Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Resuscitated Flop


I really thought New Years Eve was going to be a good subject for my first post – a true new years resolution.  But I was dead wrong.

We spent the holiday in Binghamton, NY with our great friends, Ralph and Bill, two modern Renaissance men whose vast and varied talents both happen to include incredible kitchen skills. I seriously love staying with these guys. Whenever we visit, the itinerary always begins with a trip to the grocery store. And then we just cook and cook (and maybe watch a little Strangers with Candy) and then cook some more. And everything is always so darn delicious. 

So when we came up with our grand plan for New Years Eve – Asian appetizers all day long - I assumed it would all be to-die-for like always, and make for a perfect first post. But alas, I can say always no longer. Now when referring to the fabulous food at Ralph & Bill’s, I have to use usually or maybe normally, because for some strange reason, absolutely everything was off that night. The chicken wings didn’t get roasty enough, the dipping sauce was too acidic, the pot-stickers were just meh, and on and on. Don’t get me wrong, nothing was a complete failure. But nothing was drop dead tasty either. The whole night was just a flop. (Luckily, Bill (a pastry wizard of Merlin proportions) put an end to this unlucky streak the next morning with his unbelievable homemade bagels.  Thank you, dear Bill, for starting our 2010 off right!)

So why am I going on and on about New Years, if it’s not even the main topic here? Well, one, because I’m still a little bummed about it all, because I was so psyched to tell you all (i.e. shamelessly brag) about our incredible, amazing, out-of-this-world New Years Feast, and now I can’t. I guess, even though the dinner proved to be a complete dud, I can’t help but want to give it just a little bit of time in the spotlight, even if that spotlight happens to be shining a sad shade of blue.

And I expound on for another reason too.  Because this New Years Eve Flop of 2009 served to remind me of another past flop, one that happened about a year ago. One too that had all the makings of a great meal, but just fell short.  And so I got it in my head to re-try this once upon a time failure, to freshen up my CPR skills and breathe new life into a former fiasco that needed some major saving.  And that’s what (finally!) brings us to our first ever Scrumptious Company menu.  Here is is, folks:

Crab & Artichoke Phyllo Triangles with Basil Aioli 

         Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Chops with Sage-Butter Sauce, Butternut Squash Risotto          & Roasted Radicchio

Butterscotch Pots de Crème with Whipped Cream and Gingersnap Cookies

So let’s shift gears, let’s desist with the mopey musings of past dinner duds, and let’s instead talk about a meal that was absolutely delicious, and a night that was completely fabulous.  Because friends, this time round, everything turned out great.


The fabulousness of the night was due in large part to the fabulous company. When it came to inviting our first official Scrumptious Company guests, there was no question at all as to who it would be. Downstairs-Matt-and-Sara, of course! Let me tell you a little bit about our friends Matt and Sara.  In our wildest dreams we couldn’t have cooler downstairs-neighbors.  Sara is one of those friends who, you know, you sit down to have a ‘quick’ coffee break with, and end up in the middle of such a great conversation, that three hours later you look up to realize your afternoon has totally vanished. She, like her sweetie of a husband, is wicked smart (Notre Dame PHD’s, both of ‘em. If I can’t brag about our New Years, I’ll just have to brag about our friends.) And they’re both really, really funny too. Needless to say, time with Downstairs-Matt-and-Sara is always a blast, and this night was no different.

I could go on forever about our neat friends, but let’s talk about the food, shall we? As I was telling you before, everything tonight was just spot-on, and it’s all stuff that I think you all would really love too.  The crab & artichoke appetizers, while first-time round a tad disappointing, were suddenly delicious, thanks in no small part to the bright and fragrant basil aioli served alongside.  Brilliant green and oh so pretty, packed with fresh basil and a just-right level of garlic (you know, a blatant hint of it), it turned out to be one of those dipping sauces where you end up not even caring what you’re dipping in it.


Ben was certainly thrilled to hear that butternut squash risotto would be on the menu again. In the past, this gorgeous, golden, creamy rice has even earned the coveted ‘ten-out-of-ten’ status from my discerning husband.  (While many a meal has reached the heights of nine-out-of-ten, it is a rare, rare day when Ben awards a true ten.)  But the first time I made this butternut risotto for him, Ben wasted no time in holding up all his fingers.  It’s been a dud only once – at the dinner party I was telling you about, and I seriously still have no idea what that heck was going on with me that dumb night – but every other time I’ve ever made this, it is simply glorious. Smooth and dreamy, with sweet and salty tones of roasted squash and nutty parmesan cheese, it tastes like coziness itself.  No wonder Ben was thrilled.

The pork chop was a bit of a twist on the Italian dish, Pork Saltimbocca, but rather than pan-fried cutlets, I went with meatier chops, and rather than garnishing with whole sage leaves, I whipped up a quick sage-flavored compound butter. I just really like compound butters. Placing a slice atop hot food turns them instantly into aromatic sauces, so they’re a neat solution for freeing up your hands at the last minute, which is always a good thing when it comes to a dinner party.

And last but not least for our main course… the roasted radicchio!  Man, I was loving this. That dreaded time when this meal flopped, I didn’t make this – in its place were roasted brussels sprouts.  And I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking “Brussels sprouts! Of course it was a flop!”, but I’m telling the truth, they were the one thing that night that were really good.  (Some other day I’ll tell you how I make my brussels sprouts, but for now, back to the radicchio.)  Since the brussels sprouts weren’t terrible enough to warrant another go tonight, I needed something similar to take their place, something savory but a little bitter, at once crunchy and tender, a wintery sort of vegetable.  Winding my cart through the produce aisles, I racked my brain, until my eyes fell on the vivid deep pink globes of radicchio.  Perfect!  Cut into wedges, dressed with a touch of olive oil and vinegar, and roasted until warm and tender at the core with crackly ribbons of caramelized outer leaves, it was just the side dish I was after, and one I know I’ll go to again and again from now on.


Oh yes, dessert. Well, here’s how dessert came about. You know how sometimes you suddenly become aware of something that for some strange reason you never knew existed before, and then, for some even stranger reason, you keep hearing about it again and again, just all over the place, randomly, everywhere you turn?  This is what happened to me too with butterscotch pots de crème. They’ve been all over the place lately, everywhere - on other blogs and in a magazine, and twice since Christmas I saw it on restaurant menus.  So I just got the bug for butterscotch, and had to make some on my own.

And I’m glad I did. These were sooooo delicious.  Sara thought they were pure bliss, and needed to take a moment of silence, sitting back in her chair with closed eyes and smiling lips.  Like Werther’s Originals, but in smooth and creamy pudding form, they really were remarkably impressively good.  And what made them even better was a dollop of whipped cream and a crackly gingersnap cookie.  Heaven, truly.

And that was it, a perfect ending to a splendid meal.  After the fiasco of New Years, I was so relieved!  Just as I ended the last year with everything flopping, I started it out with a slew of successes, one right after the other.  Let’s toast to these successes continuing throughout the course of this blog.  Cheers to that!

Crab & Artichoke Phyllo Triangles
Adapted from Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer
Makes about 10 appetizer-size portions (about 20 triangles)

I’ll tell you up front, this recipe makes a ton. A whole lot more than you’d ever need to feed four people. But that’s alright, because they freeze great, and the extras will keep for a good few weeks, at least. Then, whenever you need them, you can just pop them into a warm oven and presto, instant appetizer (or light lunch or snack). Can’t beat it, really. I prefer to make them the day ahead anyways, and freeze them overnight. Then it’s one less thing to worry about the day of the party.

For the Filling:
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 (15 oz) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
3 Tbl flour
1 cup milk
1 (10 oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and
thoroughly squeezed to remove as much water as possible
8 oz cream cheese
juice from half a lemon
2 Tbl fresh basil, chopped
1 bunch chives, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
8 oz crab meat *
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and season with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the red pepper flakes and cook 1 more minute. Add the artichoke hearts and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the flour and stir to evenly coat the vegetables. Cook for about five minutes, then slowly add the milk, whisking as you pour to smooth out any lumps. Add the spinach, mix to combine, and simmer for about five minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cream cheese (cut into pieces) and mix to combine. Allow to cool about fifteen minutes. Add the lemon juice, basil, chives, feta and crab meat. Mix to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Cool completely or refrigerate until needed.

To assemble:
1 package phyllo dough
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
flaky sea salt, as needed

Arrange one sheet of phyllo on a work surface with the short side facing you. Brush evenly with butter and sprinkle evenly with a thin coating of breadcrumbs. Top with a second sheet, brush with butter and sprinkle with crumbs. Repeat once more with a third sheet, butter and crumbs. Slice the sheets vertically into four equal strips. Place about two tablespoons of filling at the bottom corner of each strip. Fold the corner over to enclose the filling and form a triangle. Continue folding the strip (like a flag), maintaining a triangle shape. Place the triangle, seam side down, on a baking sheet. Brush the triangle top with butter and sprinkle with more bread crumbs and salt. Continue with this process until all filling is used up. Refrigerate until ready to bake. (They can be frozen too at this point, and popped right into the freezer.)

Preheat the oven to 435°F (350°F if frozen). Place the triangles on a cooling rack placed over a baking sheet (or simply on a greased baking sheet). Leaving a bit of space between the triangles, bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes (20-30 minutes for the frozen ones). Serve warm with Basil Aioli.

*Don’t go crazy with the crab here. There’s no need to buy any of the expensive jumbo lump stuff. It’s getting mixed together with all other sorts of tastiness, so don’t go breaking the bank. As long as it has a good fresh flavor, it’ll be fine for this. (And here’s a secret. If you’re feeling extra frugal, these are even great with no crab at all. In fact, once you start dunking them in the basil aioli, you’ll hardly notice anything’s missing.)

Basil Aioli
Makes about 1 cup

IMG_0618 (2) 

When I make aioli (it’s a French term for a garlicky mayonnaise-like sauce, by the way) I like to combine oils. Extra-virgin olive oil has a great flavor, but all by itself it’s just way to strong. So I always find myself combining it with whatever mild salad oil I have around, like vegetable or canola. Mix them together, half and half. It’s just a bit nicer that way, I think.

2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup chopped basil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp sherry vinegar
juice of half a lemon
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil or canola oil

In a blender, combine the yolks, basil, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Blend on high to puree it all as best you can. With the blender running, slowly add the oil, a few drops at a time. As the mixture slowly incorporates the oil, it will become thick and smooth. Once both oils are incorporated, taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Can be made a day ahead.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Chops
Serves 4

Brining is an easy step that really gives these chops some extra moisture, which goes a long way towards making them a real hit. That and cooking them to the right temperature. You do not want to overcook these guys. In fact, if I can convince you to try it, err on the side of undercooking. In the directions, I say remove them from the oven when their internal temperature reaches 155°F, but honestly, I always pull them out at about 145°F, and let them come up to temp as they rest on the countertop for a few minutes. This way they’re juicy and a lovely blushing shade of pink.

For the brine:
2 quarts water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp black peppercorns

4 pork chops (about 8 oz each)
extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 thin slices prosciutto
4 slices Sage Compound Butter (see recipe below)

Combine 2 cups water with the rest of the brine ingredients in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, stirring, in order to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, add the remaining 6 cups cold water and cool completely. Add pork chops, cover and refrigerate at least six hours and up to 1 day.

At dinner time, preheat oven to 350°F. Remove pork chops from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Heat about 2 Tbl olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the pork chops to the pan, without crowding, working in batches if you need to. Brown the pork chops, turning once and cooking about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the pork chops from the heat, wrap each with a single slice of prosciutto, and transfer to a roasting pan. Roast in the oven until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 155°F, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer pork chops to a platter, top each with a slice of Sage Compound Butter, and allow to rest about 10 minutes before serving.

Sage Compound Butter Sauce
Makes about 1/2 cup


1 stick plus 1 Tbl butter, at room temperature
2 medium shallots, diced (about 1/3 cup)
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 Tbl chopped sage
2 Tbl chopped parsley
zest from half a lemon
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Melt 1 Tbl butter in a small sauté pan over low heat. Add the shallots and season with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sage and cook 1 minute more, until garlic just begins to turn golden. Allow to cool to room temperature. Combine the shallot-garlic-sage mixture with the parsley, lemon zest and stick of butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until just combined. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Transfer the butter mixture onto a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Roll into a log of about 1 inch. Refrigerate until ready to use. Can be refrigerated 4 days and frozen a month.

Butternut Squash Risotto
Serves about 4 as a main course and 8 as a side


I do know what I did wrong that one time I made this dish. Against all popular advice, I worked ahead, did many of the steps before my guests arrived, and thought I could get away with finishing it with the last few steps right before dinner. I really should have known. And I definitely paid for it. Please, for the best results, do make this at the last minute. Once you get the hang of risottos, they’re really no stress to make, even with friends in the kitchen. It’s one of those things I wouldn’t make for every dinner party, but when you’re having the right people over, no one’s gonna care if you have some last minute things to do in the kitchen. It’s more fun and festive that way anyways.

1 medium-sized butternut squash
1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbl + 2 Tbl butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli short-grained rice
6-7 cups chicken stock *
1/2 cup dry white wine
pinch nutmeg
1 Tbl chopped sage
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds, drizzle insides with the olive oil and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Place cut side-down on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with foil, and roast until utterly tender, about 45 minutes or so, completely depending on the size of your squash. When cool enough to handle, scoop the tender flesh into a mixing bowl and discard the skins. With a rubber spatula, perform a combination whip/mash/beat motion until the squash is smooth and velvety. Reserve until needed. (This step can be done the day ahead.)

Over high heat, bring the chicken stock to a boil, then immediately lower heat to low, just in order to keep it warm.

Melt 2 Tbl butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and season with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Add the rice and cook, constantly stirring, for 2-3 more minutes. Stir in about 1-2 cups of stock, so that the rice is just covered. Simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, until the stock is nearly all absorbed. Continue adding more stock, a cup or two at a time, until the rice is creamy and slightly firm, but no longer hard in the center. This usually takes about 20 minutes, and you may not need to use all the stock. Add the wine, nutmeg and sage and simmer a minute or so more until the wine is absorbed. Add the roasted squash and fold in completely.  Cook for about two more minutes to heat through, stirring occasionally. Stir in the parmesan cheese and 2 Tbl butter. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

* I can’t say enough how important it is to use a good chicken stock here. The only way you’re going to achieve a perfect ten is if you use home-made. But if you absolutely must use pre-made, go with one of those boxes, especially this one. But by no means use the canned stuff. Please don’t.

Roasted Radicchio
Serves 4


2 medium-sized heads radicchio
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbl sherry vinegar
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut each head of radicchio in half, from top to bottom. Then cut each of these halves into quarters, again from top to bottom, through the stem. Dress the radicchio wedges with olive oil and vinegar, a good sprinkle of salt and a few good grinds of pepper. Gently toss. Arrange, one next to the other, in a small casserole dish. Roast about 30 minutes. The insides will be tender with the outer leaves a little crisp and caramelized. Serve warm.

Butterscotch Pots de Crème
Adapted from Gourmet, Oct 2003 on Epicurious.com
Serves 4 generously, and 5 as an easy stretch

This was the best looking recipe for butterscotch pots de crème I could find on the web. Unfortunately, it calls for some fancy-schmancy ingredients. But fortunately, these can be easily substituted with common ones. You can use dark brown sugar for muscovado and white sugar for Demerara. You can. But you shouldn’t. You know, the chef in me wants to tell you to only use the fancy sugars. You are going to get a much deeper, more complex flavor with these. But the person-who-doesn’t-want-to-spend-an-hour-calling-specialty-food-stores-all-over-town-just-to-find-some-stupid-sugar in me wants to tell you to just go ahead and use the stuff on hand. Either way, they’re no doubt yummy.


2 1/4 cup heavy cream
9 Tbl dark muscovado sugar
1/2 tsp salt
9 Tbl water
3 Tbl Demerara sugar
6 large egg yolks
3/4 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 300°F. Combine cream, muscovado sugar and salt in a small saucepan, and over medium heat bring to just a simmer, stirring to completely dissolve the sugar.

Combine the water and Demerara sugar in a 2-3 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Continue to cook, but do not stir, until deeply caramelized and foamy, about five minutes or so. (The more you caramelize the sugar, the deeper the color and more complex the flavor will be. Be brave and take it to the edge, but be careful not to burn it.) Remove from heat and add about a third of the cream mixture and whisk until combined. It will violently bubble and steam. When this subsides, add the rest of the cream mixture and whisk to thoroughly combine.

Whisk the yolks and vanilla in a large bowl. Slowly pour the cream mixture over the yolks, whisking the yolks as as you pour. Whisk until combined. Pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Using a spoon, skim off any foam. Pour custard into 6-oz soufflé cups, just to the rimed border. Arrange cups in a roasting pan. Pour hot water into the pan surrounding the cups, enough so that it rises about half-way up their sides. Bake, uncovered, until just set but still a little jiggly in the center, about 45-50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. These can be served warm, room temperature, or cold. If serving cold, cool first to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Can be held in a refrigerator for up to four days. To serve, top with a dollop of whipped cream and a single gingersnap (see right below).

For the Whipped Cream
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tbl sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Whip cream to soft peaks. Add sugar and vanilla and whip to firm peaks.

Gingersnap Cookies
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Makes 12 dozen(!) tiny cookies


I’m kind of obsessed right now with really crunchy gingersnaps, and thank goodness, because thanks to this recipe, I’ve got about a million in my freezer. Of course, if you like a chewier, more tender cookie, just decrease the cooking time by a few minutes.

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
12 Tbl (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup dark molasses
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 cup coarse sugar (Demerara, Turbinado or sanding sugar)

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until very fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, molasses, lemon juice and orange zest and beat until well combined. Add the flour mixture to the molasses mixture and mix on slow until just blended. Refrigerate about half an hour or until ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease the cookie sheets. Scoop out even tablespoons of dough. Tear each scoop in half. Roll each half into a ball and pat down to flatten it a bit. Roll in the coarse sugar, and place on the greased cookie sheet, spacing about 1-2 inches apart. Bake, one sheet at a time, about 15-18 minutes, rotating the sheet half-way through the cooking time, until cookies are golden brown and crackly on top. Remove the cookie sheet and allow to sit 1 minute. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. The cookies will firm to crisp and crunchy as they cool. Store in an air-tight container, in the refrigerator for a few days, or the freezer for a few weeks.


  1. omg kate! you are awesome! i wish i lived downstairs from you :)

  2. The risotto looks SO GOOD! Is it hard to cut the squash in half (without losing a digit)? It seems sort of intimidating to me.

  3. Meg, Thanks a lot! And thanks for reading. I wish you lived downstairs too! We would have too much fun :).

  4. Thanks, Sara! I know what you mean about cutting the butternut. It can be pretty scary if you don't approach it the right way. Here's what I do: First, remove the stem. If you can't just pull it off, lay the squash on its side and slice off about a half inch from the top, using a strong, sharp chef knife. Then, starting from the swollen base and working towards the thinner neck, slice the squash in half, lengthwise. For safety's sake, it's really important to cut the squash while it's lying on its side, not standing up on its base. This way it's a lot more stable and you don't risk slipping the knife. I think you'll find this way is a bit less intimidating :).

  5. Hey Kate,
    just wanted to let you know that i made the Phyllo Triangles as an appetizer for my potluck group on Monday and they devoured them. I made 30 for 11 ladies and there were none left for tom! thanks for the great recipe.

  6. Oh, thanks Nan! I'm so glad to hear that! Thanks for filling me in.