Food/Wine columnist and features writer Jane Dunne never runs out of ideas when it comes to cooking for family, entertaining at home or dining out. Her blog covers the gamut-literally from soup to nuts.
Not to take anything away from our turkey and trimmings and those great leftovers, for the other nights at home during this hectic holiday time, you might try one of these truly delicious winter pastas.
The first, spaghetti tossed in a decidedly different pesto, is equally as delicious as the summery basil and pine nut variety, and comes together quickly. Recently, I watched two kids under 12, almost inhale it. The recipe comes from Chicago food columnist, Leah Eskin.
The second is out of a brand new cookbook, "Melt" (Little Brown, $30) that takes a seasonal approach to comfort food. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy. I think it's the ideal holiday present for anyone who likes to cook.
Recently, a very inventive friend of mine had an important birthday. To celebrate, she invited a dozen women friends to the Sur La Table store on Chicago's Michigan Avenue for a sous vide cooking demonstration and supper.
Sous vide, as many of you know, is the form of cooking in which food is placed in a plastic bag and vacuum sealed. The sealed bag, is then placed in a thermal circulator where it "cooks" in a hot water bath for a prescribed period of time, producing extremely tender and vibrantly flavorful food. Cooking time for sous vide can range from seconds to many hours, depending on what is being cooked. While French chefs have been practicing this style of cooking for close to 30 years, one doesn't see much of it in U.S, restaurants much less the home kitchen. Sous vide equipment is trés cher.
Supper, prepared by Chef Carolyn Coppolo, featured a Beef Wellington entree in which beef medallions, cooked sous vide for an hour plus, are then quickly sautéed before being placed on puff pastry and topped with cremini mushroom duxelles. A sprinkling of black truffle salt is applied and the pastry is then gathered at the top into little purses. After baking in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, the Wellingtons emerge crisp and golden, the meat a perfect medium-rare — no "sog" in sight.
Late September weather along the Lake Michigan Shore has been glorious - literally strings of cloudless, sunshiny days with highs in the mid to high 70's. The deep blue skies look like those one sees in California, and I have a yen for Mexican food shared on a beach at sunset, a light sweater over the shoulders and an ice-cold Margarita in the hand. I remember such an evening with good friends once in San Diego. To temper my nostalgia, I make a big pan of enchilladas and invite a few amigos. No beach, but a great view of Chicago's Lincoln Park!
A travel tip: When in the San Diego area, stay at Rancho Bernardo and you will thank me.
LAYERED CHICKEN THREE-CHEESE ENCHILADAS (6 servings)
It was pretty much as I had hoped. A collection of colleges,some as early as the 13th century, the ancient brick buildings still resplendent through the ages, the chapels seemingly resonating with the choirs of centuries past, the great clocks chiming the hour as we walked through parts of Cambridge University. I stood on an ancient bridge watching those below punting on the River Cam as people have done for untold generations. In the lush meadows nearby, cattle grazed free as they have for hundreds of years.
There in England, with a RoadScholar group on a travel program called "The Spying Game," I was learning more about the infamous Cambridge Five (Blunt, Philby, Burgess, McLean and Cairncross).
Missing from the ancient Cambridge streets were the students on their bikes (it was mid-August, after all.) Frankly, also missing was my anticipation of having any memorable meals at our modern city hotel where we were scheduled to have dinner each night. Wrong! Our private dinners not only pleasantly surprised us, but a couple of the dishes knocked our collective socks off, the creative result of the hotel's young, dashing and inventive Italian chef.
Blueberries - those nutritional powerhouses - each one utterly delicious. I buy them fresh when they are at their peak and what I don't use right away, I freeze.
Just place the berries, unwashed, in a single layer on a baking pan and freeze. Transfer the frozen berries to zip-lock plastic freezer bags and return to the freezer where they will last for six months. Swirled into your pancake batter next January, they'll remind you of the August morning you bought them at the Farmer's Market, popping one, still warm from the sun, into your mouth.
Never wash blueberries until you are about to serve or cook with them. Ever-versatile, here they star in two of my favorite late summer recipes.
These days, Michigan peaches, heirloom tomatoes and fresh sweet corn are making return engagements to my summer kitchen, and I can't seem to get enough of them.
Drippingly sweet sliced peaches, topped with a drift of freshly cracked black pepper, is a pairing made in heaven, as are heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with olive oil, soft goat cheese and fresh mint. And while I have nothing against classic corn on the cob (who could?) I like to branch out a bit with corn as these recipes show.
The Sweet Corn Flans, originally found in an old Gourmet issue from the 90s, make a lovely first course for a summer dinner party. The tomato-corn relish also nails it as a topping for grilled salmon or swordfish. Kevin Lynch's Jalapeno Corn Fritters are an addictive nibble at any cook-out, and (my favorite) sautéed corn not only makes a great side dish, it's also an ideal bed for grilled shrimp. Yummy.
This past July 14, the Gourmet Group I currently chair for the International Women Associates had a picnic for 50 to celebrate Bastille Day.
In Provence, there is a famous pique-nique called "Le Grand Aioli." Traditionally, it features reconstituted dried cod, its snowy flesh then enrobed in a golden garlic/saffron mayonnaise known as "aioli." The table is bountiful with platters of both raw and steamed vegetables, hard-boiled eggs and bread, all of which are lovely dipped in the aioli.
Not wanting to go on that difficult path soaking cod for our guests, we decided to grill chicken instead. Privately, our committee referred to the meal as the "Not-So-Grand Aioli."
Pasta with pesto is one of my culinary favorites, but during summer grilling season, it's all about using these flavorful fresh herb concoctions as condiments. Here you'll find a mint pesto perfect with grilled lamb chops or kabobs; a citrus pesto to top and brighten grilled swordfish or halibut; a totally delicious and different cilantro pesto with pistachio nuts just made for chicken on the grill, and kale (the superfood) blended with lemon into a lively pesto for salmon.
I hope you'll try one - or all - in the summer weeks ahead. These pestos take little time to put together and may be made a day in advance. (Keep covered and chilled. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
If you are making just before serving, pesto should stand at least 20 minutes, so plan accordingly.
My local organic farmers' market in Lincoln Park gets more interesting each week as the growing season heats up. Gorgeous vegetables beg to be taken home and combined in this delicious pasta dish, which is exactly what I did. Hope you will, too!
RIGATONI WITH VEGETABLES & GOAT CHEESE
My father was an inspired and talented maker of sandwiches. Dad would never think of doing a “Dagwood”, piling anything and everything sky-high onto the bread. His creations were sophisticated and subtle, with each ingredient complementing the others. He made flavored mayonnaise years before such sauces became popular and was even known to sun-dry tomatoes from his garden. The bread was country-style, with a coarse texture and crisp crust.
To share one of Dad’s sandwiches with him was always delicious and fun and is one of the many warm memories I have of having been his daughter.
BEEF TENDERLOIN SANDWICH WITH BLUE CHEESE MAYO