Saturday, December 21, 2013

Decadent Holiday Recipes for Entertaining: Chive and Truffled Deviled Eggs

OK for the next few weeks I will be planning a party for my Mother which will take place over the holidays. One of the things that my Mom wants out of her party is to serve things that the folks she's inviting normally never get to see served at the myriad of parties they attend. And trust me these people go to a lot of parties.  So thus comes the challenge. Serve them something they will really enjoy and is new and interesting for them. And something that they will talk about after they go home.

It seems a fitting challenge for me. For while one would want to serve things, that you might be sure they have never seen before, you have to be careful that that strategy doesn't backfire. People are funny about food especially at parties. They want to eat what they like or at least what seems familiar. The challenge is to do that but do it in a way that pushes the envelope or encourages discovery.

Now when I started thinking about this I thought, what foods might be familiar at a Southern Christmas party? Well nothing says party and Southern like deviled eggs. And to make them special nothing says decedent like the rich taste of truffle oil. Now I know truffles are not a new thing nor is truffle oil. Chefs have actually over used it these days. Nor is the idea of truffled deviled eggs new. However, I decided to really really go there and make super crazy truffled deviled eggs. So rich and truffled that one bite and you would be overwhelmed by their rich aroma and flavor. In short the ultimate deviled egg.

So here is the recipe when I made these I had to say they were crazy truffled, which if you are a fan of the truffle you would love. The chives give with a little punch and color and the aleppo pepper really sings. If you want to impress this season, make these!

The Ultimate Chive and Truffled Deviled Eggs 

8 eggs hard boiled and peeled
1 heaping spoonful Dukes mayonaise
4 heaping spoonfuls of chive and onion cream cheese in a small tub
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
4 tablespoons chives chopped finely
salt and pepper to taste
truffle oil to taste
Aleppo Pepper

Cut the eggs in half. Scoop out the yokes into a bowl throw away 2 of the whites so you have 12 halves left
Mix with the other ingredients except truffle oil and Aleppo pepper
Mash until a smooth paste forms
Truffle the eggs to your taste ( I really went to town with the oil it was good and strong)
Place the filling in a plastic bag refridgerate for about an hour.
Cut a corner off the bag
Fill the whites
Garnish with chive batons and aleppo pepper

Chestnut Soup, A Williamsburg Christmas, Memory Lane and a Dash of Yuletide Cheer

When I was in 6th grade my father's naval career took us to Washington DC. or more exactly Reston Virginia. The 80's were a great time in the DC. area. The overdevelopment that now plagues the DC. Metro area was not to the level it is these days. There were still a lot of winding country roads for one to drive around on and farms still operating around every bend. It was an interesting change for my brother and myself, as Navy brats, coming from Hawaii and being shot into another matrix of people and places. But we took to it and soon found that we felt of it as home.

One new and exciting experience which we had during those years in Virginia was a Christmas trip to the historic Tidewater area of the state specifically the Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown triangle.

I mean it is a little hard to believe that so many parts of our nation's history actually played themselves out in this very small part of the country. It was after all the site of the first successful English settlement in the new world, Jamestown. It was the part time capital of the new nation at colonial Williamsburg, site of many historic discussions and meetings of our founding fathers. And of course Yorktown was where after being surrounded Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington and ended the Revolutionary War. That's a lot of history for one little area!

As young boys the thrill of going to this very historic place was really exciting and fun. Not just because we had the chance to go to all those historical places, but because we got to go on a vacation, stay in a hotel, and most likely eat out at some tasty interesting places. Oh even then we were thinking about food.

Now for those of you who have never been to Williamsburg, it is for me the most magical around the Christmas holidays. And for those of you who have been let's take a little trip down memory lane and remember our time there. Williamsburg is pretty engaging year round, But  during the holiday season, Williamsburg is really special.

First let me give you a sense of what Williamsburg is like in general. Imagine if you could be in a place that truly replicates the structures, lifestyle and atmosphere of a Colonial town. Well that mixed in with a good dose of tourist friendly activities and modern convenience.

But truly it is the atmosphere that is most engaging, and at Christmas time this is elevated to yet another level. Ok let me set the stage for you.  First you have this intensely developed almost Museum quality reproduction of a colonial town as it was on the eve of 1776. Next you have tourism opportunities to see, taste, tour and witness reenactments of moments in that period, houses of the period, shops of the period and restaurants or taverns of the period. Greenery decked with fruits in wreaths and garland is everywhere, candles dance and twinkle in the evenings, and bon fires are lit for singing and story telling as well as lighting up the holiday nights. It is magical and if you are the in the slightest interested in history and the past it can be quite enrapturing.

The dining experience back then in Williamsburg was varied as you may imagine. Everything from the modern coffee shop, to the Taverns in the town, to an upscale Dining experience, to the full on Colonial feast with Actors playing all the parts and the guests feeling themselves a part of the action. (Sort of a Medieval Times meets George Washington's Dining room). There were so many different dishes to sample. Colonial foods such as peanut soup, stuffed Chicken, pan roasts, wild game, and spoon bread. In the more haute cuisine area there was the Cascades restaurant, a very 1970's esque structure built near the conference center and visitors center.

For the Anglophile Williamsburg is the closest thing to seeing British colonial history come alive. And while we like to think of ourselves today as American and very different from England, the people who lived in the Revolutionary war times saw themselves as British subjects and even to some extent as fighting to regain their rights from and not win their freedom from, Mother England. In fact the war that became the American War of Independence really started as the war for sovereign rights.

In any case the British influence on our food traditions is clearly seen in the Williamsburg cuisine of today. Roasted meats, breads, puddings, soups and stews all having their roots in British cuisine are clearly represented. And at Christmas Time the traditional foods of the British table make their way to the menus of the Williamsburg Restaurants.

One such dish is chestnut soup.A long favored dish in European cooking Chestnut soup makes itself only minimally known in the Christmas traditions of today. Chestnuts in general are not really on today's food radar with the exception of Chestnut stuffing. So the back story not withstanding, this soup became known to me first in Williamsburg many years ago.And as I recently have become interested in researching my own personal food history I took a look at this dish again being that it is the holidays and all.

I made this for friends the other day and I have to say my friend Quincy summed it up by saying "this soup just tastes like Christmas somehow". Indeed it does. I found this version by Nigella Lawson online. I sort of love her cooking and her sensibility. So of course I changed it a bit only because I thought it needed more Chestnuts than she put in hers. Interestingly it's only seasoning is salt and pepper and yet the Chestnuts give the soup an amazingly rich flavor that at once evokes thoughts of sugar plums dancing in one's head, roaring fire and twinkling candel light, holiday cheer and all that. So here's a Holiday dish for you to try this season. Enjoy Ya'll!

Chestnut Soup ( based on a recipe by Nigella Lawson)

1 medium onion diced
3 to 4 stalks celery diced
2 carrots diced
1 cup dried red lentils
1 1/2 quarts water
1 tablespoon bullion ( Chicken or Vegetable)
450 grams jarred or canned chestnuts (cooked)
a couple of shakes of ground cloves
salt and pepper to taste
Extra water for thinning
1/4 cup cream ( optional )
chopped chives for garnish

Place the onions in a pot with some vegetable oil and cook until softened
Add the lentils and cook a little in the hot vegetables
Add the water and bullion and a few hardy shakes of cloves ( it's a background flavor so just a little)
Stir to combine
Add the Chestnuts and cook for about 40 mins to an hour over low heat
Puree the soup in a blender thin with more water if necessary
Serve with a drizzle of cream and chopped chives. Enjoy!
The holidays in a bowl!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Autumn Bisque with Butternut Squash, Fennel and Onions A Taste of Fall's Bounty

When I was attending college in the the Shenandoah Valley at James Madison University there was an interesting collection of folks who lived there. I mean by that that there were University folks and then there were townies, or locals. This group was further splintered out into cultural and religious groups. Many of of who had been there since before the civil war. The largest and most visible of these groups was probably the Mennonites.

Mennonites like the Amish in the Pennsylvania countryside are a German religious group who fled Europe in the 1700's seeking a better life and the freedom to worship as they pleased. They settled into various areas but today are concentrated in lower Virginia and Southern Pennsylvania. They are peaceful and good natured people who are mostly farmers and such and who make their living off the land.

In the city of Harrisonburg where I went to college there was a local food coop run by the Mennonites. You could get the best produce and local milk cheese and baked products one could imagine. One of the things that was always available in the late fall once school was in session were sweet potatoes and squash as well as other root veggies. So I got into the habit of making soup which as a Student was very easy and cheap and filling. One of the soups I learned how to make was a butternut squash soup flavored with curry. It was a recipe from my roommate's mother and it was really delicious. But I sort of stopped making it because later on I really never lived in cold climate and warming soups were not a part of my diet as much.

When I first got into catering in New York city I was again exposed to the butternut squash and as it got more popular it started popping up everywhere. Soon every natural soup company was making a butternut squash soup. But still I only would make this soup or a version of it once a year during the fall normally for a dinner party. And this year I was asked for a soup as a starter for the dinner I was attending. So I pulled out this recipe and revisited it as a reference for making a new version. And I must say that with one exception I stuck with the original formula and that one change made the soup really a level above where it had been before. And gauging from the reactions at the dinner I hit a home run!!

So here is my recipe it makes about 10 cups and I suggest you make it all because you are going to want eat it for leftovers. Enjoy Ya'll

Forrest's Autumn Bisque with Fennel, Onions and Pistachio's

2 lbs of butternut squash cut up in cubes ( if you can buy this it makes life so much easier)
4 tablespoons butter (optional)
2 large onions diced
2 fennel bulbs ( white part) diced
6 cloves of garlic roasted in the oven till soft and caramelized
1 tablespoon fresh thyme chopped
dried sage, thyme, rosemary
dried cumin, Dharamsala ( Indian Spice mix you can buy or make this), turmeric
Salt and Pepper
Optional chopped pistachios and roasted pistachio oil
Creme fraiche or sour cream (for garnish)
1 small bunch chopped chives ( hold a few pinches for garnish on the side)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 cup half and half


Place the butternut squash on a baking tray and toss with olive oil and the fresh thyme a good sprinkle of dried rosemary and sage, salt and pepper
Bake in a 350 degree oven for between 20 and 40 mins. At 20 minutes check to see if soft with a fork bake till soft but not really browned.
Remove and cool
Meanwhile in a large stock pot cook the onions and fennel with some oil and salt and pepper just till soft add butter till melted.
Add in the stock and the butternut squash and the garlic
Add 1 heaping Tablespoon cumin, 1 1/2 heaping Tablespoons Dharamsala and 1 heaping Tablespoon turmeric
Add 1 teaspoon dried sage and also thyme
Add 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Add 1 teaspoon pepper
Add bay leaves
Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer cook for 30 mins
Turn off heat.

Cool slightly remove bat leaves and then working in batches puree soup in a blender
Or use a immersion blender if too thick add water to thin
Return soup to pot put on warm heat ( do not boil)
Add the half and half
Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed ( I find it needs it)
( note* at this point you can add more cumin, Dharamsala or turmeric as desired. The amounts I show are a good start but you may want more spice feel free to add more to your taste)

To serve:

Right before serving stir in chives
Place in a bowl and garnish with a dallop of creme fraiche, a few pistchios and a drizzle of the oil and some reserved chives