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Food writer shares some of her favorite holiday indulgences
Check your food guilt at the door. My five favorite dishes are on the decadent side.
Don't get me wrong. I love lean dishes; in fact, I like steamed broccoli. I relish a simple broth bubbling with minced ginger, wilted pea shoots and shiitake mushrooms. And a just-picked organic apple rings my bell.
But these dishes are what I consider comfort fare for company. Cozy yet elegant, these are the kind of recipes that I'm more likely to tackle on weekends when I have more time to cook and hungry guests to feed.
Amelia Marneau's Pear Gateau: Think of the kind of dessert that a French grandmother prepares for her favorite grandchild on a special occasion, a grandmere who trained at Le Cordon Bleu and paid close attention. Pastry chef Amelia Marneau certainly isn't a grandmother, but she did study at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. Her Pear Gateau made me feel adored. In fact, it made me greedy for more.
Warm caramel oozed into the buttery almond cake that ringed the fruit. The first time I tasted it, it was summer and the featured fruit was a red-blushed peach from Regier Family Farms in Dinuba. The peach was sweet and tree-ripened juicy. The cake set it off to its best advantage. A garnish of whipped crème fraîche offered a nutty tartness, while a scoop of peach gelato brought just-right creaminess.
Amelia and her husband, executive chef Florent Marneau, own the classy bistro Marché Moderne in Costa Mesa. Seasonally inspired ingredients are a central theme at the restaurant, so it's no surprise that in fall and winter, Amelia uses in-season Comice pears instead of peaches. Comice pears are those stout, almost-round pears with a buttery taste and juicy texture.
Amelia says the inspiration for the dish came from summers spent in France at the home of Florent's parents, "where the pears were just ripening and there was an abundance of fruit on the trees."
AMELIA MARNEAU'S PEAR GATEAU
Yield: 12 servings
For caramel sauce:
1 cup sugar
3⁄4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons melted butter
1⁄2 cup finely ground almonds
1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup sugar, divided use
1⁄2 cup room temperature egg whites
6 ripe Comice pears, peeled, cored, cut in half
Optional for serving: ice cream or gelato and crème fraîche
Preheat oven 375 degrees.
To make caramel sauce: In heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, heat sugar over high heat until it dissolves. Decrease temperature to medium-high and boil without stirring until mixture turns golden amber. Remove from heat and cautiously add cream and butter (stand back because it will probably splatter). Stir to combine and set aside.
To make cake: In a bowl, mix butter, almonds, flour and 1⁄4 cup sugar. In a separate, clean bowl of electric mixer, beat egg whites until soft peaks form; continue to beat, adding 1⁄4 cup sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Fold beaten egg whites into batter.
Place 2 tablespoons caramel sauce in bottom of each of 12 standard-size muffin cups. Cut pears in a circle with cookie cutter the same size as muffin tin, then place rounded-side down in each cup on the caramel sauce. Spoon 2 tablespoons of batter on top of each pear.
Bake in middle of preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in cake portion comes out clean. Allow to rest four to five minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife between pan and cake. Place a rimmed baking sheet over muffin pan and invert. Serve warm with ice cream or gelato and crème fraîche.
Source: Amelia Marneau, pastry chef and co-owner of Marché Moderne, Costa Mesa.
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Cathy Pavlos' Gorgonzola Cheesecake: Here's a dessert that crosses the line between cheese course and sweet finale. It's irresistibly smooth yet spunky, and isn't very sweet except for the dandy fig and port compote that crowns it.
Cathy Pavlos, executive chef and owner of Lucca Café in Irvine, has a rare ability to combine unexpected flavors.
The graham cracker crust is traditional, but the cheesy filling is not. It combines Mascarpone cheese (an Italian-style cream cheese) with two kinds of Gorgonzola: aged Gorgonzola (the kind you find at supermarkets and Trader Joe's) and Gorgonzola dolce. Once the Gorgonzola layer is baked, a sour cream layer (augmented with sugar and orange zest) is spooned on and baked.
"Gorgonzola dolce means 'young' in cheese vocab," Pavlos explained. "It's very mild, in other words. If you want a milder cheesecake, use all dolce, but we like that complexity of flavors, so we use part Gorgonzola dolce and part Gorgonzola that is aged and stiffer.
"Sometimes we like to dress it up a little more. We drizzle caramel sauce on the bottom of the plate, under the slice."
Both the cheesecake and the fig-port compote are made in advance and chilled. That's welcome news to home cooks who like to get dishes made early for less stressful entertaining.
LUCCA'S GORGONZOLA MASCARPONE CHEESECAKE
Yield: 16 servings
Butter for greasing pan
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1⁄4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) butter, softened
For filling 1:
1 pound Gorgonzola dolce, room temperature
11 ounces Gorgonzola, room temperature
12 ounces Mascarpone, room temperature
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1⁄2 cups sugar
5 large eggs
For filling 2:
1-1⁄2 pounds sour cream, room temperature
1 cup sugar
Minced zest of 1 orange
For port wine and fig topping:
1 (750 ml) bottle ruby port wine
1 cup orange juice
1⁄2 cup brown sugar
2 pounds dried black mission figs
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Optional garnish: caramel sauce (see recipe in Pear Gateau)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350 degrees. Use butter to grease a 10-inch springform pan.
Mix crust ingredients until well combined and press into bottom and half way up the sides of greased pan. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and decrease heat to 300 degrees.
Using an electric mixer, combine all of ingredients for filling 1, mixing until well combined at medium speed (stop to scrape sides and bottom of bowl of couple of times). Using a sheet of aluminum foil, wrap it outside pan, covering bottom and sides of springform pan.
Place filling 1 in pan. Place pan in large pan and pour hot water in outside pan to come halfway up sides of springform pan. Bake until set (it may have a slight "jiggle" to it in the middle), approximately one hour. Do not turn off oven.
Mix ingredients for filling 2 until well combined and spoon over cake. Return it to the oven for about 10 minutes. Don't brown it, but it needs to be heated through. Remove and let it sit at room temperature to cool, about 20 minutes. Chill.
To prepare glaze, place all topping ingredients except cornstarch in heavy-bottomed large saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat; lower heat to simmer over medium-low until reduced by 1⁄4 in volume, about 20 minutes.
Take about 1⁄4 cup of liquid and combine in small bowl with cornstarch. Drizzle cornstarch mixture into saucepan with fig mixture, whisking constantly. Simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened. Remove from heat and cool. Chill.
If desired, drizzle caramel sauce on each dessert plate in spot where cheesecake wedge will be placed. Remove exterior band from springform pan. Cut into wedges and serve with topping.
Source: Chef and owner Cathy Pavlos, Lucca Café, Irvine.
• • •
Mark Ellman's mojo verde: Sitting on the tiki torch-lined porch overlooking the water at Mala Ocean Tavern (an intimate Lahaina eatery on Maui), I ordered the Farmers Salad with Maytag blue cheese and Kula greens.
My husband, Phil, ordered the fresh mahi mahi topped with a mojo verde sauce and served on a mountain of mashed Yukon Gold potatoes. He was quiet about how good it was, calmly shoveling forkfuls into his mouth while I pushed lettuce around my plate.
But after he'd consumed at least half of it, he started mashing the mojo into the potatoes, and meekly mentioned how incredibly good he thought it was. The sauce isn't much to look at, kind of a puréed army-green jumble. But the taste was divine.
I asked our server about the sauce ingredients, and he politely said he'd be right back with that information. Chef-owner Ellman is one smart cookie. He had glossy postcards made with a photo of the restaurant and the recipe for his mojo verde. Now that's a way to make the out-of-towners remember a restaurant.
MALA OCEAN TAVERN'S MOJO VERDE
Yield: about 3-1⁄2 cups
1 teaspoon fennel seed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 jalapeño, stem removed, chopped; see cook's notes
3 bunches cilantro, tough bottom stems trimmed
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Juice of 2 limes (about 4 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1-1⁄2 cups, divided use
Cook's notes: How much fresh chili you use depends on your preference for spicy heat. For less spiciness, remove seeds and veins of chili before mincing. When working with fresh chilies, wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do not touch face or eyes.
Use spice grinder for fennel seeds or place in heavy plastic bag and pound with bottom of skillet or mallet. Place ground fennel seeds in food processor fitted with metal blade. With motor running, drop in garlic cloves and minced jalapeño; process until minced.
Add all remaining ingredients except 1-1⁄2 cups of extra-virgin olive oil. Process until mixture forms a smooth paste.
With machine running, add 1-1⁄2 cups extra-virgin olive oil in thin stream. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Spoon over grilled fish, chicken or pork. Also delicious with baked butternut squash or blanched green beans.
Source: Mark Ellman, chef and co-owner, Mala Ocean Tavern, Lahaina, Maui.
• • •
Laurent Tourondel's Osso Buco with Orange Gremolata: Osso buco, the Italian dish that showcases meaty chunks of veal shank braised into fork-tender bliss in a savory sauce, takes on a delectable twist in Laurent Tourondel's kitchens.
The succulent meat is topped with a crunchy mixture of toasted bread cubes and gremolata, a mixture of minced orange zest, parsley and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It brings crunch and vibrant flavor to the party.
Tourondel is executive chef and partner in the BLT (stands for Bistro Laurent Tourondel) Restaurant Group. Restaurants in New York City include BLT Steak, BLT Prime, BLT Market, BLT Fish and BLT Burger.
I snagged the recipe for osso buco out of his cookbook, "Bistro Laurent Tourondel: New American Bistro Cooking." The recipe is easy to follow and is a great dish to cook on a cold Sunday afternoon. As it braises in the oven for three hours, it fills the house with beefy perfume. Delicious.
LAURENT TOURONDEL'S OSSO BUCO WITH ORANGE GREMOLATA
Yield: six servings
For bread crumbs:
1⁄2 cup of 1⁄2-inch diced white country bread, or 1⁄2 cup fresh coarse bread crumbs
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For bouquet garni:
2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Zest of 1 orange (colored part of peel), removed with swivel-blade vegetable peeler
6 meaty slices veal shank, about 12 ounces each, 2-1⁄4-inches thick, tied with kitchen twine
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrots, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 shallots, cut into 1-inch pieces
10 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, cracked (place in plastic bag and strike with mallet or bottom of pan)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups dry white wine
4 cups veal stock or combination of half beef and half chicken broth
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons minced orange zest (colored portion of peel)
1⁄2 cup chopped Italian parsley (flat-leaf parsley)
1⁄4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Optional for serving: gnocchi, see cook's notes
Cook's notes: I use canned low-sodium broth instead of stock, so it doesn't thicken up as nicely. So in Step 6 I reduce the strained sauce to about 4 cups, then whisk in beurre manie (1 tablespoon soft butter mixed with 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour to form a paste) and cook two to three minutes, whisking. Add veal back to the sauce and spoon sauce over meat and let it simmer gently for several minutes.
I like to add several cooked gnocchi to each serving, dropping them down into the sauce. I usually buy them frozen at Trader Joe's.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread bread cubes or crumbs, oil, and salt and pepper to taste in small baking pan. Toss gently with fingers. Bake five to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Cool.
Prepare bouquet garni: Use a double piece of cheesecloth to enclose celery, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and orange peel. Secure bundle with kitchen twine.
Season veal with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add veal, as many as will comfortably fit without crowding. Brown on all sides, about 15 minutes. Remove meat from pan. Repeat with remaining veal, if needed.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons oil. Add carrots, onion, shallots, garlic and peppercorns. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned. Add tomato paste, stir and cook one to two minutes. Stir in flour and cook one minute.
Add wine and cook until reduced by 1⁄3 in volume. Add all of stock (or broths) and bouquet garni. Bring to simmer. Return veal to pot, overlapping pieces slightly, if necessary. Cover. Place in oven and cook three hours. Check from time to time to be sure that liquid never boils. If it is, reduce temperature slightly (I had to turn down mine by 20 degrees).
To make gremolata: In small bowl, mix parsley, minced zest, cheese and toasted diced bread.
Finish sauce: Remove veal; strain liquid and return it to pot. Bring to boil over high heat and cook until thickened (see cook's notes). Return veal to pot and reheat. Baste meat with sauce. Remove twine and place 1 slice veal in each shallow serving bowl. Spoon on sauce and sprinkle with a little gremolata.
Source: Adapted from "Bistro Laurent Tourondel: New American Bistro Cooking" by Laurent Tourondel and Michele Scicolone (Wiley, $34.95).
• • •
Beth Hensperger's Slow-Cooker Marmalade-Glazed Carrots: I used to make a similar dish decades ago but had completely forgotten it until I picked up Hensperger's cookbook "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker: Recipes For Entertaining" (Harvard Common Press, $18.95). My old version braised the carrots in the oven, but I love the convenience of cooking them unattended in the slow cooker for several hours. Easy. Very easy.
SLOW-COOKER CARROTS GLAZED WITH MARMALADE
Yield: 12 servings
2 (32-ounce) packages baby carrots
1-1⁄3 cups orange marmalade
1⁄3 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1⁄4 cup water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine carrots, marmalade, brown sugar, butter and water in slow cooker; toss to coat carrots completely. Cover and cook on low until carrots are tender when pierced with top of knife, about 4-1⁄2 to six hours. The time will vary with thickness of carrots, so check at 4-1⁄2 hours.
Season with salt and pepper; stir gently and serve hot.
Source: "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker: Recipes for Entertaining" by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann (Harvard Common Press, $18.95).