Sunday, December 18, 2011

Picky Eaters at Your Holiday Table?

So, Santa's already arrived, the stockings long plundered and all bets are off for getting the sugarplums to eat well at the Christmas dinner table? Meanwhile, you're already feeling a bit like the Grinch just trying to get one holiday meal cooked, much less a special meal for the picky crew.

It's time for some holiday magic. Or, at least an easy few recipes that both the adults and kids alike will enjoy. This elf is not above using the holidays to get kids to eat red and green vegetables, either.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a peaceful holiday meal!

Red, Gold, and Orange Salad

This recipe pairs a kid-favorite of in-season, sweet winter citrus and cheese with vegetables for a colorful, tasty introduction to beets. If your kids have already rejected red beets, switch it up to golden beets for a milder flavor. The red and gold colors with green herb accents in this dish make it a stunning and festive seasonal salad the adults will love too.

2 large red beets, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 large golden beets, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 small fresh fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and cut into eighths

2 shallots, quartered

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (15-ounce) can mandarin orange sections, drained (or 4 clementines, peeled and sectioned)

1{1/2} cups coarsely crumbled feta cheese

{1/4} cup chopped fresh mint leaves (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Place the beets, fennel, and shallots in the prepared dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and toss to coat. Roast until tender, about 1{1/2} hours. Let cool to room temperature.

3. Toss the roasted vegetables with the orange sections. Sprinkle the feta over the mixture, and garnish with mint, if desired.

Serves 4 to 6

Recipes courtesy of The Cleaner Plate Club, Storey Publishing

Carrot-Orange Soufflé

We all wish for peace on earth this season, but this dish may at least bring some peace at the holiday table by eliminating the battle for bites of vegetable. The sweet, light almost mousse-like vegetable dish is an easy one for kids to like and an elegant classic side for the bigger kids-at-heart.

2{1/2} pounds carrots, about 12 medium, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces

{2/3} cup sugar

{1/4} cup unbleached all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt

3 eggs

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon baking powder

{1/2} teaspoon salt

{1/4} teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg

{1/2} teaspoon vanilla extract

{1/2} teaspoon orange extract

1. Steam the carrots until very soft, about 30 minutes. You can do this in an electric steamer. Alternatively, fill a large pot with a couple inches of water, set a steaming basket in it, and bring to a boil. Set the carrots in the basket, cover, and let steam. Let cool completely.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

3. Place the carrots in a food processor or blender, and pulse until puréed. Add the other ingredients separately in order, from the sugar through the extracts, pulsing as you go. Run the food processor until all the ingredients are well mixed.

4. Spray a soufflé dish with cooking spray. Pour in the soufflé batter. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the sides are puffed up and just golden on the edges and the center is set.

Serves 8 to 10.

Recipes courtesy of
The Cleaner Plate Club, Storey Publishing

Ham, Tomato and Broccoli Mac and Cheese

If you are tasked with extra picky eaters joining the holiday table this year, try this trick: Use the holiday colors to sell a bit of vegetable in a kid-favorite like Mac and Cheese. You may even call it Santa’s Mac and Cheese if that will help!

1 medium head broccoli, florets only (save the stems to use in broccoli soup or for crunch in salads)

1 cup roasted tomatoes, recipe below

1 {1/2} tablespoons butter

3 scallions, sliced, whites and 1 inch of the greens parts

2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup low-fat milk

{1/2} cup vegetable broth

1 {1/2} cups grated Monterrey Jack cheese

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

{1/2} pound small pasta

1 pound of ham, diced small (in {1/4}-inch cubes)

{1/2} cup panko bread crumbs (or regular bread crumbs)

1. Steam the broccoli for about 5 minutes, until crisp and bright green, but no longer raw. You can do this in an electric steamer. Alternatively, fill a large pot with a couple inches of water, set a steaming basket in it, and bring to a boil. Set the broccoli in the basket, cover, and let steam. Let cool. Chop fine.

2. Make the cheese sauce. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the scallions and sauté for a couple minutes. Add the flour and whisk. Cook this roux for a bit, until it smells nutty and is golden. Add the milk and the broth and heat for about 5 minutes, whisking as you add. Add the cheese and nutmeg and continue whisking until the cheese melts and the sauce is thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remembering that the ham is going in and it is salty.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain.

5. Toss the pasta, sauce, chopped broccoli and ham in a large bowl. Layer {1/2} of this mixture in a 2-quart casserole dish (oven safe). Spread the roasted tomatoes for a middle layer of “filling” and top with the rest of the pasta mixture. Melt the remaining {1/2} tablespoon of butter in a small bowl in the microwave, about 20 seconds, and toss with the bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the bread crumbs are golden brown.

Serves 8.

Recipes courtesy of The Cleaner Plate Club, Storey Publishing

Roasted Tomatoes

The recipe makes three cups so you can use the remaining portion for an easy, quick (red and white) bruschetta appetizer with goat cheese for the big people! Which is a nice bonus when you can make two dishes at once on a busy holiday!

1{1/2} pounds cherry tomatoes (about 4 cups), halved

{1/4} cup extra-virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1{1/4} teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram, or 1 {1/2} teaspoons dried

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

2. Toss the tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, and marjoram in a large bowl. Place the tomatoes in a single layer on baking sheets. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Roast until the tomatoes are blistered, about 35 minutes. Top with the chopped basil.

Makes about 3 cups.

Recipes courtesy of
The Cleaner Plate Club, Storey Publishing

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Brunch Ideas

If you want something special for Christmas brunch, but don't want to work that hard, some of these recipes are a great fit. By the time we make Christmas Eve dinner and survive the holiday events leading up to Christmas, well, let's keep it simple.

Egg Nog French Toast
For the toast:
3/4 cup eggnog
1 egg, beaten
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

6 slices egg bread like challah or brioche, or a whole grain like honey wheat.
1 tbs. butter

1/4 cup grade B maple syrup
1/4 cup pecan pieces
1 tsp. bourbon
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Heat the butter in a skillet. Soak bread, both sides, in the eggnog mixture. Brown on each side until golden.

Warm the syrup in a sauce pan with the bourbon, cinnamon, and pecans. Top the toast with syrup. Enjoy.

This dish is similar to one I had at a favorite breakfast place with the best ever scones. The place closed, but not because of the food quality. I miss the scones terribly and decided to make my own version of the smoked salmon recipe.

Smoked Salmon on Herb Waffle with Creme Fraiche
for the waffles
1 and 3/4 cup cake flour (not self rising)
1 tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup cream
3/4 cup lowfat milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp. dijon mustard
2 tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus 1 tbs. for garnish
2 tbs. chopped dill, plus 1 tbs. for garnish
1 tbs. chopped chives, plus 2 tsp. for garnish
pepper to taste

For the rest of the dish
12 oz. smoked salmon
6 oz. roasted tomatoes (recipe) (or sundried, packed in oil, or in the Whole Foods cheese aisle)
3 cups mesclun (spring mix) greens
6 oz. creme fraiche (or sour cream)

For the waffles, sift together the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs then add the cream, milk and oil and mustard. Whisk well. Stir in the chopped herbs, reserving the others for garnish. Add a few grinds of pepper and whisk.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing just until incorporated, do not overmix. Cook about 3/4 cup of batter in a round, belgian-style waffle maker for each waffle. The recipe should make at least six waffles with a "spare" just in case.

To serve, place the warm waffle on a plate, top each with 1/2 cup greens, then 1 oz. tomatoes, then 2 oz of slices of smoked salmon. Add a dollop of the creme fraiche and garnish with the reserved chopped herbs.

Main Dishes for Brunch
Shirred Eggs
Breakfast Panini
Hashbrown, Chard, Tomato and Ham Frittata

Breads, Pancakes and Waffles
Orange Brioche French Toast with Bananas Foster
Pumpkin Gingerbread Waffles

Salads (Seasonal)
Red Wine Poached Pear with Arugula
Clementine, Fennel and Pomegranate
Arugula Salad with Bleu Cheese Crostini, Roasted Pears and Grapes and Honey-Wine Syrup
Red, Gold and Orange Festive Salad

Poundcake with Blackberry Wine Sauce and Honey Chocolate Ganache
Assorted Christmas Cookies

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cookbooks for Christmas

The book reviews, courtesy of Andrews McMeel continue...

I'll be giving a few books to family and friends this year. They don't read the blog, I think, so the secret is safe with just us.

The Brisket Book
For my brother-in-law who believes that the four food groups are beef, pork, seafood and, well, whatever else is on the table, we'll be serving him The Brisket Book, A Love Story by Stephanie Pierson. We eat only grassfed beef, so the recipes in here work well for leaner meats, think arm roasts and rump roasts, too. The book has a lot of detail and background on cooking methods and gathers recipes from various chefs, barbecue champs and home cooks.

We tried the Class Braised Beef Brisket recipe, which, is the one recipe in the book, I think, that needs a few more details. First, the oven temperature is notably absent, (refer to the front section that discusses braising method and choose the lower temperature and longer time option). Second, the spice crust has a lot of salt in it, when you go to reduce the liquid from cooking into the sauce later, it's way too salty. Either use half the salt in the rub, or thicken the pan sauce with a slurry or roux. Reducing it only intensifies the salt.

For my niece in college with her first apartment, learning to cook, there will be three books wrapped up. Her brother kids her that she can boil water, but can't make the pasta even on a box of Mac and Cheese. For her, Robin Takes Five, 500 Calories, 5 ingredients or less, 500 calories or less, five nights a week, 5 pm. It's a good set of basic, fast and healthy recipes that are not too complicated for a new cook. They are not boring recipes, which is a pleasant surprise given the five ingredient limit. Chinese Five-Spice Roasted Chicken with Mandarin Duck Sauce, and basics like Spinach and Feta Turkey Burgers are healthy, but tasty 500-calorie meal options.

Once she gets some confidence, her next book to dive into will be Poor Girl Gourmet, Eat in Style on a Bare Bones Budget. I cooked a lot with my roommates in college, it became like a second family. Learning to eat well on a budget is also a lifelong skill that will be very handy. Rigatoni with Roasted Butternut Squash, Sweet Italian Sausage, and Fried Sage is way sexier than anything that came out of our college apartment kitchen, except perhaps Richard's Monster Cookies he would bake when he got sick of us girls dieting too much. I hope my niece has as many good memories and good friends from her college experience as I do. Sharing a meal sure helps that sense of a second family.

She's also going to get Grilled Cheese, Please! so she can start with the basics and eat well without being intimidated. There's some good basics like Cubano and Monte Cristo in here and a lot of ways to eat vegetables. My niece does not eat a lot of veggies, so putting them between crisp bread with good cheese may be a whole new idea that works for her. I hope she'll explore new foods, too, like the Arepas with Black Beans and Plantains "grilled cheese."

Of course, I will also be wrapping up a copy of The Cleaner Plate Club for my niece. After all, her aunt wrote it. She's kind of under obligation to get that one.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

It's the season for my annual book gift guide, courtesy of Andrews McMeel. Also known as, "Oh man, how did this pile of books to review get so tall?" Since they have been around a bit, I have had some time to organize the pile.

Unless Santa stuffs a bookcase down the chimney, I am going to have to do a major book donation to the local library for the new additions to find a home. Which means, yes, a few of these will be giveaways. I won't tell anyone if you regift them, either.

First topic, of course, baking. Maida Heatter's set of books, Cookies, and Cakes are as jammed full of recipes as her German Oatmeal Cookies are of fruit, chocolate and nuts. Homemade fig newtons and homemade graham crackers are worth a try, given these were both childhood favorites of the packaged variety. There are also a lot of recipes for chocolate drop cookies that might help me recreate my Aunt Annie's chocolate cookies she used to put M&Ms on. She made these every time we went to visit.

I like that the book places a few extra recipes for "sides" like ice cream and chocolate sauce tucked away in the back, the same position in the freezer where I try to hide our ice cream so I actually get a second bowl. Cookie recipes are here.

The cakes companion book also contains classics and a few non-traditional items. I got a moment of vindication for my love of putting vegetables into dessert when I read Heatter's recipes for beet cake, and her carrot cake that has more carrot. My own recipes for "beet brownies" and carrot-raisin cupcakes don't seem so crazy when I learn that a James Beard award-winner has done the same thing. She aces me, however, with sauerkraut cake and tomato soup cake recipes, a classic chocolate cake with mashed potato for density and moist crumb, and a sweet potato cake. I'm humbled. And inspired!

I thought these would be an amazing present for a friend of ours who made me a gorgeous Italian Wedding cake (three layers of heavenly perfection) for my birthday. But, I think I could use a lesson or two from the pages. She's mastered cakes really well. And, I have already gifted her with Judith Fertig's Heartland.

For those of you who like photos of the finished baked goods, take note, these editions have good explanations in the recipes, but no photos. If you have previous Maida Heatter dessert books, the recipes may be familiar as these two editions are a greatest hits compilation of the best recipes.

Keep or no? I have to ask myself this question for every book I review with an obsessive 400-plus cookbook collection that needs dusting. Ironic, since I rarely use a recipe to cook with, but I love to just read cookbooks the way some folks read novels. Keep! And, I'll part with some my less proven baking books to make the shelf space.