Thursday, December 29, 2011

Twelve Favorites of 2011

It is hard to believe that another year has flown by!  I can't believe that it is almost 2012.  This time last year I swore off sugary foods.  In reviewing the posts, I lasted until the first of January when I posted an amazing and easy Black Forest Trifle.

There is a reason...isn't there always!  I was assigned dessert for our New Year's Eve dinner get-together.  After that I did make it to the end of the month before indulging....good thing swearing off sugar wasn't a resolution, I would have failed miserably.  Moving on....I want to share some of my favorites from 2011.

There was a wonderful Dutch Cheese Soup from last winter that I will need to make again.  It was delicious and perfect for a cold January.

Another winter favorite of mine was the Steak and Guinness comforting!

And then...Cookies and Cream Cupcakes...cupcake oh cupcake you are so divine!

Seafood Gratin was a smash with the Gourmet Group.

And then...Individual "Little Fella Cheesecakes"!

As things warmed up, I discovered Rum, Date, and Pecan Ice Cream.  Yummy!

A variation of my usual Chicken Picatta was delicious!

I can't leave out my favorite salad of the year:   Crab, Mango and Avocado Towers!

I learned how to prepare scallops!  Scallops Provençal has become a regular part of our rotation!  They are delicious!

My favorite Sweet Mustard Shrimp Appetizer is made over and is so delicious and a perfect do-ahead dish!

We do tend to eat a lot of seafood so I cannot let the year's favorites slip by without mentioning Salmon and Tomatoes in Papillote!  Perfection!

I wish all of you a blessed New Year!  

Rotini and Sausage with Spicy Tomato-Vodka Sauce

Pasta seems to be on the menu frequently these days.  After thinking about it I decided it was totally comfort food.  It feels good to eat pasta for dinner!   Along with the pasta, I wanted sausage.  So I morphed a recipe to match!

Rotini and Sausage 
with Spicy Tomato-Vodka Sauce
adapted from Fine Cooking, March 2006

1/2 pound mild Italian Sausage (some hot sausage may be mixed in)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes; more to taste
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
3 Tbs vodka
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (I used shredded.)
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley
3 Tbs heavy cream
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound rotini (about 4 cups)

In a skillet cook the sausage, crumbling it into small pieces.  Drain and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the olive oil.  When hot, add the garlic and red  pepper flakes.  Heat until they are fragrant and sizzle about 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes and their juices and the vodka, bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat so there is a steady simmer, cover with the lid slightly ajar, and cook to intensify the flavors and reduce the sauce slightly (by about a quarter), 10-15 minutes.

Puree the tomatoes using a hand blender (or a regular blender).  After pureed, stir in the sausage, 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano, the parsley, cream, salt and pepper,  and more red pepper flakes, if you desire.  Simmer to incorporate the cream and reduce the sauce slightly, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and keep warm while the pasta cooks.

Cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, until it's just tender, 10 to 12 minutes.  Drain well and return the pasta to its pot.  Add the sauce, set the pot over medium heat, and cook, stirring, to let the pasta absorb some of the sauce, about 1 minute.  Serve immediately.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmigiano.


I am participating in Foodie Friday hosted by Michael at Designs by Gollum!  Take a look at the virtual cookbook!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Beef Daube

Beef Daube...sounds good, maybe even mysterious, but what is it?  A Daube is a classic French stew that is made with inexpensive beef braised in wine with vegetables, garlic and herbs.  It is usually prepared in a braising pan but I used my enamel-coated, cast-iron Dutch oven.

This was a heavenly stew with deep rich flavors.  We loved it and since there are only two of us, we loved it a lot!  I served it for lunch and dinner on subsequent days...and yes, I could have frozen it...but we loved eating it.

I combined two recipes to get the combination of ingredients that I wanted, but I used the technique and directions from Dorie Greenspan's cookbook, Around My French Table.

Beef Daube
adapted from Around My French Table

4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into  1-inch-wide pieces
1  3 1/2 pound beef chuck roast, fat and any sinews removed, cut into 2 to 3-inch cubes
2 Tbsp Canola oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 yellow onions, quartered and thinly sliced
6 shallots, thinly sliced
3-4 garlic cloves, bruised
1 1/2 pounds carrots, trimmed, peeled, halved crosswise, and halved or quartered length-wise
8 oz. small (button) Cremini mushrooms, left whole.  If large, cut in half.
3 ribs celery
3/4 cup beef stock
1 1/2 T tomato past
2 T flour
1/4 cup Cognac
1 750-ml bottle fruity red wine (I used a Central Valley Syrah that was perfect!)
1 bouquet garni - 3-4 thyme sprigs, 2 parsley sprigs, 1 rosemary sprig, leaves from 1 celery stalk, tied together in a dampened piece of cheesecloth

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Place oven rack in center of oven.

Cook bacon in Dutch oven until browned.  Transfer bacon to a bowl.

Dry the beef with paper towels.  Add 1 Tbsp oil to the bacon fat and warm it over medium high heat, then brown the beef, in batches, on all sides.  Do not crowd in the pot.  Transfer the browned meat to the bowl with the bacon and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Pour off the oil in the pot (don't remove any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan), add the remaining tablespoon of oil, and warm it over medium heat.  Add the onions and shallots, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the onions soften, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic, carrots, celery.  Stir everything to cover with a little oil.  Add the tomato paste and stir for 1 minute, then stir in the flour.  Pour in the brandy, turn up the heat, and stir well to loosen any bits on the bottom of the pot.  Let the brandy boil for a minute, then return the beef and bacon to the pot,  pour in the wine and beef broth, toss in the bouquet garni.  Stir.

When the wine comes to a boil, cover the pot tightly with foil and the lid.  Place in oven and allow to braise undisturbed for one hour.

Pull the pot out of the oven, remove the lid and foil and stir everything.  Add the mushrooms to the pot.  If it looks as though the liquid is reducing by a great deal  (unlikely), add water to cover the ingredients.   Re-cover the pot with the foil and the lid.  Return to the oven and cook for another 1 1/2 hours (total cooking time is 2 1/2 hours).  At this point the meat should be fork tender - if not, return to the oven for another 30 minutes.

Taste the sauce.  If you prefer the sauce to be more concentrated, pour it into a saucepan and boil over high heat reducing it to your preference.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Remove the bouquet garni and the garlic.  Skim off the surface fat.

Serve the beef and vegetables moistened with the sauce.


This is the perfect comfort food!  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

It's chilly outside.  
It's kindof chilly inside.
It's time for something warm and comforting.
Today, that would be mashed potatoes!

I was trying out a new recipe for Beef Daube.  So there had to be mashed potatoes, but not just any potato, it was perfect day for garlic mashed potatoes!!  This potato recipe comes from Melissa's Cuisine.  It is once again time for the Secret Recipe Club and this month, Melissa was my pal!

Melissa says she spends most of her time away from work, in the kitchen cooking up great things to eat.  She also said that she started running to avoid all the pounds that could be gained from spending so much time cooking!  Good point Melissa....being health conscious is a good thing and it can be hard for those of us who love to cook and love to eat what we cook!

That said, potatoes are healthy!  I love potatoes and they were going to be a great accompaniment to the beef daube that was in the oven.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Serves 4

You will need:
4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
About 1/4 cup sour cream
About 1/4 cup chicken broth
2 Tablespoons milk
2-3 Tablespoon butter
1/4 cup fresh herbs of choice: I used a little parsley with chives for garnish.
kosher salt to taste
dash of fresh ground pepper

1. Put potatoes and garlic in a large pot with salt and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes are tender.

2. Drain and return potatoes and garlic to pan.

3. Using a masher breaker down the large chunks of potato.

3. Add sour cream, milk, butter, and herbs to potatoes.

4. Using an electric mixer, whip, adding chicken broth in parts until potatoes are at the desired consistency. 

5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 


These were absolutely perfect with the Beef Daube that is coming in the next post...unless the Christmas Cookies pop up first!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

One can never have too many butternut squash recipes.  It is a vegetable that has a wonderful flavor and it isn't overwhelming when used with other ingredients.  It always pairs nicely with apples; so when I saw the Contessa's recipe for Butternut Squash and Apple Soup in Barefoot Contessa Parties,  I decided to give it a try.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
3-4 cups chopped onion
2 Tbsp mild curry powder
2 large butternut squash
1 1/2 lbs sweet apples (I used gala and honey crisp.)
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 cups apple cider (I used Honey Crisp Cider.)

Warm the butter and olive oil in a large stockpot over low heat.  Add the onions and curry powder and cook, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, until the onions are tender.  Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.

Peel the squash cut in half, and remove the seeds.  Cut the squash into chunks.  Peel, quarter, and core the apples.  Cut into chunks.

Add the squash, apples, salt, pepper, and two cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 30-40 minutes, until squash and apples are very soft.  Process the soup through a food mill or puree it coarsely in the food processor.  (I used the blender.)

Pour the soup back into the pot.  Add the apple cider and enough water to make the soup the consistency you like; it should be slightly sweet and quite thick.  Check the salt and pepper and serve hot.


This soup is pureed coarsely.  I love biting into pieces of squash and apples!  This was an excellent soup!