Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

Thanksgiving is around the corner.  Just 29 days until we stuff ourselves with an endless smorgasbord of food and drink, football and family.  It also marks the traditional start of the holiday season. 

But I am as much a Holiday Diva as a Culinary Diva.  So our holiday season starts this weekend when I send Mrs. Claus’ helper in an eighteen foot U-Haul truck to pick up Christmas decorations from a double-wide storage unit.  I know this may seem early, but it takes about three weeks to fully decorate our house and we like to have everything finished by Thanksgiving.  Over the Thanksgiving weekend we celebrate and give thanks for completion of this indomitable task by treating ourselves to exciting holiday dinners, seasonal cocktails, fine wines and the viewing of our favorite Christmas movies. 

Though it looks like a lot of chopping, prep time is really pretty quick

This week’s French Friday’s with Dorie challenge is really timely and produces a veritable showstopper of a dish.  Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good is the holidays personified.  It is like a beautiful package stuffed with a bounty of delectable treasures, and the pumpkin makes a wonderful serving vessel. 

Cream is added to the ingredients

Mix ingredients until moistened

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good is truly versatile.  It can serve as an accompaniment to the ubiquitous turkey, even substituting for that glutinous glob that frequently masquerades as stuffing.  It can be used as a starch substitute with virtually any meat, fish or fowl.  Or it can be used as an entrée by exchanging rice for the bread ingredient.  If you have vegetarian friends and are at a loss as to what to serve, leave the bacon out and this dish will wow them.  Even Sasha, the Wonder Dog, couldn’t get enough of Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good.

Stuff pumpkin with mixture

Top pumpkin with topand place in oven for 90 minutes

The secret to this dish may be in the slow roasting (2 hours).   The flavors meld together creating a graduated intensity in flavor. I used a combination of Gruyere and Emmenthal cheeses to good effect.  These cheeses provided a richness and nutty flavor that balanced well with  the crispness and saltiness of the bacon, the firmness of the day-old bread soaked in cream, the flavors and aromas emanating from the fresh thyme and chives and the sweetness of the baked pumpkin. 

Remove pumpkin top after 90 minutes and bake for another 20 (my top had popped off)

Piping hot out of the oven, my pumpkin’s burnt orange color was slightly caramelized at the top and contrasted nicely with the stuffing that overflowed down the sides.  This dish was a feast for the eyes and nose and its image deserved to be captured by a professional photographer for the cover of a foodie magazine. 

Voila!  One stunning dish for your holiday table...

This is a must try for the holiday season, or your next dinner party.  This recipe can be found on page 364 of Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.     

Pumpkin slices easily for individual servings

To read other Dorista's French Friday Experiences:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Aviatrix

It is not iconic like Amelia Earhart, but it can be every bit as satisfying as a brief air flight.  The Aviatrix is a cocktail inspired by The Tar Pit restaurant’s “Aviator” cocktail.  The Aviator debuted in the desert at the 2011 Palm Desert Food & Wine event and garnered a lot of attention and accolades.  I was promised the recipe but never received it.  But the mixologist did disclose the ingredients:  Gabriel Boudier Saffron Infused Gin and Luxardo Il Maraschino Originale.

The saffron infused gin is micro distilled in Dijon, France and is rich in exotic botanicals plus saffron which gives it a spicy character.  While the color and fragrance are quite unique, I find it a little harsh if used as an aperitif.  And for me, the Luxardo Maraschino Originale is a little medicinal in aroma and taste if used as a liqueur.  But together they form a colorful, sophisticated cocktail that is quite different from other specialty cocktails served today.  It is said that “well behaved women never make history,” so think of The Aviatrix as a bit of a bad girl that is manly enough for all.   

After some experimentation, I have settled on the following recipe for what I call “The Aviatrix.”

The Aviatrix:

Serves 1

2 ounces Gabriel Boudier Saffron Infused Gin
1 ounce Luxardo Il Maraschino Originale
½ fresh lime, juiced
1 ounce simple syrup

Place liquid ingredients in cocktail shaker, fill with ice.  Shake and pour into ice cold martini glass.


(As a side note, if you are a Coachella Valley resident and looking for the ingredients, Jensen’s carries the Gabriel Boudier Saffron Infused Gin and Bristol Farms carries the Luxardo Il Maraschino Originale.)

Interested in a little Saffron Coconut Ice Cream?  Check it out at:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pissaladiere - To Bait or Not to Bait


“I don’t eat bait,” said my faithful sous chef, and with that announcement began my task to honor the spirit of this week’s French Fridays with Dorie (FFWD) challenge in a manner that satisfied our provincial taste buds.  

I look forward to these weekly challenges for they expose me to new recipes, new ingredients, and the FFWD group’s helpful comments about their experiences with and interpretations of the recipes.  Although I consider myself quite an adventuresome chef and diner, my limits are tested when a recipe includes unfavored ingredients such as egg yolk and, like this week’s recipe, anchovies.  While I don’t share my sous chef’s staunch aversion, I am not a total fan of this slimy little fish.  I can eat anchovies in a Caesar Salad, or if they are mushed into something so they are unrecognizable, but even I was unwilling to see them stretched languorously across the top of my food.   A substitute was needed.
Why do I always forget something when prepping?  Thyme anyone?

Fortunately, Dorie is very good at explaining the origins of a dish in Around My French Table.  Her section on Pissaladière mentioned it is a “treasured street food” in Niçoise (or, for those non-Francophiles, the area in and about Nice).  The wheels started turning and the Salade Niçoise became a bit of inspiration.   I decided to substitute cracked- black pepper seared ahi tuna for the anchovies and top off with arugula.  Unfortunately, my usually dependable sous chef forgot the arugula—he said he was distracted by a comely shopper checking out melons.  Since necessity is the mother of invention, the spring lettuce mix in the refrigerator became the topper.

I have made a lot of homemade pizzas and done a lot of baking, so I am not a dough-novice.  But for some reason, this was the stickiest yeast dough I have ever encountered.  I felt like Spiderwoman and, try as I may, could not get the dough off my hands and board without vigorous scrubbing.  When I finally got the dough into the bowl to rest, I felt as though I had gone ten rounds with Hillary Swank. 
Drizzling olive oil into dissolved yeast

Pouring yeast mixture into well of flour

No matter how much flour I add, still sticky

Nap time for dough, cocktail time for me

Dough has doubled in size

The main ingredient, and the whole reason for the Pissaladière, is caramelized onions.  My last experience caramelizing onions was not so successful, probably due to the fact I was multi-tasking and you shouldn’t caramelize anything while doing laundry, decorating for the holidays, and walking Sasha, The Wonder Dog.  I was determined to make the perfect caramelized onions this time and took to heart Dorie’s instruction not to rush the process.  In 45 minutes, Dorie’s estimated time to complete, my onions were still in a virginal state.  But in 90 minutes the onions looked like golden tanned bathers along the Cote d’ Azur.  Perhaps the heat was a tad too low and I a bit too cautious because of the onion debacle last Christmas?  In any event, the result looked great and the room was redolent with a sweet, nutty aroma.
What did I do before onion goggles

There is just never enough Thyme - MIA again

The Thyme finally made it in, but I forgot to photo the finished caramalized onions

This recipe is from a region where anchovies are a precious ingredient.  I try to remain true to Dorie’s recipes, so I needed to work anchovies into my Pissaladière.  I did so by adding a small amount of anchovy paste to the caramelized onions and lightly reheating to fully incorporate it.  When that was done, I rolled the dough to a thin consistency, lathered it with the caramelized onion- anchovy mixture, and baked for 20 minutes.
Punched down dough, still a bit sticky

The second nap for the dough before rolling out

Ready to bake
Olives ready

In the meantime, I rolled my ahi tuna in cracked black pepper and cooked it briefly in a very hot non-stick pan until the edges had blackened and the center remained a bright pink.  I put the seared ahi tuna aside to rest and put the spring salad mix in a bowl and tossed it with a small amount of salt and olive oil.  I took the dough from the oven and sprinkled black Niçoise olives all around and baked in the oven for another 4 minutes.  When done, I removed the Pissaladière from the oven and transferred it to a serving platter where I added the seared ahi tuna, along with the lightly dressed spring lettuce mix and a few feta crumbles for good measure.  It looked quite pretty and made me think about sitting on the French Riveria with a glass of wine to enjoy with the dish. 
Seared Anchovy substitute

Lunch anyone?

The ahi is a beautiful color, wonder if I can get a dress that color
The Pissaladière dough was thin and crisp – just like we prefer.  The caramelized onion and anchovy mix, with its infusion of thyme and bay leaf, subtly suggested the terroir of Niçoise.  The black cracked pepper crust of the seared ahi added a robust heat to the dish that was cooled by the spring salad mix.  Plus the firm, tasty meat was a welcome and very successful substitute for anchovies.  The Niçoise olives added yet another layer of taste and texture.   But a word or warning:  the olives are small and their pits very hard, so use pitted olives if available and, if not, be very careful when
you bite into one or you risk bankrupting the Tooth Fairy. 

Notice the Fire Tulips - Open Sky sent them as a Thank You for shopping

This dish was a definite winner and I am going to serve this for my next ladies brunch!
Crispy Pissaladiere

To read more about the French Friday with Dorie experiences:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rubber Chicken Dinner Alternative

The “Rubber Chicken Dinner” season has begun; let the cheap wine flow!

 Here in the Coachella Valley there are over 900 charities vying for their piece of the charitable-giving pie.  The competition is fierce to see which charity can host the most over-the-top “ball” (a euphemism for an event that forces attendees to wear formal attire to do the same things that can be done in casual attire, while listening to endless speeches).  One thing common to these events is the food:  a watery, limp salad; tasteless, rubbery chicken or beef, or both; vegetables discernable as such only from the menu; and the obligatory chocolate dessert, all accompanied by wines of completely unknown vintners from regions less travelled.  There are so many charitable events like these that before each season my intrepid escort and I negotiate how many and which events he will attend.  Unfortunately for me, the number decreases exponentially each year.

A Culinary Diva likes culinary challenges, but getting through the Rubber Chicken Dinner Season is particularly difficult for me.  I usually avoid the buffet tables and merely nibble for appearance sake during a sit-down dinner ordeal.  So I find it advisable to eat before the event or afterwards and am always looking for something light to accommodate these needs.  As part of the FoodBuzz Tastemaker Program with Marzetti Simply Dressed, I received a complimentary bottle of Marzetti Simply Dressed Salad Dressing.  This gift presented the perfect opportunity to do a little experimentation for some quick and easy dishes for the busy social season ahead of me.

There are ten varieties of Marzetti Simply Dressed Salad Dressing to select from and, trust me, selection is no small task given the wide variety and uniqueness of their salad dressings.  The Marzetti products are made from all-natural ingredients and do not contain preservatives – which is a major plus in my book.  I ended up purchasing four more because they sounded so interesting. 

For my first experiment, I selected the Greek Feta salad dressing made with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. This salad dressing has a light and creamy texture and will not weigh down your salad like so many creamy dressings do.  I thought this would perfectly compliment the salad’s principal ingredients:  cantaloupe and feta cheese.

This salad was inspired by a local CSA website that featured a recipe with cantaloupe and feta cheese.  Cantaloupe and feta cheese are a natural pairing with the saltiness of the feta cheese working well with the sweet, luscious flavors of the cantaloupe.  But I thought the Marzetti salad dressing could support a broader platform of tastes.  So I chose spicy arugula for the greens and added freshly crisped bacon and cool, refreshing cucumber.  The result is an explosive taste sensation, rather like the image conjured by a Jackson Pollock painting.  This salad can be an appetizer or an entrée.  Either way, it is a showstopper.

Cantaloupe, Feta and Arugula Salad


1 small cantaloupe, seeded and diced

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

10 Kalamata Olives sliced

4 strips of crisped bacon, crumbled

¼ cup Marzetti Simply Dressed Greek Feta Salad Dressing

1 bag arugula

Place ¼ cup of Marzetti Simply Dressed Greek Feta Salad Dressing in bottom of large bowl.  Add the arugula and toss until coated.   Add in ¾ of the diced cantaloupe, cucumber, feta cheese, olives and bacon to the coated arugula.  Mix well.  

Divide salad into four first course portions or two main course portions.  Garnish with remaining cantaloupe, cucumber, feta, olives and bacon.

We paired the salad with a discovery from a recent trip to Lodi, California.  The Van Ruiten 2008 Reserve Double Barrel Chardonnay accentuated the flavors of the salad.  The wine is light in alcohol at only 12%, has a crispness about it with slightly spicy overtone .


To locate Marzetti Simply Dressed near you:

To explore the Van Ruiten Wines:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Toasted Panettone Pudding with Hershey Chocolate Chips

Toasted Panettone Pudding with Hershey's Chocolate Chips

It is never too early to plan holiday menus and, with Thanksgiving less than two months away, it is an essential task for any Culinary Diva worth her salt.  Each holiday season I make a toasted bread pudding that I serve with a crème anglaise sauce.  It is a simple but classic dessert that gets rave reviews and numerous requests to be served at holiday gatherings.  

But being a Culinary Diva means eschewing the status quo in favor of experimentation.  So this year I’m trying something different.   As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I received two Bauducco Panettones to try:   Bauducco Panettone with Hershey Chocolate Chips and Bauducco Panettone with Sun-Maid Golden Raisins.   

The Panettone from Bauducco as part of Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program
 The Panettone with Hershey’s Chocolate Chips seemed to demand it be made into a toasted bread pudding.   I don’t eat chocolate as it gives me a migraine, but I surely do know a good chocolate option when I see it.  I also wanted to make a little something special for some good friends and thought this would be the perfect dessert for them.  I will use the Panettone with Sun-Maid Raisins in a Panzanella. 
Sliced Panettone
 What I like about my toasted bread pudding is its contrasting textures.  The bread is first buttered and toasted in the oven (it is actually baked, but the recipe says “toasted” so who am I to disagree?), which creates a gorgeous color and crispy texture.  Then the bread is combined with a custard mixture and baked in the oven.  This results in every bite having the crunch of toasty crust contrasted with the tasty, buttery soft texture of the pudding.  While I usually use challah bread, I thought the Panettone with Hershey’s Chocolate Chips might work just as well and add some wonderful flavor dimensions to boot.
Buttered Panettone waiting to be toasted

Perfectly toasted Panettone

Cubed Panettone waiting for the custard
The Panettone toasted well in the oven during which the sweet aroma of chocolate filled the air.  (Realtors, you may want to think about toasting some Panettone before your next open house – this was a seriously sinful scent!)  And if this were not enough to get your taste buds salivating, wait until you smell the medley of chocolate-orange blossom-vanilla scents that emerge as the final composition is baked to completion. 

Custard with a special addition of orange zest

After sitting 15 minutes, the Panettone Pudding is ready for bakin.

Don't forget the water-bath
Voila - Beautiful! Can't wait to try it!

The toasted bread pudding really benefits from a vanilla crème anglaise.  This sauce is one of life’s great luxuries and is best done from scratch and not by melting vanilla ice cream, as I know some people do.  The process is relatively simple and the ingredients minimal.  If you haven’t tried to make it, don’t be intimidated and give it a try.
This tastes as good as it looks - ooey & gooey creme anglaise, moist panettone pudding....Yum!

Panettone Pudding - perfect for holidays or everyday!

The finished toasted bread pudding is colorful, rich and indulgent with just the right amount of comfort thrown in the mix.  The chocolate was not overwhelming (I tasted a bite just to make sure) and the addition of orange zest gave it a real holiday feel and brightened the palate a bit.  While perfect for the holidays, it is a dessert that can be served throughout the year.  Here is the recipe.
Toasted Panettone Pudding with Hershey Chocolate Chips:

1 Bauducco Panettone with Chocolate Chips (you can substitute the raisin Panettone)

3 ½ tablespoons unsalted and softened butter

3 cups half-and-half

4 large eggs

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons orange zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  

Butter a 3-quart shallow baking dish.

Slice the Panettone into ½ inch slices and butter on each side.  Place on two baking sheets.  Bake, turning once, until lightly toasted--about 15-20 minutes.   Place on rack to cool, but leave the oven on.

Whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt and orange zest until the sugar is fully dissolved.  After the toasted Panettone has cooled, slice into 1 ½ inch squares and place in the prepared baking dish.   Pour the custard mixture over Panettone and let set for 15 minutes.

Place this baking dish into a larger baking dish and then fill the larger baking dish halfway with hot water.  Place them in the oven and bake until the custard has set-- approximately 50 to 60 minutes.

Serve warm with vanilla crème anglaise sauce.

Vanilla Crème Anglaise:

1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise

2 cups half-and-half

2 large eggs

½ cup sugar

Vanilla pod seeded and ready for half and half

Half and half added to vanilla seeds/pod
Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into a heavy 3-quart saucepan and toss in the pod as well.  Add the half-and-half and bring just to a boil over medium-high heat.   Remove from heat.
Bring just to a boil

After eggs have been tempered add to remaining half and half mixture (sorry no photo on tempering, unable to do that one handed)
Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a separate bowl until combined.  In a slow stream, add one-half of the heated half-and-half mixture into the egg/sugar mixture to temper.  Whisk constantly while doing this to avoid creating scrambled eggs.  Add the tempered egg/sugar mixture to the saucepan and return to medium-high heat.  Stir constantly until the custard has thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
See how it coats back of spoon

Ice bath, and metal bowl prepped and ready
 Prepare a cold water bath.  Set a metal bowl in the cold water bath and strain the custard mixture into metal bowl, leaving the solids behind to be discarded.   After this mixture has been strained, stir it in the metal bowl until it cools, then refrigerate in a closed container until ready for use. 

Completed Creme Anglaise, smooth, creamy and scrumptious!