Monday, December 28, 2009

Cauliflower Gratin

I expected this dish to be good, but the extent to which is really wowed us was not expected. I can't say I have ever had better cauliflower than this. This dish was a nice change from my regular standby of serving a potato dish with prime rib. This dish is creamy and really rich on flavor. The cauliflower is deliciously tender and all the flavors nicely compliment one another.

Cauliflower Gratin
  • 1 (3-pound) head cauliflower, cut into large florets
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Gruyere, divided
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, and the Parmesan.

Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of an 8 by 11 by 2-inch baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top. Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1/4 cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gratin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Source: Ina Garten, Barefoot in Paris, Clarkson Potter, 2004.

Christmas Dinner Menu

There are no other words for this meal but spectacular. It was a perfect menu for Christmas day. The meal was elegant yet fairly simple to prepare thus allowing lots of time to play with new toys brought by Santa! I didn't prepare dessert with this menu since we got together later in the evening for dessert with family. I think a beautiful trifle would be the perfect ending for this menu.

Sunday Rib Roast with Horseradish Mustard Sauce
Green Bean Bundles
Cauliflower Gratin

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Chocolate Mint Thumbprints

This is a another new Christmas cookie I tried this year. It was a big hit at our Christmas Eve buffet. Next time I'm hoping to find the green Andes candies as was pictured in the recipe book. I also would probably cut them a bit smaller. I found it was easier to use my thumb to make the indention as opposed to the wooden spoon handle recommended in the recipe. I did add the green food color to this recipe, even though I'm not a fan of artificial dyes. I didn't want all of our cookies to be beige! I have found natural food color in Whole Foods, however, I find the color it renders tends to be really off and you would have to add quite a bit which can effect the liquid ratios in your recipe. These cookies would also be fun for St. Patrick's Day.

Chocolate Mint Thumbprints

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract
2 egg yolks
16 drops green food coloring
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
3 tablespoons whipping cream
3 tablespoons butter
18 Andes mints, unwrapped, cut in half diagonally

1. Heat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. In large bowl, beat 1 cup butter and the powdered sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in peppermint extract, egg yolks and food coloring until blended. On low speed, beat in flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. With your finger, press a deep well into center of each cookie.

4. Bake 10-12 minutes or until set. Reshape wells with finger. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely; about 15 minutes.

5. In medium microwaveable bowl, microwave chocolate chips, cream and 3 tablespoons butter on High 1 minute, whisking frequently until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Fill each well with about 1 teaspoon chocolate mixture; garnish with Andes mint piece. Let stand about 1 hour until chocolate is set.

Source: Adapted from Betty Crocker's Christmas Cookies, Dec./Jan. 2009.

Cherry Tea Cakes

I loved all the new cookie recipes we tried this year but these were probably my very favorite. A really great butter cookie with a delicious almond cherry flavor. I used Tillan Farms maraschino cherries. They have no artificial colors, artificial flavors, sulfites or preservatives. I omitted the red food color from the recipe so mine did not have the pink hue as pictured in my recipe book. You can dip these or drizzle them with white chocolate but I think they are perfect as is.

Cherry Tea Cakes

1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons maraschino cherry liquid
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 or 4 drops red food color (omitted)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup drained maraschino cherries, chopped
1/2 cup white vanilla baking chips (omitted)

1. Heat oven to 350. In large bowl, beat powdered sugar, butter, cherry liquid, almond extract and food color with electric mixer on medium speed until blended. On low speed, beat in flour and salt. Stir in cherries.

2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. On ungreased cookie sheets, place balls 2 inches apart.

3. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool 20 to 30 minutes.

4. In 1 quart resealable freezer plastic bag, place baking chips, seal bag. Microwave 35-50 seconds, squeezing chips in bag every 15 seconds, until chips are melted and smooth. Cut small tip from bottom corner of bag; drizzle melted chips over cookies.

Source: Betty Crocker's Christmas Cookies, Dec/Jan 2009.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Christmas Eve Menu

We hosted a casual gathering for Christmas Eve. The scene was perfectly set with twinkling Christmas lights and beautiful blowing snow outside (a rarity in these parts!). To warm everyone up I had some mulled cider brewing. I think Williams Sonoma has the best mulled spice mix. I mix mine with organic apple juice that is not from concentrate. instead of cider I served the following menu buffet style.

Mulled Cider
Artichoke Bruschetta and Crackers
Mini Spanakopitas
Spiral Sliced Ham
Rolls/Rye Bread
Cranberry Conserve
Maple Orange Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Macaroni and Cheese
Mixed Green Salad with Herbs de Provence Dressing
Soft and Spicy Gingerbread Cookies
Chocolate Mint Thumbprints
Cherry Tea Cakes
Peppermint Bark
Praline Cheesecake

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread cookies are a new addition to my annual Christmas cookie baking list. Growing up, we always did lots of different types of cookies but our roll out cookies were always sugar cookies. I thought it would be fun to try a traditional gingerbread instead this year. This recipe, has shown up in several blogs I read. Given the popularity of the recipe, I knew this would be a good one. The dough was easy to mix and roll and the cookies had a perfect balance of spice. I also like that these cookies came out very tender. I have to give credit to my favorite helpers, my husband and son who rolled these out together and did a fantastic job.

Soft and Spicy Gingerbread Cookies

1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 c. molasses
1 egg
4 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg

-In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth.
-Stir in molasses and egg.
-Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg; blend into the molasses mixture until smooth.
-Cover, and chill for at least one hour.
-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line with parchment.
-On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness.
-Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters.
-Place cookies 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
-Bake for about 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm.
-Let cool for 10 minutes on pan.
-Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks.
-Frost or decorate when cool.

Source: Annie's Eats as adapted from Good Things Catered as originally adapted from

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Fig Relish and Acorn Squash with Butter Sauce

I recently purchased Cooking Light's new cookbook, Fresh Food Fast. The idea behind the cookbook is the recipes are only 5 ingredients and take 15 minutes to prepare. I'm a big proponent of clean eating and cooking with fresh organic seasonal foods so a five ingredient approach is perfect for me. This book has come in handy during this busy holiday season. This pork tenderloin dish was really easy to make and I loved the combination of flavors. I'm a big fan of figs and they paired perfectly in this dish. As suggested I served this with a side of acorn squash with butter sauce. It was hard to believe this dish was so fast to make.

Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Onion-Fig Relish

1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Cooking spry
8 dried Mission figs
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 (8-ounce) container refrigerated prechopped onion (I used one red onion)

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. Sprinkle pork evenly with salt and pepper; coat with cooking spray. Heat a medium sized cast iron skillet or other ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add pork; cook 4 minutes or until browned on all sides, turning occasionally.

3. While pork browns, coarsely chop figs. Combine vinegar, 2 tablespoons water and soy sauce in small bowl. When pork is browned, remove pan from heat. Add figs, onion, and vinegar mixture to pan, stirring to loosen brown bits.

4. Bake, uncovered at 425 for 15 minutes or until a thermometer registers 160. Stir onion mixture; cover pan loosely with foil. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing. Yields: 4 servings

Acorn Squash with Butter Sauce

1 acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Pierce squash several times with a sharp knife; place on paper towels in microwave oven. Microwave on High 1 minute. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Discard seeds and membrane. Cut each squash half lengthwise into 4 wedges. Pour 1/3 cup water into an 11x7 inch baking dish. Place squash, cut sides up, in pan. Cover with plastic wrap, turning back 1 corner to vent (do not allow plastic wrap to touch food). Microwave on High 10 minutes or until tender.

2. Place butter in a small microwave safe bowl. Cover and microwave at High 20 seconds our until butter melts. Stir in syrup, nutmeg, and salt. Spoon sauce over squash wedges. Yield: 4 servings.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Barefoot Blogger's Bread Pudding

I'll preface this post by saying I'm not a bread pudding fan. If given a choice of desserts it is probably the last one I would pick. My husband on the other hand loves bread pudding. So when I saw this months Barefoot Blogger pick from Peggy of Pantry Revisited, I knew at least one person in our house would be happy to eat this dessert if I made it. The recipe was very simple to assemble but be prepared, this recipe uses almost a whole carton of eggs! I thought the dish was good but didn't fit my idea of a traditional bread pudding. To me it was more like a french toast casserole. My husband thought it was good but said he prefers the traditional bread pudding. He also missed the hard sauce that usually accompanies a bread pudding. I would make this dish again but it would be part of a brunch buffet.

Croissant Bread Pudding
  • 3 extra-large whole eggs
  • 8 extra-large egg yolks
  • 5 cups half-and-half
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 6 croissants, preferably stale, sliced horizontally
  • 1 cup raisins (I used dried cranberries)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla. Set the custard mixture aside. Slice the croissants in half horizontally. In a 10 by 15 by 2 1/2-inch oval baking dish, distribute the bottoms of the sliced croissants, then add the raisins, then the tops of the croissants (brown side up), being sure the raisins are between the layers of croissants or they will burn while baking. Pour the custard over the croissants and allow to soak for 10 minutes, pressing down gently.

Place the pan in a larger one filled with 1-inch of hot water. Cover the larger pan with aluminum foil, tenting the foil so it doesn't touch the pudding. Cut a few holes in the foil to allow steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for 40 to 45 more minutes or until the pudding puffs up and the custard is set. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Source: Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, Clarkson, Potter, 1999.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sugar Topped Molasses Cookies

I can't think of a better way to start off the holiday baking season than these cookies. I really like the nice punch of spice that distinguishes these cookies from ordinary gingerbread cookies. These cookies pair perfectly with hot chocolate or hot tea and the sugar coat adds a nice sparkle finish to the cookies.

Sugar Topped Molasses Cookies

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice pinch cracked or coarsely ground black pepper
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)

1 large egg

1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and pepper. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and molasses and beat for 2 minutes or so to blend, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute more. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until the flour and spices disappear. If some flour remains in the bottom of the bowl, to avoid over-beating the dough, mix in the last of the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula. You'll have a smooth, very soft dough.

Divide the dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Freeze for 30 minutes, or refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (The dough can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days.) Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Put the sugar in a small bowl.

Working with one packet of dough at a time, divide it into 12 pieces, and roll each piece into a smooth ball between your palms. One by one, roll the balls around in the bowl of sugar , then place them on one of the baking sheets. Dip the bottom of a glass into the sugar and use it to press down on the cookies until they are between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the tops feel set to the touch. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, if the cookies have spread and are touching, use the edge of a metal spatula to separate them while they are still hot.

Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the second batch of dough. Yield: about 24 fairly large cookies (I got a few more)

Storage: The cookies will keep for at least 1 week in the cookie jar. Wrapped airtight, they can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Source: Dorie Greenspan, Baking From My Home to Yours, Houghton Mifflin Harcour, 2006.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart

All I can say about this dessert, is absolute show stopper! I was a bit skeptical about the banana in this dish but it really isn't a strong component and actually just serves to mellow the pumpkin flavor a bit. I loved the graham cracker crust with the pumpkin, for me a far better compliment than a traditional pie crust. This tart is not too sweet, not too heavy and the filling has the perfect velvet like texture. I know this dish will have a regular spot at our future Thanksgiving dinners.

Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart

For the crust:

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (14 crackers)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 extra-large egg yolks
  • 1 package (2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 ripe banana, finely mashed
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1/2 cup cold heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

For the decoration:

  • 1 cup (1/2 pint) cold heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Orange zest, optional


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter in a bowl and mix well. Pour into an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and press evenly into the sides and then the bottom. Bake for 10 minutes and then cool to room temperature.

For the filling, heat the half-and-half, pumpkin, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water until hot, about 5 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks in another bowl, stir some of the hot pumpkin into the egg yolks to heat them, then pour the egg-pumpkin mixture back into the double boiler and stir well. Heat the mixture over the simmering water for another 4 to 5 minutes, until it begins to thicken, stirring constantly. You don't want the eggs to scramble. Remove from the heat.

Dissolve the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water. Add the dissolved gelatin, banana, and orange zest to the pumpkin mixture and mix well. Set aside to cool.

Whip the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and continue to whisk until you have firm peaks. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture and pour it into the cooled tart shell. Chill for 2 hours or overnight.

For the decoration, whip the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whisk until you have firm peaks. Pipe or spoon the whipped cream decoratively on the tart and sprinkle, if desired, with orange zest. Serve chilled.

Source: Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Family Style, Clarkson Potter, 2002.