Monday, November 23, 2009

Fast and Fabulous Holiday Hors d'oeuvres!

It seems like we are all pressed for time around the holidays with shopping, family activities, office parties, and social gatherings. If you are planning a party this year my best advice is to choose a few items to make from scratch and purchase the remainder pre-prepped – like vegetable trays, deli platters and spiral-cut hams. When selecting items you want to make yourself, try to choose simple preparations that won’t stress you out.  Here are a few of my favorite simple, yet elegant, holiday hors d’œuvres

  • Baked Potato Bites with Blue Cheese, Walnuts & Honey
    Buy the smallest baby red skin potatoes you can find. Cut them in half. You can scoop out a little of the center with a melon baller, but it’s not really necessary. Toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and place them on a cookie sheet cut-side down. Roast them in a 400ºF oven for 15 minutes or until soft. Turn cut-side up and top with blue cheese crumbles and walnut pieces. Pop them back in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes to melt the cheese slightly. Drizzle the potatoes with a touch of honey and serve.

  • Salmon “Mousse” on Endive Spoons
    Combine 8 oz of smoked salmon cream cheese with 8 oz of plain whipped cream cheese. Blend thoroughly. Add salt and lemon pepper to taste. Spoon the mixture into a quart size freezer bag. Snip off one of the bottom corners of the bag – about a ¼ inch opening is perfect. Use the bag to pipe the mixture onto Belgian Endive leaves. (If your local grocer doesn’t carry endive, use a water cracker instead.) Top with some lemon zest and a sprig of fresh dill.

  • Brie Brûlée
    Cut the top off of a wheel of brie. Sprinkle the bottom layer with your favorite dried fruit and nuts. I like dried cranberries and pecan pieces or diced dried apricots and slivered almonds. Place the top of the wheel back onto the bottom layer. Bake in a 350ºF oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until the brie begins to melt slightly. Remove from the oven and sprinkle generously with brown sugar. Using a kitchen torch, brown the sugar until it bubbles and caramelizes. If you don’t have a kitchen torch, place the wheel of cheese under the broiler of your oven for a couple minutes. (Keep a close eye on it under the broiler so that the sugar doesn’t burn.) Cool slightly then carefully transfer the brie to a cake plate or serving platter. Surround the beautiful caramelized cheese with grape clusters and crackers. This dish will be the perfect centerpiece for your holiday buffet!  

  • What are some of your favorite fast and fabulous holiday hors d’œuvres?

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    Just Say No to Over Cooked White Meat

    It’s an age-old holiday struggle. How do you keep the white meat of your turkey moist while waiting for the dark meat to finish cooking? Well, I have a suggestion for you that will not only decrease your cooking time but also make the dark meat the most popular option. This holiday season why don’t you try removing the turkey legs and stuffing them. It’s easy. I will lead you through each step with photos to demonstrate what to do.

    First, using a sharp knife, slice through the skin of the bird between the body and the thigh to expose the flesh.

    Next bend the leg toward the backbone of the bird enough to pop the thigh joint out. Cut along the body of the bird, around the joint, to remove the leg. Repeat the process on the other leg.

    When you have removed both legs, lay them cut-side up on the cutting board. You should see a line of yellowish fat running down the inner thigh of the leg. Use the tip of your knife to cut along that line down to the thigh bone. Continue to cut a straight line from that point on down the leg. When you reach the ankle joint, slice around the leg to free the skin from the bone.

    Use the blade of the knife to scrape the meat away from the leg bones. At the knee joint, carefully use the tip of your knife to free the meat from the joint. Try not to puncture the skin.

    You are almost done! The last step is to remove the hard tendons from the leg portion. The tendons look and feel like white “sticks” in the leg meat. I hold the exposed end of the “stick” while running the tip of my knife along the length of the tendon. A little tug should free the tendon after you run your knife the length of it. If you are having trouble pulling the tendons out, try using a pair of kitchen tweezers or pliers.

    If you are removing the leg bones the night before, simply cover and refrigerate them until you are ready to put the bird in the oven. For food safety reasons, you should not stuff the legs until you are ready to roast them.

    When you are ready to cook the whole bird, lay the boned leg sections out flat on a cutting board. Each leg section should form the shape of a rectangle. Spoon a line of your favorite stuffing down the center on the long side, then roll the stuffed leg into a cylinder.
    Using kitchen twine, truss the stuffed leg to hold it together. You start by tying the twine around one end of the leg, then make a loop, twist it and slide it around the leg. Space each loop about 1 to 2 inches apart. Repeat until the whole leg is secure.

    Stuff the breast cavity as you normally would. Nestle a little aluminum foil around any exposed stuffing to keep it from drying out. Place the stuffed breast into your roasting pan and lay the stuffed legs on either side. Roast, basting occasionally, until the breast meat has reached 170ºF. By the time the white meat of the breast is fully cooked, the legs will be as well. Slice the breast and stuffed legs and arrange on a platter.

    I promise the dark meat will be a hit!

    Guiltless Gourmet - Go Slow, Save Dough

    Posted on January 15, 2010

    Fall and winter are the perfect time to try a little Slow Food. The Slow Food Movement originated in Italy in the mid 1980’s as kind of rebellion against fast food. Slow food is food prepared the old fashioned way, slowly - a meal made with care, attention to detail and tradition.

    One slow food cooking method is braising – browning larger pieces of meat and then cooking them in a small amount of liquid over low heat. Remember mom’s pot roast? That’s braising.

    Stewing is another wonderful slow food method. Stewing is very similar to braising but is typically associated with smaller pieces of meat and requires more liquid.

    One of the nicest things about braising or stewing is that dishes take a little preparation in the beginning then you more or less forget about them for several hours and dinner’s ready. On top of that, some of the less expensive cuts of meat work best when cooked slowly. I love using pork shoulder, beef short ribs, and chicken thighs, in particular.

    You can take a cue from the Slow Food Movement to create belly-warming, economical dinners. The results are mouthwatering. Here are some ways for you to try them.

  • Chile Verde – Mexican Green Chile Stew
    Brown ¾ pound of pork shoulder cubes and some diced onion in a little oil. Add a clove of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, 7 oz can of green chiles, 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, ½ cup dry red wine or beef broth, and simmer over low heat for about three hours. When the pork is fork-tender, it’s done. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice and tortillas.

  • Braised Short Ribs
    Lightly dredge beef short ribs in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat a small amount of oil in a heavy pan or Dutch oven. Sear the meat on all sides. Remove from the pan. Add ½ cup sliced shallots and sauté until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Return the ribs to the pan and add enough red wine or beef broth to the pan to come about halfway up the sides of the meat. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and simmer over low heat for 5 to 6 hours. The meat should be tender and falling off the bone. Serve with roasted garlic mashed potatoes.

  • Chicken Thighs with Olives and Tomatoes
    Season 1 pound of chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a heavy pan. Brown the chicken on all sides. Add ½ cup white wine to deglaze the pan. Then stir in a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, two cloves of minced garlic, ½ cup sliced green olives and a tablespoon of dried parsley. Add a little crushed red pepper if you like spice. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer covered for 1 hour. Serve with noodles or rice.