Time For The Holidays, Recipes & Hints for Christmas & Chanukkah

My first gift of the Season - a Nutcracker Chef from my daughter Brittany. I'll add him to my collection, but for now he will sit right here on my counter to remind me of all of my friends out there waiting for recipes!!!!!

   So, with Thanksgiving over, Christmas and Chanakuah are fast approaching and its time to start planning again.  My favorite part is planning our "7 Fishes" Christmas Eve (7 for the Sacrements).  So you will see that menu first.  For all of our friends who celebrate Chanukah, I have a few menu suggestions for that too.  On Christmas Day, we are usually out visiting and my cousin becomes the expert on that meal. But I will make suggestions and create a menu for you to sample, and I promise to beg her for the recipe for the famous meatballs. (We'll start with our Italian Christmas, then intersperse some different nationalities, and I'll get to Kwanzaa too. Many of the recipes have been in and out of the pages of the site, but here you will find them all in one place. The ones that are not my own will say so and refer you to the original website to help you plan better.  So enjoy the photos, menus and recipes & feel free to mix and match, or make suggestions as you please.  Then, just when you think you're all done, its New Years Eve, and its good luck to eat Black-Eyed Peas on New Year's Day. You see some photos below, and at the end you will find my recipe for that. Meanwhile, here are a couple of new recipes for this Holiday Season that I couldn't resist!  Enjoy & Happy Holidays.

  • HOPPIN' JOHN

  • BBQ BLACK-EYED PEAS

  • HAPPY NEW YEAR PEAS

Happy New Year Pinwheels

     This recipe is too good not to make for the New Year. Thanks to Beth at www.HungryHappenings.com. I didn't invent this one for Mediterranean Pinwheels, but I wish I did. I also love the idea that you can alter the ingredients to your taste. Here it is, from Beth, to me, for you, in its original form, perfect if you're having guests:
INGREDIENTS: 
2 tubes of Pillsbury Crescent Creations Seamless Dough Sheets 
1/4 cup veggie, spinach artichoke or plain cream cheese
2/3 cup chopped marinated artichokes 
2 tablespoons finely chopped sun dried tomatoes 
1/4 cup finely diced roasted red peppers 
1/2 cup feta cheese egg wash, 
1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water
INGREDIENTS: 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Unroll both tubes of dough. Spread half of the cream cheese on each dough sheet. Sprinkle half of the artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and feta cheese on each dough sheet. 
Roll up starting at the long end. Pinch seams together. Freeze for 15-20 minutes. Cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. 
Line a baking sheet with non-stick tin foil or spray a non-stick pan with baking spray. 
Arrange the pinwheels so that they write out "2014," (or whatever occasion you're celebrating). Brush egg wash lightly over and in between the pieces, where they touch, to help them stick.
Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Bake pinwheels for 18-20 minutes until golden brown. Slide off the baking pan onto a large platter or cutting board. Serve hot (they're even good warm or room temp.) 
Personally, I have to recommend a gift I got for christmas which I absolutely love, Its a flat warming tray large enough to hold 2 cookie sheets, and it actually works fantastically well. I'll highlight it atwww.debsfood.com, under Kitchen Necessities.

CHOCOLATE GINGERBREAD SURPRISE BEIGNETS

Gingerbread Chocolate Surprise Beignets from Half Baked Harvest!

      I’m starting with dessert this year!!  One look at the recipe for these heavenly gingerbread beignets was all it took for me to be hooked…and I can’t even bake.  It is impossible not to like these - they're fried, they taste like Christmas AND they can be made with a nutella surprise inside.  Yes, its a little complicated and time consuming, I know.  But its worth it.  Do what I do, get someone to make them for you!!!

INGREDIENTS
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (24 tablespoons) Nutella - optional
canola oil, for deep-frying
powdered sugar, for sprinkling
 
INSTRUCTIONS
     Mix the yeast, brown sugar and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Let sit for 10 minutes and allow the yeast to proof, it will foam up. Once the yeast is ready, add the eggs, salt, buttermilk, melted butter, molasses and vanilla.
     Add 2 1/2 cups flour, the ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and all-spice, mix on medium until combined. Continue adding the remaining 1/2 cup of flour slowly until it is all incorporated. Dough will be sticky. At this point begin adding a tablespoon of flour at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a smooth ball (about 4-6 minutes). If you don’t have a mixer, place the dough on a floured surface and knead until smooth, adding a little more flour as needed (about 8-10 minutes). The dough may still be a bit sticky, but shouldn’t be overly so.
     Spray a bowl with cooking spray and place the dough inside, cover with some plastic wrap on top. Let rise for 2 hours in a warm spot. When the dough is ready place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out into a square or rectangle.
To make unstuffed beignets: Roll to 1/4 inch thick. Use a pizza cutter, knife or pastry cutter to cut the dough into 3×3 inch squares (about 25 squares).
To make Nutella stuffed beignets: When the dough is ready place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out into a square or rectangle. Roll to 1/8 inch thick. Use a knife or pastry cutter to cut into 3×3 inch squares (about 50 squares).
Scoop out a scant teaspoon of Nutella and place in the middle of a square. Gently place another square on top and pinch the sides together. Fold each side in about 1/4 inch and pinch again. It is VERY important that the beignet is well sealed. If not, it could pop open while it fries and all the filling will spill out!*
Place a deep, heavy bottom pot on the stove and add enough oil to fill the pot about 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep. Turn the burner to medium and preheat the oil to 350 degrees F. I would recommend using an instant read thermometer so you know the exact temperature at all times.
Once the oil is ready, fry 4-6 beignets at a time depending on the size of your pot. Use a slotted spoon to flip them over every 30 seconds. Fry for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown on both sides. If they are taking longer than 3 minutes to brown you need to turn your burner up and make sure your oil is at the correct temperature. Remove with the slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining squares. Dust the warm beignets with powdered sugar on both sides.
Serve warm.

WARM HONEY, FIG & GORGONZOLA DIP (Serves 4)

Recipe adapted from and Photo credit to The Huffington Post

     The combination of fig, honey and gorgonzola, along with hot cheese is the perfect solution for my holiday cravings this year.  The mix of sweet and the savory is wholly satisfying atop a warm pita or flatbread.  Simply slice a pita into triangles, brush with melted butter and flaked salt. Toss it in the oven just until it’s puffy and warm.  This is guaranteed to be your most popular app this year!  hot, bubbly fig dip.

INGREDIENTS:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened
8 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 cup dried figs, chopped
3 tablespoons honey, plus more for drizzling
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 pita breads
freshly grated nutmeg
flaked salt for sprinkling
DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a bowl, mix cream cheese, mascarpone and gorgonzola with a spatula until creamy. Fold in the figs and honey, until evenly distributed.  Spoon the dip into an oven-safe bowl. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until warm and golden on top and bubbly. Top the dip with figs for presentation and a good drizzle of honey.
While the dip is baking, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Brush the pitas liberally and, if desired, sprinkle some nutmeg over top along with flaked sea salt. Slice each pita into 4 or 6 triangles, depending on their side. Place on a baking sheet and stick in the oven for 5 to 6 minutes, until just warmed through and fluffy.
Serve the dip immediately with the warm pita.

MUSHROOM, SAGE PESTO & GOAT CHEESE SOURDOUGH TOAST (Serves 4-6)

photo & recipe via Half Baked Harvest

 This is one of those combinations you would not normally see together, but once you try it you can’t stop eating it.  Its simple and fast because you can use store-bought basil pesto and just add sage! (recipe included for those of you who want to make your own - it takes only minutes). You should enjoy these warm, but if you’re making them for the holidays you can prep everything in advance and then just bake the toast right before guests arrive. Enjoy!
INGREDIENTS
1 cup store-bought basil pesto 
   *or see recipe below
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
8-12 ounces button mushrooms
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 loaf of artisan sourdough bread, sliced (use gluten free if needed)
6 ounces goat cheese
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
arils from one pomegranate (optional)
INSTRUCTIONS
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
     Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook for 5–8 minutes or until brown, add salt and pepper. Stir in the crushed red pepper flakes and the balsamic vinegar and continue to cook until the balsamic glazes the mushrooms, about 2-3 minutes. Keep warm.
     Meanwhile, mix the remaining butter with the garlic salt in a small bowl. Spread the butter onto one side of each piece of bread and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 5-8 minutes or until lightly toasted. Remove the toast and spread with pesto and goat’s cheese. Top with shredded fontina cheese. Place under the broiler for 1–2 minutes or until the cheese is melted and golden. Top with the mushrooms to serve. Add the pomegranate arils if desired. Sprinkle with sea salt.
*To make your own pesto
16 (1/3 cup) fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup raw kale
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
salt, to taste
Process the sage, kale, pistachios, parmesan, oil and salt in a small food processor until combined. Stir in the crushed red pepper flakes. Set aside. 

CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER

Christmas Table 2010

     In our family Christmas Eve is a casual time to get together with immediate family and close friends, and its full of fish.  "Seven Fishes" to be exact, for the Seven Sacrements.  We eat early, around 4pm or so, because everyone wants to get to sleep before Santa arrives, and some of our guests even want to get to Midnight Mass.  Since we want an easy clean-up, this is one of those times you can do wonders with plastic.  Plastic flat-ware now comes in silver, and looks just like your good flat-ware.  Then I find the most beautiful paperplates I can for that year, and place a clear plastic Chinet plates over it.  So you now have Christmas China!  When its clean-up time, everything goes in the trash (except your serving bowls!). 

Our Christmas Eve Menu goes something like this: 

Assortment of Appetizers:  Crab & Cheese Puffs; Lobster Spread & Crackers; Scallops Wrapped in Bacon (sorry about the meat for the devout); Potato Puffs; Eggplant Bites; Shrimp Cocktail.  All of this has been pre-purchased at Costco or BJ's, except the Shrimp, which I believe should be made fresh.

Dinner:  This would include Filet of Grey Sole Francese; Seafood (Scallops, Vongole Clams, Calamari, Mussels) Marinara (or fra diavolo if you prefer) over linguini; Jerk Shrimp Alfredo w/ Penne; Eggplant Rolletini (for non fish-lovers) and Zucchini Pie. 

Recipes to Follow:

CRAB GRATÍN W/ ANCHOVIES AND VÃSTERBOTTEN CHEESE, Serves 4-6

      Here is a wonderful Holiday treat. This Swedish gratin of shredded crabmeat is traditionally made using Västerbotten, a salty aged cows' milk cheese, but parmesan works well as a substitute. This recipe first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Saveur along with Corey Arnold's article Polar Harvest. Don’t be minding your calories when you make this one!!

INGREDIENTS
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tbsp. flour
¾ cup milk
½ cup cream
½ cup fish stock
1 lb. precooked king or snow crabmeat, defrosted if frozen and shredded into large pieces
¾ cup grated Västerbotten or parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 anchovy filets
INSTRUCTIONS
Heat oven to 425°. Grease a 2-qt. baking dish with butter. Melt butter in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook until soft, about 1 minute. Add flour; cook, stirring until smooth, for 2 minutes. Whisk in milk, cream, and stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook until slightly thick, 3–5 minutes. Remove from heat; fold in crabmeat, ½ cup cheese, salt, and pepper. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish; spread into an even layer. Arrange anchovies over top and sprinkle with remaining cheese; bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Real Maryland Crabcakes, (double this recipe for 12)

     Here is an easy and authentic version of this Maryland classic. The key to Maryland crab cakes is not to over mix and shred the crab, and not to add too much filling.  In this recipe, the crab speaks for itself!
Ingredients:
  • 1 pound backfin Blue crab meat or other lump crab meat
  • 8 saltine crackers
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire
  • 1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

Preparation:

  1. Carefully check the crab meat for any cartilage. Put meat in a bowl and set it aside.
    Crush the saltine crackers very fine and mix with all the other ingredients. Gently fold in the crab. Only mix enough to combine ingredients. You don't want to break up the crab into fine shreds. Shape into 6 crab cakes, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
    Heat about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan. Sauté until golden brown on each side. This will only take about 3-5 minutes per side.
  2. Garnish with tartar sauce, remoulade, or simply with a squeeze of lemon.

HONEY LEMON FISH (flounder, cod, sole, haddock, etc)

       For Christmas Eve, I usually make my Sole Franćese.  But, recently I found some fresh white filet (haddock or halibut) and came up with a fun and delicious recipe, quite by accident using just what I had in the pantry! It was too delicious, too healthy and too simple to not to share, yet elegant enough for your holiday table. So here is a treat for you: 
INGREDIENTS:
- Preheat oven to 375, Spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray, and add about 2 tbsp EVOO
- 2 1/2 lbs fresh white fish (your favorite - Flounder, Sole, Cod, Halibut, even a beautiful Sea Bass) about 1" thick, then blot dry and cut into about 3" serving size pieces.
-1 large Lemon
-2 tbsp Honey 
-Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper to taste
-1 c. (or so) Panko Crumbs & 1 tbsp Italian Seasoning. 
DIRECTIONS:
Cut Lemon in half, then cut one half of it in very, very thin slices. 
Put fish in baking tray and using your hands, rub around in the oil until fully coated, then sprinkle the Honey over the fish (I warmed it so it mixed in easily); along with the salt and pepper and the juice of the other half of the lemon. Now arrange the fish in individual pieces (its ok if they touch), and place the lemon slices in, under and around the fish. Mix the Panko with the Italian Seasoning, then sprinkle on top of the fish. Sprinkle with EVOO. Bake about 20 minutes (or less depending on how you like your fish. Mine was done in 15 min). 
Enjoy with a mixed greens salad.

BROILED RAINBOW TROUT, Serves 4 (can be used with any whole fish, referencing the filleting method above)

This photo of a beautifully filleted Trout is from Saveur Magazine. I have not done this myself since I was old enough to realize the Fish Monger would do it! But if you have a fresh catch, there's nothing like doing it yourself!

        Butterflied freshwater fish is slathered in butter and spices before broiling in this recipe from Tulsa's White River Fish Market. The traditional hush puppies are served alongside fish at the restaurant, which has been open since 1932. You could do a roasted rosemary potato (like Ina's spiral sliced potatoes, or a steak fry instead) This recipe first appeared in Saveur's August/September 2013 issue and we thank them at Saveur.com for the reproduction.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE TROUT:
½ tsp. granulated garlic
¼ tsp. celery seed
¼ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 whole fresh rainbow trout (about 10 oz. each), butterflied
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
Lemon wedges, for serving

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Make the fish: Heat broiler to high. Mix garlic, celery seed, oregano, paprika, sugar, thyme, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Place fish side by side on a baking sheet and lay open, flesh side up. Spread butter over fish and season with spice mixture. Broil until golden and cooked through, 2–3 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and hush puppies.
As for the Hush Puppies, given the amount of work involved, I would buy a large batch at Arthur Treachers or your local market. However, if you want to make them yourself, the Hush Puppies Recipe can be found at http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Broiled-Rainbow-Trout-with-Hush-Puppies.

How to remove bones and fillet a whole fish: (See diagram below)

1. Place the cleaned fish on a work surface with its belly facing you. Using kitchen shears, remove the back and belly fins.
2. Starting at the tail, slide the knife between the flesh of the fish and the lower edge of the rib cage. Make short gentle cuts toward the backbone, separating the meat from the ribs as you go. Turn the fish over and repeat this step on the other side.
3. Pull back the filleted flesh, exposing the ribs and backbone. Using kitchen shears, cut through the base of the ribs along the backbone.
4. Lift out the backbone and rib cage, and flatten the fish, skin down, on the work surface.)

 

SAUERKRAUT W/ WHITE FISH IN CREAM SAUCE (Serves 2 - 4)

In case you want to filet your own catch of the day, diagrams courtesy Saveur.com. See instructions above!

     Traditionally, this luscious French dish, choucroute au poisson, was made in Alsatian riverside villages, but today restaurants throughout Alsace serve a version in which filets of flaky, white-fleshed fish such as pike perch are pan-fried or poached and served on a bed of choucroute and topped with a creamy riesling sauce.  Here, readily available trout works beautifully, too.  Without regard to the fish you choose, the recipe is easy, yet looks elegant.  Can't go wrong with this one!

INGREDIENTS
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 (¼-lb.) piece smoked bacon, cut into ½" cubes
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp. finely chopped thyme leaves
½ tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp star anise
1 bay leaf
½ lb. raw Sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
1¼ cups white wine, preferably dry riesling (adds a bit of sweetness)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 (6–8-oz.) boneless skin-on trout filets  (I prefer to use boneless skinned filets, regardless of the kind of fish I choose.  Flounder, Sea Bass or Halibut are good alternatives)
¼ cup flour, sifted
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
Chervil leaves, for garnish (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a 10" skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Pour off all but 1 tbsp. fat. Reduce heat to medium and add half the shallots along with the thyme, cumin, star anise, and bay leaf and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in the sauerkraut, ½ cup wine, and ⅓ cup water and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover skillet, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauerkraut softens and the flavors meld, about 25 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and set aside; discard bay leaf and star anise. Keep warm.

2. Season trout filets with salt and pepper. Put flour on a plate and dredge trout in flour, shaking off excess. Heat remaining oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add trout skin side down and cook, flipping once, until golden brown and cooked through, 4–6 minutes. Transfer trout to a plate and loosely cover with foil. Return skillet to medium-high heat and add 2 tbsp. butter and remaining shallots. Cook until shallots are soft, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, pour in remaining wine, and cook until wine is almost evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add heavy cream and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat, and stir in remaining butter. To serve, divide sauerkraut between 2 plates and top each with trout. Spoon sauce around fish and garnish with chervil.

Zesty Fish Filet Casserole, Serves 10 - 12

30 minute meal and absolutely delicious!! (and I used baked fish, low fat cheese, and healthy request soup!)

       Here I was, running low on fresh food in the fridge yesterday, but I managed to work with what I had - and it turned out worthy of repeating.  So, here’s a freebie for you: fast & easy for any weeknight.  I switched some things up from the original recipe (which used cooked chicken) and surprisingly came out with a Zesty Fish Filet Casserole that the adults and the kids loved!    
INGREDIENTS
1 Family Size Pkg of Gortons Baked Fish Filets (about 8 in total)
1 pkg frozen diced onions & green peppers 
2 tablespoons oil
1 can Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (to taste, I prefer extra black pepper)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 to 4 cups crushed tortilla chips (I used a whole grain veggie chip) 
2 cups shredded Mexican style cheese or cheese of your choice
DIRECTIONS
Heat a large skillet and sauté green pepper and onion in the oil.  When the onions just begin to caramelize, add the tomatoes, cream of mushroom soup, chicken soup, chili powder, garlic powder, pepper, salt and cumin to the skillet. Mix well, and simmer about 10 minutes, then remove from flame.  
While that’s simmering, spray a 9”x13” baking dish with cooking spray, then add a layer of crushed tortilla chips, using half the chips.  Next, add a layer of your Frozen Fish Filets (they will cook in the oven), and and cover with half the soup mixture from your skillet.  Sprinkle on 1 cup (at least) of the shredded cheese.   Next, add the second layer of chips and the rest of the soup mixtures.  Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove foil and cook another 10 minutes at 400 degrees until cheese is browned, bubbly and crispy.  Enjoy!

"Buffalo" Blackened Salmon

     For quite sometime, my kids ate nothing but chicken nuggets and pizza.  But I noticed that they loved fried and spicy foods, and especially buffalo wings and chicken.  It struck me that if I could find a way to kick up dinner to a spice level that would appeal to them, they would try different things.  This was the first recipe I tried, and to this day "Buffalo" Salmon is one of their favorite dishes, summer and winter!**  I have been outside on Christmas Eve grilling this dish, however you can make it just as well inside in a grillpan or under the broiler.  Just be careful not to overcook the fish.  Quick & Easy, Healthy & Delicious, Kid Friendly.

1 Whole filet of Salmon, skin on, or 6 individual salmon steaks
1/4 c. olive oil
1 jar Paul Prudhomme's Blackened Redfish Magic
 
     Unwrap Salmon and rub lightly with olive oil and cover liberally with Redfish Magic. You will use all or most of the jar, as some of it will come off on the grill anyway. Rub seasoning into fish, and spray with Pam to help avoid sticking.
      If using the whole filet, cut in half and place fish on grill, skin side up. (for salmon steaks, both sides are the same). Cook on High 3-5 minutes until you can loosen fish easily, and carefully flip so skin side is down. You will need a BBQ spatula for this so the fish doesn't break. Cook another 3-4 minutes for rare, longer for well done, or if you want a crispier skin.
      Remove from grill and serve hot. You can put this over an herbed couscous and some grilled vegetables and have a gourmet meal or family style entree on your buffet in minutes.
 
**You can apply this technique to everything from fish to chicken wings to pork chops and steak.  I even put salsa in steamed cauliflower, along with a dash of hot sauce or Harisa.  The trick is to find the flavor your child likes and put it on the things they never eat.  Once they begin eating them, you can experiment with other flavors.  It really works!!

FILET OF SOLE FRANCESE

I'm going to give you my secret recipe for the perfect Fillet of Sole (or any firm white fish) Francese' and you are not going to believe it. I made it a number of times and I'm always asked for the recipe. So, I suppose I'll have to confess it:

4 large Dover or Lemon Sole Fillet (you can use slices of Cod, Haddock or flounder)
1 cup Egg Beaters (yes, egg beaters)
2 cups seasoned panko (or plain panko with Italian seasoning)
1/4 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or melted butter if you prefer.
1 jar of "FonzoMia" Francaise Sauce - a lemon sauce masterpiece - that is sold at Ivarrone Bros. Market. (only that one).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
If you are using the large sole or flounder cut into about 4-6 oz servings and season the fish with salt and pepper. If you are using a thicker fish, slice it into about 2 inch wide slices.
Dip each piece in the Egg Beaters, then in the panko, thoroughly coating the fish, then place in a greased (or pam'd) glass baking tray. (9x13) Use the one you will serve the fish in. You should have about 2 rows of fish the long way, maybe enough room to squeeze a few more in crosswise.
If your fish is thinner, or for the smaller pieces, you might want to roll them a bit so all the pieces are about the same size and they cook evenly in the pan.
Drizzle with olive oil and Bake about 30 minutes, just until the fish is lightly browned and flakey.
Meanwhile, heat the jar of Francaise sauce in the microwave and when the fish comes out of the oven, pour about half the jar over the fish, making sure to get a bit of sauce on each piece. Add some thinly sliced lemon in and around the pieces. Pour the rest of the sauce in your own gravy boat and serve with extra lemon wedges for squeezing.
It looks beautiful and tastes light and delicious. The fish is healthy and not swimming in sauce, and your guests can add more if they like.

**Grilling Note: In the summer, you can grill your fish instead of baking it. Be sure to oil it well, season with salt and pepper, and do not use the crumbs. Take it off the grill, and cover with hot sauce. A sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley, or cilantro for a little bite, and you're done!
***Note: Credit to Isabella's of Statesboro for the Photo. I'll make you all some soon!

PESCADO ENCARCELADO (Fish stuffed with Pico de Gallo)

     This clean, flavorful preparation of whole fish stuffed with pico de gallo preserves all the fish's natural juices. Mullet is typically used, but red snapper works just as well. This recipe first appeared in our August/September 2012 issue with Beth Kracklauer's article "In Full Bloom."

INGREDIENTS2 tbsp. minced jalapeños

2 tbsp. minced jalapeños
4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 plum tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
1 medium white onion, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 (1-lb.) whole red snappers, cleaned and butterflied
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
 
INSTRUCTIONS
1. Combine jalapeños, Worcestershire, tomatoes, and onion in a bowl; season with salt and pepper, and set pico de gallo aside. Heat broiler to high.
2. Place each fish, backbone side down, on a 12" x 12" square of foil, and crimp foil around bottom of fish to form a canoe shape. Season fish with salt and pepper, and divide pico de gallo between fish cavities. Transfer fish packets to a rimmed baking sheet, and broil until fish is cooked through and charred at the edges, about 15 minutes. Serve fish with lime wedges for squeezing over before eating.
 
**From this same source I have to also refer you to one of my favorite (but maybe even too complicated for me) recipes:  Chicken with Mole Sauce. (Use Shrimp instead of Chicken and you won't believe your tastebuds!)
This clean, flavorful preparation of whole fish stuffed with pico de gallo preserves all the fish's natural juices. Mullet is typically used, but red snapper works just as well. This recipe first appeared in our August/September 2012 issue with Beth Kracklauer's article In Full Bloom.

DEB'S OWN JERK SHRIMP ALFREDO, W/ LINGUINI

Jerk Shrimp Alfredo, over Linguini. For Christmas Eve, Omit the Sausage.

1 1/2 lbs spaghetti or preferred pasta
2 boxes Margaritaville frozen shrimp
 
2 packages turkey kielbasa or sausage, sliced  (optional)
1 package frozen pepper strips
1 package frozen chopped onion
1/2 box fat free chicken broth
2 cans Healthy Request cream of mushroom or chicken soup
Directons:
Cook pasta as directed and reserve, along with 2 cups pasta water.
In large saute pan cook shrimp until coating is melting and shrimp begin to thaw, add chicken and kielbasa. Just as shrimp are almost done add frozen onions and peppers, cream of mushroom soup, and chicken broth, cook until all is melded together and reduced slightly.
Add pasta to pan, along with enough pasta water as necessary to reach desired consistency.
 
You will not need any additional seasoning, as the jerk shrimp provide all you need. If you cannot find the jerk shrimp, you can use plain fresh or frozen shrimp, and a store bought seasoning instead.
You may add a can of diced tomatoes if you like that taste.
You may add half cup cream cheese if you prefer a more creamy taste.

Seafood Marinara w/ Linguini

     This is a favorite pasta dish in our house, and there is never a Christmas Eve without it - thats when I add scallops, baby (vongle) clams, and sometimes crab to the sauce. We've got to get to those 7 fishes after all!
This one is simple and made with just a few very basic ingredients. In fact, its so simple, you can serve as a complete entree along with a green salad and a slice of fresh Italian bread any day of the week. The key is to be sure you don't overcook your seafood.
 
1 lb linguine
1 lb calamari (squid), cleaned
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 c. diced onions (frozen is ok)
4 tbsp garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or to taste)
2 26-ounce containers crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 good handful chopped parsley
 
Separate the tentacles from the calamari bodies. Remove any hard cartilage from the base of the tentacles or interior of the "tubes" and slice the bodies into 1/4" rounds. Rinse the calamari in cold water, drain very thoroughly and refrigerate until you are ready to add it to the marinara.
Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling for the linguine.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute' until translucent and the just begin to caramelize. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and sauté until the garlic is fragrant and golden, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves and oregano. Season lightly with salt (not too much salt here because you don't want to draw the moisture out of your fish) and freshly ground black pepper. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
After the marinara has simmered for about 25 minutes, add the linguine to the boiling water and cook until al dente, drain and place in a large serving bowl for family style, or plate individual portions. Keep warm. (I would add a bit of the plain marinara sauce to the linguini here just to keep it moist and prevent it from sticking together.)
Remove the bay leaves from the marinara, taste and add seasoning if necessary. (If you are using clams and mussels, be sure they are scrubbed clean and de-bearded and add them now, cook about 5 minutes at a low boil. Then, add the calamari at the end and simmer just long enough for it to turn opaque, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the fresh parsley. Ladle the sauce over each portion of cooked linguine.
Recipe Notes:
As mentioned in the intro paragraph, the key to perfection with this dish is to be sure that you don't cook the seafood to the point of being rubbery. Look for the calamari to turn opaque and lose its gelatinous quality. On a medium simmer, 3 minutes should really do it.
 
recipe & photo credit mygourmetconnection.com.

EGGPLANT ROLLETINI

Photo by www.beacheats.blogspot.com

3 lb container whole milk ricotta
2 eggs
1/2 c. parsley
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp fresh ground pepper
 
20 Slices Eggplant Fried
You can purchase this already made in any gourmet market. When I make my own, I peel of most but not all of the skin, and slice the eggplant lengthwise in slices about 1/4 inch thick, dredge in flour and shake off the excess, dip in a mixture of 2 eggs and 1/2 c. water whisked together, then in seasoned breadcrumbs. Don't use panko here. Then I place on large cookie sheets and bake, turning once, for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees.
     **For a lighter, low calorie version, don't bread your eggplant, just slice as above and bake on a cookie sheet with a bit of salt and pepper for about 10 minutes at 450 degrees; then use part skim cheeses.
 
4 c. Marinara Sauce: You can use the recipe above, just take some of the sauce out before you put the fish in.  Recipe - Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute' until translucent and the just begin to caramelize. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and sauté until the garlic is fragrant and golden, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves and oregano. Season lightly with salt (not too much salt here because you don't want to draw the moisture out of your fish) and freshly ground black pepper. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
 
Directions:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 19 baking/serving dish with cooking spray, and spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom. Mix together ricotta, eggs, parsley, parmesan, salt and pepper. Once the eggplant are cool enough to handle, lay one out on a flat plate and place about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture close to the narrower end of the eggplant, the roll narrow side up, covering the cheese, and continue to the top. Note: You will need to adjust the amount of cheese in each one depending on the size of the slice of eggplant, and your taste of course. Then place the eggplant rolletini in the baking dish, seam side down. Continue until all the eggplant and cheese is used up. Do a single layer only, and if you need more room, get another tray. When all your ingredients are used up, cover lightly with dollops of marinara sauce and a sprinkle of grated parmesan, then bake uncovered for 20 - 30 minutes.
Enjoy

Celebrate with "The Titanic" (I want to be on this one when it goes down...)

Titanic Brownies & Ice Cream Dessert

     If there ever was a reason to start off with dessert, this is it!  Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwanzaa, Birthdays..., you name it, this dessert will make everyone happy.  It looks like a celebration to me before you even take a bite.  So, thanks to my niece Jill and her friends for coming up with this beautiful dessert she ironically calls, Titanic.  I heartily suggest it for your holiday piece de resistance at the dessert table:

    It couldn't be simpler. Brownies on the bottom (your choice I suppose, store-bought or homemade; blondie or brownie); then your favorite ice cream flavors, and toppings of your choice (the possibilities are endless - strawberries, bananas, sprinkles, m&m's...), and don't forget the whipped cream!  Then stick in a few pirouette cookies, and put some candles in the piroutte cookies.  Now you're set to light up the party!!

Thanks Jill!

     CHANUKKAH or HANUKKAH, a festival of lights celebrated for eight days and nights, is also celebrated with a festival of food - and we have a sampling for you, both traditional and non-traditional.  In fact, in remembrance of the miracle of the Temple oil, Hanukkah meals traditionally feature lots of fried foods like latkes. That’s right, Hanukkah is an excuse to eat a bunch of yummy fried stuff. How great is that?? The menu below is just a suggestion and, as always, if you have a wish for something different, take a look at the other pages throughout the website.  If you still can't find it, drop me a note and I'll find it for you! 

CHANUKAH RECIPES, recipes and photos adapted from www.foodnetwork.com

Gravlax w/ The Works

Did you ever imagine making your own Gravlax from scratch, starting with the fresh salmon?  You could go out to your favorite Gourmet market and but it already cured; however, its not that difficult if you want to make it yourself:
Ingredients For the Gravlax:
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated grapefruit zest
2 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice
2 10-to-12-ounce center-cut skin-on salmon fillets, pin bones removed
1 bunch dill, chopped
Ingredients For Serving:
4 hard-cooked eggs, whites and yolks separated
Sliced pumpernickel cocktail bread
1 small red onion, minced
1 bunch chives, thinly sliced
1/4 cup capers
1/4 cup prepared beet horseradish
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
Directions
Coarsely grind the fennel seeds, peppercorns and coriander seeds in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Transfer to a bowl and mix with the salt, sugar and grapefruit zest and juice.
Place the salmon fillets side by side, skin-side down, on a large piece of plastic wrap. Scatter the salt mixture over and around the fish. Top one fillet with the dill, then put the other fillet on top, skin-side up. Pat any extra salt mixture all over the fish. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and put the fish on a plate. Cover with another plate and put 2 or 3 heavy cans on top to weigh it down. Refrigerate 2 to 3 days, flipping the salmon daily.
Unwrap the salmon and rinse under cold water to remove the spices and herbs. Pat dry with paper towels. Slice the salmon at an angle as thinly as possible with a sharp knife.
Before serving, press the egg whites through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Repeat with the yolks. Arrange the salmon and bread on a platter. Put the chopped onion, chives, capers, beet horseradish and radishes in separate bowls for toppings.
Enjoy!!

Sephardic Chicken Soup w/ Sofrito & Herbed Matzo Balls

Ingredients For Saffron matzo balls:
8 large eggs
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chicken fat, melted (schmaltz), plus 2 tablespoons, for optional garnish
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup freshly chopped parsley leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups matzo meal
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
Ingredients For Soup:
1 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) chicken
4 quarts chicken stock
Ingredients for Sofrito: (this you can get pre-made in the supermarket)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup quartered cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 cup diced (1/4-inch) red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced (1/4-inch) green bell pepper
2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro leaves
4 garlic cloves, minced
Small pinch saffron
1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce, optional
 
Directions
To make the matzo balls, bring a large pot of salted water or chicken broth to a boil over high heat. Whisk the eggs, oils, chicken fat, water, parsley, salt, garlic powder, and pepper in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, add the matzo meal and sift in the baking powder. Mix together, then fold into the eggs. Cover with plastic wrap, pressed tightly against the batter and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
Moisten your hands lightly with water and form the matzo mixture into 24 walnut-sized balls. Carefully drop the matzo balls into the water or broth. Reduce the heat to medium and partially cover. Simmer gently until the matzo balls are cooked through, about 40 minutes. Using a skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the matzo balls to a large bowl of cold water.
Meanwhile, make the soup. Bring the chicken pieces and stock to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat, skimming off the foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, until the chicken is tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the soup. Remove and discard the skin, shred the meat into bite-sized pieces, and reserve the meat until service. Return the remaining bones back to the broth and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes more to further develop the soup's flavor.
While the soup is simmering, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, tomatoes, red and green peppers, cilantro, garlic and saffron. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables in the sofrito are tender, but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the hot sauce, if using. Set the sofrito aside.
When ready to serve, strain the soup and discard the bones. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the sofrito and chicken pieces. Add the matzo balls and simmer until the matzo balls are heated through, about 5 minutes. (The soup and matzo balls can be prepared up to 2 days ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated. Reheat before serving.)
Ladle the soup, along with sofrito, chicken and matzo balls into bowls and serve hot, with an optional drizzle of the additional melted chicken fat (schmaltz).
Notes
Note: If you are concerned if the oils or other ingredients in these recipes are suitable for Passover, seek non-dairy substitutes or ingredients that are certified kosher for Passover.

LATKES (Potato Pancakes)

Recipe & Photo by AllRecipes.com

The best latkes are golden and crunchy on the outside, soft and tender on the inside. This potato pancake is traditionally eaten at Hanukkah, but they're a treat anytime you crave crispy, savory potato cakes.
For best results, use russet potatoes. They are high in starch, which is necessary to form pancakes that don't fall apart. If you peel the potatoes before making latkes, put them in water between peeling and shredding to prevent oxidizing and discoloring.
In this recipe from Allrecipes.com, "Shredded potatoes and grated onions are bound with flour, salt and eggs, then fried in oil to make delicious potato pancakes that are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside."
Ingredients:
2 cups peeled and shredded potatoes
1 tablespoon grated onion
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup peanut oil for frying
Directions:
1. Place the potatoes in a cheesecloth and wring, extracting as much moisture as possible.
2. In a medium bowl stir the potatoes, onion, eggs, flour and salt together.
3. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Place large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Let drain on paper towels. Serve hot!

ROASTED SWEET POTATO RISOTTO, Serves about 4

photo How Sweet It Is and The Huffington Post.

     I can't say enough about this beautiful, creamy and rich risotto recipe from "How Sweet It Is."  Its simply one of my favorite dishes...any time of year!
INGREDIENTS
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 1/3 cups dry white wine
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons brown butter
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs: sage, parsley + rosemary
DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a bowl, combine chopped sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper, nutmeg and smoked paprika, tossing well to coat. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, tossing every 8-10 minutes. Remove and mash until pureed (or you could use a blender or food processor - I just used a potato masher), then set aside.
[Note: while the potatoes are roasting you can do other things, like cook the bacon or chop the fresh herbs to get it out of the way.]
Heat a small saucepan over medium-low heat and add chicken or vegetable stock. Heat until hot. If it begins to boil, turn down so it is no longer boiling.
Heat a larger saucepan or even a dutch oven over medium heat. Add in remaining olive oil and butter (not the brown butter), then add shallots with a pinch of salt. Stir to coat and cook for 2-3 minutes until soft, then add in garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Increase heat slightly and add rice, stirring to coat. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring 2-3 times until the rice is translucent and begins to toast. Reduce heat to medium-low and add in wine. Continue to stir as the rice absorbs the wine. When most of it is absorbed, add in about 1/3 of the warm chicken/vegetable stock. Repeat the process, continuously stirring until the stock is absorbed, then add another 1/3. Repeat until all of the stock is used and absorbed and the rice is cooked, making sure to take a spoonful and taste test. The whole process will take about 20-25 minutes. If the rice is still too chewy and dense, heat a bit more liquid and add it again, stirring. The rule I go by is to add enough liquid just to cover the very top of the risotto.
Once the rice is cooked to your liking, reduce heat to low and stir in about 3/4 cup the sweet potato puree. Take a few minutes and really stir so it is well-absorbed. Stir in parmesan cheese and brown butter, mixing to combine. Taste and season additionally if desired, but remember that you are going to add bacon on top!
To serve, place the risotto in a bowl and top with some additional cheese, a sprinkling of herbs, the crumbled bacon and then more herbs and cheese if desired. Serve immediately!

Roast Chicken w/ Orange or Apricot Glaze

Ingredients
One 5- to 6-pound chicken, giblets removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, halved
2 tablespoons orange marmalade or apricot preserves
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Directions
For the roast chicken: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pat the chicken dry and place breast-side up in a large roasting pan fitted with a wire rack. Mix together the olive oil, marjoram, smoked paprika, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Gently loosen the skin over the breast of the chicken and rub a little of the mixute under the skin. Rub the remainder of the mixture all over the outside and inside of the chicken. Put the halved onion inside the chicken cavity and tie the legs together with butcher's twine. Tuck the wings underneath the chicken.
Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh not touching bone registers 165 degrees F, or until the juices run clear when the tip of a knife is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours, basting the chicken with pan juices a few times during the last hour of roasting.
Mix the marmalade and vinegar together and brush over the chicken. Roast for an additional 5 minutes to set the glaze. Let the chicken rest for 30 minutes.

Sweet & Sour Brisket

Ingredients
1 (6-pound) brisket, upper portion
Salt
Vegetable oil
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
Few stalks celery, cut into big chunks
3 medium onions, peeled and cut into eights
Cloves from 1 head garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
26-ounce box strained tomatoes (recommended: Pomi)
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
 Directions
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Rub brisket generously with salt and vegetable oil.
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil to evenly coat pan and when the oil is hot and is just beginning to smoke, add the brisket and brown on both sides. Transfer the brisket to a shallow baking dish. Add the vegetables to the saute pan. Cook until they brown and start to soften, about 5 minutes. Then pour the vegetables over the brisket.
Whisk together the tomatoes, sugar, stock and vinegar in a mixing bowl then pour it into the same saute pan. Cook for a few minutes to get all the flavor out of the skillet, and then pour over the brisket. It should be at least 3/4 of the way submersed in the liquid. Cover the dish loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 8 to 10 hours until tender and the meat begins to fall apart. Slice thinly and serve with veggies and cooking liquid.

Classic Noodle Kugel

     This was always one of my favorite dishes when I was younger and we would visit dear friends during the holidays.  It brings back warm and loving memories and, as it turns out, is not so difficult to make.  Enjoy this recipe from The Food Network:
Ingredients
2 large onions, diced (to make 2 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound cream cheese
12 ounce package egg noodles
1 cup golden raisins
1 cube chicken bouillon
1 pound (pint) cottage cheese
1 pint sour cream
6 eggs
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter or butter substitute
Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a pan, saute the onions in oil until browned and caramelized. Put the cream cheese in a large bowl and pour the hot onions over to melt. In the meantime, in a large pot of boiling water, cook the noodles until done. Drain and add to the mixing bowl. Stir in the raisins, bouillon then the cottage cheese and sour cream. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. Mix into the noodles. Season with salt and pepper. Lightly oil a casserole and add the mixture. Dot the top with the butter. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes

SPINACH GRATIN, Serves 8-10

     Spinach is often on the menu at our house, and for the Holidays, this gratin is just perfect and the addition of potatos means it takes the place of two dishes. Adapted from Food52, its creamed spinach with a crunch! The onion bechamel adds a luxurious touch you won't be able to resist.
INGREDIENTS
For The Gratin
4  tablespoons unsalted butter
2  medium-sized yellow onions, chopped
1/4  cup unbleached flour
3   cups organic whole milk  
1/4  teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinches of cayenne
1 and 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
3  16 oz. bags of organic, chopped spinach - thawed
1/2 to 1  teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2  teaspoons ground white pepper
For The Panko Topping
2  tablespoons unsalted butter
1 and 1/2  cups panko breadcrumbs
Sea salt, to taste
DIRECTIONS
     Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Squeeze the liquid from the thawed spinach, handful by handful. Set aside.
     Heat milk to simmer in saucepan. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add onions and cook until just wilted, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes.
     Whisk in the hot milk until it thickens. Add the nutmeg and cayenne. Turn off the heat. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Taste and correct seasoning.
     Add the spinach and mix in well. Pour into a 9X11 glass or ceramic baking dish. Prepare crumb topping by melting butter in medium skillet. Add panko, sprinkle with sea salt and stir until lightly toasted. This occurs quite suddenly so do it with the heat off. Gently smooth the toasted panko on top of the gratin. Cook for 30-35 minutes until bubbling.

Ina's Roasted Asparagus

Ingredients
2 pounds fresh asparagus
Good olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Break off the tough ends of the asparagus and, if they're thick, peel them. Place the asparagus on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, then toss to coat the asparagus completely. Spread the asparagus in a single layer and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast the asparagus for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender, but still crisp.

CHRISTMAS DAY DINNER

  • Whether you're setting your table with good china, or

  • Your most elegant floral displays, of a combination of

  • Glass & plastic, make it festive!

When your table is set with love, it will always be filled with family and treasured memories...

     Christmas Day dinner is one of the most important meals of the year, and generally lasts for hours. The table will be beautiful and will accommodate as many as possible. Again we take out our good china and silver or flatware (or the best plastic facsimile we can find!). Family, friends, adults and children of all are all welcome and encouraged. This is a festive and happy day of celebration when we get to see the relatives we haven't seen all year, watch the kids open presents and generally spend the day socializing and relaxing. Well, except for the cook I suppose.
     On Christmas day we start just after lunchtime and  the First Course is often a classic cold antipasto with cuts of cured meat, garnished with olives and cheese. This may be combine with or substituted by a hot antipasto, depending on your own preference.
     When the Second Course, a pasta course, is brought out, we find an array of wonderful Pasta or Pasticcio al Forno—a baked pasta full of surprises. This type of baked pasta is more common in the central southern regions of Italy. In the north, Lasagnas, and Pasta Bolognese reigns supreme, along with a huge variety of filled pastas like Stuffed Shells and Ravioli. Cannelloni with different fillings, baked with besciamella and ragù, are also popular. Though today, you're just as likely to see spaghetti & meatballs, gnocchi pesto, or cavatelli with garlic and oil as we develop our own alternatives to the classic choices.
     Finally, for a Third and last course, meat is de rigueur: roasted veal or leg of lamb, braised beef or roasted chicken with potato croquettes, or ham. These meats are always accompanied by a green vegetable such as a saute of spinach with garlic & oil, broccoli rabe, swiss chard and the like; roasted potatoes or croquettes, and a light salad.
     In this section, I will give you a small sampling of these dishes. You will find many more in the individual recipe pages of the website. Have fun, and remember to save room for dessert and coffee!
(reproduced with the assistance of www.mangiabenepasta.com; Thank you Dolores for the beautiful table settings.)

Antipasto Caldo

     Antipasto means “before the meal” in Italian and is the traditional first course in an authentic Italian menu. It is a wonderful combination of ‘mini-bites’ of food that are meant to stimulate the appetite at the beginning of the meal.  You could serve this course with a soft and fruity, medium bodied Merlot.

Antipasto Freddi:  Ingredients
1/2 Pound sliced Genoa salami; 1 sliced tomato; 1 large white onion, sliced in rings; 2 roasted red bell peppers, cut into strips; 1 Pound sliced provolone; 2 cans black pitted olives
1 can baby corn on the cob; 1 small jar of Pepperoncini peppers; 2 stalks of celery; 1 can rolled anchovies; sea salt to taste; extra virgin olive oil; parsley sprigs for garnish.
Directions:    1.Using a long serving platter, arrange the ingredients in the following
order: Salami, provolone, tomato, onion, red peppers, and anchovies.
2.In the center of the tray, place the baby corns and the olives.
3.Cut the celery into sticks and place in between each antipasti ingredient.
4.Sprinkle sea salt on all of the ingredients and then drizzle the oil
evenly. Put the antipasti, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours
to enhance the flavors.
5.Remove, garnish with parsley sprigs, and serve at room temperature

Another example of a different Cold Antipasta from www.sicilianculture.com):
Assorted Italian Cheeses, Assorted Olives, Assorted Sliced Vegetables, Shrimp Cocktail, Seafood Cocktail Salad.  This would be combined with an Antipasto Caldi (Hot Appetizers), including: Stuffed Artichokes, Stuffed Mushrooms and Stuffed Peppers or the like.

Hot Antipasto Platter

ANTIPASTO FREDDI (HOT ANTIPASTO)

A Stand Alone Hot Antipasto recipe from Pillsbury:

2 cans (8 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated crescent dinner rolls or 2 cans (8 oz each) Pillsbury® Crescent Recipe Creations® refrigerated seamless dough sheet 4 oz thinly sliced salami 4 oz thinly sliced Swiss cheese 4 oz thinly sliced pepperoni 4 oz thinly sliced American cheese 4 oz thinly sliced capocollo (cured Italian ham) or cooked ham 4 oz thinly sliced provolone cheese 2 eggs 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1 jar (12 oz) sliced roasted red bell peppers, drained 1 can (2 1/4 oz) sliced ripe olives, drained 1 egg yolk, beaten
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 13x9-inch pan or spray with cooking spray.
2. If using crescent rolls: Unroll 1 can of dough into 1 large rectangle; place in pan. Press in bottom and 3/4 inch up sides of pan to form crust, firmly pressing perforations to seal. If using dough sheets: Unroll 1 can of dough; place in pan. Press in bottom and 3/4 inch up sides of pan to form crust.
3. Layer all meats and cheeses in order listed over dough. In small bowl, beat 2 eggs, the garlic powder and pepper with wire whisk until well blended. Pour over meat and cheese layers. Layer roasted peppers and olives over top.
4. If using crescent rolls: Unroll second can of dough into 1 large rectangle; press into 13x9-inch rectangle, firmly pressing perforations to seal. If using dough sheets: Unroll second can of dough; press into 13x9-inch rectangle.
5. Place over top of layered ingredients. Pinch edges to seal. Brush beaten egg yolk over dough. Cover with foil.
6. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil; bake 15 to 20 minutes longer or until deep golden brown. Cool 15 minutes before serving. Cut into 6 rows by 4 rows. Serve warm.
OR
A Large Platter filled with Hot Eggplant (grilled, rolletini or parmigano); rice balls, baked clams oreganata, fried or grilled shrimp, grilled peppers, stuffed mushrooms, stuffed peppers, stuffed artichokes cut in pieces, etc...)

PASTA, PASTA, PASTA

Pasta Sampling Photo by tastecatering.com

 Pasta is as integral a part of a formal Italian Christmas as is Grandpa's homemade wine!  The recipes are as varied as the personalities of the family members themselves.  However, I would bet that if you took a vote, this would be everyone's favorite course.  Myself, I'm a traditionalist and I beg every year for my cousin's famous Cavatelli and Meat Sauce w/ Meatballs.  What can I say?  But, the possibilities are endless and here I will give you a sampling.

BASIC PASTA & SAUCES

photo: eatocracy.cnn.com

Pasta, as you know is divided into different shapes and sizes, and its not all just for fun.  Some shapes are better for certain sauces than others.  Light sauces like garlic & oil, lemon basil, clam or seafood sauces often are best over Linguini - a long flat noodle perfect for twirling the pasta around the tines of a fork along with that flavorful sauce, keeping a spoon at hand to scoop up the soupy sauce left in the dish.  Shaped pasta like penne, shells, fusilli are best for those sauces that you want to cling to the pasta and get caught in the nooks and crannies of the shape, like a pasta fagioli, vodka sauce, meat sauce or cream sauces. 

So, lets start with some sauces

1. First thing, if you happen to be using Gnocchi (a potato or ricotta dumpling), that would be best with a SIMPLE LIGHT TOMATO SAUCE. Saute' a few tablespoons of garlic & a handful diced onion in a bit of olive oil, add fresh diced tomatoes and fresh basil and heat, toss in pasta or Gnocchi then take it off the stove.  Add fresh shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Done. You don't need a lot of measurements here. You can even use canned diced tomatoes if that's all that is available. With this one, you can't go wrong.

2. PESTO SAUCE RECIPE:
Pesto is a fresh sauce made from basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, cheese and olive oil. This pesto sauce recipe is perfect for pasta and gnocchi.

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried (about 1 large bunch)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Combine all the ingredients except the cheese in a food processor. Pulse until the pesto is blended into a slightly coarse paste. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cheese.To serve with pasta, you can toss the cooked pasta directly with the pesto. Or, if you want to thin out the pesto sauce a little, add a spoonful or two of the hot pasta water to the pesto, then toss with the cooked pasta and serve right away.

    3. MEAT SAUCE RECIPE
    This classic Italian meat sauce is amazing for spaghetti and other pasta as well as lasagna. This meat sauce recipe is made with ground beef and pork for a rich, meaty flavor. Sometimes we will use meatballs instead of ground beef, or for a different flavor, chicken insteat of beef and pork.
  • 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes, with liquid
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¾ lbs. ground beef
  • ¾ lbs. ground pork
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp dried basil (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp dried parsley (or to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil for a minute over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots, and sauté for a bit until the onions are translucent but not brown. Add the tomatoes and the garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, uncovered, until the sauce is slightly reduced.
  • Meanwhile, brown the meat in a separate skillet in a small amount of oil. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Add the browned meat along with the stock and herbs, and water if necessary. Simmer for 1 hour, uncovered.
  • Adjust thickness with additional stock if desired. Season to taste with Kosher salt and sugar, and serve right away.
  • Makes about 2 quarts of meat sauce

4. ALFREDO SAUCE RECIPE
The classic Fettuccine Alfredo is made with this alfredo sauce recipe. Add some cooked chicken to make Chicken Alfredo. As you can see, the list of Alfredo Sauce ingredients is pretty basic. But the flavor will come through in a big way.
2 cups heavy cream
1 stick butter
1½ cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

  • In a large sauté pan, heat the butter and cream over medium-low heat until it starts to bubble. Lower heat and simmer gently for about 15 minutes or until the sauce has reduced somewhat. Remove from heat and cover.
  • Add the cheese and toss until fully mixed. Adjust consistency with additional cream if necessary.
  • Stir in the chopped parsley. Season to taste with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss with the hot cooked pasta of your choice and serve right away.

5. TOMATO CREAM SAUCE
This simple tomato cream sauce is perfect for any kind of pasta.

  • 2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes, with liquid
  • 4 oz (1 stick) butter
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the butter for a minute over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots, and sauté for a bit until the onions are translucent but not brown.
    Add the tomatoes and the garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, uncovered, until the sauce is slightly reduced.
    Add the cream and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Season to taste with Kosher salt and sugar and serve right away
  • Makes about 2 quarts of tomato cream sauce.

 NOW FOR BAKED ZITI OR LASAGNA:   In our family, we make our Baked Ziti differently than what you would get in an Italian restaurant. It is layered like a Lasagna. In fact, this is the same recipe you would use for Lasagna, so if you want to make Lasagna instead, simply substitute Lasagna sheets (even the no cook ones) for the Ziti. Enjoy.

Ingredients:
 
2 boxes of Ziti or Penne pasta
1 large container of whole milk Ricotta
2 packages of whole milk mozzarella (packaged, not fresh)
2 eggs
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
handful of parsley
salt and pepper to taste
2 jars, or about 4 cups of homemade marinara sauce (recipe above)
 

Directions:  Preheat oven to 450 degrees
     Boil the Ziti as directed on package, so it will be al dente. It will cook more in the oven.
     Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the ricotta, mozzarella (sliced and cubed, not shredded), parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper and 2 eggs beaten. Mix well.
     Note: We do not use shredded mozzarella because it melts into the cheese and disappears. We want to see and taste all the elements of our food.
In a large casserole dish or lasagna pan, cover bottom with a layer of sauce. Then add a layer of Ziti, enough so the bottom of the pan is entirely covered at least half an inch. Then spread enough of the cheese mixture (about 1/2) to cover the pasta, and cover with sauce. Repeat these steps of Ziti, cheese, gravy once again, then end with a layer of Ziti. If you have extra cheese mixtue, dot the top with it, or sprinkle with parmesan. Cover pasta and cheese with a light coating of gravy.
(Leave about 1/2 inch to the top of the rim for the pasta to expand, so it doesn't boil over in the oven.)
     Cook covered for about 45 - 50 minutes until hot and bubbling, remove cover and cook 10 minutes more for a crispier top.
    As noted, if you want to make a Lasagna, just substitute lasagna sheets for the Ziti. You can even use the no cook ones, which work fine and are much easier to work with.
     As a variation, you can make this recipe with a meat or bolognese sauce. Or, add a layer of siced or small meatballs or shredded short ribs on top of the cheese layers.

As I mentioned, the possibilities with pasta are endless, and as you search through the Italian Pasta pages, the Casseroles and other International Dishes, you will find more and more.  Have fun with Pasta.

CHRISTMAS IN GERMANY

Leipzig Christmas Market, Germany.

A GERMAN CHRISTMAS DINNER, with recipes from http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/German

A wonderful and extensive sampling of recipes can be found at A Taste Of Home's website, so I am going to show you some of my favorite photos, and refer you there for a larger sampling if you are looking for authentic German fare for your holiday!

Main Course, Meats & Potatoes, and Veggies of Course!

Tenderloin of Beef with Creamy Garlic Sauce from www.tasteofhome.com

     Christmas in Germany is not much different from our typical American Christmas or Thanksgiving Day.  Big family size roasts, baked potatoes of all sorts, starchy vegetables and some greens for show!  You have been grazing on luscious appetizer delicacies and then, your host tells you its not even near time for dessert and from the kitchen comes this delicious aroma, savory and spicy, and despite yourself you wonder what it can be.  So, save some room because you are probably in for some sort of fantastic spread, be it a roast pork, spiral ham, stuffed turkey, leg of lamb or even a huge roast of beef.  You never know what your main course might be, but you do know it will be accompanied by garlicy greens, a sweet salad, and some sort of potato dish. 

     For this section, you will have to pick one or two of your favorite main courses from the hundred or so recipes on these pages, pair it with your favorite sides, and be sure you can make it ahead and keep it warm.  Because if you are hosting this grand dinner, you are not going to want to start cooking again after the first two courses of eating and cleaning!  If you are the guest, then my only advice is pace yourself.  ....there is still dessert to come.

POLISH CHRISTMAS RECIPES, courtesy www.pwaa.org.

WIGILIA, A POLISH CHRISTMAS

     Tradition calls for twelve courses to be served during Wigilia. All the dishes are meatless and should be made from foods that come from the four corners of the earth: forest, sea, field, and orchard. Polish cooks over the centuries had to be very resourceful, working within these limitations, and it is a tribute to their creativity that they came up with such a rich variety of recipes based on root vegetables, dried mushrooms and dried fruits, potatoes and cabbage, local fish, and flour-based pastries and dishes, such as kluski and pierogi.

     These recipes are loved by Poles everywhere and in spite of the fact that Christmas Eve is no longer a day of fast and abstinence and even though fruits and vegetables as well as imported seafood are now widely available, on this day the traditional recipes are lovingly prepared in kitchens all across Poland and around the world. A sampling of these recipes follows.

     I am not even close to an expert in Polish cooking, and I don't claim to have ever attempted recipes for pierogies, beet soup or mushroom cabbage rolls.  However, those recipes and more scrumptious delicacies can be found, along with additional information, at http://www.pwaa.org/Polish_Christmas_Recipes.htm.

The Jena Christkindlmarkt or Christmas Market in Germany

  • Beer & Gouda Pretzel Appetizers

  • Beef Stew with Dumplings

  • Apple Kielbasa Kebabs

  • Classic Beef Stroganoff

  • Apple Dijon Pork Loin

  • Au Gratin Sausage Skillet

KWANZAA, Festivities And Recipies

  • Apple Plum Streusel

  • German Ginger Bars

KWANZAA

      Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach, author and scholar-activist who stresses the indispensable need to preserve, continually revitalize and promote African American culture. Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one, thus available to and practiced by Africans of all religious faiths who come together based on the rich, ancient and varied common ground of their Africanness.

     Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles.) These seven communitarian African values are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). This stress on the Nguzo Saba was at the same time an emphasis on the importance of African communitarian values in general, which stress family, community and culture and speak to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. Kwanzaa was conceived as a fundamental and important way to introduce and reinforce these values and cultivate appreciation for them.Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles.) These seven communitarian African values are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). This stress on the Nguzo Saba was at the same time an emphasis on the importance of African communitarian values in general, which stress family, community and culture and speak to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. And Kwanzaa was conceived as a fundamental and important way to introduce and reinforce these values and cultivate appreciation for them.  *Info from www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org

Since I am not a specialist in Kwanzaa, I turned to the Food Network for help, as usual, and found the following suggestions if you are so inclined to make a Kwanzaa Feast!!

CLASSIC FRIED CHICKEN

Ingredients
1 3-pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces, or 3 pounds chicken pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 quart buttermilk
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 sprigs thyme
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
Vegetable shortening, for frying
Directions
Season the chicken generously with salt and black pepper; place on a baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.
Mix the buttermilk, hot sauce, bay leaf, garlic and thyme in a large resealable plastic bag. Add the chicken, making sure the pieces are submerged. Seal and refrigerate 2 to 4 hours.
Mix the flour, baking powder, paprika, onion powder, cayenne, 3 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper in a separate resealable bag.
Fill a deep 12-inch cast-iron skillet halfway with equal parts peanut oil and shortening. Heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees F.
Remove about half of the chicken pieces from the buttermilk mixture, letting the excess drip off. Transfer to the bag of seasoned flour; seal and shake to thoroughly coat. Remove from the bag, shake off any excess flour and transfer to a rack.
Carefully lower the coated chicken into the oil. The temperature will drop to 300 degrees F to 325 degrees F; adjust the heat to maintain this temperature so the crust doesn't burn before the meat is cooked. Fry, undisturbed, 2 to 3 minutes to set the crust, then carefully lift with tongs to check the browning; continue to fry, turning as needed, until golden brown and cooked through, 12 to 14 more minutes for smaller pieces and 14 to 16 more minutes for larger ones. (A thermometer should register 160 degrees F in the breasts and 170 degrees F in the thighs and drumsticks.)
Remove the chicken to a clean rack to drain, sprinkle with salt and let rest a few minutes. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Photograph by Yunhee Kim

GRITS & ROASTED VEGETABLES (a vegetarian main dish)

Ingredients
1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
4 cloves garlic, smashed
4 sprigs fresh thyme
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms, halved
1 cup old-fashioned grits
2 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups milk
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese, such as gorgonzola
Directions
Adjust the oven racks to their top positions and preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Toss the squash, tomatoes, garlic and 2 sprigs thyme with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet, turning the tomatoes skin-side up. Toss the mushrooms with the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the same bowl; spread on another baking sheet. Place the tomato mixture on the top rack and the mushrooms underneath and roast until the squash is tender, the tomatoes char and the mushroom edges are crisp, 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the grits, broth, milk, remaining 2 sprigs thyme, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the cayenne pepper in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high, uncovered, for 16 minutes, stirring halfway through. (The grits should be fairly thick; if they're not, microwave up to 2 more minutes.) Remove and discard the thyme.
Heat the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over low heat. Add the hazelnuts and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and slightly brown, about 4 minutes. Whisk in the brown sugar and vinegar and remove from the heat.
Divide the grits among 4 plates. Top each with a portion of the roasted vegetables and crumbled blue cheese. Drizzle with warm hazelnut butter sauce before serving.

MUSTARD GREENS w/ CHEDDAR

Ingredients:
2 bunches stemmed mustard greens
3/4 c. chicken broth
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 ripe beefsteak tomato
1 tbsp olive oil
4 oz block good cheddar cheese
Directions
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add 2 bunches stemmed mustard greens and cook until wilted. Add 3/4 cup chicken broth and cook 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Toss 1 chopped beefsteak tomato with olive oil and salt and pepper. Top the greens with the tomato and shaved cheddar.
Photograph by Antonis Achilleos

MAC & CHEESE W/ BACON

Ingredients
Kosher salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
4 cups milk
2 or 3 sprigs thyme
4 cloves garlic, smashed and divided
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 1/2 cups shredded sharp white Cheddar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into thin strips
1 large onion, diced

Directions

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the macaroni and cook for 8 to 9 minutes, until al dente. Drain.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a small saucepan heat the milk with the thyme sprigs and 2 garlic cloves. Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly, to keep lumps from forming. Strain the solids out of the milk and whisk it into the butter and flour mixture. Continue to whisk vigorously, and cook until the mixture is nice and smooth. Stir in the 4 cups of the cheese and continue to cook and stir to melt the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cooked macaroni and the parsley and fold that all in to coat the macaroni with the cheese mixture. Scrape into a 3-quart baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.  While that bakes, heat a saute pan. Add the bacon, render the fat and cook until crispy. Add onion, garlic and thyme leaves and cook for about 5 minutes to soften the onion. Season with salt and pepper.  To serve, scatter the bacon mixture over the mac and cheese. Use a big spoon to scoop out servings, making sure you get some of the smoking bacon mixture on each spoonful.

INDIVIDUAL CORN SPOON BREADS

These fluffy spoon breads pack in a lot of rich corn flavor with a hint of chipotle kick. Serve them as a side dish for dinner, and then toast the leftovers-if there are any-for breakfast.
Ingredients
Nonstick baking spray with flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
One 14.75-ounce can creamed corn
3 large eggs, separated
2 whole scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1 small chipotle in adobo, finely chopped
Directions
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Coat each cup of a 12-cup muffin pan with baking spray.
Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl. Whisk together the creamed corn and egg yolks in a large bowl. Stir in the cornmeal mixture, scallions and chipotle. Whip the egg whites in another large bowl until stiff peaks form. Stir about one-third of the egg whites into the corn mixture to lighten it and then fold in the remaining egg whites until no steaks of white remain.
Spoon the batter into the muffin cups (they will be very full) and bake until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the spoon breads for 5 minutes in the pans. Run a thin spatula around the edges of each to loosen and then remove the breads from the pans. Serve warm or at room temperature.
2 garlic cloves, smashed
Leaves from 1/4 bunch fresh thyme
Directions
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the macaroni and cook for 8 to 9 minutes, until al dente. Drain.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a small saucepan heat the milk with the thyme sprigs and 2 garlic cloves. Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly, to keep lumps from forming. Strain the solids out of the milk and whisk it into the butter and flour mixture. Continue to whisk vigorously, and cook until the mixture is nice and smooth. Stir in the 4 cups of the cheese and continue to cook and stir to melt the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cooked macaroni and the parsley and fold that all in to coat the macaroni with the cheese mixture. Scrape into a 3-quart baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
While that bakes, heat a saute pan. Add the bacon, render the fat and cook until crispy. Add onion, garlic and thyme leaves and cook for about 5 minutes to soften the onion. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, scatter the bacon mixture over the mac and cheese. Use a big spoon to scoop out servings, making sure you get some of the smoking bacon mixture on each spoonful.

parisinsidersguide.com

CHRISTMAS IN FRANCE

They say Christmas in Paris is a magical time — shops glow with colorful Christmas displays, store shelves groaning with seasonal delights.  Special Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve Paris menus are filled with the bounty of the season — fresh oysters from Brittany, foie gras, truffles, chestnuts and champagne. 150,000 Christmas lights adorn the Champs Elysées and intricate seasonal window displays entertain children and parents in the Grand Magasins. The Ferris Wheel takes center stage on the Place de la Concorde.  The Eiffel Tower is open even on Christmas Day, and seasonal markets selling gingerbread and chocolate Père Noels are found throughout the city.  This, and so much more.  But we want to focus on the food, no?  Here are some simple French recipes I found on www.parisinsidersguide.com that will make you look like a fine French Chef, with a minimum of work:  

Quiche Lorraine

Did you know authentic quiche lorraine is made without cheese? If you want to make a delicious, bona fide quiche, this recipe delivers. The secret ingredients? Lots of bacon and real cream.

3 eggs
2 cups cream
½ lb bacon, chopped
Quiche Pastry Dough (separate recipe)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS:  Preheat oven to 375°F. Smear a bit of butter into each muffin mold.

I would use a prepared pastry crust (from Pillsbury) however you can make your own Quiche Pastry (see separate recipe).  Do this ahead of time.

Use thick-cut, high-quality bacon and fry it until it’s almost crisp. Drain the strips on paper towels, and then cut it into small bite-size pieces and set aside.

In a small, heavy-bottom pot bring the cream to a boil. Turn down the heat, and continue to simmer for about two minutes until the cream has thickened. Remove from the heat and let it cool for about 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl beat the three eggs with a fork or whisk. When the cream has cooled, add the eggs and beat together. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Roll out the pastry and cut rounds to fit into the prepared muffin tins. In each muffin mold, gently press a piece of dough into place to form a cup. Make sure there's extra dough to fold over the top edge slightly. Place the muffin tin on a baking tray before you fill them for easy transport to the oven.

Divide the cooked bacon into two parts. One half will be sprinkled directly on top of the dough in the molds. Set aside the remaining half of the bacon for later use.  Using a soup ladle, pour the creamy egg mixture into each mold, filling almost to the top.

Bake for 20 minutes and then sprinkle the remaining bacon on top. Return to the oven and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. The crust should be golden brown and the custard slightly springy.  Let the quiche cool in the muffin tin for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. These can be served warm or cold.**

**This one and the following French recipes found here come from the award-winning book – How to Cook Bouillabaisse in 37 Easy Steps: Culinary Adventures in Paris and Provence.  I reccommend it!

Mixed Greens Salad w/ Balsalmic Vinaigrette Dressing

1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 tsp maple syrup
pinch sea salt
1 grind black pepperIn a small bowl, blend together the minced garlic, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and whisk in until it is well blended. It's important to keep blending until the ingredients are completely integrated.

Add in balsamic vinegar and maple syrup. Adjust the seasoning to taste. The maple syrup should nicely balance the flavour, it shouldn't be overly sweet. Now toss about 1/4 to 1/2 c. dressing with a mix of spring greens and maybe some thinly sliced strawberry or pear.  Do not overdress the salad, you can serve more dressing on the side.

 

 

Coquille St. Jacques

     One of my favorites, The simplicity of their version attracted me. Many scallops recipes for Coquilles Saint-Jacques include things like sautéed mushrooms or a ring of mashed potatoes. This version makes the best of the ingredients – just silky scallops bathed in cream with a hint of lemon.  This can be served as an appetizer (one shell) or as a main course (two shells) with a salad and crusty bread.

6 large scallops
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T butter
¼ cup unbleached flour
3 T heavy cream
1 tsp lemon juice
½ glass white wine
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 T Reggiano-Parmigiano

Cut the scallops by slicing them in half horizontally. In a non-reactive dish marinate the scallops for 30 minutes in the olive oil and lemon juice.  Drain them, dredge them in the flour, and cook them gently in 1 tablespoon of butter, for about a minute. Remove the scallops from the pan and set aside. Divide them among four shell-shaped baking dishes.

Preheat the broiler.  In the same pan cook the shallots at medium heat, in another tablespoon of butter until they are almost caramelized. Add the white wine and a few drops of lemon juice. Cook until the mixture is bubbling and reduced. Add the cream and then season with salt and pepper. Let it simmer for another two minutes until the cream has thickened.

line

Pour the shallot-cream mixture equally over the baking shells of scallops and grate on the Reggiano-Parmigiano. Place under a broiler at high heat until bubbling and browned, no more than 5 minutes. Serve immediately.   Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as main course.

Steak Au Poivre

     Parisians love steak au poivre. A peppery crust in a creamy sauce with a hint of brandy elevates steak from meat-and-potatoes to something so sublime it will make you swoon.

1 T whole black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
1 T Fleur de Sel
2, 6 to 8 oz steaks, filet mignon (tenderloin)
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
¼ cup Cognac or brandy
½ cup heavy cream

Remove the steaks from the fridge and bring to room temperature about an hour before serving.

With a mortar and pestle, or broad side of a knife, coarsely crush the peppercorns, then add the Fleur de Sel, and give a few more turns with the pestle. Spread out the mixture on a large plate. Press steaks directly onto the salt and pepper mixture on both sides.

In a heavy skillet heat the butter and olive oil until sizzling hot. At a near high heat, cook the steaks on each size for 2 to 3 minutes depending on the thickness. Remove the steaks with a pair of tongs, as forks will puncture the meat.

Remove the pan from the heat and wait for about a minute to let it cool slightly. Add the Cognac and stand back! The Cognac will practically ignite and then quickly boil down. With the heat still off, add the cream and then bring back to a low heat until it boils and thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Return the steaks to the skillet, completely coat with the mixture and serve immediately.

Filet of Sole Meuniere

2 large sole filets
½ cup butter
1 cup unbleached white flour
½ teaspoon salt
ground pepper

Warm a couple of plates in the oven or warming oven. Put the flour on a large plate and mix in some sea salt and some ground black pepper. Dredge the sole in the flour mixture to coat both sides and lightly shake off any excess flour. Set aside.

Heat a large, heavy skillet to medium. Melt the butter, making sure that the pan is not too hot. The butter should be nicely bubbling, but not burning. This may take a bit of trial and error.

When the butter is bubbling, becoming a golden brown, and gives off the scent of hazlenuts (a matter of a few seconds), place the sole into the skillet.

Cook the sole until you can see the edges browning nicely, being careful to control the temperature so the butter doesn't burn. Gently lift a corner of the filet with a spatula to check that the first side is golden brown. This should take 3 to 5 minutes.

Flip the sole by carefully lifting up a corner of the filet so you can slip a large spatula under it without scraping off the coating. Be careful that the filet doesn't break while you're turning it. Cook the other side the same way, for another 3 to 5 minutes.

Transfer the sole to the heated plates. The butter should be a nutty, golden brown color. If it's not continue to cook it in the pan for a few moments after the fish has been removed. Spoon the butter over the filet and serve immediately with a slice of lemon. It's excellent with garlic mashed potatoes.

Duck - Marget De Canard* (*Breasts of Duck raised for Fois Gras)

The French love duck and in Paris, you'll find duck confit and magret de canard served everywhere. Here, you'll learn how to make magret de canard, pan-fried and then baked. Served with a delicous cherry reduction sauce.

2 Magret Duck Breasts
salt
pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F.   With the duck breats skin side down on a cutting board, trim off any fat that extends beyond the edges of the meat.

Turn the breasts over and, using a sharp knife, score them on the fatty side, cutting about 1/8-inch into the skin in a crisscross pattern. Be careful not to cut into the meat. Season the duck breasts on both sides with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

The first thing is to melt away most of the fat, and brown the breasts on both side. Place the duck breasts, skin side down, in a skillet and cook over a low heat to render most of the fat. Pour off the excess fat one or two times during cooking. (Save the fat in a container in the refrigerator for future use, hopefully something to do with potatoes!) The fat from the duck will take 10 to 15 minutes to melt down.

Drain off the last of the duck fat, then turn up the heat to medium or medium-high and cook the breasts for an additional 1 or 2 minutes to get the skin more crispy. Turn the breasts over (if needed, add a splash of olive oil) and cook the flesh side for one minute.

Transfer the breasts to a baking dish, skin side up, and roast in the oven for eight minutes for a nice medium-cooked duck with a bit of red inside.  When it's ready, rest the duck on a warm plate for a few minutes. Slice the duck breasts thickly on the diagonal and fan out over serving plates, dividing each breast between two people. Spoon on the cherry reduction sauce.

 

Cherry Reduction Sauce

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
¼ cup shallots, minced
¼ cup cherry preserves
3 T sherry or red wine vinegar
¼ cup Brandy
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

With many duck recipes, a cherry reduction sauce is often served. You can start making this sauce before you cook the duck.  To begin, in a medium-size skillet, heat the oil and butter until they are sizzling. Add the minced shallots and sauté until they are just brown and almost caramelized. Remove to a plate and set aside.

In the same pan turn down the heat to medium and add the cherry preserves, the vinegar and the brandy. Stir them thoroughly and gently simmer for about 5 minutes.   Now return the cooked shallots to the pan and stir them into the cherry blend until they are completely reheated. Spoon directly on top of the prepared duck breast. Serve immediately.   Serves 4.

HAPPY NEW YEARS - BLACK EYED PEAS

Start the New Year with a dish of Good Luck

A staple in the Southern diet for over 300 years, black-eyed peas have long been associated with good luck. A dish of peas is a New Year's tradition in most areas of the South, thought to bring luck and prosperity for the new year. According to Jessica Harris, author of "Welcome Table," some add a dime to the peas for an extra "boost" of luck to the recipient. Greens,
thought to symbolize folding money, are often eaten eaten with the peas.
     Hoppin' John, a dish made with black-eyed peas and rice, is one of the more popular ways of serving them, but many serve them in salads or simply cooked as a side dish.
     Whether you're serving a full meal, appetizers, or gathering around the football game, one of these recipes is sure to fit into your New Year's menu plan.

     A few notes on black-eyed peas: They have many names, but were originally called "cowpeas", being used as cattle feed. They were brought to the West Indies from Africa, and by the 1700's were growing prolifically in Georgia. The black-eyed pea is not a pea, but a legume. Most recipes for Hoppin' John call for the rice to be added to the peas for cooking. I believe that if they are both cooked separately, as red beans and rice are, both will retain their individual flavors better. Of course, this is a matter of taste!  

HOPPIN' JOHN

Ingredients:
ham bone, salt pork or bacon

1 onion & 1 clove garlic diced finely
water or chicken broth
1 cup dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and soaked overnight (I prefer 4 cans of canned beans)
1 cup long-grain rice
salt and pepper

1 If you are using bacon, cut it into small pieces and cook it slowly in a medium pot over medium-low heat. If you are using a ham hock, heat the oil in the pot. Once the bacon is crispy (or the oil is hot), increase the heat to medium-high and add the onion, and sauté until they begin to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, stir well and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

2 Add the black-eyed peas, bay leaf, thyme and whatever your favorite seasoning is (we like cajun or mesquite for this) and cover with 4 cups of broth. If you are using the ham hock, add it to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes to an hour, or longer if needed, until the peas are tender (not mushy).

3 While the black-eyed peas are cooking, cook the rice separately according to package instructions.

4 When the peas are tender, strain out the remaining cooking water. Taste the peas for salt and add more if needed. If using a ham hock, remove it from the pot, pull off the meat, and return the meat to the pot.

Serve the dish either by placing a ladle-full of black-eyed peas over steamed rice, or by mixing the two together in a large bowl. Garnish with chopped green onions. Serve with collard greens, kale, beet or turnip greens.

BLACK EYED PEAS W/ BBQ SAUCE

This is my favorite recipe, but I use canned peas, and cut back the bbq sauce because we don't
like it too sweet:
Ingredients:
1 pound dried black-eyed peas (I prefer about 4 - 6 cans, rinsed)
1 pound link sausage, or your favorite
1 small onion, chopped
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup prepared barbecue sauce, & 1 or 2 c. chicken broth as needed.

Preparation:
Drain and rinse the peas, and reserve. In a skillet over medium heat, brown sausage and onions; drain off excess fat.
Place peas in a 3-quart casserole; add sausage and onions. Stir in broth, brown sugar, mustard, salt, and barbecue sauce. Bake at 300° for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Serves 6.

 TRADITONAL HAPPY NEW YEAR BLACK-EYED PEAS
Serves 6 as a side, 3 as the your whole meal

1 pound black-eyed peas
3-4 ounces country ham, cut into pieces
3 cloves garlic
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
A few grinds of black pepper
1 really good dash of hot sauce, plus more to serve

DIRECTIONS
 Put The peas, ham and garlic in a pot, add the broth and water, then stir in the hot sauce and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove the cover and cook a further hour, until the liquid is reduced and the peas are very tender. Stir occasionally to prevent the peas from sticking to the pot, but if you stir too much, they’ll get mushy.
You can remove the ham and garlic before serving or leave them in. Serve warm.