Sunday, November 28, 2010

Turkey Tetrazzini with Spinach

can there be Thanksgiving every month ??

I love Thanksgiving leftovers. So many things you can make out of one meal...the hard part (for me anyway) is choosing which ones to make. Just plain turkey with Hellman's is heavenly, but Turkey Terrifics are even better...we call them "Turkey Terrifics" because there's a little deli near here that used to make them all the time and that's what they called them. Good bread for a base (a nice potato bread is perfect) for a base...then Hellman's (yeah, I'm picky about mayo...people around here tell me Miracle Whip is good too, but I don't talk to those people ;) )...turkey, stuffing (slightly warmed), and cranberry sauce. I love post-Thanksgiving omelets, too...turkey and leftover spinach are the basics, but other party guests are welcome too. When I lived at home I always threw in some Alouette Cheese, because my mom always had it around. Good stuff.

Eventually, though, you have to get back to cooking real dinners - and if you're like me, you still have a ton of leftovers, because you are crazy and like to cook at least twice as much as you need. Turkey Tetrazzini is a very popular home for Thanksgiving leftovers, and there are probably as many versions as there are cooks. The dish supposedly was named after the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini and created about 1910 by Ernest Arbogast, then chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California. Generations of cooks faced with way too much turkey have been grateful ever since. The basics of the dish are turkey and mushrooms mixed with a cream sauce, pasta, and Parmesan cheese, then topped with breadcrumbs and baked. Sherry and peas are common additions, but as I'm not a huge sherry and cream sauce fan (owing to an unfortunate Newberg incident in my youth) I use white wine. And since I tend to have Spinach Provencal left over...and since it already involves Parmesan cheese....and spinach and cream sauce are such good friends...I just use some of that instead. And OMG, is this stuff the bomb...absolutely fantastic.  I have included directions for making it with baby spinach instead, which I promise will come out just as good...guaranteed culinary orgasm !

oh, yeah....

Turkey Tetrazzini with Spinach

1 pound cellentani / cavatappi or similar pasta
1 pound sliced mushrooms
2 T dry white wine
1/2 C plus 2 T unsalted butter
1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 C milk
1 C cream
2 C chicken broth
4 C coarsely chopped cooked turkey
1 1/2 C leftover Spinach Provencal (or see Note at end)  
1 C freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1/3 C shredded Swiss cheese
Salt and Pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 C panko (breadcrumbs)

Preheat oven to 375°F, and start the water for the pasta

Cook the mushrooms in 2 T of the butter and the wine over medium heat, stirring, until all of the liquid the mushrooms give off has evaporated, 5-10 minutes. Set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt 1/4 C of butter. Stir in the flour, and cook the mixture over low heat, stirring, for 3 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until al dente.

Into the saucepan with the butter and flour, slowly whisk in the milk, cream, and broth. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 to 8 minutes.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and return it to the pot. Mix in the cream sauce, the mushrooms, the turkey, and the spinach. Stir in half the Parmesan and the Swiss cheese. Add salt and pepper , and a pinch of nutmeg to taste. Transfer the mixture to a large buttered casserole.

Melt the remaining butter, and stir in the bread crumbs and the remaining Parmesan. Bake the Tetrazzini in the middle rack of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it is bubbling and the top is golden.

Note : if you don’t happen to have Spinach Provencal made, this works just as well using an equal amount of baby spinach. If you go this route, chop a shallot and sauté it with your mushrooms, then stir the spinach into the mushrooms when they are just about done . Throw in another handful of Parmesan, too, when you're mixing everything together.

yes, this makes a lot - easily halved

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Menu

one heck of a spread !!

Had an absolutely wonderful Thanksgiving with my family. Most people would assume that as crazy as I am, I'd take over in the kitchen and do the whole thing. Surprisingly, that's not the case. For years, we had a tradition of going to my sister's Wednesday night, making pie and ordering takeout, then the three of us cooking the meal together the next day. Since she's moved out of state we don't do it as often, but this year we didn't have much going on at home, so we decided to pack up the kitchen and head on up. I am so, so glad we did....I almost forgot how much fun this was :). We're pretty casual about the meal itself (this year a few of us were in Pats shirts, and the meal was served at halftime). As long as there's seriously good food, we're happy.

I think this year was our best yet :)

Here for posterity, the menu...with links to some items and recipes. Will post a few more (well, mine at least) at some point...for now, I'm just impressed looking at it all together :)

Brined Turkey (we basically used this brine - the one from Alex's wild turkey - but used maple syrup instead of brown sugar)  - with plenty of gravy of course ! Mark and I did the brine earlier in the week, and Mark took charge of turkey maintenance this year. Best. Turkey. Ever.

Cornbread-Sausage Stuffing - usually we add pecans, but had to leave them out this year for health reasons...still an amazing stuffing though!! Truly the three of us together on this one.

Mashed Potatoes - pretty stock, says little sister, but she did use heavy cream instead of milk. Yum !!

Spinach Provencal - I have made this for every Thanksgiving I have ever cooked was from the very first cookbook anyone ever bought for me, the original Vegetarian Epicure. I was...eleven, I think. (Thank you LG...I still use this book constantly. As you can see :) ). This will convince even spinach haters to give it a try...I up the cheese a bit (maybe 1 1/3 cups, max), and I use baby spinach so I don't have to de-stem it.

Baked Acorn Squash - this is something my sister and I make all the mother taught us years ago. Halve and gut acorn squash, microwave 10 minutes cut side down and 5 cut side up (more if you're doing multiple...upside down until squishable, right side up until soft). When you flip them, add a generous pat of butter and seasonings...sister did them this year : brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon. I usually do maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Ginger, allspice, cardamom would work...go forth and spice it up !

Cranberry Sauces - we have to do both kinds. Most of us like my homemade, but some people - who shall remain nameless - insist on the canned kind - with lines, no lumps. So, we go both ways :)

Crescent Rolls - yup, the tacky refrigerated kind. I do make homemade bread and rolls quite often, but we end up doing these for Thanksgiving. Guilty pleasure, I guess...damn things really are addictive.

Corn - our youngest diner is a bit picky, so some plain corn for him. At least it looked Thanksgiving-y

Desserts were Maple Pumpkin Pie (mine) and apple pie (Mark's) - both using my crust - and a butterscotch Kaluha pudding pie, courtesy of my sister. Did plain whipped cream along with cinnamon...both tasty and delicious.

A note about wine...we had a serious amount of wine. For reds, Beaujolais Nouveau is perfect - comes out only at this time of year, and matches up beautifully with the typical Thanksgiving menus. We also did some Zinfandel and Shiraz....always fun to mix it up. For whites, we mostly had Rieslings - a nod to our German heritage that happens to go really, really well with turkey - but we also finally cracked open the perry (pear cider) from the Russell Orchards road trip. We were right, it goes perfectly with turkey as well.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving to you and yours...will leave you with some pictures. Thanks to all of you for reading along !!


spinach Provencal
apple pie

looks well done because of the sugar in the brine...really perfect though !!

Pumpkin Waffles with Spiced Whipped Cream...and J Pear Mimosas

Pumpkin Waffles with Cinnamon Spiced Whipped Cream

J Pear Mimosas

Started Thanksgiving off with a bang...after all, need to be well fortified for all that cooking :) Got the idea for the waffles from the amazing Pumpkin Pancakes at In a Pickle...basically, I used pureed pumpkin instead of water in standard waffles. (Same way I make Eggnog Waffles...that post will be next month :) ) Made the Spiced Whipped Cream I created for the Maple Pumpkin Sundaes...OMG, perfect perfect perfect ! My sister was kind enough to do up some great applewood smoked bacon she got...mmm yum.

The Mimosas are straight off the J Pear website...I know I've been talking about this a lot, but this stuff really is amazing. The first time we made a pitcher of these, we looked at each other and said "uh oh"...yes, that good :)

J Pear Mimosa

3 oz. champagne
1 ½ oz. J Pear Liqueur
1 oz. Tangerine Juice (or OJ. Tangerine is better, but we used OJ today and it was just fine..)

What a way to start off !!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Maple Pumpkin Pie

Sadly, I only have the BlackBerry, not the real camera...

Maple Pumpkin Pie

1 3/4 c pureed pumpkin (canned will work fine, I cook my own though....)
3/4 c maple syrup (real, please)
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ginger
1/8 t cloves
1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 c sour cream
2 eggs, separated

preheat oven to 425

unbaked 10" pie shell

puree all ingredients except egg whites in food processor
beat whites until stiff, fold into pumpkin mixture
pour into pie shell

425 for 15 minutes, then lower heat
350 for 45 minutes

Pie Crust

I don't make pie crust all that often, but when I do, I go all out....lard all the way, baby :). It just adds that something extra...the flavor is amazing and the texture is fantastic, plus the dough is very easy to work with. If you really are opposed to lard, use a combination of 1/2 cup Crisco (for the texture) and 1/4 unsalted butter (for the flavor)

2 c flour
pinch of salt
1 t sugar
2/3 cup lard, cold, cut into cubes
about 1/4 cup ice water (see directions)

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in food processor fitted with steel blade until mixed. Add lard, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Keep pulsing, and dribble ice water in until mixture pulls away from sides of bowl and you can ball it up. Remove from bowl and divide into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Makes two single crusts or one double crust.

Cranberry Sauce, CO style...

so yes, there is Thanksgiving food love going on...first up : cranberry sauce. I got this recipe out of the Boston Herald about a million years ago, and have made it for every Thanksgiving since. The combination of ingredients looks a little unusual, but I promise - this one always gets rave reviews.

Cranberry Sauce

1 1/2 c. sugar
3/4 c. water
12 oz bag cranberries
6 oz apricot preserves
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

In a large saucepan, bring the sugar and the water to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes; do not stir. Add the cranberries and simmer until they all burst. Remove from heat and add preserves and lemon juice. When cool, stir in the nuts.

Makes about one quart - keep refrigerated until needed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

one hell of a Cassoulet

in my article on crockpot cooking, Crockpot Conversations, I mentioned Cassoulet as one of the dishes that adapts very well to the crockpot . As I also mentioned, one of the really cool things about Cassoulet is that you can change around the ingredients to suit whatever you happen to have. Another thing I love about this dish is that you set it all up and basically forget about it...making it perfect for NFL Sundays. Today's version was so good, it gets its own entry :)

Basically, I followed my own recipe as written, with the following variations :

Used one bag of navy beans, and about a third of a bag of cannellini beans (to use them up) . Had to do the Quick Soak method, as I was too wiped out from Sprigs to do much prep last night.

Buried a smoked wild turkey wing in the soaked beans, then added about four cups of chicken stock and a cup of leftover sauce from the Sprigs chicken livers (saving the livers themselves for later in the process).

Let the beans simmer about two hours on high, then added chicken thighs that I had browned on both sides, three chorizo sausage links from Hager's (cut into quarters and browned), and the sauteed veggies as per my recipe.

After another hour on high, I stirred in the rest of the livers and turned the temperature to low .

Two hours later...the breadcrumb topping, with chopped fresh parsley mixed in, a loaf of fresh bread, and happy fed football fans.

Ah....Sundays :)

Cassoulet on FoodistaCassoulet


ah...Sprigs. Mark discovered this place quite by accident - some months ago he was trying to find a spot for a business dinner between two of his company locations, and this one popped up during a Google search. Once he saw the menu - and showed it to me - we knew we had to try it out. The restaurant is located in a rambling antique (218 years old) house in Acton - feels quite homey, a really cool looking bar and a number of smaller rooms with tables. Intimate, but still lively. The owners are amazing - so friendly, making sure every table is thoroughly enjoying the experience. Last time we were there, they were so excited about the liqueur used in my martini they brought me some from the bar just so I could try it (and yes, it really is that good -  J Pear, a pear eau-de-vie - totally hooked on it now.) 

Last night was our second trip, and oh, was even better this time, I think. The drink menu was in the process of being reprinted, but luckily we knew exactly what we wanted : the absolutely delightful Pear Martini, made with  that J Pear :

pictures for this entry not the greatest, as I only had the BlackBerry and didn't want to use flash...
We started off with an appetizer I mentioned in my Melting Pot review...Brie and Black Truffle Fondue drizzled with imported Italian White Truffle Oil.

Sex in a fondue pot...mmmmm....
This is what the fondue at Melting Pot wants to grow up to be...the minute this hits your mouth you can't help but start moaning. Ultimate Culinary Orgasm, for sure. Sprigs also serves a delicious Olive Tapenade with some very tasty warm bread...we did start off eating the tapenade, but ended up using the rest of the bread with the fondue...and then attacking the fondue pot with teaspoons. Yeah, it's that good.

really,'s great tapenade !!
Sprigs serves tiny scoops of sorbet between courses, which I just love. The table next to us got Peach Champagne Sorbet, which sounded lovely...but we got Spiced Pear Sorbet, which was absolutely awesome...I think it involved more J Pear, but would need more to know for sure. Our friend Ben needs to get busy with Sarah's ice cream maker and whip this one up pronto.

The main courses are really the perfect size...not overwhelmingly huge, but not tiny precious things either (I hate that). Mark went with what I got last time...Sautéed Chicken Livers with Veal Demi-Glace, Madeira, Mushrooms and a Gruyere- Leek Bread Pudding.

absolutely terrible picture of an absolutely heavenly dish

Words cannot express how good this actually is...yes, it's liver. Get over it :) The bread pudding is the perfect foil. Neither of us was able to finish the dish - it's so rich and filling - but we were very happy to try. Luckily, I have the perfect home for the leftovers, which will be the next blog post.

I'm not usually drawn to beef dishes, but for some reason the House Made Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Braised Short Rib, Creamed Spinach and a Truffled Demi-Glace just called to me...and I am ever so glad I answered. The ravioli were perfect - perfect filling to pasta ratio, perfect flavor, perfectly cooked. The short rib was melt in your mouth - exactly as it should be - and the creamed spinach accented the whole thing perfectly.

I need to learn to cook short rib, I think....
I should also mention the wine's huge, and really pretty reasonably priced, considering. We went with a 2007 Mauritson Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel which was absolutely perfect with both dishes.

Of course, there was no way we were going to skip dessert...this was a birthday dinner, after all - but we had to go light, and we had to split it. Lemon Raspberry Tart with a Citrus Short Crust, served with Blueberry Gelato fit the bill perfectly

lemon, blueberry, sweet, tart, perfect :)
So many things on this menu to try...really have to go back soon !!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

now this is a lunch

just what you need for an afternoon of Thanksgiving food shopping...Steamed O'Brien, Paddy's, West Newton. Pastrami steamed in beer, caramelized onions, Swiss, horseradish sauce. Onion rings and Guinness.

oh yeah baby !

Friday, November 19, 2010

Turducken Burger Sliders

Readers, I can't make this stuff up...this is, in fact, a pair of Turducken burger sliders. Ground Turkey, Ground Chicken, and Duck Confit...with cheese. Biltmore Cafe, lunch today.

Taste was actually pretty mild, surprisingly. Needs more confit, I think :)

Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake ! ! !

Michelle's Mousse Cake on left, White Chocolate-Amaretto Cheesecake on right

I love making birthday cakes. Well, I love all forms of cooking (and eating !), but there is just something special about desserts, and birthday cake in particular. Anticipation is high, the "ooh...ahh..." factor is ramped up, there's a lot more moaning and sighing...for me, it's just the ultimate reward...culinary orgasm, indeed :).

My brother and sister both have November birthdays, and ever since I can remember we've always had one birthday party for both of them. They actually don't seem to mind, but ever since I took over the duties of birthday cake I've always felt that it was important to make them each their own...gotta feel a little special, after all. Birthday "Cake" is in this case a loose interpretation...for a few years running, my sister got a Birthday Godiva Tiramisu...nothing wrong with that !

One of our family deals is that you get to pick whatever you want for your birthday dinner, and of course you get to pick your cake as well. My brother, for the past few years, has selected my White Chocolate-Amaretto Cheesecake. This cake is based on one from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook (one of my very favorite cookbooks...the original cheesecake, which is hazelnut based, can be found here ), and it was actually invented for my brother-in-law, who loves white chocolate and Amaretto. Basically, I swapped out the hazelnuts, hazelnut praline, and Frangelico/vanilla for slivered almonds, almond praline (or a mix of almond toffee bits and glazed almonds), and Amaretto. I am not a fan of white chocolate (seriously, why does it even get to be called chocolate ? Heresy !), but the qualities I dislike - the sweetness, the mouthfeel - actually work perfectly in cheesecake. Strange, but true. The first time I made this cheesecake and tasted the filling in the mixer, I knew I had a's just a perfect combination,  somehow even greater than the sum of its parts.

Half the order thus secure, I went about trying to collect the rest of it. I'm not sure if my sister was being indecisive or just trying to be easy, but all I could get was "surprise me...something chocolate", with random mutterings about mousse. While I'm all over making whatever the recipient wants, I do like whatever I make to be one sort of unit that I can stick candles in, so I didn't want to make dishes of mousse. But it seemed to me I should be able to find some sort of layered cake-mousse thing that would fit the off to search the interwebs I went.

After a lot of searching, the recipe I liked the best was Cooks Illustrated Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake (recipe here, but you have to sign up...various bloggers have also mentioned it, which is where I mostly read about it). Flourless chocolate cake for the bottom layer...chocolate mousse for the top two layers. Unfortunately, the recipe as written uses a white chocolate mousse for the top layer - which looked delicious, but I didn't want both cakes to involve white chocolate. The recipe I liked next best was Martha Stewart's Triple Chocolate Mousse Cakes ...the top layer on those was a milk chocolate mousse, but the cakes were individual, I didn't like the cake part as much, and (typical Martha) the mousses looked WAY more complicated than they needed to be. I love complicated (someday I'll post the rack of lamb that takes three days to cook and is worth every second), but I saw no need to coat myself in boiling sugar syrup, which I'm sure would have been a result of the Martha method. The CI mousses were much simpler and looked, I decided to darken up the first mousse layer (for more contrast), and make a milk chocolate mousse for the top layer instead of white by simply subbing out chocolates. In a word : WIN. This cake was and chocolately, but light and delicious. The three layers complimented each other beautifully. The only change I'll make next time is to put a round of parchment paper at the bottom of the pan, as the slices were a bit difficult to get off cleanly.

And so, another successful Scorpio party...happy birthday to the best little siblings anywhere :)

White Chocolate-Amaretto Cheesecake

As noted, if you can't find (or don't want to make) Almond Praline, a mix of almond toffee chips (aka Heath bits) and glazed almonds (such as Almond Accents Honey Roasted) works just fine...both are easy to find. Use about 2/3 cup of the Heath bits and 1/3 cup of the almonds. Also, if your springform is smaller that 10 inches you will have extra filling, as this thing puffs while it bakes. Have an extra pie plate graham cracker crust ready, pour whatever's left inside, and bake it until done. Someone will appreciate it I'm sure ! 

Ingredients :

1 cup Almond Praline
1 package (9 oz) chocolate wafers (Nabisco Famous are the most common brand)
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 T sugar
1 t cinnamon
14 T (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 pound good quality white chocolate, melted (microwave is fine)
1/4 cup Amaretto
pinch of nutmeg

Directions :

Process praline (or substitutes) in food processor until ground; set aside . Process wafers, slivered almonds, sugar and cinnamon until finely crushed. Butter 10 inch springform pan with 1 T of the butter. Melt 5 tablespoons of the butter and stir into the cookie crumb mixture. Set 3 T of this mixture aside to top the cake while it bakes. Press the remainder into the bottom and about 3/4 way up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate while you make the filling

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until light and fluffy (stand mixer is easiest for this part if you have one). Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then the egg yolk. Beat in the remaining 8 T of butter, then the white chocolate (cooled, but still melted). Mix in the Amaretto, the praline, and the nutmeg. Carefully pour the filling into the crust, about level with the crumbs.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours, sprinkling the reserved crumbs over the top after an hour. Let cool completely, then refrigerate until cold.  (For the look above, decorate with more glazed or slivered almonds before refrigerating).

Michelle's Mousse Cake

just perfection :)


For the bottom layer:
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces (plus extra for greasing the pan)
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¾ tsp. instant espresso powder
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
4 large eggs, separated
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

For the middle layer:
2 tbsp. dark cocoa powder (Hershey's Special Dark is perfect)
5 tbsp. hot water
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1½ cups heavy cream
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
Pinch of salt

For the top layer:
¾ tsp. powdered gelatin
1 tbsp. water
6 oz. milk chocolate chips (use really good quality milk chocolate - Ghiardelli are great)
1½ cups heavy cream

For garnish:
dark chocolate curls or shavings (I ran a vegetable peeler along the long edge of a Ghiardelli Bittersweet bar)


To make the bottom layer, butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.  (line the bottom of the pan with a parchment round for easy removal later.)  Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325˚ F.  Combine the butter, chocolate, and espresso powder in a double boiler, whisking occasionally until smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.  Whisk in the vanilla and egg yolks, and set aside.

Beat the egg whites and salt on medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds (again, stand mixer is perfect if you have one). Crumble half of the brown sugar into the mixing bowl with your fingers to remove any lumps.  Beat until incorporated, about 15 seconds.  Add the remaining brown sugar and continue to beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute more.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the beaten egg whites to the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining egg whites gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake until the cake has risen, is firm around the edges and the center has just set but is still soft (should spring back after pressing gently with a finger), about 14-18 minutes.  Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour.  Do not remove the cake from the pan.  (If not making the second layer right away, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to proceed.)

To make the second layer, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water in a small bowl; set aside.  Melt the chocolate (microwave works fine), stirring occasionally until smooth.  Once melted, remove from the heat and let cool slightly, 2-5 minutes.

Using clean beaters, whip the cream, sugar and salt on medium speed until the mixture begins to thicken, about 30 seconds.  Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 30-60 seconds.  Whisk in the cocoa powder mixture until smooth.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream to the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Pour the mousse into the springform pan over the cooled cake and tap gently on the counter 3 times to remove air bubbles.  Gently smooth the top with a spatula.  Wipe the inside edge of the pan to remove any drips.  Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes while preparing the top layer.

To make the top layer, sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let stand at least 5 minutes to soften.  Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl.  Heat ½ cup of the cream until almost boiling in a small saucepan.  Remove the pan from the heat, add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved.  Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate chips and let stand about 1 minute.  Whisk until the mixture is smooth.  Cool to room temperature, about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Using clean beaters, whip the remaining 1 cup of cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken. Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 30-60 seconds. Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream to the white chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Spoon the milk chocolate mousse into the pan over the middle layer.  Smooth the top with an offset spatula. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings, and return the cake to the refrigerator and chill until set, at least 2½ hours. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Crockpot Conversations

"what I got...I said remember that... ":)

by special request...more of an article, this time :) Never fear, recipes will be included at the end !!

I'm a relative newcomer to the wonderful world of crockpot cookery. I'm usually too far behind in the morning to do much (what with the sleeping, the working out, and breakfast with the kid...yeah, I should get up earlier, but 5:30 AM already seems too early !! ) and until a few years ago I didn't own a crockpot with an insert that I could fill the night before (sticking the whole thing, plug and all, in the fridge didn't seem like a great option.) My little sister was nice enough to upgrade my equipment one Christmas, which neatly took care of that issue...but then the problem was finding dishes that met my exacting C.O. standards. I want the good stuff - an aromatic, flavorful, hearty meal that can cook on low for the 9 - 10 hours I'm at work and not be overcooked. Through trial and error, I've discovered what works well for me, and what doesn't.

I think the first rule is that you have to go with the right cut of meat (unless you are doing a veggie dish like ratatouille...but that's more of a half day deal). Boneless, skinless chicken breast just doesn't seem to hold up well in a crockpot for 10 hours. I do often make whole chickens, which work out wonderfully...the trick with those is to get the biggest one I can jam in the crockpot, because it's going to be falling apart tender when it's done and the bigger ones retain a bit more structural integrity. Chicken thighs are the perfect crockpot denizens, as they have the flavor to stand up to long cooking.  Most ways I do the thighs involve liquid that pretty much covers them, so taking the skin off is indeed essential - not because it's better for you (which it is), but because submerged skin won't do that lovely crispy thing, even if you brown it first.

Speaking of browning, it really does improve the flavor substantially, so my second rule is that you should do it whenver the recipe calls for it and you have the time. I've skipped it and ended up with decent results, but it really does give you a much nicer dish.

Pork products are usually great in crockpot applications....well, maybe not pork chops themselves, though my mother has a recipe she's been trying to get me to make for years which she may tell you about :). Ham and sausages, though, are just perfect - usually with some sort of legume, a match made in heaven. The long cooking time just gets all of the love out of the pig and into the beans. By far, the best has been cassoulet...which is just all kinds of delicious anyway, and the crockpot makes it easy. One of the best things about it is it takes to so many combinations of meats...a combination of smoked, cured, and regular is what you're going for, but it doesn't matter which one is which. I know the next one I make is going to involve smoked turkey legs and a chicken liver stock, among other things. Usually cassoulet is topped with breadcrumbs before baking, but in the crockpot version you just toast up the breadcrumbs in some butter when you get home and scatter them over the pot. Mmmm.....getting excited just thinking about it !

I don't tend to do a lot of beef in the crockpot - I know beef stew is definitely a popular crockpot dish, but my guys love my regular beef stew so much that I think there would be a revolt if I changed anything. The one beef dish I do regularly make in the crockpot is Guinness Pot Roast. I was never a great pot roast maker until I came up with this's really simple and really, really, REALLY good. Both the pot roast and one of the chicken recipes call for onion soup mix, which brings me to my third and fourth rule - #3 is make sure you season well, and don't be afraid to taste and season again when you get home. A long stint in the pot can really dull some seasonings, and there's no reason for anything to be bland. While I am not a huge mix person, the onion soup mix really works well for crockpot  applications, as it holds up to long cooking and has plenty of flavor. Rule #4 is that you really don't need as much liquid as you think. The crockpot is sealed, so all of the lovely juices from your ingredients are going to stay right there and not steam off. Rule 4A is that if you do prep the night before, don't add the liquid until the next morning before you leave - you don't want that small amount of liquid to soak in before you get to cook with it !

And now the really good stuff...the recipes !

Coq au Vin

This is what started the idea for this article...last night's dinner. Adaptation from BH+G.

4 pounds  chicken thighs, skinned
olive oil
1 envelope onion soup mix (Lipton Golden is my personal favorite.
2 cups pearl onions (tricolor if you can find them; otherwise white work just fine) 
3 cups mushrooms - Baby Bellas cut in half work great
3/4 cup  red wine

Mashed Potatoes, for serving (my current favorite : red, skin on, with mascarpone, salt and pepper mixed in before mashing)


Lightly oil a large heavy skillet. Cook chicken thighs, several at a time, in the hot skillet until brown. Layer half the chicken, half the mushrooms, and half the onions. Sprinkle with half the soup mix, then repeat the whole thing. Right before cooking, pour wine over the whole thing. Cook 8 - 9 hours on LOW.

Chicken and Dumplings

another BH+G adaptation. This one takes 30 minutes when you get home for the gravy and dumplings, but it is so worth it.

2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped potatoes
2 leeks, chopped
1 cup chopped parsnips
1 clove garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 t dried sage
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground pepper
2 lbs boneless skinless thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 cups chicken stock
2 T butter
2 T flour

for dumplings :

1/2 c flour
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 egg, beaten
1/4 c buttermilk

For stew : combine vegetables in slow cooker and top with chicken. Pour stock over chicken, cook on low 8 - 10 hours. Turn heat to high. Melt butter in small saucepan and whisk in flour to make roux. Whisk in broth from stew, a ladleful at a time, until you have a nice gravy. Stir this back into stew.

For dumplings : combine dry ingredients and cheese. In a separate bowl combine egg and buttermilk. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, and stir until moist. Drop by large spoonfuls on top of stew, cover, and cook for 25-30 minutes until toothpick inserted in dumpling comes out clean.

Whole Chicken in Crockpot

1 cup celery sticks
1 cup baby carrots
1 cup pearl onions
1 small container baby potatoes, left whole  (I think they are 24 oz - clear plastic box)
1 whole chicken - 5-7 lbs
1 lemon, cut in half
4 - 6 cloves garlic
kosher salt
cracked black pepper

Spread veggies and potatoes in bottom of crockpot. Place lemon halves and garlic cloves in cavity of chicken. Sprinkle chicken liberally with salt, pepper and paprika. Cook on LOW 8 hours. Serve with Crockpot Gravy (see below)

Guinness Pot Roast

4-5 lb pot roast
1 envelope onion soup
8 small onions
1 small container baby potatoes, left whole
1/2 small bag baby carrots
salt and pepper
1 can Guinness

Salt and pepper roast, and brown on all sides in a skillet. Place on top of veggies in crockpot and sprinkle with soup mix. Pour Guinness over the whole thing. Cook 5 hours on HIGH or 8 -10 on LOW. Serve with Crockpot Gravy

Crockpot Gravy

Whisk 2 T flour and 2 T cold water until smooth. You can either then put this directly in the crockpot, turn to HIGH, and cover and cook until thick (10 minutes or so) - or, you can remove your cooking liquid to a small saucepan, heat it, whisk in the flour mixture, and simmer until thick. I prefer this method.

Ratatouille in a Crockpot

This is the recipe I usually use - . Comes out perfectly, and really - why mess with success ??

Crockpot Cassoulet
This is a basic recipe, well suited for swapping ingredients around or adding more of what you love. I love adding half a cooked duck (usually available at Whole Foods) for at least some of the chicken, and smoked turkey parts are nice too. Leftover ham works really well, as does leftover roast pork. Just make sure you have a mix…a ham type item, some poultry, and a sausage are what you need to make the beans sing.
2 ham hocks
2 cups dried white navy beans, soaked, drained and rinsed
1 T olive oil
2 onions,  chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, peeled and diced
1 sprig fresh rosemary or 2 tsp. dried rosemary leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves ( or 3/4 teaspoon dried)
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock or water (approx.)
6 (4 oz.) chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry
12 ounces Andouille sausage
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 T butter
1 T chopped parsley

In slow cooker stoneware, combine ham hocks and beans.
In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until softened. Add rosemary, thyme and bay leaf and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer mixture to slow cooker stoneware. Add meats, and chicken stock. Cook on low 8 – 10 hours.
For topping, melt butter in skillet. Add breadcrumbs and toast until golden. Mix in parsley, sprinkle over cassoulet.