Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Green Bean Bundles

New Year's Eve dinner is some steak and potatoes.  Because it's better to go out with a bang.  Especially if dieting is looming on the horizon.  But like a good girl, I was raised to eat my greens, even if I'm being completely unhealthy otherwise.  So we also had green beans, wrapped in bacon, and smothered in brown sugar.  Because bacon.  Hey, why not take these green beans out with a bang, too?

Green Bean Bundles

1½ pounds fresh green beans, tops trimmed
5 slices bacon, each cut into 3 pieces
3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided use
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon water
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon real maple syrup (optional)
¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Place green beans in a large pot, fill with water to just above the level of the green beans, and bring to a boil.  Cook at medium-high heat for about 12 minutes, or until soft.  Drain and set green beans aside.

Once green beans have cooled enough to touch, make bundles of 6-8 beans and wrap each with a piece of bacon.  Secure the bacon with a toothpick, if desired.  Place bundles on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Combine 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce with the Worcestershire sauce in a small bowl and drizzle over the green bean bundles.  Sprinkle with the water.  Bake for 20 minutes, turning once.  

While the green beans are baking, combine the brown sugar, the remaining 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, the maple syrup (if using), and the garlic powder.  The mixture should form a wet sand.  When the 20 minutes is up, remove the green beans from the oven, and spread with the brown sugar mixture.  Cook the green beans for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until the bacon is cooked through and the brown sugar has caramelized.

Makes 15 bundles

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Koláče (Kolaches - Czech Sweet Yeast Rolls)

If you've lived in Texas long enough, you eventually come across the Czech Stop in West, Texas.  This is a required pit stop for anyone traveling down I-35.  Required.  I'm actually not sure how you could roll past this little kolache nirvana.  And lord help you if anyone knows you're going through that area, and you DON'T BRING ANY KOLACHES HOME.  Well, just in case, here's a pretty fabulous little recipe to make some at home.  Hey, I'm just thinking about your well-being.  Promise.

Koláče (Kolaches - Czech Sweet Yeast Rolls)

1¼ cups whole milk
1 (7-gram) packet active dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons) or 1½ teaspoons instant/bread machine yeast
3 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
1½ teaspoons sea salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg yolk

Cheese filling:
6 ounces farmer’s cheese
1 large egg yolk
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ egg white, whipped until foamy

Blueberry filling:
1 cup fresh blueberries
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Crumb topping:
2½ tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons powdered sugar

Forming kolaches:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Dough: Take half of the milk and warm it to 110°F. Add a teaspoon of sugar and the yeast to the warm milk; stir well and set aside until the yeast starts to bubble, about five minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the flours, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and lemon peel. Take the rest of the milk, mix in the egg yolks, and then add to the dough along with the melted butter; mix well. Add the yeast mixture and mix everything together. Knead the dough until smooth, then dust with flour, cover with a dishtowel, and let rise until it has doubled (45 minutes to 1 hour).  If making the dough in a bread machine, add the milk, egg yolk, lemon peel, vanilla extract, and melted butter first, then the flours, sugar, salt, and lastly, the yeast.  Allow the dough cycle to run through.  While the dough is rising, prepare the cheese filling, blueberry filling, and crumb topping.

Cheese filling: Mix together the farmer’s cheese, egg yolk, vanilla extract, and sugar. Whip the egg white until it holds soft peaks and gradually fold the egg white into the farmer's cheese mixture.

Blueberry filling: Add all ingredients to a small pan and cook over medium heat until the blueberries pop and the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Crumb topping: Melt the butter, then add the flour and sugar. Stir with a fork until crumbly and there are only a few large pieces.

Forming kolaches: Use a spoon to remove small portions of dough from the bowl. Roll into balls, and place the balls on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on a counter for about 45 minutes to rise again. When the kolaches have risen about double, remove the plastic wrap.  Using a spoon or your fingers, press an indention in the middle of each ball, being carefull not to press all the way through to the cookie sheet.  Brush the kolaches with melted butter. Spoon about a teaspoon of the cheese filling into each kolache, and then a small amount of the blueberry filling on top of the cheese. Sprinkle each kolache with crumb topping.

Place the baking sheets in a preheated oven at 375°F for about 20 minutes. When they have just turned golden brown, they are ready.

Makes about 30 rolls

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Chorizo and Spinach Breakfast Casserole

The best Christmas breakfast is the kind you make the night before.  Or at least mostly make the night before.  Right before you have too much to drink the night before.  Trust me, this works.  Then, on Christmas morning, you pull the pan out of the fridge and push it into the oven.  An hour or so later you have warm cheesy goodness.  Right about the time your first cup of coffee is wearing off.  Slap some extra salsa on for lingering hangovers.

Chorizo and Spinach Breakfast Casserole

10 cups Italian bread cubes (1-inch cubes)
1 (16-ounce) chub Jimmy Dean chorizo
5 ounces fresh baby spinach
2 roasted Hatch peppers, seeded and chopped, or 1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies
1 (8-ounce) package finely shredded Cheddar cheese
10 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups whole milk
1½ teaspoons Spike seasoning
Sour cream and salsa, to serve

In a greased 9x13-inch baking dish, evenly distribute the bread cubes.

In a skillet, cook the chorizo, breaking it up with a wooden spoon into crumbles.  Pour off any grease and discard.  Add the fresh spinach to the cooked chorizo and stir until the spinach is wilted.  Evenly spread the chorizo mixture over the bread cubes.  Scatter the green chilies over the chorizo and then sprinkle with the Cheddar cheese.

Mix together the eggs, milk, and seasoning.  Pour over the bread/chorizo mixture.  Push down on the bread lightly to make sure all of the mixture is immersed in the egg.  Cover with foil and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 350°F.  Bake the casserole for 1 hour, covered.  Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes to let brown slightly.  The casserole should have puffed up.  Check the center of the casserole with a knife to ensure that the egg is completely cooked before removing from the oven.  Serve warm with sour cream and salsa on the side.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Dorian Cuisine: Ricotta and Chorizo Pinwheels

I've never been one of those people who color-codes their food to match the holiday.  You know what I'm talking about.  That friend who serves you green cake on St. Patrick's day and flag cake on July 4th.  So it was completely inadvertent that these pinwheels just happened to have red and green filling.  I swear.  But they are kinda getting me in the spirit.

Ricotta and Chorizo Pinwheels
Adapted from Dorian Cuisine blog

1 (17.3-ounce) package puff pastry (2 sheets)
8 ounces ricotta
10 large leaves fresh basil, minced
9 ounces chorizo, cooked and drained of grease
1 ounce fresh baby spinach or arugula, chopped
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Lay out both sheets of puff pastry.  Spread each sheet evenly with ricotta.  Sprinkle with basil.  Sprinkle evenly with chorizo and spinach.  Roll up both sheets from the shorter end and cut into slices, approximately ½-inch thick.  Lay the slices on baking sheets about 2 inches apart.  Brush with egg.  Bake for 15 minutes or until pinwheels are golden brown and puffed.

Makes about 26 pinwheels

The Beeroness: Buffalo Chicken Beer Dip

What is better than some buffalo wings and a beer?  Buffalo wings without bones and cooked with beer.  I mean, it's all the goodness in one dish.  And you can slather this stuff on your dipper of choice.  Even if you aren't normally an IPA drinker, I suggest you just go with it.  It adds a certain something special.  And don't we all deserve something special?

Buffalo Chicken Beer Dip
Adapted from The Beeroness blog

2 cups shredded skinless chicken breast (from a rotisserie chicken)
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese, plus additional for top
⅓ cup Frank's RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper sauce
½ cup IPA beer (I used Mosaic)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup blue cheese sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a stand mixer, combine all ingredients but blue cheese.  Mix until well combined.  Pour into a 2-quart oven-safe baking dish.  Sprinkle with extra mozzarella.  Bake until the dip is warm and bubbly, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle with blue cheese.  Serve warm with chips or celery.

Makes about 10 servings

Oh Sweet Basil: Ham and Provolone Sliders

I've seen these little sandwiches all over creation.  They're like the second coming.  Everyone gets excited about these, and they're just ham and cheese.  Which is why I never made them.  My bad.  These things are just as awesome as they sound.  Warm, buttery, sweet, savory, melty, cheesy.  Good golly, these are just about perfect.

Ham and Provolone Sliders
Loosely adapted from Oh Sweet Basil blog

1 package King's Hawaiian Honey Wheat dinner rolls (12 rolls)
Honey Mustard
½ pound shaved applewood smoked ham
6 slices provolone cheese
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Separate each of the rolls and cut each in half to form a top and bottom.  Spread the top and bottom of each roll with honey mustard.  Divide the ham among the rolls.  Cut each slice of cheese into quarters and put 2 quarters on each roll on top of the ham.  Close up each sandwich and place the sandwiches in a 9x13-inch baking dish.  Combine the butter, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Brush each sandwich generously with the butter mixture.  Sprinkle each sandwich with a pinch of poppy seeds.  Bake, covered, for about 10 minutes, then remove the cover and bake an additional 2-3 minutes, or until sandwiches are hot and the cheese is fully melted.  Serve warm.

Makes 12 sandwiches

Honey Mustard
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Combine mayonnaise, honey, and mustard; mix well.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Eagle Brand Milk: Foolproof Fudge

Christmas is the only time I really eat fudge.  And most of the stuff I get out at stores is way, WAY too sweet.  It's more sugar than chocolate.  I like a nice, deep chocolate flavor.  And you get that with expensive chocolate.  You can certainly use good 'ole Nestle Tollhouse chocolate here, but I promise the Ghirardelli is worth the purchase.

Foolproof Fudge
Adapted from Eagle Brand Milk

3 cups (18 ounces) Ghirardelli bittersweet (70%) chocolate chips (or other high-quality chocolate)
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
Dash salt
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Line an 8- or 9-inch square pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan.  Melt the chocolate chips with the sweetened condensed milk and salt in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in nuts and vanilla. Spread evenly into prepared pan.  Chill for 2 hours or until firm. Remove from pan by lifting edges of foil. Cut into squares.

Makes about 2 pounds of fudge

Sally's Baking Addiction: Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies

I've always liked white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.  While the rest of my family was happily eating semi-sweet cookies from Mrs. Fields, I wanted the white chocolate ones.  So what better than a white chocolate seasonal cookie?  Add some dried cranberries, and voilà, Christmas cookies.  And the fact that they're full of dark brown sugar doesn't hurt either.  I think these are going in the yearly rotation.

Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction blog

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup white chocolate chips
¾ cup dried cranberries (Craisins)

In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on medium speed until completely smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar and mix on medium high speed until fluffy and light in color. Beat in egg and vanilla on high speed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt together until combined. On low speed, slowly mix into the wet ingredients until combined. The cookie dough will be quite thick. Add the white chocolate chips and dried cranberries mix on low for about 5-10 seconds until evenly disbursed. Cover dough tightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Remove cookie dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.

Using a cookie scoop, make balls of dough, about 1 tablespoon of dough each. Place 12 on each baking sheet and flatten slightly with your fingers. Bake in batches for 8-10 minutes, until barely golden brown around the edges. They will look extremely soft when you remove them from the oven. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet. They will slightly deflate as you let them cool. Transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

Cookies stay fresh covered at room temperature for up to 1 week. Baked cookies freeze well - up to three months. Unbaked cookie dough balls freeze well - up to three months.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Monday, December 22, 2014

Betty Crocker: Spritz Cookies

When I was little, baking Christmas cookies was a thing.  Every year, without fail.  I mean, Santa needs cookies.  And it's always best to keep Santa happy.  My mom used this big copper cookie press to make spritz cookies.  Feeling nostalgic, I dragged out my electric cookie press and set to work.  After realizing the electric model was inferior (eg. motor was too tiny to actually push any dough out), and after cussing the stupid thing, I ran to the store for a hand-crank model.  Which worked perfectly.  The old ways are sometimes the best ways.

Spritz Cookies
Adapted from the 1963 edition of Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
⅔ cup granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2½ cups all-purpose flour

Mix together the butter and sugar until light. Add the egg yolks and flavoring - mix well. By hand, mix in the flour and work until quite soft and pliable. Tint if desired. Force through press according to directions onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 7-10 minutes until just set - do not let them brown. Cool on racks.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Southern Living: Mexican Chocolate Pudding Cake

It's certainly that time of year for warm desserts.  If it's cold outside, you can at least have something warm in your stomach.  So why not something warm and sweet and spicy?  I know, I know, chocolate and cayenne pepper?  Crazy.  But I promise it's not.  It just adds a little bit of bite in the background.  No tongue scorching here.  And you absolutely MUST serve it warm with vanilla ice cream.  No excuses.

Mexican Chocolate Pudding Cake
Adapted from Southern Living magazine, September 2014

 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, divided
¾ cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground chipotle chile pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
½ cup sliced almonds
1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Microwave chocolate and ½ cup butter in a large microwave-safe bowl at HIGH 1 to 1½ minutes or until melted, stirring at 30-second intervals. Whisk in granulated sugar. Add eggs, 1 at a time, whisking just until blended after each addition. Whisk in flour, next 4 ingredients, and ¼ teaspoon salt.

Pour batter into a greased (with butter) 2-quart baking dish. Melt the remaining 2 teaspoons of butter.  Stir together sliced almonds, brown sugar, melted butter, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Sprinkle almond mixture over cake batter. Bake for 30 minutes. (Center will be soft.) Cool on a wire rack 5 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Makes 6 servings

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Center Cut Cook: Slow Cooker Chili

Since it continues to be cold, rainy, and miserable, I have decided that I need something warm, spicy, and delicious.  Something like an awesome bowl of chili.  Or even better, a bowl of Frito pie!  I don't think I had Frito pie until I moved to Texas, but I've got a soft spot for it.  It's awesome year round.  And I really like that this recipe just bubbles away in the slow cooker while I'm doing other things.  The original recipe had enough chili powders/sauces to blow the top off your head, so I've scaled it back a bit.  If it's not spicy enough for your tastes, feel free to add more chili powder or cayenne pepper, or even a bit of Tabasco.

Slow Cooker Chili
Adapted from Center Cut Cook

8 strips applewood smoked bacon
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 pound mild Italian sausage
3 (15-ounce) cans Ranch Style Beans
1 (28-ounce) can mild Rotel tomatoes and green chiles
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 (8-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, chopped
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crispy and then drain on a paper towel.  Drain off the bacon fat and use for another purpose.  Chop the bacon and set aside.  Add the chopped onion to the same pan the bacon was in, and sauté until translucent. Add the Italian sausage and ground beef and cook until no longer pink. Drain off excess fat.

In the pot of your slow cooker, place meat/onion mixture on the bottom. Add in the beans, Rotel, tomato paste, garlic, bell pepper, roasted red pepper, and reserved chopped bacon. Add in seasonings: chili powder, salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, sugar, oregano, cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper. To the pot add the beef broth and Worcestershire sauce. Use a large spoon to stir the ingredients so that the seasonings and veggies are incorporated throughout.

Turn the slow cooker on low and let it cook for at least 8 hours. If you’re in a rush, you could cook this on the stove and would need to let everything simmer for at least two hours, but your results aren’t going to be quite as good as the slow cooker method. When ready to serve, top with your favorite garnishes including Fritos, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and diced onion.

Makes 12 servings

Monday, December 08, 2014

Better Homes & Gardens: Peanut Butter Blossoms

I have a bit of a cookie exchange to attend, and I didn't want to bring the third container of chocolate chip cookies.  I also didn't want to be the person who shows up with a cookie that only half the people in the room think is appetizing.  So I went with a childhood favorite.  I seriously would sit in the kitchen and wait as my mom topped each little cookie with a Kiss, and then bite into the warm cookie once the chocolate had gotten all melty.

Peanut Butter Blossoms
From the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon sea salt
48 Hershey's Kisses, unwrapped

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Thoroughly cream the butter, peanut butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla. Sift together the dry ingredients; blend into the creamed mixture. Shape into 1-inch balls; roll in granulated sugar. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. When the cookies are removed from the oven, immediately press a chocolate kiss onto the top of each cookie. Cool slightly; remove from pan.

Makes 4 dozen

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Neely's: Tony's Chocolate Pecan Pie

I've always kind-of liked pecan pie.  But even for someone who loves their sweets, it's a bit... much.  The pie just needs something to balance everything out.  And that something appears to be a combination of bourbon and semi-sweet chocolate.  With those two magic additions, the pie goes from too-sweet-to-eat to what-is-the-recipe-for-this-slice-of-heaven.  And the vanilla bean whipped cream doesn't hurt, either.

Tony's Chocolate Pecan Pie
Adapted from The Neely's

3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 large eggs, beaten
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup dark corn syrup
3 tablespoons bourbon liquor
 cups pecan halves
½ cup mini semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter in a small saucepan. While butter is melting, add beaten eggs to a medium sized bowl. Stir in brown sugar, flour, vanilla extract, corn syrup and bourbon until combined. Add butter when just melted.

Mix in the pecans and chocolate morsels. Mix all together. Pour mixture into pie shell.

Place on a sheet tray and bake for 50 to 60 minutes.

Pour heavy cream into a bowl and whip with an electric mixer for a few minutes, until it becomes thick. Add confectioners' sugar and beat until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Fold in vanilla extract.

When ready to serve top with a dollop of whipped cream.

Makes 8 servings

Bon Appétit: Cranberry Rum Punch

Sometimes when you're dealing with family, you need a little liquid mood brightener.  Something that will make you not care that you have to kiss your creepy uncle or listen to another speech about how you are now officially an old maid.  And this is even a seasonal mood brightener!  Works wonders, I promise.  But maybe keep it to two glasses, or it will also function as a truth serum.

Cranberry Rum Punch
From Bon Appétit magazine, November 2014

2 cups fresh cranberries
½ cup sugar
1 cup white rum
½ cup fresh lime juice
Mint sprigs (for serving)

Bring cranberries, sugar, and 2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Strain syrup into a pitcher; cover and chill. Set cranberries aside.

Add rum and lime juice to syrup; chill until cold, about 1 hour. Serve punch over crushed ice garnished with reserved cranberries and mint sprigs.

Makes 6 servings

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Saveur: Maple-Glazed Carrots with Hazelnut Crumbs

I love those little baby carrots still on the stem that I can find at Central Market.  They're just so cute.  And they're crying out for something a little more interesting than being dipped in ranch dressing.  I'm glad I listened to that cry, because these carrots are pretty darn scrumptious, and they make a perfect Thanksgiving side dish.

Maple-Glazed Carrots with Hazelnut Crumbs
From Saveur magazine, November 2014

2 pounds small carrots with green tops, tops trimmed to ½-inch, carrots scrubbed
½ cup peeled hazelnuts
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 slices country bread, toasted and halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup real maple syrup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 oranges, suprêmed, plus 2 tablespoons fresh juice
¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Cook carrots in boiling water until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes.  Drain and transfer to an ice bath; drain and pat dry.

Pulse hazelnuts, cumin, bread, and salt in a food processor into crumbs.

In a medium pan, combine maple syrup, butter, orange juice, and salt to taste.  Add carrots, and cook over medium-high heat until carrots caramelize, about 10 to 12 minutes.  Top with crumbs, suprêmes, and cilantro.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Saveur: Bouchon Turkey Thigh Roulades

I've made a lot of turkeys over the years.  Some have been delicious, some have left a bit to be desired.  But when you're having a small Thanksgiving, you don't need a 15-pound turkey staring you down.  Luckily, I can buy bits of a turkey, instead of the whole thing.  And stuffed with a creamy mousse that cooks up tender and light, turkey can be had without a big fuss.

Bouchon Turkey Thigh Roulades
From Saveur magazine, November 2014

2 large boneless turkey thighs
1 pound ground turkey, chilled
2 large egg whites, chilled
½ cup heavy cream, chilled
¼ cup crème fraîche, chilled
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Butterfly and lightly pound thigh meat until ½-inch thick; chill until ready to use.

Puree ground turkey in a food processor.  With the motor running, slowly add egg whites, then the cream, crème fraîche, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper until mixture is smooth.  Transfer mousse to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; chill 30 minutes.

Heat a large saucepan of water until a thermometer reads 180°F.  Lay thigh meat flat on a work surface and season with salt and pepper.  Divide mousse among thighs and spread widthwise down the center of each thigh.  Working from one short side, roll each thigh, encasing the mousse, into a tight package; tie with butcher's string.  Wrap roulades separately using a triple layer of plastic wrap until airtight; twist ends and tie with string.  Gently lower roulades into water; poach until filling is firm, 35 to 45 minutes.  Discard plastic wrap; pat roulades dry using paper towels.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter in an ovenproof 12-inch skillet over medium.  Cook roulades, turning as needed, until browned, 18 to 20 minutes.  Transfer skillet to the oven; cook roulades, basting often with pan juices, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thight meat reads 165°F, 20 to 25 minutes.  Let rest 15 minutes before carving.

Makes 6 servings

Bon Appétit: Citrus and Endive with Walnut Gremolata

This year I figured I would help us all out and make something crunchy and refreshing amid the sea of potatoes and creamy casseroles.  It would be like a palate cleanser.  Well, it was crunchy and citrusy, but it just seemed to be missing something.  The dressing was non-existent.  The flavor was non-existent.  And I even used a whole garlic clove instead of half.  This happens pretty rarely, but I'd say this one is a non-repeater unless you're half rabbit.  At least it was pretty, right?

Citrus and Endive with Walnut Gremolata
From Bon Appétit magazine, November 2014

⅓ cup walnuts
½ garlic clove, finely grated
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 endives, cut lengthwise into ½-inch wedges
4 oranges (such as blood oranges, Cara Cara, or other navel), peel and pith removed, sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds, seeds removed
2 tablespoons walnut oil or olive oil
1 lemon, halved

Toast walnuts in a dry small skillet over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

Coarsely chop walnuts and toss in a small bowl with garlic, parsley, and lemon zest; season gremolata with salt and pepper.

Gently toss endives, oranges, oil, and half of gremolata in a medium bowl; transfer to a platter. Top with remaining gremolata and squeeze lemon over.

Do ahead: Gremolata, without garlic, can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Stir in garlic just before serving.

Makes 8 servings

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Saveur: Sweet Potato Purée

My mom loves candied sweet potatoes.  Me?  Not so much.  I know that sounds like sacrilege, and who wouldn't love something covered with toasted marshmallows?  It just always seemed so cloyingly sweet.  I needed room for my true favorites, so the sweet potatoes often got left behind.  Not anymore.  These potatoes are delicately flavored and not terribly sweet.  I wasn't super impressed when I tried just the purée, but when you put the marshmallows on top, the whole thing comes together beautifully.

Sweet Potato Purée
From Saveur magazine, November 2014

4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon ground allspice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened
3 cups mini marshmallows

Heat oven to 375°F.

Mix potatoes, butter, brown sugar, honey, allspice, salt, and pepper on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet; spread into an even layer.  Top with a sheet of parchment paper and cover with aluminum foil; bake until potatoes are very tender, 35 to 40 minutes.

Let potatoes cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor; add mascarpone cheese and purée until smooth.  Spread mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish; top with marshmallows.  Heat oven broiler; broil casserole until marshmallows are browned in spots, 2 to 3 minutes.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Saveur: Haricots Verts Casserole

This year I decided to do a traditional Thanksgiving, but with new recipes.  I like the usual round of casseroles, but I think I've been eating the same thing for 30+ years.  Time for a refresh.  I found this recipe in an article about Thomas Keller and the dinner he makes for veterans each year.  I figured that kicking the canned mushroom soup couldn't be a bad thing.  The casserole actually turned out pretty well, but I have to admit something.  I did not fry a load of shallots.  At this time of year, something has to give, and that was it.  French's fried onions all the way!

Haricots Verts Casserole
Adapted from Saveur magazine, November 2014

2½ pounds haricots verts or green beans, trimmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced ¼-inch thick
1¾ cups heavy cream
8 sprigs thyme
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1½ tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 cups canola oil
3 shallots, thinly sliced
½ cup all-purpose flour

Cook haricots verts in an 8-quart saucepan of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to an ice bath until cold. Drain and pat dry using paper towels; transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Add butter to pan; heat over medium-high. Cook mushrooms until browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add cream, thyme, and garlic, and reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring occasionally, until cream is reduced by half, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool slightly and discard thyme; transfer to a blender. Add vinegar, salt, and pepper; purée into a smooth sauce (consistency should be similar to thick pea soup; if necessary, add more cream). Transfer to bowl with haricots verts; toss to combine and spread into a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Heat oven to 400°F. Wipe pan clean and add oil; heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 300°F. Toss shallots in flour and, working in batches, fry until golden and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to paper towels to drain; season with salt and arrange over casserole. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bon Appétit: Broccoli-Mascarpone Soup

Since my family eats Thanksgiving dinner later in the afternoon, we inevitably get hungry before the main event.  I mean, cooking is tough work.  You need fuel for that kind of thing.  But what to eat that doesn't fill you up and spoil dinner?  And in my case, what uses up the rest of the container of overpriced mascarpone cheese that is staring at me from the first shelf of my fridge?  Soup.  Warm, veggie-filled soup.

Broccoli-Mascarpone Soup
Adapted from Bon Appétit magazine, December 2006

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ cups sliced shallots (about 6 large)
1½ pounds broccoli florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 cups chicken broth
10 ounces mascarpone cheese
¾ teaspoon seasoning blend (I used Emeril's Essence)
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Heat butter in large pot over medium heat until melted. Add shallots; sauté 3 minutes. Add broccoli; sauté 1 minute. Add broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly.

Working in batches, transfer soup to blender; puree until smooth. Return to pot. Whisk in mascarpone, seasoning blend, and cayenne pepper. Season with salt.

Note: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Heat soup over medium heat, stirring occasionally; do not boil.

Ladle soup into bowls. Sprinkle with chopped chives and serve.

Makes 8 servings

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Magnolia Cafe: Gingerbread Pancakes

When you live in Austin, and you....overindulged...a bit the night before, you have two good options.  You can either go to one of the many breakfast taco places, or you can hit up a breakfast spot like Kerbey Lane or Magnolia Cafe.  Depending on my mood, I can go either way, but you can bet that I will always go for the gingerbread pancakes if I'm sitting in one of the latter.  These things are big, cakey, puffy masterpieces, especially smothered in syrup.

Gingerbread Pancakes
Adapted from Magnolia Cafe, Austin, TX

3 large eggs
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup water
½ cup fresh brewed coffee
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

In a large bowl, mix eggs and brown sugar until well combined. Add buttermilk, water and brewed coffee, and stir to combine. In another large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture and stir just until combined. Stir in the melted butter.

Grease a griddle or heavy skillet. Heat griddle or skillet over medium-high heat and then add the batter, by ladle-fulls. Cook until little bubbles appear around the edges of the pancake, and then flip. Cook on the second side until golden brown and cooked through in the middle. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Catch: Pan-Fried Cuban Snapper with Garlic and Sour-Orange Sauce

There's something so delicious about fish bathed in garlic and butter.  Especially a crispy fried fish fillet.  I had something very similar at a Cuban restaurant in Miami, and I couldn't stop admiring the perfection.  This is probably more of a summer dish, but until the temperatures drop (probably in a day or two), I'll take my chances.

Pan-Fried Cuban Snapper with Garlic and Sour-Orange Sauce
Adaped from The Catch: Sea-to-Table Recipes, Stories, and Secrets

8 medium garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 (3-inch long) orange zest strips
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup fresh sour-orange juice OR ½ cup fresh orange juice mixed with 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 pound red snapper fillets
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.  Add the garlic slices and orange zest strips.  Turn down to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden and the butter is richly flavored, about 7 minutes.  Take the pan off the heat a few times, if necessary, to keep the garlic from getting too dark while it develops flavor.  Add the sour-orange juice and simmer for 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and season with salt.  Set aside.

In a separate pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter with the 1 tablespoon of oil until melted and bubbling.  Makes a couple of slashes in the fish fillets and sprinkle with salt.  Carefully put the fillets in the pan and fry over medium-high heat until browned and crisp, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Transfer the fish to a serving platter.  Pour the sour-orange sauce over the fish and sprinkle with the cilantro.

Makes 2 servings

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Appetite for China: Chili Garlic Shrimp

Being a Texan, I'm all about spicy food.  Sure, put some pickled jalapeños on top of that burger, pizza, salad, etc.  But I am not all about a dish being so spicy that it takes the top layer off your tongue as you chew.  Not cool.  I think this Chinese-American dish gets the heat level just about right.  Spicy to keep you warm, still can taste the other flavors.

Chili Garlic Shrimp
Adapted from Appetite for China blog

1 pound uncooked extra-large shrimp (size 26/30)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1½ tablespoons garlic chili sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
½ cup sugar snap peas or snow peas
Pinch white pepper

Peel the shrimp, leaving the tail segments intact. De-vein the shrimp.

In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, garlic chili sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, sugar, and ginger and set aside.

In a wok or large pan, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat. Stir-fry the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the pea pods and cook for about two minutes, or until the pods start to blister. Add the shrimp and cook until both sides are pink, about 2 minutes on each side. Add the sauce mixture and stir so the shrimp is fully coated. Season with white pepper. Remove from the heat and garnish with chopped scallions. Serve with rice.

Makes 4 servings

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Roasted Garlic, Porcini Mushroom, and Marrow Bone Soup

I can't really argue that it's fall now.  The temperatures have dropped, the time has changed, and all I really want to do is crawl under the covers.  This of course means it's....soup time!  I'm normally not excited about soup.  Hot flavored water.  But this isn't your usual soup.  When you throw in a bunch of roasted marrow bones into hot flavored water, something magically delicious happens.

Roasted Garlic, Porcini Mushroom, and Marrow Bone Soup

2 pounds beef marrow bones
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 large heads of garlic
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 shallots, sliced
1 bay leaf
2 cups mushroom broth, from soaking mushrooms
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried sage
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup cream
1 teaspoon sea salt

Crispy Sage Leaves
Vegetable oil, for frying
5 fresh sage leaves
½ teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the marrow bones on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the sea salt. Cut the top off the garlic heads, place each one in the center of a square of aluminum foil, and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.  Close the foil around each head of garlic. Place the marrow bones and the garlic in the oven and roast the bones for about 20 minutes and the garlic for about 35 minutes. Remove them from the oven and set them aside to cool.

In a 2-cup measure, soak the porcini mushrooms in 2 cups of hot water until soft, about 30 minutes.  Drain the mushrooms and strain the liquid through a coffee filter to remove any grit.  Set aside both the mushrooms and liquid.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until they have softened and are starting to brown, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the crock of a slow cooker, combine the mushroom liquid, water, soaked mushrooms, bay leaf, sage, thyme, and black pepper.  Use a small spoon to scoop the jellied marrow out of the bones. Add both the bones and the marrow, to the crock.  Once the shallots are done cooking, add them to the crock.  Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of the papery husk and add them to the soup, discarding the husk.  Cook on low for 3 hours.

Ladle the soup mixture into a high-powered blender or food processor and blend until completely smooth, being careful to ensure that hot liquid does not splatter out. Pour the pureed soup back into the crock. Add the cream and salt, and adjust seasonings, if necessary.  Set the slow cooker on keep warm until ready to serve.

To prepare the crispy sage, heat the vegetable oil in a small skillet until hot. Add the sage leaves and fry until crispy, about 3 seconds, then remove with a mesh spoon and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Immediately sprinkle the leaves with the sea salt.

Ladle the soup into the serving bowls and top with the crispy sage leaves. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Saveur: Candied Orange Peels

I'm not in the mood for mini bags of M&M's and tiny Kit-Kats even though it's almost Halloween.  Why eat those processed candies that were made nine months ago when I can have my own candy that was made nine minutes ago?  If I had known it was this easy to make my own candy, this would have been happening every year.  Although I doubt the neighborhood parents would appreciate me handing this out to their kiddos.  Their loss, because these candied orange peels are awesome.

Candied Orange Peels
Adapted from Saveur magazine, December 1999

3 navel oranges
1 cup granulated sugar, plus additional for coating
⅓ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon half-and-half or whole milk

Trim ½-inch off ends of navel oranges, then make a slit in rinds and scoop out flesh. Slice peels into ⅓-inch-wide strips, put in a bowl, cover with water, and refrigerate overnight.

Transfer strips to a medium pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Drain strips and set aside. In same pot bring sugar and ½ cup water to a boil until sugar dissolves. Add strips. Simmer until soft and glazed, about 30 minutes.

Dry strips on a rack until tacky. Roll in sugar.  Melt chocolate chips and half-and-half together and dip ends of orange peels in melted chocolate, if you like.

Makes 40-50 strips

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Betty Crocker: Creamy Swiss Steak

I know, I know, this recipe has canned soup.  Normally I hate that kind of thing.  But this has been in the dinner rotation since I was first able to shove little bits in my mouth.  There's just something so good about earthy mushroom soup and onions that makes this beef pretty darn delicious.  It's like country fried steak cooked in its own gravy.  Without the crunch that eventually gets soggy as you're trying to eat it.  Without taking up the whole plate.  I only see positives here.

Creamy Swiss Steak
Adapted from Betty Crocker’s New Good and Easy Cookbook

2 pounds boneless beef round steak or cube steak, tenderized
¼ cup flour
1½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 (10¾-ounce) cans cream of mushroom soup
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut the beef round steak into serving size pieces. If the meat was not run through the tenderizer at the butcher’s, hit the steaks all over with a tenderizer mallet. Mix together flour, salt, and pepper. Dredge steak in flour mixture. In a large skillet, heat oil until shimmering. Add steak pieces and cook until browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Mix together mushroom soup, onion soup mix, and milk. Pour a small amount of mushroom soup mixture in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish. Lay the steak pieces over the sauce. Pour the remaining sauce over the beef. Bake for one hour or until tender.

Makes 6 servings

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pillsbury: Fudge Nut Orange Bars

You know those fist-sized chocolate candies shaped like oranges that taste like happiness?  The ones you have to smack on the counter to break into "segments"?  Well, this is that candy, in bar form.  And I'll give you one guess which option I picked when it came to OJ versus liquor.  Hint: I don't have any OJ.

Fudge Nut Orange Bars
From Pillsbury

1 (15¼-ounce) package butter cake mix
1 cup rolled oats
⅓ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup ground pecans
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
½ cup orange juice or orange liquor

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon orange juice or orange liquor

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x13-inch pan.

In a large electric mixer bowl, combine cake mix, oats, and butter at low speed until fine crumbs form. Reserve 1 cup crumbs for filling. To remaining crumbs, blend in 1 egg until well mixed. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan.

In a medium saucepan, heat chocolate chips, sugar, and butter over low heat, stirring constantly, until chips are melted. Remove from heat.  Add eggs; mix well. Stir in remaining filling ingredients. Pour over base; sprinkle with 1 cup of reserved crumbs.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and center is set. Cool completely.  In a small saucepan, heat all glaze ingredients over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Immediately drizzle over bars.  Cut into bars.

Makes 16 servings

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Emeril Lagasse: Sugarcane Baked Ham with Spiced Apples and Pears

I've had a ham taking up all the room in my freezer for a little while now.  Long story.  Basically involves getting a giant ham on special for $8.  But I got tired of this ham taking up all my freezer room.  So it was time to cook the darn thing.  And why not cook it coated in every type of sugary substance they sell at the grocery store?  And since I couldn't find swizzle sticks, but they actually had sugar canes at Central Market, I got to take out all my aggression with a cleaver.  I swear, the lady downstairs probably thinks I was killing someone.  Totally worth it.

Sugarcane Baked Ham with Spiced Apples and Pears
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

12 sugarcane swizzle sticks, each cut into about 3-inch pieces
1 hickory smoked ham, spiral sliced, 8 to 10 pounds (no bone, water added, cooked)
1½ pounds (about 3 to 4) Granny Smith apples
1½ pounds (about 3 to 4) Bartlett pears

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup Steen's 100% Pure Cane Syrup
½ cup dark molasses
½ cup dark corn syrup
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons bourbon

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Line a shallow baking pan with parchment or waxed paper. Insert the sugarcane sticks into the ham at 3 to 4-inch intervals. Tie the ham, using kitchen twine, horizontally and vertically, like a package, to hold it together. Place it on a wire rack in the baking pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine all of the glaze ingredients together except for the mustard and water. Mix well. In a small bowl, dissolve the mustard in the water, then add to the spice mixture. Blend well.

Brush the entire ham with the glaze, coating it evenly. Wash, core, and halve the fruit. Place all around the ham. Baste the ham a second time and baste the fruit with the glaze. Bake for 45 minutes. Baste the ham and fruit again.  Bake another 45 minutes. Remove the ham from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Remove and discard the string and swizzle sticks. Serve the apples and pears on a platter with the ham. Serve everything warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 servings

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Gourmet: Seckel Pear Tart with Brandy Pear Cream

I can't resist Seckel pears when I see them.  They're just so cute.  And I'm all about cute.  I mean, tiny pears!  Okay, maybe it's just me.  But I made this beautiful tart with those tiny pears.  And it was amazingly delicious.  Very autumn.  And while the original recipe called for some $40 bottle of pear brandy called Poire William, I made do with pear juice and regular brandy.  Because I'm not going to spend that kind of money for 3 tablespoons.  I'm going to assume you won't either.  Still delicious.

Seckel Pear Tart with Brandy Pear Cream
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, November 2008

Sweet Pastry Dough
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup pear juice
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 pounds Seckel pears
3 large egg yolks
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons brandy, divided use
½ tablespoon unsalted butter
¾ teaspoon unflavored gelatin

Roll out dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 20-by 8-inch rectangle, re-flouring surface as necessary. Transfer to tart pan, gently fitting dough into pan without stretching. Trim overhang to ¾-inch, cutting off corners. Fold overhang inward to reinforce side, then trim flush with edge of pan. Reserve excess pastry for another use if desired. Prick bottom of tart shell all over with a fork and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights, then bake until sides are set, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake shell until golden brown all over, 15 to 20 minutes more. Cool completely in pan.

Put wine and pear juice in a wide 4-quart pot and stir in sugar and vanilla bean paste (or scrapings from vanilla bean). Carefully peel Seckel pears, leaving stems intact, then cut in half.  Using the tip of a vegetable peeler or a small knife, core the pears to remove seeds. Bring wine mixture to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then add pears, in 1 layer if possible. Simmer, tightly covered, turning occasionally, until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Carefully transfer pears with a slotted spoon to a rack set over a 4-sided sheet pan to drain and cool, standing them upright. Transfer pear syrup to cleaned 2-cup measure, adding any juices from sheet pan under pears (you will have about 1½ cups syrup), and reserve for pastry cream and glaze.

Whisk together egg yolks and cornstarch in a small bowl, then whisk in 1 cup pear syrup. Transfer to a small heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking, then cook, whisking, 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 2 tablespoons brandy and the butter. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely, its surface covered.

Stir together remaining 1 tablespoon of brandy and the gelatin in a very small bowl and let stand 1 minute. Bring remaining pear syrup to a boil in a very small heavy saucepan, then boil, if necessary, until reduced to about ⅓ cup. Stir in gelatin mixture until dissolved. Remove from heat.

Remove side of tart pan. Whisk cooled pastry cream to loosen, then spread in shell. Lay pear halves on pastry cream, arranging them in 8 rows of 2 or 3. When glaze has cooled and thickened slightly (to speed cooling, set pan in an ice bath), brush it on pears. If glaze gels in pan, reheat very briefly.

Makes 8 servings

Note: Tart shell, poached Seckel pears, and pastry cream can be made 1 day ahead. The assembled tart can be kept at room temperature for 1 hour or chilled 4 hours.

Sweet Pastry Dough
1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
1½ to 2 tablespoons ice water

Stir together flour, sugar, and salt, then blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Stir together egg yolk and 1½ tablespoons water and drizzle evenly over butter mixture. Gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn’t hold together, add remaining ½ tablespoon ice water (or more, if necessary), stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated. (Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.)

Turn out dough onto a work surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat.
Gather all dough into a ball, with a pastry scraper if you have one, then flatten into a disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, about 1 hour.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kim Sunée: Crabapple Ginger Spice Cake

I think I should get the prize for the best way to bring in the cold weather of autumn.  Seriously.  We had a storm last night, and this morning it was in the fifties.  So I made this awesome spice cake.  I literally had to put the cake in the fridge to keep from eating more than was logical.  See?  I win.

Crabapple Ginger Spice Cake
Adapted from Kim Sunée

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons diced crystallized ginger
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
2 cups cored and coarsely chopped crabapples (from about 1 pound of crabapples)
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
Gingered Whipped Topping

Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray and set aside. Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, ground ginger, cloves, baking soda, and baking powder; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream both sugars, butter, and cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla, fresh ginger, crystallized ginger, and yogurt. Combine until well-blended and smooth.

Slowly mix in reserved flour mixture, and then fold in crabapples. Scrape batter into prepared springform pan. Sprinkle evenly with demerara sugar.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until tester inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool slightly before eating, warm or cold. Serve, if desired, with Gingered Whipped Cream.

Gingered Whipped Cream
½ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger

Using a hand mixer, whip cream with sugar until soft peaks form. Fold in crystallized ginger.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

The New York Times: Concord Grape Sparkler

Who says newspapers are dead?  Well, this is the New York Times we're talking about.  And I assume they probably know their concord grape cocktails.  Why?  Just a gut feeling.  And guess what?  They do!  This is definitely something different.  But different in a good way.  Like the weird artsy girl who everyone wishes they were friends with in high school.  Except this one is spicy in a special, star anisey kind of way.

Concord Grape Sparkler
From The New York Times

1½ ounces Concord grape purée
1½ ounces vodka
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Citrus-based sparkling water
Cluster of whole Concord grapes for garnish.

Fill a cocktail shaker with several ice cubes, and shake together the grape purée, vodka and lemon juice.

Pour into a martini glass (or into a highball glass over ice) and top with sparkling water. Stir gently and garnish with a tiny cluster of grapes.

Makes 1 cocktail

Concord Grape Purée
1 pound whole Concord grapes, washed and stemmed
½ cup sugar, or to taste
2 pieces star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of ½ lime

Put all of the ingredients in a wide-bottomed stainless-steel pot, stirring to combine. Cook over medium-low heat until the grape skins fully separate, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool.

Strain the mixture using the back of a large spoon. The purée should be a vibrant eggplant color and thick.

Makes about 1 cup

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Better Homes and Gardens: Peach Cobbler

So, I'm at the farmer's market today.  And there's a pile of these beautiful peaches.  The most beautiful peaches I may have ever seen.  And instantly I know I must have them.  So I ask the guy how much they are.  What does he say?  They're free because they aren't as good as I hoped they'd be.  Uh.  Sure, why not.  I'll just bake them up into something magnificent, dude, so if you want to give them away, go for it.  And now I have this beautiful cobbler to stuff my mouth with.  And yes, I refuse to admit that summer's almost over.

Peach Cobbler
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

For topping
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup whole milk
1 large egg, slightly beaten
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

For filling
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon ground mace
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup water
4 cups sliced peaches
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Combine the milk and egg; add all at once to the dry ingredients, stirring just to moisten. Set aside.

Combine the cornstarch, mace, brown sugar, and water in a medium saucepan. Cook and stir until thickened. Add the peaches, lemon juice, butter, and vanilla bean paste, if using. Cook until the peaches are hot, about 5 minutes.

Pour the filling into an 8-inch round baking dish. Immediately spoon on the biscuit topping in 6 mounds. Sprinkle biscuits with demerara sugar, if desired.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm with cream or ice cream.

Makes 6 servings

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ren Behan: Kousa Mahshi (Lebanese Stuffed Globe Zucchini)

I really need to stop buying random produce at the grocery store.  But this time of year is so incredibly perfect for trying all sorts of fun little treats.  This is the last fruitful gasp of the summer.  And since I don't have zucchini taking over my patio (like most people's vegetable patches), I figured I could do the community a solid and actually EAT some of the overwhelming crop.

Kousa Mahshi (Lebanese Stuffed Globe Zucchini)
Adapted from Ren Behan

8 globe zucchini
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ pound ground lamb
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon group allspice
⅔ cup long grain Basmati rice
1½ cups hot lamb stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Extra chopped mint and parsley, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the tops off the zucchini and set aside. Using a small knife, spoon, or melon baller, carefully hollow out the insides of the zucchini. Chop the flesh, and also put aside. Place the hollowed zucchini in a roasting tin, sprinkle with two tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes (until tender).

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook gently for a few minutes to soften. Add the ground lamb and fry, breaking up the large clumps with a wooden spoon, until brown, about five minutes. Add the chopped zucchini, cinnamon, and allspice, and cook for another two minutes. Stir in the rice and pour in the hot stock. Stir in the mint and parsley.  Bring back to the boil and then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until rice is tender.

Take the zucchini out of the oven and carefully spoon in the cooked rice mixture. Replace zucchini caps.  Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately with chopped fresh mint or parsley sprinkled over the top.

Makes 4 servings

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Two Color String Beans with Toasted Pine Nuts

I found some nice wax beans at the store, but I certainly didn't want a three bean salad with those big nasty kidney beans and sour dressing.  These wax beans needed something absolutely delicious to do them justice.  So after wandering the back alleys of the internet, I put some ideas together and came up with this yummy dish of roasted beans with some non-traditional spices.  I'm not sure that anything can beat roasted veggies.  Well, probably chocolate.  But until dessert rolls around, these will work.

Two Color String Beans with Toasted Pine Nuts

¾ pound green beans
¾ pound wax beans
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 teaspoon za'atar
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1½ tablespoons chives, minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut stems from green and wax beans.  Toss with garlic and olive oil, and lay out on a baking sheet in an even layer.  Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender.

Meanwhile, in a small frying pan, toast pine nuts until light brown, shaking the pan often to keep the nuts from burning.  Set aside.

When beans are done, transfer them to a serving platter.  Sprinkle with the za'atar, Aleppo pepper, chives, and salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4-6 servings

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Baked Explorations: Mississippi Mud Pie

I think I'm the designated birthday cake/pie/dessert baker.  But I always feel like I should offer.  Because shouldn't you have the most fabulous dessert possible on your birthday?  That's what I thought.  So this time around for my dad and brother-in-law, it's a big dish of chocolate, chocolate, and chocolate.  With whipped cream on top.  Incredibly rich.  Oh, and if you want pretty slices, you'll probably want to slap that bad boy in the freezer for about 10 minutes ahead of time.

Mississippi Mud Pie
From Baked Explorations

Chocolate cookie crust:
Nonstick cooking spray
16 ounces chocolate sandwich cookies, such as Oreos (35 to 40 cookies), crushed
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Flourless chocolate cake:
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent), chopped
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
¼ cup strong coffee, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, divided use

Chocolate pudding:
¾ cup sugar
½ cup dark unsweetened good-quality cocoa powder
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
2½ cups whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent)

Whipped cream topping:
1¼ cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Make the Chocolate Cookie Crust: Preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line pan with parchment paper and lightly spray parchment and sides of pan.

Place cookies in the bowl of a food processor; process to very fine crumbs. You should have about 3½ cups. Transfer to a small bowl. Add melted butter and, using a spatula, stir until well combined. Pour crumb mixture into prepared pan and press evenly with the back of a spoon into bottom and up sides, leaving about ½-inch between the top of the crust and top of the pan. Transfer to freezer until crust is set, about 10 minutes.

Transfer crust to oven and bake until dry to the touch, about 10 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool.

Make the Flourless Chocolate Cake: Increase oven temperature to 350°F.

Place butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water to melt; stir to combine. Remove from heat. In a small bowl, whisk together espresso powder, coffee, salt, and vanilla; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks with ½ cup sugar until light and almost doubled in volume, about 5 minutes. Add melted chocolate mixture and beat until just combined. Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl and mix on low speed for 5 seconds. Add coffee mixture and beat until just combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix on low for 5 seconds.

In the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually increase speed to high and slowly add remaining ½ cup sugar, beating until soft peaks form.

Transfer 1 cup egg white mixture to chocolate mixture and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold to combine, about 30 seconds. Add remaining egg whites and continue gently folding until they are almost completely combined; do not overmix. Pour into cooled cookie crust and transfer to oven. Bake until cake is set but still jiggles slightly, 38 to 42 minutes. It may not appear completely cooked. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cake will deflate in the center as it cools. Tightly wrap cooled cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to overnight.

Make the Chocolate Pudding: In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Add egg yolks and whisk until combined. The mixture will look like a thick paste. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly.

Place saucepan over medium heat and bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly to prevent it from burning on the bottom of the pan. Boil for 30 seconds and immediately transfer to a medium bowl. Add butter, vanilla, and chocolate; whisk until combined. Continue whisking until mixture is cooled slightly. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Transfer to refrigerator until chilled, at least 3 hours.

Stir pudding to loosen and pour on top of cake, making sure to stay within the cookie crust border. Using an offset spatula, spread pudding to form an even layer on top of the cake. Transfer to refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Prepare the Whipped Cream Topping: In the chilled bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a chilled whisk attachment, beat cream until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Sprinkle sugar over cream and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream over chilled pudding layer, working all the way out to the sides. Unmold cake and serve immediately. The cake can also be kept, covered, refrigerated, for up to 2 days.

Friday, September 19, 2014

P.F. Chang's China Bistro: Key Lime Pie Martini

What time is it kidoes?  It's happy hour Friday time!  And this fabulous Friday afternoon we have for your delectation a beautiful, girly drink.  A dessert in a glass.  A true piece of art.  Nah, it's just Key lime pie in liquid form, but darn is it good.

Key Lime Pie Martini
Adapted from P.F. Chang's China Bistro

1½ ounces Licor 43
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice (about 5 Key limes or 1 really juicy Persian lime), plus extra for rim of glass
1 ounce half and half
½ ounce Simple Syrup
½ cup prepared whipped cream (such as Extra-Creamy Reddi-Whip)
Crushed graham crackers
Lime wedge or zest, for garnish

Rim the martini glass with lime juice, then dip the rim in fine graham cracker crumbs. Put the glass into the freezer for 30 minutes or more before the drink is made.

Load a martini shaker half full of ice. Add the Licor 43, Key lime juice, half and half, and Simple Syrup. Add the whipped cream. Shake well. Strain and pour into the chilled martini glass and garnish, if desired, with additional whipped cream and lime.

Simple Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water

Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and stir the mixture until all of the sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temperature.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Nigel Slater: Cape Gooseberry Fool

Apparently the new fruit of the moment is the pichuberry.  But it's not really new.  It's been around for a while under the aliases cape gooseberry and Peruvian groundcherry.  The marketers think pichuberry sounds more exotic.  You can probably see me rolling my eyes through your computer.  Well, this delicious little berry/cherry/whatever-you-want-to-call-it has a sharp, sour orangey flavor that mellows into something more herby or tomatilloey as you eat it.  Yeah, I'm not the only person who can't describe how the darn thing tastes.  Just make this fool of a dessert and chow down.

Cape Gooseberry Fool
Adapted from Nigel Slater

1 pound cape gooseberries
3-4 heaped tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons brandy
1¼ cups whipping cream
3-4 tablespoons powdered sugar
Crushed gingersnaps (optional)

Remove dry paper leaves from cape gooseberries. Tip them in a pan with sugar and brandy and one or two tablespoons of water, then bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until the fruit has burst and the liquid becomes syrupy. Cool then chill. Crush with a fork.

Whip cream and powdered sugar till thick, but stop before it will stand in peaks. It should sit in soft folds. Fold in the fruit only when it is cool. It will curdle if still warm. Ripple a spoonful of lightly crushed, cooked berries through the finished fool to give a ripple effect, adding texture and interest.  Layer the cream in a dessert glass with crushed gingersnaps, if desired.

Makes 6 servings

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lidia Bastianich: Pappardelle in Salsa di Porcini Freschi (Pappardelle with Fresh Porcini Sauce)

I love these recipes that have instructions like..."buy six lobsters" or "with fresh foie gras" or "grate two truffles".  Who do these people think we are?  Half the time I'm shocked I can even find the ingredients.  Let's not talk about affording them.  That being said, I did see some fresh porcini mushrooms for sale.  This is the first time I have EVER seen them.  So I bought some.  But only a quarter pound.  Why?  They were FIFTY DOLLARS a pound.  Yes, you read that correctly.  So if you were to make this entire recipe, it would cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $60.  For four bowls of pasta.  Now granted, it's amazingly delicious pasta.  I certainly licked my plate.  But I would definitely not argue if you knocked it down to one serving and hid in the closet from your family while savoring it.

Pappardelle in Salsa di Porcini Freschi (Pappardelle with Fresh Porcini Sauce)
From Lidia Bastianich

½ cup olive oil
1 pound fresh porcini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
4 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
¾ cup chicken stock
1 pound pappardelle
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

While bringing 6 quarts salted water to boil for the pasta, begin the sauce. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add half the mushrooms and garlic, season to taste, and sauté until the mushrooms are lightly browned on both sides. Do not stir the porcini, or they will break; rather, turn them gently with a spatula. Transfer the porcini to a plate, and proceed as before with the remaining oil, garlic, and porcini. Discard the excess oil from, and return all the porcini to, the pan and add the butter, if desired, and the parsley. Adjust the seasoning, add the stock, and simmer over medium heat about 1 minute, meanwhile adding the pappardelle to the boiling water. As soon as the pappardelle is done (1 to 1½ minutes), drain it well, add to the sauce over low heat, and toss gently, adding 4 tablespoons of the cheese. Serve immediately, with the remaining cheese at the table, to be added according to individual taste.

Makes 4 servings

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rick Bayless: Mole Negro Oaxaqueño con Pollo (Oaxacan Black Mole with Braised Chicken)

Yes, I think I've lost my ever-loving mind.  What did I decide to do?  Make the MOST DIFFICULT mole recipe I could get my hands on.  And that's not including the time I spent hunting down chihuacle chiles and avocado leaves.  But this kind of recipe is like a siren song...tempting me to spend an entire day trying to overcome it.  So I made it over the weekend and let it have a nice rest in the fridge (since that makes it yummier).  This mole is....complex.  It's smoky, spicy, sweet, and salty all at the same time.  Pretty darn impressive.

Mole Negro Oaxaqueño con Pollo (Oaxacan Black Mole with Braised Chicken)
From Rick Bayless

11 medium (about 5½ ounces) dried mulato chiles
6 medium (about 2 ounces) dried chihuacle chiles (see note in Variations and Improvisations below)
6 medium (about 2 ounces) dried pasilla chiles
1 dried chipotle chile (preferably the tan-brown chipotle meco)
1 corn tortilla, torn into small pieces
2 slices of white onion, each ¼-inch thick
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
About 2 cups rich-tasting lard or vegetable oil (for frying the chiles)
½ cup sesame seeds, plus a few extra for garnish
¼ cup pecan halves
¼ cup unskinned or Spanish peanuts
¼ cup unskinned almonds
About 10 cups chicken broth (canned or homemade)
1 pound (2 medium-large or 6 to 8 plum) green tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 ounces (2 to 3 medium) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 slices stale bread, toasted until very dark
¼ teaspoon cloves, preferably freshly ground
½ teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
½ teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
A scant teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ ripe banana
½ cup (about 3 ounces) finely chopped Mexican chocolate
2 or 3 avocado leaves (if you have them)
Salt, about 1 tablespoon depending on the saltiness of the broth
Sugar, about ¼ cup (or a little more)
2 large (3½- to 4-pound) chickens, cut into quarters

Pull out the stems (and attached seed pods) from the chiles, tear them open and shake or scrape out the seeds, collecting them as you go.

Now, do something that will seem very odd: scoop the seeds into an ungreased medium-size (8- to 9-inch) skillet along with the torn-up tortilla, set over medium heat, turn on an exhaust fan, open a window and toast your seeds and tortilla, shaking the pan regularly, until thoroughly burned to charcoal black, about 15 minutes. (This is very important to the flavor and color of the mole.) Now, scrape them into a fine-mesh strainer and rinse for 30 seconds or so, then transfer to a blender.

Set an ungreased skillet or griddle over medium heat, lay on a piece of aluminum foil, and lay the onion slices and garlic cloves on that. Roast until soft and very dark (about 5 minutes on each side of the onion slices – peel it off the foil to turn it; about 15 minutes for the garlic – turn it frequently as it roasts). Cool the garlic a bit, peel it and combine with the onion in a large bowl.

While the onion and garlic are roasting, turn on the oven to 350°F (for toasting nuts), return the skillet to medium heat, measure in a scant 2 cups of the lard or oil (you'll need about ½-inch depth), and, when hot, begin frying the chiles a couple at a time: They'll unfurl quickly, then release their aroma and piquancy (keep that exhaust on and window open) and, after about 30 seconds, have lightened in color and be well toasted (they should be crisp when cool, but not burnt smelling). Drain them well, gather them into a large bowl, cover with hot tap water, and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure even soaking. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid.

While the chiles are soaking, toast the seeds and nuts. Spread the sesame seeds onto a baking sheet or ovenproof skillet, spread the pecans, peanuts and almonds onto another baking sheet or skillet, then set both into the oven. In about 12 minutes the sesame seeds will have toasted to a dark brown; the nuts will take slightly longer. Add all of them to the blender (reserving a few sesame seeds for garnish), along with 1½ cups of the chicken broth and blend to as smooth a puree as you can. Transfer to a small bowl.

Without rinsing the blender, combine the green tomatoes and tomatillos with another ½ cup of the broth and puree. Pour into another bowl. Again, without rinsing the blender, combine the roasted onion and garlic with the toasted bread, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, banana and ¾ cup broth. Blend to a smooth puree and pour into a small bowl.

Finally, without rinsing the blender, scoop in half of the chiles, measure in ½ cup of the soaking liquid, blend to a smooth puree, then pour into another bowl. Repeat with the remaining chiles and another ½ cup of the soaking liquid.

In a very large (8- to 9-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), heat 3 tablespoons of the lard or oil (some of what you used for the chiles is fine) and set over medium-high heat. When very hot, add the tomato puree and stir and scrape (a flat-sided wooden spatula works well here) for 15 to 20 minutes until reduced, thick as tomato paste, and very dark (it'll be the color of cinnamon stick and may be sticking to the pot in places). Add the nut puree and continue the stirring and scraping until reduced, thick and dark again (this time it'll be the color of black olive paste), about 8 minutes. Then, as you guessed it, add the banana-spice puree and stir and scrape for another 7 or 8 minutes as the whole thing simmers back down to a thick mass about the same color it was before you added this one.

Add the chile puree, stir well and let reduce over medium-low heat until very thick and almost black, about 30 minutes, stirring regularly (but, thankfully, not constantly). Stir in the remaining 7 cups of broth, the chocolate and avocado leaves (if you have them), partially cover and simmer gently for about an hour, for all the flavors to come together. Season with salt and sugar (remembering that this is quite a sweet mole and that sugar helps balance the dark, toasty flavors). Remove the avocado leaves.

In batches in a loosely covered blender, puree the sauce until as smooth as possible, then pass through a medium-mesh strainer into a large bowl.

Return the mole to the same pot and heat it to a simmer. Nestle the leg-and-thigh quarters of the chicken into the bubbling black liquid, partially cover and time 15 minutes, then nestle in the breast quarters, partially cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the chicken is done.

With a slotted spoon, fish out the chicken pieces and transfer them to a large warm platter. Spoon a generous amount of the mole over and around them, sprinkle with the reserved sesame seeds and set triumphantly before your lucky guests.

Serves 8 (with about 10 cups of sauce, which will mean leftovers to make enchiladas or more chicken with)

Advance Preparation: The mole can be completed through straining several days ahead (it gets better, in fact); cover and refrigerate. Complete shortly before serving.

Variations and Improvisations: Chilhuacle chiles are very difficult to find unless you're in Oaxaca (even then they're sometimes hard to obtain). Without them you can make a very respectable black mole with 6 ounces (12 total) dried mulato chiles, 2½ ounces (8 total) dried pasilla chiles, and 1 ounce (4 total) dried guajillo chiles.