Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Celebrate Winter Gathering

I've entertained a lot over the years, but my favorite event to host is the Winter Sleighride Gathering that I used to do -- before global warming made New England winters almost tropical! :) The evening would start off with my friends and I taking a moonlit horsedrawn sleighride, accompanied by lots of blankets and flasks of blackberry brandy to keep warm. And then...good food, good drink, good friends and a great evening!

Unfortunately this gathering requires a lot of last minute preparation and assembly, so be sure to gather your best friends in the kitchen as soon as you return!

Ambiance and setting:
  • Before you leave on the sleighride, set some mulled or spiced cider on low in the crockpot (spiked or not -- your choice). When you return, turn the crockpot to high, take off the cover and enjoy the aroma as it wafts through the house. (Make sure to keep a ladle and cups near the crockpot as everyone will be enjoying this drink.)
  • No bright lights for this gathering. Turn on a few lamps with low wattage (40 or 60 kw) bulbs. Candles should be everywhere, and be sure to leave plenty of matches out in the open so your guests can help to light the scene.
  • Everything should be ready to light a fire in the fireplace. You don't want to be messing with kindling when your guests are waiting for food!

To eat:

  • Baked brie with fruit and crackers - There are many, many variations on baked brie. I generally do one on the sweet side and one on the savory side. Serve with plenty of gourmet crackers and pear and apple slices. (Be sure to toss the pear and apple slices with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.)
  • Cheese fondue (or Fondue au Fromage) with chunks of baguette or French bread for dipping. You can make the fondue before you leave and simply heat it in the fondue pots.
  • Croques Monseiur - Ahhh....I miss you, Julia Child!!! I make this by splitting a baguette or loaf of crusty french bread lengthwise and arrange the toppings. This can be done ahead of time and simply popped under the broiler when you are ready to serve. Leave this open-faced and cut into 1" slices.
  • Cheese and fruit platter - Use a variety of cheese and winter fruits (apples. pears, grapes). For a nice winter effect, use purple grapes. Keeping them in bunches, moisten them with cold water and then sprinkle granulated sugar on them to give the effect of ice or snow.
  • Chocolate fondue with strawberries and 1" cubes of poundcake for dipping
  • Spiced nuts

To drink:


  • Winter movie charades: Team up and act out movies whose main theme is "winter" such as "Home Alone", "Groundhog Day", "Fargo", "The Shining", "Snow Day", "Misery", "While You Were Sleeping", "Serendipity"...you get the idea!
  • Who Am I?: Have index cards ready with lots of winter items written on them such as "ice skates", "snow plow", "snowman", "shoven", "mittens", etc. Tape one to each guest's back. During the evening, they have to ask the other guests to give them clues as to what they are. Whoever figures it out by the end of the evening gets a prize!

But whatever you do, celebrate winter instead of dreading it and have fun!

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Fern's Tuna Noodle Casserole

I've postponed doing this post because tuna-noodle casserole evokes some very strong emotions and memories in me of my Mom's comfort foods and, well, tuna-noodle casserole. Nuff said.

You'll note that there is very little seasoning in this recipe, and that's because my Mom always used genuine Italian tuna packed in olive oil which is extremely flavorful. If you've never tried it, it has a distinctive taste that makes Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee tuna taste like cardboard!

I've seen a wide range of different recipes that include everything from sour cream to pimientos. But remember guys -- tuna-noodle casserole was invented and served by folks that grew up in the Depression era. They didn't put anything in this casserole that was exotic or unnecessary. So, without further delay, Fern's Tuna Noodle Casserole.

Fern's Tuna-Noodle Casserole

2 cans Italian tuna packed in olive oil, drained
2 cans Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1 pkg wide egg noodles

Cook the noodles in generously salted water according to package directions. Drain.

While the noodles are cooking, mix the milk and mushroom soup together in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the peas and the tuna, making sure not to work the tuna too much so that the tuna remains somewhat chunky and flaky. Heat through.

In a 9x13 casserole dish, add the noodles. Pour the tuna mixture over the noodles and combine well. Top with the bread crumbs.

Bake in 350 oven for approximately 30 minutes.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Eggs Benedict

Why is it that so many of my favorite foods have gone the way of nehru jackets and lava lamps? Eggs Benedict is decidedly one of my favorite breakfast foods, and yet the only place I see them served anymore are tired diners and cheap breakfast buffets. Here's the whole "how to" with tips, tricks and different serving suggestions.

Traditional Eggs Benedict

2 English Muffins
4 poached eggs
4 slices Canadian bacon
Hollandaise sauce (recipe below)

Prepare the Hollandaise sauce. Keep warm for up to 30 minutes while preparing the other ingredients.

Split the English muffins and toast lightly. Butter generously. Cover and keep warm.

In a skillet over medium heat, cook the Canadian bacon until warm.

Poach the eggs and keep warm.


Set the toasted and buttered English muffin on the serving plate, buttered side up. Top with a slice of Canadian bacon, the poached egg and Hollandaise sauce to taste. For color, sprinkle some chopped parsley or paprika on top.

Serve with home fries, steamed asparagus or a light salad.

Alternate serving suggestions:

  • Substitute thinly sliced salmon for the Canadian bacon and top with fresh dill.
  • Thinly sliced leftover roast beef is a perfect substitute for the Canadian bacon.
  • Mix some cooked salad shrimp with a little of the Hollandaise and substitute for the Canadian bacon.

Hollandaise Sauce

4 egg yolks
2 tbs lemon juice
1/2 cup plus 1 tbs butter
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt & pepper

Place the 4 egg yolks, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and the salt and pepper into a fairly large saucepan. Whisk all the ingredients until they have blended together. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the saucepan.

Place saucepan over medium heat and continue to whisk the ingredients. As the butter melts, make sure that you blend it thoroughly into the egg yolks. Continue to whisk vigorously until all of the butter has blended into the eggs.

If the sauce begins to separate, add 2 tsp of water to the sauce mixture and whisk briskly until the mixture has combined together to form a creamy sauce.

Once all of the butter has melted and a sauce has been formed, continue whisking until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency. Add more salt and pepper if required.

Remove from the heat and keep the sauce warm before serving for up to 30 minutes.

The Perfect Poached Egg

Poached Eggs are the perfect ingredient for all kinds of breakfast sandwiches, including my favorite, Eggs Benedict.

Preparing the Perfect Poached Egg

In a lightly oiled, wide pan over high heat, bring at least 3" of water to a rolling boil. Once it starts to boil, turn down heat so that the water is just moving. Add a pinch of salt and a little white vinegar.

Crack your egg into a small cup. Stir the boiling water to create a small whirlpool in the middle and gently slide your egg right into the middle of it.

Cover the pan and turn off the heat.

Without disturbing the eggs, let them cook in the hot water until desired firmness:

Runny: 2 minutes
Medium Firmness: 3 minutes
Firm: 4 minutes

Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain well before serving.

See recipe for traditional Eggs Benedict.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Cookies' Pork Tenderloin

First let me state....this is NOT an advertisement. I just want to share with you one of my all-time favorite spices...Cookies Flavor Enhancer. I discovered this secret spice a few years ago when I was researching award-winning chili recipes and I haven't looked back!

My kids would never eat pork of any kind, which was a shame because one of my "comfort foods" is a nice pork roast with a side of homemade applesauce, just the way my Mom used to make it. I still occasionally made pork roast, however, figuring if my kids were hungry enough, they would eat it.

And then one day I was totally running behind schedule and needed to get dinner cooking very quickly. In front of my was my newly-received-via-mail Cookies Flavor Enhancer. I used it almost as a dry rub and it has been a hit in my house ever since with kids and adults alike!


One 2 to 3 pork tenderloin roast
Cookies Flavor Enhancer

Use copious quantities of the Cookies Flavor Enhancer and rub it all over the pork. Put it in a ziploc bag, refrigerate and let sit for at least one hour up until 8 hours.

One-half hour before cooking, take pork roast out of refrigerator and let rest.

Rotisserie Cooking Method:

This is how I always cook my pork roasts and they always come out perfectly cooked and moist. Simply thread pork onto the skewers, set the timer for 30 to 35 minutes per pound of meat. Set it....and forget it! Pork is done when internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

Oven Cooking Method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place roast in roasting pan and cook, uncovered, for approximately 1 hour or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

If you would like the roast a little browner, simply place under top rack under broiler for approximately 5 minutes.

Pot Roast with a Twist

My last post was my Mom's recipe for Pot Roast. But seeing as Pot Roast is so easy and inexpensive to make and can be made ahead, I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting recipes.

This recipe is an adaptation from one I saw on Alton Brown's Food Network show, Good Eats. It's one of my absolute favorite pot roast recipes, probably because I love both cumin and olives! The original recipe also called for 1/2 cup dark raisins, but I prefer it just the way it is!


1 (2 to 3 pound) blade cut chuck roast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons cumin
Vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5 to 6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup tomato juice
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup cocktail olives, drained and broken


Place a wide, heavy skillet or fry pan with a coating of vegetable oil over high heat for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, rub both sides of meat with the salt and cumin. When the pan is very hot, brown the roast on all sides and remove from pan.

Add just a little more vegetable oil to the pan then add the onion and garlic. Stir constantly until onion is softened, being careful not to brown the garlic.

Add the tomato juice, vinegar and olives. Bring to a boil and reduce the liquid by half.

Add half of the tomato juice mixture to the bottom of a crockpot. Add the roast, and then top with the remaining mixture. Turn crockpot to high for one hour. Then reduce heat to low and cook for another 4 to 6 hours. Remove the meat from the crockpot, cover and let rest for at least 1/2 hour.

Drain all of the liquid from the crockpot and put in a blender or food processor. Puree.

Slice meat thinly, or pull apart with a fork. Serve with sauce over egg noodles or rice.

Mom's Pot Roast

As a native New Englander, my winter menu is always chock-full of hardy stews and roasts. Nothing spells winter comfort food, however, like my mother's pot roast recipe. It's hard to believe that a dish that looks as awful as pot roast can taste soooooo darn good!


4 to 5 lb chuck roast
5 white potatoes, peeled and cut into 2" cubes
5 carrots, peeled and cut into 2" pieces
1 large white onion, sliced into 1/4" rings
2 celery tops (leafy portion)
2 bay leaves
1 cup beef broth
salt & pepper
1/2 cup flour


Heat some vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Combine the flour with 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp black pepper. Dredge the roast in the flour mixture. Brown all sides thoroughly in the heated oil. Remove roast and add to crockpot.

To the crockpot add the potatoes, onions, carrots, celery and bay leaves. Pour the beef broth over all. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

Turn the crockpot to high. After one hour, turn the crockpot down to low and cook for 8 to 10 hours.

Remove the bay leaves and celery tops. Serve.