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.


  1. This is beautiful. Everyone knows that raspberry with chocolate will eventually solve all of the world's problems. Kate for President!

  2. Thanks, ......! With chocolate and raspberry, you just can't go wrong. And chocolate and orange too, man oh man!