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Baked Brie With Dried Fruits And Nuts

Baked Brie with Dried Fruits and Nuts

Last year, a baked brie similar to the one in the photo above made an appearance at some point during the holidays – purchased at The Scone Pony in Spring Lake, NJ, a shop selling outstanding scones and other treats.
But the store’s limited opening hours didn’t correspond with my availability to stop in this year, so I decided to make my own for Christmas eve. I’ve got a few vegetarians in the family and the octopus salad, baccala mantecato and shrimp platter just doesn’t cut it with them. I couldn’t leave them out while we were sitting around embibing on prosecco and appetizers.
The baked brie was a snap to make and was just as good as Scone Pony’s – no, better, since it was freshly made.
Maybe you’re having guests at some point in the week, or making merry for New Year’s Eve. This would be a perfect accompaniment to those glasses of bubbly you’re likely to pour.
I start by slicing off the rind from a wheel of brie, an optional step, but it makes it a lot easier to dig into the cheese without the rind.
 Then smear the top with a fig spread, fig preserves or other type of jam, jelly or preserves that you like. I know I’d also love this with either quince jelly, apricot or orange preserves too.
 Then take some of the same flavor of preserves or jelly and mix it with your choice of chopped nuts and dried fruits. I used dried figs, cranberries and cherries, with pecans and pistachios.
Pile the dried fruit and nut mixture on top, then when guests arrive, bake in the oven briefly or place in the microwave for a minute or two.
 Add some crackers and serve.
 And watch it disappear.
 Buon Anno and a big thank you to all my readers for following me this year, for leaving comments on the blog, for making my recipes and for emailing me with questions, or just to send greetings. I wish you all the very best in 2016.
 Are you a social media devotee? Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.

 

Baked Brie with Dried Fruits and Nuts
All amounts are all approximate. Use as much or as little as you like of nuts and dried fruits.
 If you have too much, it keeps well in the refrigerator.
1 wheel of brie cheese
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
1/4 cup chopped dried figs
1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup fig preserves, plus more for smearing on top of cheese.
Carefully slice the top rind of the brie cheese, trying not to take much of the cheese. A little bit of rind on top is ok. Spread some fig preserves over the cheese. Chop the nuts and fruits, mix in the preserves and pile on top. Refrigerate until ready to use, then bake in a 350 degree oven for five minutes, or place in the microwave for one minute. You don’t want to melt the cheese, just soften it. Serve with crackers.
Standing Rib Roast And Yorkshire Pudding

Standing Rib Roast and Yorkshire Pudding

We don’t serve rib roast for Easter but I made one last weekend when our kids came home and we celebrated both of their birthdays. I thought I’d post the recipe for those of you who might be choosing rib roast for your Easter dinner over the more traditional lamb or ham.
While it can be expensive if you don’t buy it on sale, a standing rib roast is always impressive (when properly cooked) and it’s a snap to make too.

Yorkshire Pudding

This was my first attempt at making Yorkshire Pudding, the typical accompaniment to rib roast. It too was easy to prepare and a big hit with everyone. Long after we were sated with enough roast, we sat around sipping our wine and munching on these little popovers studded with herbs. Yorkshire pudding isn’t really a pudding as you can see, but more of a bread made with a thick batter that’s poured into muffin tins greased with beef drippings. You can use butter if you prefer. Either way, it’s not as fattening as it sounds since you use only a small amount of fat for each portion.
Once you get the meat into the oven, mix up the batter for the Yorkshire puddings and refrigerate. After the roast is cooked and resting, pour the batter into the muffin tins and bake.

For the rib roast, I used Ina Garten’s recipe with some modification. Her recipe calls for a 7 to 8 pound standing rib roast. Since I was cooking one that weighed only 3.5 pounds (more than enough for four people and we had leftovers too), I eliminated the last step where you kick up the temperature to 450 degrees. Just make sure to keep checking with a meat thermometer and roast it to the degree of doneness you like. When the meat reaches 125 degrees, for me that’s perfect and I take it out of the oven. The cooking continues even while it rests on the countertop. During the time it’s resting, I put the Yorkshire pudding into the oven. When they come out about 20 minutes later, the medium-rare roast is ready to slice and eat.

Standing Rib Roast

1 T. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Rub the meat all over with the salt and the pepper. Two hours before roasting, remove from refrigerator and let it come to room temperature (I let mine sit out for only one hour, but I had a smaller roast). Place the rib roast in a roasting pan in a 500 degree preheated oven. Roast it for 45 minutes, then reduce temperature to 325 degrees and roast for another 30 minutes. Test with a meat thermometer for the required doneness. If you’re cooking a small roast, as I did, it may be done. I took mine out of the oven at about 125 degrees. For a larger roast, check the temperature. If it’s not done yet, boost the oven temperature back up to 450 degrees and roast for another 15 to 30 minutes. Take the meat out of the oven and let it sit, covered with aluminum foil, for at least 15 – 20 minutes before slicing.

Yorkshire Pudding

1 cup milk
2 eggs
2 – 4 T. butter or beef drippings from the roast
1 cup flour
snippets of fresh herbs (I used chives, sage and thyme)
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine flour, chives, thyme and salt.
Whisk milk and eggs. Add to the flour and herb mixture. Refrigerate while the roast cooks.
Spoon a little bit of melted butter or beef drippings into the bottom of each of about 12 muffin tins. Tip the tins to coat. Pour the batter into the individual cups, about 1/2 to 2/3 full. Bake in a 450 degree preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

A Very Late Buche De Noel

A Very Late Buche De Noel

This is what I normally prepare for Christmas Day dessert, but this year I chose to make a Raspberry Bombe instead. As tasty as the bombe was, I have to say I missed the buche. The yule-log was missing from our yule.

So I took the opportunity to make it for a post-Hanukkah party this weekend. It doesn’t have to be a holiday treat. It is sensational for any large, winter gathering, with shredded coconut strewn for snow and little meringue mushrooms sprouting up around the log.

It’s not a project for the faint of heart, but if you’re patient and follow the directions carefully, you can do it. If you can read, you can cook, I always tell friends who lament that they can’t cook. Muster up your courage and go for it. Make sure you read the directions thoroughly before starting. If you really mess it up, you can throw it all in a glass bowl and call it a trifle. If you don’t tell anyone it was supposed to be a yule log, they’ll never know.
I’ll never forget my first attempt at making a chocolate souffle, decades ago. It never rose to puffy heights, but my husband proclaimed the dessert “the best brownies I’ve ever eaten.”

With a few small changes, this is adapted from a recipe for “bittersweet chocolate roulade” from an episode of “America’s Test Kitchen.”

This cake tastes best served at room temperature.

for the cake:

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into two pieces
2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 cup sifted cocoa, plus 1 T. for unmolding
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for baking sheet
1/8 t. salt
6 large eggs, separated
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1/8 t. cream of tartar


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12 x 17 inch rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, cover pan bottom with parchment paper and spray parchment with nonstick cooking spray. Dust surface with flour and tap out excess.

2. Bring some water to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Combine chocolate, butter and water in small heatproof bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set bowl over pan, reduce heat to medium low and heat until butter is almost completely melted and chocolate pieces are glossy and fully melted. Do not stir or let water boil under chocolate. Remove bowl from pan, unwrap and stir until smooth and glossy.

3. While chocolate is melting, sift 1/4 cup cocoa, flour and salt together into small bowl and set aside.

4. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With mixer running, add about 1 t. sugar; continue beating until soft peaks form, about 40 seconds. Gradually add half of sugar and beat until whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks when whisk is lifted, about 1 minute longer. Do not over beat. If whites look dry and granular, they are over beaten. Remove whites into a large bowl.

5. Beat yolks at medium speed until just combined, and add half of remaining sugar. Continue to beat, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary until yolks are pale yellow and mixture falls in thick ribbons when whisk is lifted, about 8 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to combine, scraping down bowl once.

6. Stir chocolate mixture into yolks, a small amount at a time so you don’t scramble the eggs. With a rubber spatula, stir one quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold remaining whites until almost no streaks remain. Sprinkle dry ingredients over top and fold in quickly but gently.

7. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing batter into pan corners. Bake until center of cake springs back when touched with finger, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes.

8. While cake is cooling, lay clean kitchen towel over work surface and sift remaining tablespoon cocoa over towel. With hands, rub cocoa into towel. Run paring knife around perimeter of baking sheet to loosen cake. Invert cake onto paper towels and peel off parchment. This is tricky and it’s entirely possible that the cake will crack when you’re inverting it, or rolling it, as it did for me. Don’t worry if this happens. It can be covered with frosting.

9. Roll cake, paper towels and all, into jelly roll shape. Cool for 15 minutes, then unroll cake and paper towels. Spread filling over surface of cake, almost to edges. Roll up cake gently but snugly around filling. Put cake seam-side down on top and place in refrigerator for an hour to harden the filling a bit. This will make it easier to frost.

10. Remove cake from refrigerator and trim ends at a diagonal. Spread ganache frosting on cake, including exposed edges. Take the edges that you trimmed off and attach to the top of the log as little stumps, using a long wooden skewer to help prevent them from sliding off. Spread more ganache on the little stumps reserving a teaspoonful for later. Use a fork to make wood-grain striations on the surface of the ganache before the icing has set. Refrigerate uncovered. Before serving, remove wooden skewers and patch the hole with a little dab of some frosting. Bring to room temperature before serving, for best flavor.

Filling:

Espresso-Mascarpone Cream

1/2 cup heavy cream
3 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
16 ounces mascarpone cheese

1. Simmer cream in a small saucepan over high heat. Remove from heat and stir in espresso powder and powdered sugar. Cool.
2. With spatula, beat mascarpone in medium bowl until softened. Gently whisk in cooled cream mixture until combined.

Chocolate Ganache

3/4 cup heavy cream
2 T. unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 T. cognac

Microwave cream and butter in measuring cup on high until bubbling, about 1 1/2 minutes. Place chocolate in bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. With machine running, gradually add hot cream and cognac through feed tube and process until smooth and thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer ganache to medium bowl and let stand at room temperature for one hour, until spreadable.

Meringue Mushrooms

2 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
dash cream of tartar

Beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and sugar, gradually, until mixture forms stiff peaks. Place into a plastic bag and trim off a bit at the corner. Or use a pastry bag. Pipe onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, some in small cap shapes and some in long “stem” shapes. Dab the tops with water to smooth out any pointy tips. Bake at 200 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, then turn off the oven and leave in the oven another 1/2 hour. Let cool. Before serving cake, cut little holes in the bottom of a cap shaped piece and push a stem shaped piece into it. You can frost the bottom of the cap first if you like, but be aware that these will soften quickly once you frost them. Don’t assemble the mushrooms until you are ready to serve the cake. When all the mushrooms are placed around the cake, dust the caps and the cake with more cocoa, for a “dirt” effect.

Raspberry Christmas Bombe

Raspberry Christmas bombe

Raspberry Christmas bombe

For years we celebrated Christmas dinner with my friend Jan and her family. Jan would always prepare this bombe for dessert, while I made a chocolate yule log.
When I was thinking about what to serve my large family clan for dessert after our traditional Christmas Eve fish dinner, this bombe naturally came to mind. It’s refreshing, it’s light, it’s colorful and it can be made ahead of time. Plus there’s no baking involved. It’s as easy as scooping sorbet into a bowl.
You don’t have to wait for Christmas to make this though. I’ve served it at dinner parties and it’s always a hit. Plus it can serve a big crowd with no last minute fuss.
I normally make it with only one type of sorbet, as Jan does, but this time I chose to use a larger bowl than in the past and the one quart of sorbet called for in the original recipe doesn’t fill the entire bowl. So I bought another type of sorbet and filled the rest of the cavity with that. I think I’ll make it this way each time, since the contrasting colors of the sorbet makes it look even more festive. You don’t have to fuss with the whipped cream piping on the top either. You can simply turn it out from the bowl and pour the raspberry sauce on top. One other variation I make from the original recipe is to use candied walnuts rather than plain ones.

It’s a versatile recipe you can alter any number of ways – using pecans, almonds, or pistachio nuts – or using ice cream instead of sorbet. Be creative and come up with something of your own. I’d love to hear how you customize it.

Raspberry Christmas Bombe

1 pint of heavy cream, whipped
fold in 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup maraschino cherries, sliced
1 1/2 cups candied walnuts (optional)

Make the candied walnuts ahead of time by taking 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tsp. water. Melt the sugar in a nonstick pan, add the water and bring to boil. Add the walnuts, stirring and cooking together for about 5 minutes at high heat, until the mixture starts to turn light tan and the sugar starts to coat the walnuts. Remove from heat and spread on waxed paper until cool.

Whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla. Add the candied walnuts and sliced cherries.

Line a two-quart bowl with plastic wrap. Line the bowl with the whipped cream mixture, leaving the center hollow. Freeze for several hours or overnight.

Remove from freezer and leaving a hollow semi-hemispherical space in the center, layer one quart of softened sorbet over the whipped cream mixture. I used a pomegranate sorbet, which is the pale pink color in the photo. Place in freezer again for several hours or overnight. Remove from freezer and fill the center hole with one pint of a different flavor of softened sorbet. I used raspberry sorbet here, but it would beautiful and delicious to try something like a bright orange mango sorbet too. Cover with saran wrap and place back in freezer. After several hours in the freezer, serve by turning upside down onto a plate and removing the plastic wrap. Serve with raspberry sauce.

Or you can take it one step further to make it more decorative, as I did in the photo:

About an hour or two before guests arrive, whip up one pint of heavy cream with 3 T. confectioner’s sugar. Whip until you get firm peaks, but not so firm that the cream turns to butter. Place whipped cream in a piping bag, or a plastic bag fitted with a large piping tip at one corner that has been snipped. Remove the bombe from the freezer and turn over onto a serving plate. Pipe rosettes of whipped cream over entire bombe. Place it back in the freezer as is, with no plastic covering on top. Otherwise, you will smash the pretty rosette design. Don’t leave it like this for more than a couple or three hours in the freezer though, or you may get ice crystals forming on the bombe. Decorate with candied violets or small non-pareils. Serve with raspberry sauce.

Raspberry Sauce:

Boil together one 10- or 12-ounce package of frozen raspberries, 2 T. water and 1/4 cup sugar. Boil for about five minutes, then force through a strainer. Add 1 tsp. lemon juice and refrigerate.

Stuffed Squid

Stuffed Squid

Everyone in my family looks forward to our Christmas eve dinner – a traditional meal of many fish in lots of Italian households. When I was younger, my mother would spend countless hours preparing and frying all manner of fish – from smelts to whitings to eel. One particular episode branded in my memory involves eels and my grandfather, who lived with my parents. He brought the eels home from the market on Christmas eve, still alive and squiggling, and set about to end their lives in my parents’ kitchen sink — right there beneath the pristine, lacy white curtains. The eels didn’t give up without a struggle and splattered their blood all over those curtains as a result. Of course my mother wasn’t happy, to put it mildly.
Since my mother died more than 20 years ago, and my mother-in-law only a year later, the mantle passed to me to maintain the tradition. I have shifted away from the fried fish that used to be the mainstay of the meal, but can’t give up the squid. My mother used to prepare it as the centerpiece of her meal, delicately simmering the rings in tomato sauce and serving it over pasta. It was always a favorite. But my husband is partial to this stuffed squid recipe which his mother always made, and which my son now makes every year, as part of our multi-fish dinner. It’s also a great complement to the seafood risotto I prepare, with the tomato sauce from the squid spilling onto the saffron-flavored rice in the risotto. I’ll be sharing that recipe with you too shortly. Although it’s too late to cook these dishes for this year’s Christmas eve, maybe you can start your own tradition next year.

Stuffed Squid

15 – 20 squid, medium size – cleaned
6 cups of diced, sturdy white bread, trimmed of crusts
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup white raisins, soaked in water for about 1/2 hour
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk, or more if needed
salt and pepper to taste

Buy the squid already cleaned, but rinse them under water and remove any cartilage that still might be left in the body. It will pull out easily and look like a strip of milky, translucent plastic. If you want, trim the wide end of the squid for a more even look.

Place all the filling ingredients in a bowl and mix until you have a moist consistency. Stuff the bodies of the squid, but don’t fill them completely since the squid will shrink during cooking.

Place a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of a casserole and lay the squid on the sauce. Cover squid with more sauce.

Bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes. If you make this ahead of time and refrigerate, be sure to take out of the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before baking. If you bake these much longer than 1/2 hour, the squid will be tough and chewy.

Tomato sauce:
Use your own recipe, or follow mine, which is about double what you’ll need for the squid recipe. Use the rest another time – for pasta, or pizza or whatever you like.

1 large can (28 oz) San Marzano tomatoes
1 large can (28 oz.) tomato puree
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red or white wine
salt, pepper
1 T. dried basil
1 t. red pepper flakes (or more, if you like your sauce spicy)

Place the olive oil in a large pot, and add the onions and carrots. Saute until soft, then add the garlic and saute a couple more minutes. Break up the whole tomatoes with your fingers, or using a food processor, but leave some texture. Do not break them up so much that the sauce becomes smooth. We like it with some tomato lumps in it. Add the tomatoes and tomato puree to the pot, along with the wine, salt, pepper, basil and red pepper flakes. Simmer on low heat for about one hour.

Italian Christmas “brownies”

Italian Christmas “brownies”

Italian Christmas “Brownies”

Caveat emptor: These are not brownies in the true American sense. Yes, they have a strong chocolate flavor, but they also are loaded with pungent spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a surprise ingredient of black pepper. I grew up eating these at Christmas time, when my mother would line up dozens of them in trays, waiting to be cooled in preparation for the confectioner’s sugar embellishment. They’re not a specialty of the Emilia-Romagna region where she was born and raised. I’m pretty sure she learned it from her mother-in-law, who was from the Southern Italian region of Calabria – and it was she who labeled them “brownies.” I had never seen a recipe for them in any of the Italian cookbooks I own. But one day many years ago, a photo and recipe for “Cocoa Christmas Cookies” appeared in the New York Times food section and caught my eye. The cookies looked just like my mother’s. The recipe was from Alfred Portale, chef and co-owner at New York City’s Gotham Bar and Grill. Portale’s relatives hail from Sicily – just across the straits of Messina from Calabria. Bingo! Except for a few ingredients, the recipe sounded just like the cookie I remembered, only better. This one added a cup of apricot jam, which my mother’s recipe didn’t, and I think it helps keep the cookies moist, as well as adding flavor. You can add walnuts and raisins to the cookies if you like, as Portale did, but I leave them out, since they were never included in my mother’s version. She did however add chocolate chips – a nod to her new found country, I suppose. And of course, her recipe calls for that unusual addition of black pepper. It adds even more complexity to the flavor – and some mystery too. I wouldn’t dream of making the cookies without it.

Cocoa Christmas Cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 1/2 tsps. baking powder
2 tsps. cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup milk
2 cups chocolate chips

If using raisins and walnuts as Portale did, add 1 1/2 cups of each

glaze:
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, black pepper. Combine and set aside.
2. With a heavy duty mixer, beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in vanilla, jam, and milk. Set mixer to low and gradually add flour mixture, beating only until it is incorporated. Add the chocolate chips. The batter will be extremely stiff.
3. Place a large piece of waxed paper or parchment paper on the counter and flour it generously. Take a large spoon and scoop out a couple of heaping cups of the stiff batter onto the floured surface. Use a spoon to release it if needed. Flour your hands well and begin to shape the batter into a log shape, about an inch in diameter, rolling it back and forth on the floured surface. Use the paper to help mold it. Place the “logs” into the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
4. Remove from refrigerator and cut into sections about 1 1/2 inches wide. You can leave it this shape, or roll it between the palms of your hand into a flattened ball, which is the traditional shape.
5. Place balls on a parchment-lined or greased and floured cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. The tops will crack – this is normal. Transfer cookies to a rack and let cool. Cover with the glaze when completely cooled.

For the glaze:

Mix sifted confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice with a spoon until the desired consistency. I make mine almost like a frosting rather than a glaze, which means you’ll need to add more sugar. If you prefer yours to be more of a drizzle, adjust with more lemon juice.

This recipe makes about 6 to 7 dozen cookies and they freeze well. Just make sure the glaze is dry before putting them in the freezer. They will get hard if you leave them at for more than a week.