Sunday, February 28, 2010

Meyer Lemon Marmalade


Year after year, February seems to just buzz by at inexplicable speeds.  I’m beginning to think that somewhere along the line, the whole month got all tangled up in some sort of time warp, and that now, time in February actually accelerates.  How else can you explain how quickly it vanishes into March?  Certainly not by noting its unique number of days.  February is only two or three days shy of other months.  But every year it seems like I blink on Valentines day, and it’s already March when I open my eyes. 


Thanks to this mysterious time warp, I nearly failed to fulfill my preserve-a -month new years resolution.  And in only the second month of the year!  I was checking out at the fruit market this morning, when I suddenly realized it was February 28.  I suppose I’d already been vaguely aware that my preserve-making window was beginning to draw closed.  But I’d thought I had more along the line of days, rather than hours, to complete my monthly mission.  Realizing that I’d better act fast, and luckily being in the perfect spot to do so, I paid for my first round of groceries, then directly wheeled my cart to a gorgeous display of meyer lemons, the same ones I’d just happened to be coveting on my first go-through.


A cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, meyer lemons are bright with lemony flavor, but have hardly a pucker of lemons’ characteristic tartness.  The sweet fruit is a bit rounder than regular lemons too, an its thin, smooth skin is of a deeper yellow, nudging its way towards the orange region of the color spectrum.  The thin skin and sweet flesh make meyer lemons an ideal citrus fruit for all sorts of desserts.  And its kinship to the orange makes it a perfect candidate for marmalade.


So, on this last day of 2010’s shortest month, I made Meyer Lemon Marmalade.  The results were fabulous – a sticky-smooth jam with tender flecks of candied lemon peel, bright lemony flavor and a delicate sweetness - and the method was easy as can be.  I simply seeded the lemons, sliced them into skinny little triangles, simmered them in water for a little while, then added sugar and simmered it all for a little while longer.  That’s all there was to it.  It couldn’t have been quicker.  And that’s definitely a good thing, especially when time is already moving faster than it should!



Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Makes about 6 cups


about 8-9 meyer lemons (2 1/4 #)
6 cups water
5 cups sugar

Wash lemons in cool soapy water, then rinse really well in cool running water. Remove the stems and slice each lemon in half through the center of the fruit (not end to end, but like, around the equator). Remove the seeds.  Slice each lemon half into six wedges.  Thinly slice the wedges into little triangles. 

Pour 6 cups of water into a 5-quart sauce pot, and make a mental note of the height of the water surface along the side of the pot (This will make sense in a minute).   Add the sliced lemons and bring to a boil over medium heat.  When it comes to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reduces to about 6 cups (the level you’d noted before), about 45 minutes. 

Add the sugar and boil over medium heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 218-220°F.  This step can vary widely in length of time, depending on how hard you boil it, and how much liquid you had to begin with - Anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours or maybe even more – Just keep a close eye on the temperature.  And make sure you stir well before checking the temp, and try to get a reading right in the center of the mixture, definitely not too close to the bottom of the pan, or it will read high.

Once it reaches 218-220°F, you can ladle the hot marmalade into canning jars, and follow a basic canning procedure, in order to keep these at room temperature for up to a year.  Or you can cool the marmalade and keep it refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to two weeks.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Excuse to Cook Pink Food


This week’s dinner party was an off-site affair.  It took place in Toledo, at my favorite place in the world, my childhood home.  I was there for the whole week, so I took this little show of mine on the road, and cooked dinner in my parents’ kitchen last Sunday.  We celebrated Valentines day in style, with a very lovely (and very pink) three-course dinner. 

Cauliflower Cream Soup with Browned Butter & Pink Peppercorns

Grilled Lamb Chops with Red Swiss Chard Bread Pudding, Sautéed Radishes 
and Pine Nut & Roasted Grape Gremolata 

Raspberry Chocolate Truffle Tart

This was the biggest Scrumptious Company party yet, eight of us total – me, Mom and Dad,  my dad’s friend Bill, Bill’s wife and daughter, my little sister Mary and my brother-in-law Dan. 

You’ll probably notice that someone was missing.  Someone pretty important to the general theme of Valentines Day.  Ben, of course.  He was off camping in the Adirondacks. (Camping! Can you believe it?  My crazy mountain man - He loves winter hiking, even sleeping out in the sub-freezing cold!)  I’m hoping none of you are the sort to think it’s bad to spend Valentines Day away from your truest love.  I don’t think it’s bad at all, and Ben doesn’t either.  We’re just that kind of couple, you know? 

I’ve always loved the color-wearing holidays: green on St. Patrick’s, orange on Halloween, red and pink on Valentines.  This year, along with wearing a very cute red apron, I applied the Valentine color palate to my cooking too.  Pink peppercorns, red swiss chard, radishes and raspberries. It was all quite pretty.


Our first course, Cauliflower Cream Soup, had an understated elegance, a beautiful simplicity.  Pure white and achingly smooth, it was made of hardly anything more than cauliflower and cream.  Its taste was not complex- just the true essence of cauliflower.  Layers of flavor, and the real excitement, were added as a garnish at the end.  A rich swirl of  nutty browned butter, a sprinkling of crushed pink peppercorns, and a small bouquet of beautiful little cauliflower florets, caramelized to golden-brown.  Like a dazzling piece of jewelry paired with a simple white dress, the garnish stole the show.



Grilled lamb chops (cooked medium-rare, with pink insides) are straightforward enough, so let’s go straight to the sides.  The sautéed radishes - these are outrageously good.  Not at all what you’d expect from bitter-spicy radishes.  Slowly sautéed in butter, the flavors mellow out into such a rich and earthy deliciousness, you’ll wonder why you’d ever want to eat them raw.  What’s more, the bright red outside color seeps deep into the white inside, turning the entire orb a vibrant, nearly neon pink.  I love these.


Have you ever totally fallen in love with an obscure, all-but-unknown band, and then felt kinda sad when they suddenly hit it big.  They’re not just yours anymore – you have to share them with the world.  Well, I feel the same way about these sautéed radishes.  I’ve been a loyal fan for a long time, but in the last year I’ve begun seeing them on menus all over the place.  I guess it was bound to happen though - their talent is just too large to contain.  And really, all I am is happy – I’d love for everyone to taste how truly incredible sautéed radishes are. 


Now, the bread pudding.  I will make any excuse to have bread pudding for any sort of meal – brunch, dinner, dessert.  And I’ll add any and all sorts of ingredients too – mushrooms, nuts,  leeks, artichoke hearts, all kinds of cheese.  But for this red-hued dinner, I chose swiss chard, with its bright green leaves run through with veins of vibrant red.  Along with goat cheese and parmesan, sautéed onions, garlic and thyme, the pretty wilted leaves and prettier sautéed stems were folded into a rich cream custard, that soaked into every nook and cranny of toasted cubes of crusty french bread.  Baked until golden, you’ll pull this gorgeous casserole from the oven to a chorus of gasps and exclamations. 



The last touch to this main course was the Pine Nut & Roasted Grape Gremolata, whose sweet-tart voice sung in perfect harmony with the earthy tones of the bread pudding and rich notes of the radishes.  Whole red grapes are ever so slowly roasted, and as their inside juices reduce to an intensely flavorful, syrupy filling, they pucker and shrink into the most deliciously plump and juicy raisins you could ever imagine.  And then these are combined with toasted pine nuts, fresh parsley and mint, a touch of lemon zest and the littlest bit of garlic, then folded into a tart green grape juice syrup.  It sounds a little over the top, I know, but this interesting sauce was a favorite all around the dinner table.



And my mind races with other potential uses for these ungodly good grapes.  As a toping on vanilla ice cream. Or folded into oatmeal with a little brown sugar.  Maybe as a stuffing for pork loin, along with say bacon and goat cheese.  Or with blue cheese – they’d be perfect for a cheese course!  Or, baked in a pie!  Oh my gosh, these are officially my new obsession.


And now, segued in by the giant raspberry, it’s time for us to talk about dessert.  All I really need to say is this.  If you are a chocolate lover, you must try this recipe!  It couldn't be easier to make, but it couldn’t be more decadent either.  Fresh raspberries are arranged across the base of a chocolate cookie crust.  Then thick chocolate-raspberry ganache is poured over top. It fills the crust and swims between the berries.  They become engulfed in the chocolaty current, and ultimately drown beneath the dark sauce.  As the filling cools, it becomes the exact consistency of chocolate truffles.  And really, that’s all this is, a truffle.  A giant, tart-shaped truffle, with a chocolate cookie base and a filling of perfect, fresh raspberries. 



Before I close this week, I’d just like to say thank you, so much, to all of you who sent such sweet messages and emails and made such kind and lovely comments this past week.  And to those of you too, who became fans of Scrumptious Company on Facebook, thank you.  Your warm support, enthusiasm and encouraging words mean so much to me.  I can hardly find words to tell you how touched I am by your heart-felt sentiments.  In just one short month, this site has become something so dear to me, and it’s all because of you, my readers.  Thank you all, my virtual valentines.

Cauliflower Cream Soup with Browned Butter & Pink Peppercorns
Serves 4-6

1 large head cauliflower (about 2 – 3 pounds)
1/2 stick, plus 1/2 stick butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
kosher salt, to taste
about 1 Tbl pink peppercorns, crushed
about 1 tsp pink sea salt, to taste (optional)

Cut off the stem and green leaves from the head of cauliflower.  Break the head into small flowerets.  Reserve about 1/2 cup of especially pretty flowerets for the garnish.

Melt 1/2 cup butter in a medium soup pot.  Add the chopped onion, the cauliflower flowerets and about 1/2 cup water.  Season with a generous pinch or two of salt.  Cook slowly over low-medium heat, for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally and not allowing the vegetables to brown.  (Keep the lid off.)  Add enough water to just cover the vegetables and simmer over medium heat until tender, about 25-30 minutes. 

Remove from the heat, and allow to cool about fifteen minutes.  Blend the soup in batches, running the blender on high for about a minute and a half for each batch, until the soup is incredibly smooth.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve **.  At this point, the soup can be reheated and finished, or can be cooled and refrigerated in an air-tight container, until ready to serve. 

To make brown butter: Add 1/2 stick butter to a small sauce pan.  (A pan light in color will help you see the degree of browning, so don’t use a dark-bottomed pan, if you can help it.)  Over medium heat, and stirring or swirling occasionally, cook until the butter solids that fall to the bottom of the pan begin to brown, the liquid butter takes on a deep golden hue and the aroma is rich and nutty.  This will take about 5-8 minutes, or so.  Be careful not to cook too long, or the butter will burn and turn black. Remove from the heat and transfer to a heat-proof container.  At this point, the butter can be refrigerated in an air-tight container, and re-melted when needed.  Will hold about two weeks. 

When ready to serve: Add the strained soup to a clean soup pot.  Reheat over medium-high heat.  Add the heavy cream and stir to combine.  Taste and season with kosher salt.  Taste again and season with more salt if needed.  This is such a simple soup – All its success lies in it being properly seasoned.  Keep tasting and keep salting until the flavor just pops.  This is a hard concept to explain - You don’t want it to be salty, but you need enough salt to make the flavors really sing.   

To prepare garnish: As the soup reheats, heat a small sauté pan over medium heat and add about 1 Tbl melted browned butter.  Add the reserved cauliflower flowerets, season with a little sprinkle of salt (pink, if that’s what you’re using) and a pinch of pink peppercorns.  Sauté about five minutes, then add about 1 Tbl water.  Cook until cauliflower is tender, adding a little bit of water, as needed, so that they do not brown too much. 

To finish the soup:  Ladle hot soup into serving bowl.  Drizzle each with about 1-2 tsp melted brown butter.  Carefully arrange about 1 Tbl sautéed cauliflower flowerets in the center of each bowl, then sprinkle with a pinch of crushed pink peppercorns and a small pinch of pink sea salt, if using.

* I was totally wishing I had some pink sea salt on hand when I made this soup!  There was even some way up on the top shelf in my kitchen, just waiting for a good excuse to be used, but I was out of town.  Shoot!

** To achieve supremely smooth soups, a really, really fine mesh sieve is a must.  Without one on hand, I don’t think I’ve even bother with pureed soups.  I know it’s one more thing to add to your already-too-crowded kitchen cupboards, but it definitely makes a huge difference!  (Cheesecloth can work well too, but that can be such a messy bother.)


Grilled Lamb Chops

lamb loin or rib chops (these vary a lot in size & weight, so about 1-3 chops per portion)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Pre-heat the grill.  Here’s a way to tell if your grill is at the right temperature.  Hold your hand right over it.  If you you can keep it there for five seconds, it’s not hot enough.  If you can’t hold it there for even a second, it's too hot. 

When the grill is hot, pat the lamb chops dry with paper towels, then season both sides liberally with salt and pepper.  Place the chops presentation-side down on the grill.  Grill until well-browned on the first side, about 4 minutes.  Flip the chops over and grill to desired doneness, about 2-3 more minutes for rare (120°F ), 4-6 minutes for medium  (130°F ), and 8-10 minutes for well-done (150°F). 

Remove from the grill, and rest about 10 minutes, covered with a foil tent, before serving.


Red Swiss Chard & Goat Cheese Bread Pudding
Serves 10-12

Don’t think of this as a purely dinner sort of dish.  It would be super great for brunch too!

1 large loaf French bread, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes
3 bunches red swiss chard
1/4 cup butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbl fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
3 Tbl red wine vinegar
6 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 cup + 1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 # goat cheese, crumbled
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Arrange the cubed bread in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Place in the oven and toast very lightly, about 7-10 minutes, not allowing it to color, just to dry it out a bit.  Remove from the oven, cool and reserve.  
To prepare the swiss chard, trim off any discolored stems or leaves.  Separate the green leaves from the red stems by slicing down the length of the stem, along both sides.  Tear the leaves into large pieces.  Wash the leaves in several changes of cool water. Drain and reserve.  Slice the stems into half-inch pieces.  Rinse, drain and reserve.

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion, season with a good pinch of salt and a good few grinds of pepper, and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the sliced chard stems and cook until tender, about 5-10 minutes more.   Add the garlic, thyme and crushed red pepper and cook about 2-3 minutes.  Add half of the chard leaves and stir to combine with the onions and stems.  Cook about 1 minute until it begins to wilt, then add the rest of the chard and stir to combine.  Cook until wilted and tender, about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add vinegar and stir to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook until the liquid evaporates.  Remove from heat and cool for about 15 minutes. 

Add the eggs to a large bowl and scramble with a fork.  Add the cream, milk and and 1 cup grated parmesan.  Stir to combine.  Add the bread cubes, the chard mixture and the crumbled goat cheese and stir to mix completely.  If the bread doesn’t absorb all the custard right away, allow it to rest in the bowl for about 15 minutes to half an hour.  When all the custard is soaked up, pour the mixture into a 9x13” casserole dish.  Sprinkle evenly with the remaining grated parmesan.  At this point the bread pudding can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated until needed, up to one day, or baked immediately. 

Bake in a 350°F oven, uncovered, until custard is firm, and and the top is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow it to cool about 10 minutes.  Slice and serve hot. 


Sautéed Radishes
Serves 4

Sautéed Radishes are something I’ve wanted to make and tell you about, nearly every week since starting this blog. But unfortunately, they’re more of a Spring-time vegetable, so in attempt to stay true to the seasons, I was holding out ‘til Spring.  But then I just couldn’t resist – their coloring is just too perfect – so I had to make them for Valentines Day.  But I do have to say, they are definitely better in season.  So stick with Spring and Fall.  Don’t get me wrong - these were still delicious.  But just not quite as delicious as they could be, if picked and eaten when the timing is exactly right.

2 Tbl butter
2 bunches radishes, trimmed and quartered (if large) or halved (if small)
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
2 Tbl water (or chicken stock, if you happen to have it handy)

Over medium-low heat, melt the butter in a medium pot or sauté pan.  Add the radishes and season with salt and pepper.  Cook without browning until tender and pink throughout, stirring occasionally, about 20-30 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium-high, add water, and continue to cook about 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, and allowing the water to combine with the butter into a creamy, glossy sauce.  Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.  Serve immediately.


Pine Nut & Roasted Grape Gremolata
Adapted from Bon Appétit, September 2007 from
serves 4

1/2 # seedless red grapes, stemmed and washed
1/4 cup fresh grape juice *
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
2 Tbl fresh parsley leaves, thinly sliced
1 Tbl fresh mint, thinly sliced
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 small garlic clove, minced
1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat an oven to 250°F.  Spread red grapes over rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheet.  Roast for about two hours, until wrinkly but still plump, about half their original size.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool, without touching, to room temperature. 

In a small sauce pot, combine the grape juice, cider vinegar and sugar.  Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil.  Simmer until reduced to about 1/4 cup.  Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.  When cool, the syrup should be the consistency of runny honey.  If it’s too thick, add just a touch of water and stir to combine. 

When ready to serve, pick up the grapes from the baking sheet, one by one, using your hands, and add to a medium bowl.  (Do not scoop them up with a spoon or spatula - Be very gentle!)  Add the syrup, toasted pine nuts, parsley, mint, lemon zest, minced garlic and olive oil to the grapes.  Stir very gently with a rubber spatula, until just combined.  Serve at room temperature.

* You don’t need a juicer for this – Add a handful or two of tasty seedless green grapes to a food processor or blender.  Puree them, then press through a fine sieve.  Any leftover juice makes for a delicious drink.



Raspberry Chocolate Truffle Tart
Adapted from Luscious Berry Desserts by Lori Longbotham
Serves 10-12


9 oz chocolate wafer cookies, broken up into large pieces
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
4 half-pint containers of raspberries
15 oz bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped or in chips*
1 1/2 cups + 1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter the sides and bottoms of an 11” fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Add the chocolate wafer pieces to a food processor and pulse until finely ground.  Add melted butter and pulse until well combined.  Pour the crumb mixture into the prepared tart pan and press it evenly into the bottom and along the sides.  Bake until crust is set, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

In a clean food processor, pulse 1 half-pint container of raspberries, until just broken up.  Strain through a coarse strainer, pressing down on the solids to squeeze out as much juice as possible.

Add the chocolate and cream to a medium saucepan, and melt over low heat, stirring frequently.  When melted, remove from the heat and whisk in the raspberry juice and a pinch of salt. 

Arrange two half-pints of raspberries, hollow sides facing down, along the base of the cooled tart crust.  Pour the chocolate mixture over the berries and smooth the top with a rubber spatula, covering the berries and filling in all the spaces between.  Allow to cool at room temperature about fifteen minutes, then wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least six hours, or overnight. 

To serve, remove the side of the pan by pushing up on the pan base.  Slice into 10-12 wedges.  Top each slice with a dollop of whipped cream.  Divide the remaining half-pint of raspberries among the slices, and arrange on each plate.

For the Whipped Cream
1/2 cup heavy
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

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

* I went with moderately-priced Ghirardelli chocolate, and was not disappointed!  I combined all of an 11.5 oz bag of bittersweet chips with most of a 4 oz bar of semisweet, leaving a half ounce left over for a cook’s treat.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Something Super

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This week’s get-together needs very little in the way of introductions.  It was Super Bowl Sunday.  My mom and dad came over from Toledo, Matt and Sara came up from downstairs, and we all gathered around our poor excuse of a TV to watch the big game.  By the way, when you have the smallest TV of anyone you know, you had better be promising a damn good spread of food, if you want to host a Super Bowl party.  But no problem there.  This menu more than made up for our TV’s embarrassingly small surface area.

Spicy Artichoke  and Pepper Dip with Blue Corn Chips

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Bourbon-Brown Sugar Glaze and Tomato-Bourbon Aioli

Shrimp-Andouille-Okra Gumbo with Brown Rice

Oven-Baked Muffuletta Subs: Crusty Italian Bread, Sopressata, Capicola, Spicy Marinated Olive Salad, Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula & Melted Provolone

Caramel Nut Bars & Chocolate Brownies

Can you tell by the menu which team we were rooting for?  The Saints, of course!  But really, I didn’t care too much who won, either way.  I based my loyalty solely on cuisine.   I mean, really - Indianapolis versus New Orleans – there’s no contest when it comes to food.  To me, Super Bowl XLIV was simply the perfect excuse for a Cajun feast. 

But having said that, the first menu item was pretty bipartisan.  Non-partisan, actually.  This spicy spin on artichoke dip had no tie to either team.  An old (well, old-ish) family recipe, it could, I suppose, officially be considered Ohio cuisine, but definitely not Louisiana fare. 

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Nonetheless, this tasty dip fit seamlessly within my Big Easy menu.  Hot from the oven, with a bubbly crust of golden parmesan, oozing insides of melted pepper jack cheese, and pretty red and green speckles of artichokes and peppers, this charismatic dish would feel at home in just about any menu.  A far cry from a typical artichoke dip, with a subtle heat that brings it to a whole new level, it’s a family favorite for good reason.  Along with my mom, grandma and aunts, I can find an easy excuse to serve it for just about any occasion, from fancy dinner parties to casual get-togethers.  In my cache of go-to recipes, it’s a deliciously definite keeper.

But I must admit, tasty as it was, the dip was blown away by the bacon-wrapped shrimp.

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Wrapped in a crispy spiral of smoked bacon, and glistening under a sweet shellac of bourbon-brown sugar glaze, these incredible shrimp disappeared in the blink of an eye.  A pound of shrimp was a severe underestimation, and hardly came close to satisfying the six of us.  Really, I should have known, considering my dad’s champion-worthy shrimp-eating skills.  But truly, a bit of a shortage can be a good thing too.  It’s always good to leave everyone aching for just a little more ;).

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On their own, these shrimp were near perfection.  But dunked in the lusciously smooth tomato-bourbon aioli, they were out of this world.  Colored a creamy pinkish-orange, with a   green confetti swirl of chopped fresh tarragon, this sauce was as pretty as it was tasty.  And boasting a boozy undercurrent of bourbon and a tangy kick of  sweet tomato, it was a spot-on complement to the bacon-wrapped shrimp.  Next time you think of serving boring old shrimp cocktail, think of this instead.  I promise, you’ll knock the socks off of anyone who takes a bite.

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Next up, the gumbo.  Standing in for game day chili, this traditional Louisiana stew was a touchdown all around.  Chock full of all sorts of goodness – smoky andouille sausage, pink curls of sweet shrimp, mini green wagon wheels of okra and the holy Cajun trinity of onions, celery and bell pepper – and topped with a scoop of brown rice and good pungent pinch of sliced green onions, it was in my book, exactly what you want, when you want gumbo.  As far as gumbos go, this one earns a solid A, and from this day forward, this will be my official gumbo recipe. 

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But like the artichoke dip, the gumbo was a bit over-shadowed by the other dishes.  I have to say, the MVP of the day was the muffuletta sandwich. 

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Layer upon layer of spectacular ingredients, this sandwich was a sight to behold.  And it was so completely delicious, maybe the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.  Close to it at any rate.

I think the incredibleness of this sub all starts with the olive salad, a rainbow of vegetables – slices of deep purple kalamatas and drab olive-green olives, neon-green ribbons of spicy peppers, glistening pickled bright orange carrots and pale green celery, slivers of pure white garlic and jade green flecks of fresh herbs.  Like a bowl-full of jewels.  I hate to dwell on aesthetics, when it’s the taste that ultimately counts, but in my mind, the sheer beauty of this salad will always win out over its admittedly equal deliciousness.  Just look.

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So it all starts with the olive salad.  But every last component of this sandwich was equally important to its ultimate success.  The crusty Italian bread. The melty provolone cheese.  The deep pink ribbons of salty cured meats.  The peppery leaves of baby arugula.  And oh, the blistered and caramelized slow-roasted tomato slices.  Each delicious layer piled high atop the next, all of it hot and toasty from the oven.

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To add a bit of sweetness to our savory spread, I made my old favorite, chocolate brownies, and a new favorite too, caramel nut bars.  A recipe of Martha Stewart’s, these are absolutely one-hundred percent incredible.   With a flaky cookie base and a thick, gooey topping of salty golden caramel, all studded with toasted pecans, peanuts and cashews, these are the richest, most ridiculously decadent things around.  And when it comes to my favorite desserts, they take top honors in the bar category.  Maybe even above brownies.  Or maybe tied, I don’t know.  Maybe there’s no need to qualify their magnificence.

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Needless to say, the brownies and caramel nut bars were a perfect capstone in our Super Bowl smorgasbord.  And a great touch of sweetness in an altogether super night.

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Spicy Artichoke & Pepper Dip
Serves 4-6

Any sort of chip would work well here, or even crostini.  But I think blue corn chips are just so pretty.  And as far as chips go, they’re pretty sophisticated too. 

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1 can (14 - 15 oz) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped   
1 can (4 oz) pimentos, drained and chopped
1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilies, drained
1/2 cup mayonnaise
8 oz pepper jack cheese, grated
1/2 cup + 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 bag blue corn chips

Add chopped artichoke hearts, pimentos, chilies, mayonnaise, pepper jack and  1/2 cup Parmesan to a mixing bowl, and stir to combine.  Pour into a shallow baking dish, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over the top.  Bake in a 350°F oven until the top is golden brown and bubbly, about 25-30 minutes.  Serve with blue corn chips for dipping. 


Bourbon-Brown Sugar-Glazed, Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp
serves 4

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1 # large (31-40 per pound) shrimp, peeled & deveined, tails left on
12 oz bacon

For the Bourbon-Brown Sugar Glaze:
2 Tbl dark brown sugar
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl bourbon
2 Tbl water

To prep the bacon-wrapped shrimp:  Slice each bacon strip into thirds (Each slice will be about three inches long).  Gently pull a slice of bacon at its ends, to lengthen it a bit, then carefully wrap it around a peeled shrimp, trying to cover as much of the shrimp as possible with the bacon, but leaving the tail exposed.  Place the bacon-wrapped shrimp on a metal rack placed over a tin foil-lined baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining shrimp and bacon, placing each on the rack and leaving a bit of room in between.  Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, until needed.

To make the glaze: Combine the brown sugar and butter in a small sauce pot over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally , until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.  Add bourbon and stir.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Simmer 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat.

To cook: Preheat the oven broiler.  Brush the glaze over each shrimp, trying not to get too much on the shrimp tails.  Place the tray directly under the broiler.  Broil two minutes, remove from oven and brush again.  Broil until crispy on top, about two to four minutes more.  Remove from oven, flip over shrimp and brush other side with glaze.  Broil two minutes, remove from oven and brush again.  Broil until second side is crispy too. Serve immediately with Tomato-Bourbon Aioli.


Tomato-Bourbon Aioli 
Adapted from Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Crescent City Cooking is a great cookbook, chock full of incredible New Orleans style recipes.  I can’t recommend it enough.  It definitely came in handy tonight, as inspiration for this sauce, and for the olive salad too.

DP5 085 
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 c vegetable oil
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
juice from half a lemon
1 Tbl apple cider vinegar
6 drops hot sauce
1 Tbl cream
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbl bourbon
2 Tbl chopped fresh tarragon
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large mixing bowl, add the egg yolks and whisk until they are slightly foamy.  Slowly add the oil, just a few drops at at time, constantly beating with the whisk, until all the oil is incorporated and the mixture is thick and smooth, the consistency of mayonnaise.  Add the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, cider vinegar, hot sauce, cream, ketchup, bourbon and chopped tarragon.  Stir to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 


Shrimp-Andouille-Okra Gumbo with Brown Rice
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, May-June 1999
Serves 6-8

DP5 276 
1 1/2 pounds small (51-60 per pound) shrimp, peeled & deveined (shells & tails reserved) 
1 cup (8 oz bottle) clam juice
1/2 cup + 1 Tbl vegetable oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
12 oz frozen sliced okra (sliced about 1/2 inch thick)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbl fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup chopped parsley
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups steamed brown rice, hot
4 scallions, thinly sliced

In a medium sauce pot, combine reserved shrimp shells and tails with 1 quart water, and place over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat and strain.  Discard the shells and tails.  Combine the shrimp stock with the clam juice and 1 quart cold water.  Set aside.

Add 1/2 cup vegetable oil to a large Dutch oven or sauce pan, and heat on medium-high for about 2 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium, and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, stirring constantly to work out any lumps.  Continue stirring constantly, until the mixture turns a deep shade of brown (a mix between the colors of milk and dark chocolate) and gives off a toasty aroma, about 20 minutes.  Add the onion, pepper, celery, okra, garlic, thyme, cayenne, a good pinch of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.  Cook on medium, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes. 

Slowly add half of the stock mixture and stir vigorously to combine.  Add the rest of the shrimp stock mixture.  Bring to a simmer.  Decrease heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes.  (You may need to skim the surface from time to time, to remove any scum that collects on top.)

As the soup simmers, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat for two minutes.  Add 1 Tbl oil to the pan and heat one minute more.  Add sliced andouille sausage to the pan in an even single layer and sauté until crisp and golden brown on the bottoms, about three minutes.  Flip over the slices and sauté the other sides, about two more minutes.   Remove from the pan and set aside.  (If you have too much sausage to fit in a single layer in the sauté pan, do this in two steps.)  Once all the sausage is sautéed, add a quarter cup water to the empty sauté pan and bring to a simmer, scraping up any bits and pieces sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Simmer about two minutes, then pour these juices into the simmering soup. 

After the soup has simmered thirty minutes, stir in the sautéed sausage.  Simmer thirty more minutes.  Stir in the shrimp, then simmer until cooked through, about five more minutes.  Turn off the heat, and stir in the parsley.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fill serving bowls with a generous ladleful of  gumbo.  Top with about a third a cup of hot steamed brown rice.  Garnish with sliced scallions. 


Oven-Baked Muffuletta Sub Sandwiches
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, September 1996
Serves 4-6

There are a few key steps here.  Following them will ensure a truly transcendent sandwich.  First, make sure you use every last drop of the olive salad juice to really soak the insides of the bread.  Second, don’t skip out on dressing the arugula.  And third, seasoning with salt and pepper is absolutely necessary!  They’re all simple steps, but they go such a long way. 

DP5 307 
For oven-roasted tomatoes:
2 # plum tomatoes
kosher salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 200°F.  Slice tomatoes in half, lengthwise.  Remove the core and seeds.  With the tip of a sharp knife, prick the tomato skin about 8-10 times for each half.  Lightly season the cut sides with a sprinkling of salt.  Place the tomato halves, cut sides down, on a wire rack placed over a foil-lined sheet tray.  Roast until tomato halves are cooked through and slightly dried, but still quite moist, and the skins are golden brown and curling off, about three hours.  Remove from the oven and bring to room temperature.  Store refrigerated, in an air-tight container, until needed.  (Can be stored refrigerated for about a week.)

To assemble sandwiches:
1 sub-like loaf Italian bread (the soft inside / crusty outside kind), about two feet long
half a recipe of spicy olive salad (see right below)
1/2 # provolone cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 # sopressata (or any hard salami), thinly sliced
1/4 # capicola, thinly sliced
oven roasted tomatoes
3-4 oz baby arugula
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbl extra-virgin-olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Slice the loaf of bread in half, lengthwise.  Place both halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet.

Pour the olive salad into a strainer set over a small bowl and collect all the oily juice that runs off.  Brush this all over the cut sides of the top and bottom halves of the bread.  Be generous and really soak it in.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Layer half of the sliced provolone over the bottom half of the bread and the other half over the top.  Now, working just with the bottom half, spread the olive salad over the cheese.  Then top with an even layer of the sopressata and then the capicola.  Next, layer with the oven roasted tomato slices.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.  Bake in the oven until the sandwich is warmed through, and the cheese is melted, about fifteen minutes, rotating the pan half-way through. 

In a large mixing bowl, toss the arugula with the red wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Top the bottom half of the sandwich with the dressed arugula, and then cover with the top of the sandwich.  Carefully slice into four or six servings.  Serve immediately.  

DP5 301


Spicy Olive Salad
Adapted from Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer
Makes about 3 cups

DP5 055
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced in quarters, lengthwise
1 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced in quarters, lengthwise
3/4 cup chopped pickled Italian vegetables (giardiniera)
8 pepperoncini, stemmed and chopped
2 Tbl capers
2 small garlic cloves, sliced paper thin
2 Tbl chopped parsley
1 Tbl chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup finely sliced celery hearts (the insides of the celery)
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine everything in a mixing bowl.  Refrigerate in an air-tight container, at least overnight (to allow flavors to meld together).  Can be store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.  


Caramel Nut Bars
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook by Martha Stewart
Makes 18 3 x 2” bars

DP5 160 
2 sticks, plus 1/4 stick unsalted butter, room temperature (plus more for greasing the pan)
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 cup salted cashews
1 cup salted peanuts
3/4 cup light-brown sugar, packed
2 1/4 cup flour
1 Tbl, plus a pinch of salt
4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9 x 12” brownie pan, then line with a sheet of parchment paper, leaving a 1 inch overhang on the long sides. 

Spread the pecans, cashews and peanuts on another parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Place in the oven and cook until fragrant and slightly golden brown, about 15-20 minutes, rotating the pan about half-way through. Remove from the pan and cool to room temperature. 

Combine 2 sticks of butter with the brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium speed, using the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the flour and a pinch of salt and mix on low until just combined. 

Transfer the dough into the prepared baking pan.  Press the dough evenly across the bottom of the pan with the back of a wooden spoon, then cover with another sheet of parchment paper, and using a wine bottle or small rolling pin, roll along the length of the pan to smooth the dough.   Bake until lightly golden, about 15-20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool completely.

Combine the sugar, cream of tartar, a tablespoon of salt and a cup of water in a medium saucepan.  Without stirring, cook over high until the sugar is melted and begins to turn golden, about 5-7 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.  Cook until the sugar mixture is deep golden brown and registers 300°F on a candy thermometer. 

Carefully pour cream down the sides of the pan, stirring constantly until combined.  Remove from the heat, add 1/4 stick butter and stir to combine.  Transfer to a heatproof bowl and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Add the nuts to the caramel sauce and stir to combine.  Pour the caramel nut mixture over the cooled cookie crust.  Bake until the caramel is set, about 25-30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature  on a wire rack.  Cover with plastic wrap and cool in the refrigerator.  Cut into 3 x 2” bars.  Store refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 1 week. 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Something Special


Something about this week’s dinner was special.  It all just came together, as if with no effort.  It was simple and fun and easy, so easy that I hardly had to think about the details at all.  My mind could just rest with the fun of the evening.  Maybe, after a month of regular dinner parties, I’m simply on a roll.  Perhaps with all this experience, having guests over is nothing to sweat anymore.  It is getting a bit easier in that way, I suppose, but there was definitely something else behind the pleasant easiness of this particular week’s meal.  I’m not saying I know what that something else was.  And I like it that way too, not exactly knowing.  It lends a sort of mysteriousness to the whole night, a sense that some other element was at work, something just barely beyond our reach but most certainly there, something that aligned all the invisible cogs and wheels to set in motion the rare perfect evening.