Archive | December, 2010

Chocolate Mousse with Whipped Cream & Dusts of Orange Zest

23 Dec

Last year I posted a recipe for Chocolate Mousse that my family makes every year for Christmas. That recipe is not very authentic – but it doesn’t discount how delicious it is or how much we anticipate making and eating it each year. For my fondue holiday party, I wanted to try and make something closer to the real deal. The only hold up to this recipe is the raw eggs but you can give fair warning to your guests – mine didn’t turn anything down.

I used this recipe from another one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen. She mentions that you can make this a day ahead and chill. I did this and it worked well, although they were much thicker in consistency than I hoped. You may want to consider bringing them to room temperature before serving.

The mousse was beautiful in my European “Glamor Mugs.” If you see these domestically, let me know…I want two more.

Silky, Decadent Old-School Chocolate Mousse from Smitten Kitchen
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, October 2009

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao), chopped
  • 3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac or other brandy (or swap with a liqueur of your choice)
  • 1 cup very cold heavy or whipping cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Get out one large heatproof, two medium and one small mixing bowl and dust off your electric hand mixer.

Set the large bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water and melt the chocolate and butter in it, gently stirring it until smooth. Remove from heat. Alternately, you can melt them in your microwave, stirring thoroughly at 30 seconds and every 15 seconds thereafter until the mixture is smooth.

In the small bowl, beat yolks with your electric mixer until thick enough to form a ribbon that takes a few seconds to dissolve — this will take about two to four minutes to achieve. Whisk yolks into chocolate mixture along with Cognac, then cool to warm.

In one of the medium bowls, beat the cream with cleaned beaters until it just holds stiff peaks.

In the other medium bowl, beat the egg whites and salt with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks.

Fold the whipped cream and beaten whites into the chocolate mixture, gently but thoroughly. Transfer to 8 (4 ounce) ramekins or one large serving bowl, or go restaurant-style, serving it in stemmed glasses with white or dark chocolate shavings on top.

Do ahead: Mousse can be chilled, its surface covered with parchment paper, up to 2 days, though I’ve never heard of it lasting that long with hungry people named Deb around. Let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving.

Cheese Fondue

22 Dec

Dining around a communal hot pot requires the closest of friends. I borrowed my mother’s fondue pot for that very reason – to only invite a small intimate group over for a quiet evening around the fire. After much contemplation over what items to dip into dense and pungent pot of hot cheese I stuck with the standard french bread. You could add anything from apple to broccoli, walnuts, asparagus or potatoes.

I’ve had fondue with much more alcohol (including kirsh, etc) but I prefer to keep it simple and not overpower the cheese. This came together in less than 10 minutes and lasted for a brief hour as we reached in time after time soaking up every last bite of the cheese mixture.

Easy Cheese Fondue

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch plus 2 teaspoons additional white wine
  • 3 cups shredded Gruyere Cheese
  • 3 cups shredded Jarlsberg

Cut the garlic clove in half and rub its oils all over the inside of the fondue pot. Place fondue pot directly on top of the gas burner. Bring the wine to a simmer and gradually add the shredded cheese. Once it is melted, add the mixture of additional wine and corn starch to the pot. Transfer to the fondue pot burner.

Fennel & Granny Smith Apple Salad

21 Dec

I’ve made this Fennel and Granny Smith Apple Salad about three times and have failed to photograph it (you can slightly see it in the photo below!). This salad is a great compliment for a rich main dish. I’ve served it with heavy dishes like French Onion Soup and Cheese Fondue. I like it because it is far from ordinary yet doesn’t steal the show. I’ve added sweet and savory pecans and goat cheese and my sister, Maggie, made it for guests in Denver and added pomegranate seeds. It certainly doesn’t need any additions but please don’t hold back any creativity!

Fresh Fennel and Granny Smith Apple Salad

  • 1 medium-sized fennel bulb, julianned
  • 1 large granny smith apple, julianned
  • 1 large container mix baby greens
  • lemon vinaigrette
  • pecans, pomegranate seeds, goat cheese (optional)

Using a mandolin, slice the fennel and apple into 1/4 inch slices. Then slice thinning into even julianned pieces (if you can figure this full julianne technique out with the mandolin – more power to you). Add to your favorite lemon vinaigrette (mine is salt, pepper, sugar, lemon juice and olive oil) to prevent from browning. When ready to serve, toss with fresh baby greens.


Holiday Festivities and My Holiday Fondue Party

21 Dec

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to celebrate the holiday season at many marvelous parties. My friends throw great parties! What makes them so special, to me, is their diversity. They span counties and zip codes, start in the morning and in the night, serve all kinds of foods, play all types of music and  host all kinds of people . Each with their own flair, we shared food and libations with friends and acquaintances, senators to reality TV stars and everyone in between. And for some reason when my friends and I returned home, we punish ourselves trying to decide what parties were the most fun – and how to define what “fun” at a party really is. Nothing could be more subjective!

I must admit this year that I did have a favorite holiday party (and no, it wasnt the one I’m about to give you the menu from). My favorite party of the year, for reason’s I can’t completely identify, was actually a party that I crashed! My friends would beg to differ as they had passed on an invitation from the hosts (whom I did not know) but I think it is technically still crashing.

I can’t pinpoint exactly why this party made me so happy because I surely did not predict it. Perhaps it was the fact that I didn’t know a soul, or that the house was decked from lawn to floor to ceiling in Christmas lights and holiday decor, the pure diversity of the guests, or the loud hip hop and beach music that strung it all together. It may be that the party completely defied everything that Martha Stewart and other celebrity hosts objectify to be successful Christmas parties. Or that amongst all the commotion – there was a unique cohesiveness among everyone and there wasnt a person that wasnt having a fantastic time. And, when the color christmas lights are just as colorful as the crowd – that is no easy task! I stood like a fly on the wall at this party in awe of how the hosts brought the most stereotypically different people together and created an atmosphere in which everyone could be themselves, have a great time and come together while doing it. It made the point, that despite everything that I yammer on about day-after-day – sometimes it comes down to an atmosphere that you just can’t prescribe. And I am convinced that the hosts in Oak Ridge that night may have figured a way to really create “Peace on Earth.”

After attending that party, I decided to take myself out of the running for most fun Christmas party this year. As much as I love to plan and host a party, I needed a break and only wanted to spend a quiet evening home with my closest Greensboro friends by the fire with good food. And for a close crowd of four, cheese fondue by the fire couldn’t be a better menu. I served everything at once and we snacked and drank our way through the evening. I recommend this highly for your next cold night gathering.

Holiday Fondue by the Fire Menu:

  • Assortment of Cured Meats
  • Fennel and Granny Smith Apple Salad
  • Cheese Fondue with Crusty French Baguette with Crisp French White Wine
  • Chocolate Mousse and Champagne

Low Country Christmas Bowl

14 Dec

Another cold front is passing through the southeast forcing all Southerners to reach for comfort foods and head towards the fireplace. And what could be more comforting to a Southern girl than a big bowl of cheese grits? I think they even created a cliché acronym about it.

This recipe for “Low Country Christmas Bowl” was inspired by a recipe collection titled “Comfort in a Bowl” in the January 2011 addition of Real Simple Magazine. Their recipe is a sautéed mixture of andouille sausage and collard greens over cheese grits. After a literal panic over the idea of purchasing and preparing collard greens (which questions the “S” in my “GRITS”), I grabbed some baby spinach. I also added a couple of tomatoes and garlic cloves that I had around the kitchen.

I served this to my friend Patrick as a farewell holiday dinner before he heads to Kentucky for the holiday. With 17 degree winds blowing against my 1923 bungalow, we had to hold our bowls close to the fire to keep warm – and keep our grits from becoming concrete before we could finish!

Low Country Christmas Bowl


  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 3/4 cup quick cooking grits
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese (or to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 12 ounces andouille sausage, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 2 roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 bag of baby spinach
  • salt

In a large cast iron skillet, saute the sliced andouille sausage over medium high-until crispy. Move the sausage to the side, lower the flame to medium and add garlic and shallot. Saute until slightly soft and add the tomatoes and peppers. Meanwhile, bring the milk and a pinch of salt to a boil. Whisk in the grits on low heat about 6 minutes until soft and creamy. Add the butter and cheese. Taste for seasoning (at this point, you will be tempted to add more cheese – and I don’t blame you)! Once the sausage and vegetable mixture is soft, add the spinach and allow to wilt. Serve hot on top of piping hot cheese grit!

Baby It’s Cold Outside: Ina’s Italian Wedding Soup

10 Dec

I’m not sure if I should start this post with a long honest “Brrrrrrr,” or that classic holiday song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Either way, it sure is cold in North Carolina and this weather requires serious comfort food to warm you up. Monday night I needed a recipe that I could make after a long days work and arrived at Ina’s Italian Wedding Soup. Like all of Ina’s recipes, she recommends using homemade chicken stock – which I obviously did not have time to throw together – so I made a couple of shortcuts thanks in part by my local Fresh Market!

I’m a big fan of the Fresh Market for a number of reasons: 1) they are headquartered right in my backyard (Greensboro, NC)! 2) They have a number of quality pantry items including a great boxed chicken stock which was a tasty substitute for homemade 3) their meat department is set up so you can get exactly what you want. I picked up 3/4 pound of ground turkey (which i switched for ground chicken) and just two italian chicken sausages. I never use the quarter pound of meat leftover in the freezer and I hate to waste! These last two points come in handy when you are cooking for just one or two people – or want to find special ingredients in a snap.

I made a couple changes in Ina’s recipe which I’ve included below in italics. I personally love a squeeze of lemon juice in any chicken soup – you can make this addition to your taste. While I was worried that the pasta might become too mushy after a couple of day – but the soup actually got better everyday. And the chicken meat balls are absolutely amazing!

Enjoy – and stay warm!

Ina’s Italian Wedding Soup


For the meatballs:

  • 3/4 pound ground chicken (I used ground turkey)
  • 1/2 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
  • 2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (I used a full half cup of Pecorino and skipped the Parmesan)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the soup:

  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 cup minced yellow onion
  • 1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 10 cups homemade chicken stock (I used good quality Fresh Market chicken stock)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup small pasta such as tubetini or stars
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
  • 12 ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed
  • (I added the juice of one lemon at the end)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Pecorino, Parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork. With a teaspoon, drop 1 to 1 1/4-inch meatballs onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. (You should have about 40 meatballs. They don’t have to be perfectly round.) Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

In the meantime, for the soup, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Add the fresh dill and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Pecans

8 Dec

A couple of days before Thanksgiving my office hosted a potluck to celebrate the season together as a staff. We were all asked to bring a side and the office took care of the turkey and ham. And while many would roll their eyes at the idea of another Thanksgiving meal (before Thanksgiving!), my coworker, Judy, pointed out how fun it is to sample everyone’s traditions. I particularly loved Stephanie’s Salad with Prosciutto, Fresh Fennel and Pomegranate Seeds, Margaret’s Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Red Curry and Judy’s Spicy Cranberry Salsa with Cilantro!

I thought it would be fun to tease everyone and make a traditional side that many hate but make them extra special. While brussel sprouts have gotten a bad reputation through the years because of their tendency to end up in salted boiling water until they taste like over cooked boiled baby cabbage – they are particularly delicious when roasted. And what isn’t delicious when roasted in bacon fat?

I got some serious grief from select members of our staff (you know who you are) but many asked for the recipe afterward. So, here it is!

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Toasted Pecans


  • brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 4 slices bacon
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • pecans

Assembly: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim the brussel sprouts by slicing a bit off the end and removing any tough leaves. Cut them in half (you’ll want to brown the flat side until crispy). Fry the bacon in a cast iron skillet. Remove the bacon and add the brussel sprouts into the bacon fat cut side down. If there isn’t enough bacon fat to coat all the pieces, you may want to add a splash of olive oil. Season the sprouts with salt and pepper. Once all the cut sides are brown, transfer to the skillet to the oven for about 10 minutes (you will want to closely monitor so they don’t over cook). I like my brussel sprouts with a bite. Meanwhile toast the pecans on the stove or in the oven. Once the brussel sprouts are cooked through to your preference (remember, no one prefers mushy sprouts), crumble the bacon and pecans over the sprouts and serve!

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

6 Dec

The grande finale to our Thanksgiving festivities on Mendenhall, was a Salted Caramel Chocolate Cale that my mother made. Knowing how popular salted caramel is these days, she searched long and hard for the best looking recipe and ended up choosing The Former Chef’s recipe. There is no shortage of steps in making this – or chocolate in the cake. After purchasing eighteen dollars worth of dark chocolate, we realized that the frosting could be cut in half. There was just as much fudge-like frosting as moist and fluffy cake. Check out the Former Chef’s blog and consider making this for your next party!

Lemon and Onion Roasted Green Beans with Almonds

2 Dec

After stealing some garlic green beans from my friends while at Founding Farmers in Washington DC, I had to itch to make them for Thanksgiving. While my mom wanted brussel sprouts and my sister wanted a salad – I made the call! These couldn’t be easier, I mixed good French green beans with a yellow onion cut into large slices in olive oil, salt and pepper. Roasted at 425 for about 10 minutes – or until the green beans were tender – then sprinkled with lemon zest and juice. I added chopped almonds for an extra crunch on top.

This roasting method works with pretty much any vegetable. It is my go-to on bringing out the best flavors in veggies and couldn’t be easier.

Mushroom and Potato Gratin

1 Dec

 This Potato and Mushroom Gratin was the perfect side dish to serve with our Thanksgiving feast. I found the recipe using Epicurious’s handy iPhone application (which is free and so helpful!). The recipe makes enough to feed a small village. I made half and we still had plenty to eat for leftovers. Other than the fact that it is extremely heavy – parboiling anything in heavy cream is dangerous for one’s health.  It was  worth it, I guess, since it was Thanksgiving. I recommend this for a special occasion or a last meal.

Potato and Mushroom Gratin from November 2010 Bon Appetit


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cups finely chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only; about 3 large)
  • 1 1/2 pounds 1/2-inch cubes assorted mushrooms (such as crimini and stemmed shiitake; about 10 cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup coarsely grated Gruyère cheese

Heat 1/4 cup oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks; sauté until soft and lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Add mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sauté until soft and liquid evaporates, 7 to 8 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. DO AHEAD: Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pat potato slices dry with kitchen towel. Combine cream, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in large pot. Add potatoes. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered, 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lid; simmer until cream is reduced by about half and potatoes are partially cooked, stirring often and watching closely to prevent mixture from burning, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Brush 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with oil. Transfer half of potato mixture to dish, spreading out in even layer. Spoon mushroom mixture over in even layer. Spoon remaining potato mixture over, spreading in even layer. Sprinkle cheese over. Cover with foil, tenting in center to prevent cheese from sticking to foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover; bake until potatoes are tender and top is brown, 20 to 25 minutes longer. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.


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