Saturday, December 27, 2014

Endive and Ham Gratin

This is a luxurious way to prepare Belgian endive. If you're like me you usually only use the little endive leafs as cups for appetizers and tapas. But after reading several posts from good cooks like David Lebovitz who resides in France, I decided to purchase Belgian endive at the next opportunity and prepare it as a winter side dish.

As luck would have it, our local market had fresh Belgian endive and not even in a package, but loose so I could sort through and select the best and most uniform sized specimens. Uniformity really is key to even cooking. I prefer the larger ones as two of this size are perfect even as an entree. As these tend to be rich and delicious you really can serve them as the main dish with a simple side of good rice or other green vegetable. I wrapped my in thinly sliced prosciutto and combined with the cheese sauce, there really is plenty of protein in this manly vegetable dish.

I don't recommend a lot of sauce as they will be plenty rich with just a little. However it’s hard to make a very small batch of creamy cheese sauce, so I included a recipe that makes 2 cups. I used less than 1 and saved the rest for broccoli which I'm serving later in the week.  The classic dish prepared in most of France doesn't include cheese in the sauce itself but rather just uses a white sauce called béchamel. It's just melted butter with a little flour, salt and white pepper worked in over moderate heat and then milk is added to make a rich velvety sauce. This is actually the base for most cheese sauces, so I stirred in about a 1/4 cup of the cheddar cheese, and reserved the rest to sprinkle on top.

As for serving size, as I noted above it you have larger endive and want to make this a main course, serve two per person with the ham and cheese sauce. A simple side will make a meal as the sauce is very rich.  If you are watching your weight, then plain butter-braised Belgian endive spears are great without the sauce. If you are feeding vegetarians, then omit prosciutto. The below recipe makes dinner for 4 (two per person as a main dish) or side dishes for 8 (one per person). I halved it for dinner for two.

For the endive and ham gratin:

2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
8 Belgian endive spears
3 tablespoons water
juice of 1/2 lemon
8 thin slices of ham, such as prosciutto
3/4 cup grated cheese (most kinds will do, I used cheddar)

For the cheese sauce:

2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk or half & half
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
pinch salt
pinch white pepper

Preheat the oven to 325F. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a heatproof and flameproof baking dish or a skillet, on the cook top over medium high heat.

Trim any brown ends on the endive begin careful to only remove the very thinnest slice so as to keep all the leaves attached. Add the endive spears to the melted butter and cook, turning them occasionally, until they are browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total.

Add the water and lemon juice to the baking dish, cover the endive with a piece of parchment paper, and bake the endives in the oven until fully cooked. They’re done when you pierce one with the tip of a sharp paring knife, and it meets no resistance. Small to medium endives will take about an hour. Larger ones may take 15 minutes longer. While they cook, make the sauce.

To make the sauce, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and when the mixture begins to bubble, cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, while whisking, until it’s all incorporated. Continue to cook the sauce at a low boil for 4 to 5 minutes, until it’s thickened. Remove from heat and mix in the salt and white pepper. Set aside. (You can make the sauce up to 2 days in advance, and chill it until ready to use. Warm and add a little more milk if necessary for proper sauce consistency.)

Remove the endives from the oven and increase the heat to 350F. Let cool for 15 minutes or until you can handle them. Remove from baking dish and empty any liquid from the dish.

Wrap each one with a piece of ham and set them in a single layer back in the baking dish. Spoon the sauce over the spears and top with the rest of the grated cheese  Bake until the cheese is melted and the top is browned, about 30 minutes. Remove and serve.

Storage: The endives can be cooked 2-3 days before being wrapped in ham, and baked in sauce.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Braised Red Cabbage with Cinnamon, Apples and Cider

A holiday plate looks more festive with this dish, but it's perfect all winter long. It's also easy to prepare and forgiving on the ingredient list. By that I mean you can easily substitute as I've noted in the recipe and get equally good results.

Julian's Braised Red Cabbage
If you have those that say they don't like the taste or smell of cabbage, they are referring to traditional green cabbage. This red cabbage has neither the odor or strong flavor of green cabbage. It's popular in most German restaurants and full of fall and winter flavors with cinnamon, apples and cider included. So do give it a try if you haven't made it before. Thereafter you won't even need the recipe, as it is easy to make and remember.

Oven Use:  With regard to the cooking location, below I've listed it as preparing on cook top and transferring to the oven, but you can simply turn it down to simmer and let it cook in the skillet, stirring occasionally. 

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 red onion, sliced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 medium apple, sliced (Granny Smith preferred)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar 
1 small head (about 2-3 pounds red cabbage),
1 cup red wine OR 1 cup apple cider
1 cup orange juice (optional)
1 cinnamon stick or pinch of grated cinnamon
3 teaspoons dried ginger (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. (see note above on oven use)

Heat a deep, heavy skillet. Add oil. Saute the red onion until translucent about 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle in brown sugar and cook for a few minutes until it starts to caramelize. Add sliced apples and red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Stir up any browned bits stuck to the pan. Bring to a low boil. Add red wine or apple cider and the optional orange juice, cinnamon, ginger and salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes. 

Add red cabbage  and gently toss to combine. Cook for about 10 minutes on top of the stove. Transfer to a heavy casserole dish.  Cover and cook in 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Remove. Taste, and adjust seasoning, if necessary. 

Braised Red Cabbage Ready for the Table

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Cranberries ~ Four Great Ways to Use Cranberries in Your Holiday Meals

This time of the year I'm using cranberries in many dishes, from salads through to desserts. So today I wanted to share a few simple ways to include this colorful berry in your meals which make the holiday foods more festive.

From our home to yours, Merry Christmas!
Perhaps one of the easiest and most traditional ways to use cranberries is to make a quick cranberry relish/chutney to serve alongside a roasted Christmas turkey or goose. Cooking them until tender and just starting to burst with some added orange juice (from one orange), orange zest and sugar is quick and simple. And you can do it ahead of time so it's ready for the table when your bird is done. I don't like to overcook them as I want them to still look somewhat fresh. I'm looking for a relish not a sauce or gelatin. While cranberries are quite tart, take care in the amount of sugar you add. You don't want to turn this into a dessert. It should be just tart-sweet to make a good cranberry relish. My recipe is below.

Julian's Cranberry Relish in the Making

Cranberry-Apple Relish

1 medium orange
2 cups water
1 Granny Smith apple
1 bag (3 cups or 12 ounces) cranberries, fresh
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Peel the bright outer orange skin (the zest) from the orange insuring you leave the white pith behind. Squeeze the juice from the orange, set aside and discard the solid membranes and pith. Put the zest into a saucepan with the water, bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.  Drain, chop medium and set aside.

Peel, core and quarter the apple.  Chop the apple into small pieces and place in a saucepan.  Sort the cranberries, discarding any soft ones, and add to the chopped apple together with the orange peel, orange juice, sugar, cinnamon and cloves.  Place over medium-high heat, bring to a boil stirring occasionally, then reduce heat and simmer gently covered, until thickened.  Stir periodically. The apple should be tender and the cranberries should have burst.  This should take approximately 10-15 minutes.

Transfer to a bowl and let cool before serving.  (Can be covered and refrigerated but should be brought back to room temperature before serving.)

Cranberry Relish Makes for a Festive Plate
and Is Also Good on Turkey Sandwiches
Of course just sprinkling some dried sweetened cranberries on a salad will also be a welcome addition. Below I have a salad with fresh greens (arugula), apples, fresh mozzarella cheese and dried cranberries, with a simple vinaigrette dressing. Delicious and easy!

Christmas Salad
For dessert why not try an apple-cranberry crisp. Served with ice cream, the tartness of the apples and cranberries combined with a crumb topping (yet to be applied in the photo below) make for the perfect holiday dessert.

You can follow any of my crisp recipes already posted on this site or better yet, just toss some Granny Smith apples and fresh cranberries with sugar, cinnamon and corn starch and place them in a baking dish. Make some crumb topping using brown sugar, butter, a little flour, some oatmeal and a dash of cinnamon and salt and you have a great, easy dessert. If you've been measuring these things out from recipes found on my site or elsewhere, live a little. Just toss together what you think works and it won't be long before you are making crisps and crumbles of all kinds with no recipe at all. That's the joy of cooking! 

Finally, I'm going to give you my Aunt Rose's recipe for a cranberry jello salad. I know this may sound like a dessert, and sometimes she served it that way with whipped cream, but it really is a salad as the gelatin is just used to hold the ingredients together in a festive holiday wreath shape. It's not overly sweet and is always popular at my table as it has a nice cool, fresh crunch. For additional cranberry recipes such as cookies and biscotti, just search "cranberries" in my search box above left.

Cranberry Jello Salad with Orange Jello

Cranberry Jello Salad

12 ounces fresh cranberries
4 large carrots
4 large celery stalks
2 large boxes gelatin powder (orange, cranberry or strawberry)
2 cans frozen strawberries, lightly thawed (optional)

Chopped Carrots, Celery and Cranberries

Chop carrots and celery and all but a few of the cranberries, in food processor.

Prepare gelatin as directed on box and place in refrigerator, stirring occasionally until semi-set.

When gelatin is semi-set, add chopped ingredients and the optional strawberries, folding in gently.

Ladle into a jello mold or serving bowl and chill until set (3-4 hours)  To remove from mold, submerse mold to rim in warm water for a few moments and invert over serving plate.  Garnish with green leaves and the remaining cranberries.

Cranberry Jello Salad with Cranberry Jello

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Black Forest Crumble ~ Dark Chocolate and Cherries Make the Perfect Holiday Combo

If you can make a 'dump cake' you can make this wonderful dessert suitable year around, but it's particularly nice during the Christmas holidays. It has only FOUR basic ingredients! It marries together dark chocolate cake, melted chocolate bits and gorgeous red cherries. Topped with whipped cream, it tastes rich and delicious and is the perfect balance of sweet and tart.

Julian's Black Forest Crumble
Of course the traditional German dessert (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte) is a time-consuming multi-layer chocolate cake with alternating layers of whipped cream and cherries. But for this version, my recipe is prepared in a single baking dish and for once, I prefer it over the traditional cake version. This is because you get more of the cherry sauce with every bite of the dark chocolate cake which actually has melted bits of chocolate in it. You really will love this dessert and so will your family. And unlike other dump cakes, which are mostly unremarkable, this one looks great and tastes better!

Note: The cherries are key to getting a good result in this recipe and as such you should select the canned cherries that will provide you with the most cherries possible. I prefer one can of traditional 'more fruit' cherry pie filling plus an additional jar of tart pie cherries in light syrup. These are available at my local grocer although today I used some fresh frozen pie cherries my friend Ralph brought back for me from Michigan. When using the jar of tart pie cherries, drain off the light syrup as the canned filling has plenty of heavy syrup and the extra tart cherries fold right in. You can alternatively use two cans of pie filling if you cannot easily find the jar of pie cherries or a bag of frozen pie cherries.

1 can cherry pie filling (21 ounces)
1 jar pitted pie cherries in light syrup
                     (about 20 ounces)
1 dark chocolate cake mix
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, melted
8 ounces dark chocolate chips, chunks or pieces
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
whipped cream (for serving)
Maraschino cherries (for serving)

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Mix the cherry pie filling and the drained cherries together in a 9"x 11" baking dish or equivalent. Place the chocolate cake mix in a bowl and using a fork, blend in the melted butter until the mixture is crumbly. Toss in the chocolate and optional nuts and stir to combine. Sprinkle over the cherries. Bake for 45 minutes until bubbly. Remove from oven and add a Maraschino cherry to the top as a decoration. Serve with whipped cream and a Maraschino cherry on top of each serving.

Serve with whipped cream and a cherry.