutes.
Carefully, pour the liquid into the stockpot.
Add the cartooned turkey stock or water and stir.

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Bring the pot to just a boil and lower to simmer.
Simmer for abut 1 and 1/2- 2 hours.

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Cool, ad then skim any excess fat off.
Remove the turkey parts and the vegetable chunks to a large bowl.
Strain the stock into a large container with a lid that seals. Refrigerate.
Strip and chop finely the turkey meat and the giblets, if you like them, and save in a sealable storage bag to add to your gravy or stuffing/dressing, if you like.

This method produces a very concentrated, rich-in-turkey flavor, so when you reheat it on Thanksgiving Day to baste and to moisten and flavor your dressing, you can add some additional cartooned stock if you need to do so to have the amount that you need. Just choose the best quality stock that you an source.

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On Thanksgiving Day, when I roast the turkey, I always add a mound of chunks of carrot and onions beneath the turkey, as well as some wine, which then creates some additional stock as the turkey roasts. Some liquid in the roasting pan aids in keeping the turkey moist, as well. While my turkey rests, I will make a nice brown roux with butter and flour in order to thicken my gravy to the desired consistency. But, you will have to wait until the evening of Thanksgiving Day for my post about the Roast Turkey with Sage, and all of the trimmings! My husband is currently snacking on the carrots and celery that were strained out of the stock!

Readers, please share your favorite tips for roasting succulent turkey, for creating a great gravy or memorable side dishes! You can use the Comments box below!

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day: An Autumn-in-Italy Inspired Mushroom Soup

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Autumn in Italy! This is season of the grape harvests for wine, of “zucca.” or pumpkins and winter squashes, of sweet chestnuts, and of mushrooms and truffles. In October, you can smell the sweet, fragrant chestnut trees and you can pick beautiful brown chestnuts up from the wide tree-lined path as you stroll the rampart of the old wall that surrounds Lucca in Tuscany. In October-November, in Central Italy–Umbria, Lazio, Marche, Tuscany–the hunt is on for mushrooms, “funghi,” of many varieties. Imperial mushrooms, chanterelles, morels, oyster mushrooms. and a variety of white mushroom that has more flavor than the white button, which is the most common type that we find in our American supermarkets. This is the time for the porcino, that much-loved, delicately earthy-flavored mushroom that begins appearing in pasta dishes, risotto, in soups. We often find porcini dried in packets, and they are very flavorful when reconstituted. Then, there are the exquisite, other-worldly white and black truffles, hunted out by dogs or pigs, with certain regions and towns renowned for their truffles, such as Norcia in Umbria for “tartufo,” or truffle.

My introduction to mushrooms was by my Italian-American father, who loved to sauté then in butter, sprinkle in fresh parsley and then top a inexpensive cut of steak to feed our family of five children. Thanksgiving Day Capon, which is preferred to Turkey by Italians, appeared stuffed with dad’s Italian sausage stuffing, which contained chopped mushrooms. We were a working class family, so there were no expensive morels, porcinis, no truffles! My introductions to the world’s variety of mushrooms and the flavor of truffles came as my husband and I travelled the regions of France and Italy, and returned home to search for markets to source mushroom varieties beyond the white button and portabellas.

However, so many varieties remain out of reach price-wise for so many people, and prepared properly, the common white button mushroom can pack a lot of great earthy flavor. When I decided to test some mushroom soup recipes, I decided that while I might splurge for a small package of porcini, I would otherwise limit my selection of mushrooms to white button and baby portabellas for the sake of economy. I also decided that, given the amount of cream, butter and animal fat that goes into Thanksgiving Day dinner, that I would try a mushroom soup that was not made with heavy cream. I came upon a recipe by Jamie Oliver, The Real mushroom Soup retrieved from jamieoliver.com today.

This soup is a darker, deeper, richer mushroom soup that uses reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid, red onion, garlic, thyme, parsley, lemon zest and stock, with a small addition of mascarpone to intensify the earthy flavor. When plated, it is served with a drizzle of truffle oil and a squirt of fresh lemon juice. This is an amazing soup!

Two cook’s tips: It is good to have a digital scale for cooking and baking. This recipe called for 600 grams of mushrooms. I selected a bowl, placed it on the scale, zeroed out its weight, and added mushrooms until I had 600 grams. Second tip is to simply brush off mushrooms with a mushroom brush to clean. As an alternative, you can wipe them with a damp paper towel, changing the towel as needed. Do not peel or wash them in water.

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The Real Mushroom Soup, recipe by Jamie Oliver, jamieoliver.com, retrieved today and paraphrased by me here
Serves 6 first course servings
Ingredients
1 ounce dried porcini
3 Tablespoons olive oil
600 grams mushrooms total (I used half white button, half baby bellas, all sliced, but you can use any combination that you like)
2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 red onion, finely diced
1 handful fresh thyme leaves or 2 Tablespoons dried thyme leaves
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1 handful (bunch) fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 heaping soup spoon mascarpone cheese
zest of one lemon and juice of 1/2 lemon
Truffle oil (I used Kalamazoo Olive Company White Truffle Oil)

Method

Soak the porcini in 1 cup boiling water, just enough to cover the porcini, and leave to soak.
Heat a 5 quart soup pot and add 3 Tablespoons of oil to start.
Add the sliced mushrooms and stir, cooking over medium high heat for just a few minutes, until the mushrooms give off their liquid.
Add the diced onion and the garlic and stir.
Add salt, pepper, thyme.
Add the porcini, half of it chopped and half left in whole slices.
Strain the porcini soaking liquid and add to the pot, along with a 1/2 cup dry sherry or marsala, my touch.

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Cook for 20 minutes, or until most of the moisture has evaporated.
Add the stock, and cook for 20 minutes more.
Use your immersion blender to puree the soup, leaving some large slices of mushrooms and small bits of mushrooms.
Add the parsley and lemon zest.
Add the mascarpone and stir well.
I added just 1 Tablespoon very cold butter and stirred it into the soup to give it a glossy appearance.
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Take a look at Jamie’s plating suggestions. I think that a grilled small slice of baguette, topped with browned mushrooms and parsley would make a great garnish. I used a shallow bowl, and I drizzled a bit of lemon juice into the center of the bowl, as he suggested, and I drizzled the soup with white truffle oil.

This is not a cream of mushroom soup. This is light but rich, earthy, with decadent flavor from the porcinis, the Marsala and the truffle oil. The parsley and thyme complement mushrooms so well! The lemon zest and juice just add a spark, brightness–not too much acid or citrus flavor. This is a luxurious soup, yet light and perfect for an Autumnal first course, or as a meatless meal, accompanied by a mixed green salad, crusty bread and some good cheese! Perhaps a glass of Pinot Noir!

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Readers, I would love to hear about your favorite mushrooms and mushrooms dishes; and, do you think truffle oil is worth the price? Please use the Comments box below.

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day: Winter Squash Velvet Soup

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One of my favorite seasonal ingredients to cook with is the family of winter squashes. They are colorful, have a warm and slightly sweet flavor, are nutritious and are very flavorful. Winter squashes actually begin appearing in late summer and are bountiful in the markets through December. There are many varieties–the pale skinned Butternut squash, the deep blue-green Hubbards from New England, the deep green skinned or golden orange Acorns, and many others. The winter squashes and pumpkins are original to South America, and were introduced to North America by Columbus. Eventually, they appeared in Western Europe.

“Zucca,” which includes pumpkins and winter squashes in Italy, and “Potiron,” or pumpkins and squashes in France, are grown in various regions and in many varieties. In the Piedmont, or “Piemonte” region of Italy, Parma and Ferrara are famous for their very sweet and moist winter squashes, which appear as fillings in tender pasta pillows, ravioli, or in Cappellacci, or “little hats.” They may appear in a soup, or even in a sweet, such as a Pear-Butternut Squash Ginger Crumble. In Italian cuisine, you will find pasta sauces made with “zucca,” or risotto with tender cubes of butternut squash. In French cuisine, you may find “potiron” in soups or in gratins.

This year, I wanted an alternative to the ubiquitous Pumpkin Soup for holiday gatherings. I found a wonderful recipe by Chef Jacques Pepin, in his cookbook, More Fast Food My Way. His Velvet Soup is a savory soup made from Butternut Squash. I had a beautiful Butternut Squash on hand, with its pale golden skin and orange flesh. But, I also found an intriguing organic Red Kuri Squash at mu local Italian market, Mazzaro’s. It looked like a misshapen pumpkin but with a very deep orange exterior. It is a very hard squash, very difficult to peel or dice, so I halved it and roasted it cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet at 375 degrees F for about 30 minutes, until the halves were collapsing. Once I tasted the very flavorful, deep orange flesh, I decided to use half Butternut and half Red Kuri Squash to make Chef Pepin’s Butternut Squash Velvet Soup!

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Butternut Squash Velvet, original recipe by Jacques Pepin, More Fast Food My Way, recipe paraphrased by me here, and slightly adapted

Yields 5-6 cups or 4 servings
Ingredients

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup leeks, cleaned and sliced
1 large sweet onion, chopped
4 cups peeled, cubed Butternut Squash (I used 3 cups and I used the roasted flesh of one medium size Red Kuri Squash)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional–it actually tastes fabulous without, so you decide)

Method

Roast the Red Kuri Squash halves cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet at 375 degrees F for about 30 minutes or until they are collapsing. Cool so that the flesh can be handled.
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Peel and cube the Butternut Squash.
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Clean and slice the leeks, white and light green parts, removing the tough dark green leaves.
Dice the onion.
Place the butter, oil, leeks and onion in a medium size soup pot and cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent, a few minutes.
Add the squashes and cook just to heat.
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Add the stock, salt, pepper, herb, and bring to a boil.
Simmer for 12-15 minutes until the Butternut Squash is very tender.
Use your immersion blender to blend the soup into a thick, creamy texture. You can use your blender, taking care to work in batches and to use the lid of the carafe.
Taste and adjust seasonings and decide whether you wish to enrich it with the heavy cream. We loved it without.

This soup is richly flavored with the warm and somewhat spicy flavor of the squashes. The Red Kuri Squash is more richly flavored than Butternut, so I loved its contribution to the soup. The texture is very smooth and creamy and thick, even without the addition of heavy cream. Absolutely a knock-out!

I tried several options for garnish. I cut a triangular piece of Italian bread, brushed it with olive oil and then dipped it in finely chopped parsley. At my husband’s astute suggestion, I crisped a piece of prosciutto and topped a bowl of soup with it. The crisp texture and smoky, salty, porky flavor were an amazing complement to the soup. For one bowl, I drizzled some heavy cream on top and sprinkled with freshly grated nutmeg to stir in as you taste, another great flavor addition. Finally, I garnished one bowl simply with fresh chives, standing at attention like little soldiers in the thick soup–lovely, mild onion fragrance and pretty color contrast!
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Check out your local markets and explore the various varieties of winter squash while they are abundant. If you are looking for a richly flavorful Autumn soup, this is it!

Readers, share your favorite Fall and Winter soups and your experiences with this recipe if you try it. I’d love to hear about any winter squash varieties that you love and your favorite preparations!

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day: Talking Technique, Elegant, Succulent Crown Roast of Pork!

THANKSGIVING CROWN ROAST OF PORK

Not every family loves turkey as we do; and, even we have had years when we simply wanted something different for Thanksgiving Day dinner. Last year, we found that we were in the mood for succulent, savory pork. I had experienced an unevenly cooked, dry in some places stuffed crown roast of pork, so I was fascinated to learn about a technique from America’s Test Kitchens that promised perfect results. The technique works, so I report it to you today, so that you may decide to make one of these impressive, dramatic roasts for Thanksgiving Day dinner or for another holiday.

Crown Roast of Pork is actually two bone-in pork loin roasts tied together, and its form presents a cooking conundrum. Roasted chine bone up, the heat circulates unevenly, causing some areas to be undone and others overcooked. So, after reviewing America’s Test Kitchens’ instructions and the viewpoints of other cooking professionals, here is my preparation technique.

Roasted Crown Roast of Pork with Roasted Potatoes

Ingredients

1- 8 to 9 pound crown roast of pork, chine bones “frenched” by the butcher (this is about 14 chops when carved)
5 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt
Pepper
Several large carrots, scrubbed and chopped in large chunks, a few ribs of celery in large chinks, and a sweet onion, quartered

Method

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and place a rack in the center of the oven
Rub the roast all over with oil, garlic, herbs and salt and pepper.
Place the roast chine bones down into a roasting pan.  Yes, it is standing upside down from its serving position!
Under the cavity, you can place some chopped carrots, onion and celery just to add some flavor.
Roast the pork at 425 for 15 minutes, and then lower the temperature to 375.
Continue roasting, basting occasionally with a dry white wine, until a thermometer inserted in a thick portion of meat registers 150.
Remove the roast to a platter, chine bone up and cover with foil.

Roasted Potatoes

I like the change from a bread-based stuffing to savory, crisp, petite roasted potatoes, which are placed within the crown prior to serving.

Ingredients
3 pounds petite red skinned potatoes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Method
Toss the potatoes, scrubbed, dried and whole in a large bowl with just 2 Tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper and rosemary.
Roast for about 45 minutes during the last 45 minutes of  roasting time for the pork.
The potatoes should be tender but have a crisp exterior.

To serve, fill the cavity of the crown with the roasted potatoes, and place those that do not fit around the platter.

White Wine-Dijon Sauce

If you would like to create a quick pan sauce to serve with this roast, then place the roasting pan over the range, remove the vegetables that were tucked under the roast,
Over medium heat, melt 2 Tablespoons butter.  Add 2 Tablespoons flour, and cook, stirring around the pan for 2 minutes.
Add 1 cup dry white wine, and stir continuously for 2-3 minutes.
Add 1 cup chicken stock and 1 heaping soupspoon of Dijon mustard, stirring until smooth, thickened and hot.
Season as needed with salt and pepper, and perhaps a bit of fresh sage.
Taste–you can add just a quick slosh of heavy cream if you would like to enrich the sauce.

Served the sauce on the side for guests to drizzle over their chop.

THANKSGIVING CROWN ROAST OF PORK

Garnish the serving platter simply with fresh sage and rosemary leaves, or, use a larger platter and garnish with orange slices or orange halves with the flesh scooped out and replaced with cranberry sauce. This will easily serve 12 persons.

We found that this technique did yield evenly and perfectly cooked, moist and savory Crown Roast of Pork. Go to your trusted butcher, and make certain that the roast is properly tied and the chine bones attractively “frenched.” We did not miss turkey last year!

So, what will it be for your Thanksgiving Day dinner this year? The traditional Roast Turkey and trimmings, or Crown Roast of Pork, or? I would love to hear about your menu choices for this year, so speak to me using the Comment box below!