Champ de Noël

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Here is my version.  Not as perfectly neat, but it tastes amazing. IMG_2536.jpg

Have fun making this to impress family and friends with this modern twist on a classic bûche de Noël stolen from Fine Cooking Magazine.

This delightful looking cake was featured in the December edition of Fine Cooking, one of my favorite magazines.  I stole the photo from the article but will post mine tomorrow when it is decorated.

The layers are vertical rather than horizontal, making for a very dramatic reveal. It is an “all-day” project or one you can do over several days.

[Get a PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION HERE with all step-by-step photos.]

This version looks cool, but all the classic elements and flavor pairings are here, so it’s guaranteed to be delicious. The vanilla sponge cake has a delicate texture, yet it’s sturdy enough to “literally” stand on end. The layers are doused with a boozy soaking syrup before they’re coated with a smooth-as-silk, espresso-spiked white chocolate ganache filling and coated with a dreamy, creamy and eggless double-chocolate buttercream.

Like the traditional bûche, the garnishes for this cake can be rustic, whimsical, or elegant. I like to use the tines of a fork to create a barklike design in the buttercream around the side of the cake. Just before serving, I may top the cake with a cluster or two of small meringue mushrooms along with chocolate shavings for bark. You can add silver or white dragées for ice crystals, sugar-coated cranberries for a pop of color, a mint sprig or two for signs of spring, chopped pistachios for lichen, and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar for snow. Extra meringue mushrooms look great arranged around the base of the cake.

Vertical variation

While the garnishes make the cake look spectacular, what people really want to know is how I make those magical vertical layers.
All in all, it’s a straightforward process: You use what could be called a “wrapping” technique to assemble the cake. After baking the sponge cake in a large rimmed baking sheet, cut it into five strips. To train the shape of the innermost strip of cake and avoid cracking in the final product, I roll up one strip in paper towels while it’s still warm, just as you would when you’re making a jelly roll. I then roll the remaining strips up in a tight spiral together to train them. The ends of these strips are cut on an angle to create beveled edges; this step helps the strips to lie flat as the cake is assembled.

Start building the cake by brushing the innermost strip with soaking syrup then coating it with white chocolate espresso ganache. After this centerpiece is rolled and positioned on a plate, brush, fill, and wrap the remaining four beveled cake strips one at a time around it. The technique sounds complicated, but as you’ll see, it’s an easy-to-follow
process.

 Champ de Noël

HOW TO BUILD A BEAUTIFUL CHARCUTERIE BOARD

I found this article on food.com and really enjoyed it, as I love a great Charcuterie Board and this article gave something to think about.  Although my boards usually look pretty good, they are not as beautiful as the one shown below.

Entertaining 101

 

Do you ever scroll through picture-perfect cheese boards and think, “I could never do that”? The good news is, it’s a lot easier than it looks! Just follow this easy, step-by-step tutorial to build an epic charcuterie board for any occasion.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: CHEESE!

FIRST THINGS FIRST: CHEESE!

Choose 3-4 types and a mix of soft and hard cheeses, all served at room temperature: Goat, Gruyere, Gorgonzola, Manchego, Burrata, Brie, Sharp Cheddar, White Cheddar, Havarti, Boursin

Think of  creative ways to display your cheese:
* Cubed and piled up to add height and dimension
* Cut into thin, square slices and fanned out along the edge of the board
* Cut into thin, triangular slices and placed in a circle, with points facing in
* Served in large wedges for guests to cut themselves

 

MEET ME AT THE MEAT AISLE

MEET ME AT THE MEAT AISLE

Choose 2-3 types, preferably pre-sliced: Salami, Prosciutto, Sopressata, Pepperoni, Bresaola, Pâté, Smoked Salmon

Think of creative ways to display your meats:
* Fold round, thin slices of meat in half, then fold again.
* Arrange to form a salami rose bouquet!
* Roll up slices of prosciutto and stack them on top of each other.
* Sopressata is usually cut into thick rounds, so fan these across the board.

 

ADD CONDIMENTS + SIDEKICKS

ADD CONDIMENTS + SIDEKICKS

You can’t have condiments without bowls! Invest in a few ramekins for displaying sauces, dips and salty, briny snacks that complement your meats and cheeses. Think about which of these options you might add:   Honey, Whole Grain Mustard, Jam/Preserves, Infused Oil, Pickled Vegetables, Olives, Artichoke Hearts, Roasted Peppers, Cornichons and I personally like the idea of Sweet Chili Sauce, Hoisin Sauce, and Spicy Jams or Jellies

 

BRING THE COLOR WITH FRESH FRUIT

BRING THE COLOR WITH FRESH FRUIT

Try a mix of fresh fruits that are flavorful and abundant all year long (like Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Cantaloupe, Grapes) and dried fruit for options that are only available seasonally (like Mango, Apricots, Figs, Cranberries).

Creative ways to display fruit:
* Cut long, thin wedges of cantaloupe and fan them out or wrap thin slices of prosciutto around the middle.
* Choose whole dried figs and halve them to display their pretty seeds and centers.  If fresh figs are in season, that is even better.

LET’S. GET. CRUNCHY.

LET’S GET CRUNCHY.

Nuts and crackers or crisps are easy additions that require no extra prep work! Choose a few to round out your board: Pistachios, Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, Cashews, Mini Toasts, Seeded Crackers, Cheese Twists, Water Crackers, Crispy Breadsticks, Pita Chips

* Use nuts to fill in any gaps in your board by stacking them in piles around other ingredients.
* Add extra height and interest by placing breadsticks or cheese twists upright and fanning crackers across the board in swirls.

FINISH WITH A LITTLE RAZZLE DAZZLE

FINISH WITH A LITTLE RAZZLE DAZZLE

When it comes to finishing touches, garnishes go a long way to add a hint of color and freshness. Try: Rosemary Sprigs, Basil Leaves, Mint Sprigs, Fresh or Dried Lavender

 

NO BOARD, NO PROBLEM

NO BOARD, NOT A PROBLEM

Don’t have a wooden board handy and prefer not to buy one? Feel free to use everyday kitchen tools like a pizza paddle, cast iron skillet or a sheet pan of any size to display the fruits of your labor (pun intended)!

 

 

HOW TO BUILD A BEAUTIFUL CHARCUTERIE BOARD

Jambalaya

Jambalaya has its origins in several rice-based dishes well attested in the Mediterranean cuisines of West Africa, Spain, and France, especially in the West African dish Jollof, the Spanish dish Paella (native to Valencia), and the French dish known as Jambalaia (native to Provence).

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I combined a couple of recipes and added a few ingredients of my own.  I didn’t have chicken but would have added that to enhance the flavor. I love shrimp and would have added it at the end, but my husband does not eat it.

Ingredients:

2 TBL olive oil (EVOO)

1 pound sausage ( I used mild Italian that I made)

1 onion (chopped)

1 red or yellow bell pepper (chopped)

3 stalks celery (sliced thinly)

3 garlic (chopped)

2 TSP Cajon seasoning

1 TSP oregano ( I prefer fresh)

Pinch of Cayenne

1 TSP Scallions (white part) and save the green and slice for serving

14 oz chopped tomatoes with chili

Beef stock ( one container) I used homemade chicken stock

2 cups cooked rice

1 cup of okra (fresh or frozen-thawed)

Add some shrimp if you like it

  1.  Sauté chicken in olive oil until cooked and the sausage is lightly browned.  Set aside.
  2.  Sauté the onion, bell pepper, celery,  and garlic until soft.
  3. Add rice, liquids, and seasonings.  Add the cooked rice, chicken (or beef) stock, crushed tomatoes, Cajun seasoning, oregano, cayenne, and bay leaf.  Give everything a good stir.
  4. Cover and cook.  Then cook for 20 minutes, being sure to stir the mixture every 5 minutes or so (to prevent burning) until the rice is nearly tender.
  5. Add the okra and shrimp and cook for 5 minutes or until the shrimp is pink and opaque.
  6. Taste and season with salt and pepper (add Cajun seasoning, if needed).
  7. Serve warm.  Garnished with green sliced scallions and enjoy!
Jambalaya

Tarta de Santiago Recipe – Spanish Almond Cake

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An authentic recipe for the Spanish Almond Cake found on the Camino de Santiago.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: Gluten-Free

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound (1 3/4 cups) whole almonds, preferably blanched
  • 6 large eggs separated
  • 1 1/4 cups superfine sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 drops almond extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Instructions

  • Finely grind the almonds in a food processor.
  • With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a smooth pale cream. Beat in the zests and almond extract. Add the ground almonds and mix very well.
  • With clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold them into the egg and almond mixture (the mixture is thick, so you will need to fold it quite a bit).
  • Grease an 11-inch springform pan, preferably nonstick, with butter and dust it with flour or spray with cooking spray. Pour in the cake batter, and bake into a preheated 350°F for 40 minutes, or until it feels firm to the touch. Let cool before turning out.
  • Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar. Or, if you like, cut a St. James Cross out of paper. Place it in the middle of the cake, and dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar, then remove the paper.

Notes

Stencil the top of the cake using the traditional cross symbol of Saint James.
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Tarta de Santiago Recipe – Spanish Almond Cake

Paleo Sausage & Cauliflower Casserole

1.jpgIngredients

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

8 oz. Italian sausage, casings removed

1 medium yellow onion, diced

5 cloves garlic, minced

4 sprigs thyme

1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes

1/2 cup almond flour

2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the cauliflower florets to the pot and boil for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse the florets with cold water. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook for 8-10 minutes until browned, using a spoon to break into small pieces. Stir in the onion, garlic, and thyme. Sauté for 5-7 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the tomatoes and juices to the pan and cook for 5 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Remove the skillet from heat and carefully stir in the cauliflower. Transfer the mixture to a 9×13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with almond flour. Bake for 20 minutes, and then turn the oven to broil and cook an additional 3-5 minutes. Garnish with parsley to serve.
Paleo Sausage & Cauliflower Casserole

Easy Chicken Dinner

chicken.jpgIt is warm outside and the sun is shining and I really don’t want to be in the kitchen, so an easy quick dinner it is!  I recently picked up the new America’s Test Kitchen’s “Simple” and adapted one of the recipes to my liking.  The recipe was Chicken with Tomato Salsa.

For the salsa:

Cut a cup or so of cherry tomatoes into quarters

Add 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon of good olive oil

Sliced basil to taste

Salt & Pepper and maybe a little red pepper if you want more of a kick to it

I added half an avocado (cut into 1/4″ pieces)

Mix together and put aside.

For the chicken:

I used two chicken breasts and cut them in half, so they would be thinner and cook faster. Dipped them in two stirred eggs (but one might work), dipped them in a mixture of gluten-free panko and parmesan and quickly sauteed (about 2 minutes per side) in olive oil.

*Here is a tip: 

When using olive oil, always heat the pan before you add the olive oil.  But with butter melt it in a pan that heats as the butter melts.  

Serve on a nice platter with the extra basil for decoration!  And of course, put the tomato salsa on top.  Delicious, moist and very pretty.

BEETS

This is the easiest way I know to cook beets.  Wash the beets, cut off the greens and a bit of the other end.  Peel, but on a cooking tray (I line with aluminum foil – so I don’t have to scrub it), put a little olive oil (EVOO), salt and pepper and bake for 30 minutes at 425°.

Enjoy this easy and fast (other than the time the beets take to cook) dinner.

 

 

 

Easy Chicken Dinner

Three Cheese Gourgeres

Cheese Gourgers.jpgYield: Makes About 4 Dozen

Ingredients

  • 34 cup whole milk
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
  • 12 tsp. kosher salt
  • 12 cups flour
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 oz. Comté cheese, grated
  • 4 oz. Emmentaler cheese, grated
  • 4 oz. Gruyère cheese, grated

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 425°. Bring milk, butter, salt, and 13 cup water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan over high. Add flour; stir until dough forms. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring dough constantly with a wooden spoon until slightly dried, about 2 minutes. If the dough is not dry enough, the gourgeres will not rise when cooked.  Transfer to a bowl; using a hand mixer, beat in 1 egg until smooth. Repeat with remaining eggs, beating well after each addition, until dough is smooth; stir in half each of the cheeses.
  2. Transfer dough to a piping bag fitted with a plain 12” tip. Using a swirling motion, pipe 1 12“-tall mounds of dough, about 1” in diameter, onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets; sprinkle tops with remaining cheeses. Place in oven and reduce temperature to 375°. Bake gougères until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Three Cheese Gourgeres

Pork Loin with Spinach & Goat Cheese

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A sophisticated stuffing of creamy goat cheese, silky spinach, and lemony herbs give this lean and mighty pork loin 5-star flavor. Topped with apricot-infused sweet and sour sauce, we tip our hats to the slow cooker for coaxing out this degree of decadence. To achieve the coveted crisp-tender texture of the pork, we recommend browning it on all sides before placing it in the slow cooker. Once cooked, use a serrated knife to slice the pork with ease. Pair this divine main with mashed potatoes and steamed green beans or garlicky Brussels for a well-rounded meal that is sure to impress.

 

How to Make It

Step 1

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add shallots, garlic, and thyme; cook 5 minutes, stirring often, until shallots are caramelized. Add spinach; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly, until wilted. Remove from heat.

Step 2

Combine goat cheese, chives, parsley, and lemon rind in a small bowl.

Step 3

Holding knife flat and parallel to cutting board, cut horizontally through the center of pork loin, cutting to, but not through, the other side. Open flat, as you would a book. Starting at the center seam, cut horizontally through each half, cutting to, but not through, the other side. Open flat on either side. Place pork between 2 sheets of plastic wrap; pound to an even 1/2-inch thickness using a meat mallet or small, heavy skillet. Remove plastic wrap.

Step 4

Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Spread goat cheese mixture evenly over pork; top with the shallot mixture. Roll up pork jelly-roll fashion. Tie with kitchen twine at 1-inch intervals. Sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Step 5

Wipe pan clean. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. Add pork; cook 3 minutes per side or until browned. Place stuffed pork in a 5-quart slow cooker.

Step 6

Add apricot preserves, butter, and mustard to pan; reduce heat to medium. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly, until butter melts. Pour over pork loin in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW 7 to 8 hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of pork registers 145°F. I cooked mine in the oven at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes and it was just great. 

Step 7

Place pork on a cutting board; let stand 15 minutes. Skim and discard fat from sauce in the slow cooker. Pour sauce into a saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high. Cook 5 minutes, until reduced to about 1 cup. Stir in vinegar.

Step 8

Remove and discard twine. Slice pork into 12 slices; serve with sauce.

Pork Loin with Spinach & Goat Cheese

Learning from Bad Cookies

Interesting article on how to bake a better cookie.  I have certainly learned over the years.  This is good basic information
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1. Amount of Flour

Getting the flour ratio right is crucial to a nicely textured cookie. Too much and your cookie will be dry, crumbly, and chalky. Too little and your cookies will burn easily, spread a TON, and will feel greasy to the touch. Not good!

2. The Mixing Method

It is tempting to dump all your ingredients into a bowl and stir them together all at once. Surprisingly the results aren’t terrible, but the cookies were inconsistent in flavor. On the other hand, our over-creamed batch resulted in overly tough, puck-like cookies. Finding a happy medium between doing the most and doing the least is important for both the texture and flavor of your cookies.

Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies - Delish.com

3. Baking Powder

There’s a reason baking powder is never called for in cookies: Adding it results in cookies that have a Play-Doh texture and a vaguely chemical taste.

4. Eggs

You gotta have ‘em! Leaving them out will result in overly sweet balls of dough. Crunchy on the outside, doughy in the middle, and completely unsatisfying.

Soft & Fudgy Chocolate Chip Cookies - Delish.com

5. Sugar

Not enough and your cookies will taste more like shortbread, too much and they’ll be crunchy, burnt, and obviously way too sweet.

6. Bake Time

We’ve all burnt a batch of cookies, so you likely know the deal with over-baked cookies. They’re dry, crumbly, and come with a slightly bitter burnt flavor. Still edible, though! Under-baked cookies are doughy, soft, and slightly greasy. Luckily, if that’s your issue, you can pop ‘em back in the oven and give them a little more time.

Learning from Bad Cookies

Pasta Mistakes to Stop Making

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Pasta is one of those things you’ve never going to stop making, so you should probably know how to do it well.  From the right size of pot to cooking time to storing leftovers, here are some pasta mistakes I suggest you stop making immediately.

Note: this guide is exclusive to standard, Italian-style wheat pasta. Many other types of noodles, like soba, glass, mixian, and rice vermicelli, as well as gluten-free pasta, sometimes cook differently, so for those, it’s best to consult the package for best practices.

 

1. Using a pot that’s too small

Sure, it’s a pain to wash a big stockpot, but you know what’s just plain dumb? Slowly shoving a pound of fettuccine into a one-quart saucepan until it snaps in half. When making pasta, especially longer noodles like spaghetti, linguine, and bucatini, it’s best to use a big pot (one with a diameter that is at least the same length as your noodle) with plenty of water. If you don’t have a stockpot, you can actually boil pasta in a skillet.

2. Not adding enough salt to the water

It may seem bonkers to toss a fistful of salt into pasta water, but keep in mind that you’re not actually ingesting all that water. To actually have a fighting chance at seasoning the pasta while it boils, you need a lot (like several tablespoons) of salt. There really isn’t an exact measurement to use here, but I would say a good rule is three tablespoons of Kosher salt per pound of pasta. If you don’t have Kosher salt, go buy some. Don’t use your fancy Himalayan pink or flakey sea salts (they’re expensive and most of this salt is going down the drain), nor iodized table salt (it sucks).

3. The water isn’t really boiling

In her brilliant book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Samin Nosrat says to evenly prepare noodles made with wheat, they must be cooked at a vigorous boil, as “the pandemonium keeps the noodles moving, preventing them from sticking to one another as they release starch.” This isn’t a mere suggestion, folks. Bring your water to a rolling boil, dump in the pasta, give it a stir, and ensure that the pot continues to boil.

4. Adding oil to pasta water

Some people think that to keep pasta from sticking itself in the pot they must add olive oil to the pot. False. If your pot is large enough, at a rolling boil, and you’ve stirred the noodles around after dumping them in, there’s no reason pasta should stick to itself or to the pot while cooking.

5. Overcooking pasta

If you’re cooking pasta according to the package directions, odds are you’re going to overcook it. Especially if you’re planning to mix the pasta into heated sauce, pasta will taste perfectly cooked (that is, soft with a slight bite, also known as al dente) when it’s pulled out of the pot about three minutes earlier than the package says.

6. Tossing the pasta water

Most people simply dump their cooked pasta into a colander, letting all cooking liquid run down the drain. Don’t be one of those people. Instead, use a slotted spoon, spider, or tongs to pull out your pasta and drop it into your sauce or put it in a colander, leaving the pot of warm water on the stove. Starchy pasta water is the secret ingredient your sauces have been missing. Whether you’re making cacio e pepe or linguine with clams, a hefty splash of pasta water will thicken your sauce and encourage it to coat each noodle completely.

7. Rinsing the pasta after cooking

Shocking pasta with cold water after it comes out of the pot will indeed stop the pasta from cooking more, but it will also rinse away all the delightful starch that helps sauce cling to noodles. To avoid the overcooking factor, see rule #5. If you’re rinsing to ensure the noodles don’t stick together, you should simply be ready to add the pasta into your sauce as soon as it comes out of the pot.

8. Storing leftovers improperly

You can get very sick from poorly stored pasta, so if you pay attention to any of these tips, make it this one. After your pasta dish is cooked and divided among plates, any leftovers should be cooled, transferred to an airtight container, and refrigerated. When cooked food is held at a temperature between 40ºF and 140ºF, it’s known as the “danger zone” by the USDA. Bacteria love moist foods like pasta, so any leftovers should be stored in the fridge and fully reheated before you eat them again (and it’s best not to wait more than a day). You may feel bad about throwing away food, but we all know reheated mushy pasta isn’t very good anyway.

Pasta Mistakes to Stop Making