Seasonal Cooking, Holiday Baking

26 12 2012

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!  I hope you’ve already had a lovely long weekend with family and friends, and that you’ll have a few more occasions to celebrate the end of this year, the Winter Solstice, or anything else that gives you a chance to eat and drink with your loved ones.

I feel like I haven’t been doing as much cooking as I normally do this time of year – in lieu of planning elaborate meals, I’ve been focused on relaxing and reflecting, simmering big pots of stew to be eaten over several days.  Oh, I’ve baked some cookies and whipped up some eggnog, but instead of my customary Christmas foie gras, I got a capon roast from the butcher, neatly tied with a chestnut-and-liver-sausage filling.  All I had to do was sear it on the stove and let it finish roasting in the oven for a nearly effortless Christmas Eve meal.

And yet, that doesn’t mean I haven’t scored some hits all the same.  I’ve been noodling around with the McCormick Flavor Forecast, and found a couple of great ways to incorporate my very favorite of their proposed flavor combinations: Cider, Sage, and Molasses.  Of all the options, this one seemed to me the most supremely seasonal, with its earthy-herbal sage, bittersweet molasses, and tangy apple cider.  I toyed around with some pear cider ideas, but the apple ideas came out on top.

So I have two recipes to share with you today. One a lentil salad – we ate it once with pan-fried sausages, and finished it off with our capon roast on Christmas Eve; the other an indulgent bar cookie whose touch of sage and dark molasses make it distinctly grown-up (there are plenty of other cookies for the kids, anyway).

Here’s to a year-end filled with love, happiness, and delectable eats!

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Duck Dinner, Revisited

7 11 2008

Now that the weather has turned decisively cold, I find myself craving duck again.  Since I was so pleased with the results of my Winter Duck Dinner, and because Nick was so excited to see Brussels sprouts reappear at the market, I thought I’d do a rehash for Autumn.

Yet another photo of caramelized onions

On the same market trip, I found a guy selling baskets of red onions for a euro a pop.  For some reason, red onions are normally about three times the price of their less-stunningly colored relatives, so I jumped on the deal.  Once the onions have been caramelized, I’m not sure if there’s that much of a flavor difference between varieties, but Iove the color of deeply caramelized red onions.

Come here, you tasty little cabbages!

As before, the Brussels sprouts were seared over high heat in duck fat and combined with caramelized onions.  I added the last of the fresh sage, mainly just to use it up, but it turned out to complement the sprouts beautifully.  I’ve decided this recipe is too good to keep to myself, so look for it after the photo.

Rounded out with an apricot-based pan sauce and a pile of roasted potatoes and carrots, the Fall take on the Duck Dinner was every bit as fulfilling as the Winter version.

Fall Duck Dinner - photo by Nick

Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onions

 

Even if you think you don’t like Brussels sprouts, give this recipe a try.  Allowing them to brown a bit deepens their flavor, which is enhanced by sweet-and-savory caramelized onions.  Sage brings autumnal warmth to the dish and embellishes the earthiness of the sprouts, but the dish is equally good without it.  You could serve this with duck or game, and it may even be a surprise hit on the holiday dinner table.

 

2 Tbsp. butter

3 small red onions, thinly sliced (White or yellow onions will also work.)

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tsp. sherry vinegar

2 Tbsp. duck fat (Bacon fat would be good, too.  Olive oil is acceptable in a pinch.)

500 g/1 lb. Brussels sprouts

2 Tbsp. fresh sage, thinly sliced (optional)

 

  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deeply caramelized, about an hour or so.  Deglaze the pan with the sherry vinegar and scrape the onions out into a bowl.  Set aside.  (This can be done ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge.)
  2. While the onions are cooking, trim the root ends from the Brussels sprouts and chop them (the sprouts, not the ends) into small pieces.
  3. Wipe out the pan and add the duck fat.  Heat over high heat and throw in the chopped Brussels sprouts.  Let them sit still a few minutes to brown, then season with salt and pepper and stir.  Allow a few more minutes of browning time, add the caramelized onions and sage (if you’re using it) and toss to combine.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook until heated through.  Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve.

 Serves 4.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The Winter Squash Saga, Part II: Dessert

28 10 2008

As I promised yesterday, I’m back today with the winter squash, orange, and sage dessert.  I initially liked the idea of using these ingredients in a dessert because it seemed like more of a challenge.  Sage, in particular, is not usually used in sweets and I thought I could do something interesting with it.

Warm, fragrant, and fuzzy, sage is the freshly laundered blanket of the herb family.

The squash part was easy.  Winter squash-based sweets abound: pumpkin pies, cheesecakes, muffins, and even pancakes feature on menus everywhere this time of year (well, not in the southern Hemisphere, I guess).  In my first restaurant job I was given a recipe for butternut squash flan.  I thought it was a great idea, but the stupid thing never worked right.  My theory was that if we had just put a thin layer of caramel in the bottom of the molds, like you’re suppposed to when you’re making flan aka crème caramel, they would have come out beautifully every time.

The correct way to make crème caramel

So I did just that.  I also reduced the amount of cream in favor of milk (not something you’ll hear me say very often), because traditionally, crème caramel is the lightest of the baked custards and made using only milk and whole eggs.  Plus, I wanted that lighter texture.  I think it balances the richness of the caramel and helps to make more of that delicious sauce you get when you finally unmold the dessert.  I snuck some of the orange butter into the caramel to play up the orange flavor in the squash (I reserved some from the lasagna and puréed it using my beloved immersion blender).

Water baths are not a big deal.

After a short spell in the oven, their custards were ready.  I prefer mine just-set, by which I mean barely holding together.  Feeling pleased with my success so far, I left the custards in the fridge to chill overnight.

“But what about the sage?”  You must be wondering.  In one of those flashes of inspiration, it came to me.

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