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Barbara Beltrami

Orange Bundt Cake with Candied Orange Peel Glaze

By Barbara Beltrami

I was eating an orange the other day and got to thinking about the February some years ago when we received a crate of oranges as a gift. There was no way we could consume them all, and after I had given half of them away, I still had more oranges than we could eat. It was a bitter cold winter like this one, and as an antidote to cabin fever I did what I always do. I started cooking and concocting.

One morning it was freshly squeezed orange juice with sliced bananas; one night it was orange, fennel, radicchio and red onion salad. Another day it was orange pound cake drizzled with the orange syrup left over from making candied orange peel from all the oranges we had eaten. And there was also orange marmalade.

As it turned out, shortly thereafter, we flew south to visit the same people who had sent us the oranges. And guess what I took with me — a gift bag of bottled orange syrup, candied orange peel, a couple of jars of marmalade and an orange bundt cake.   Neither cooks nor bakers themselves, they had always thought of an orange as something you peeled and ate or squeezed and drank. Period. So they were delighted with  my fancy orange by-products.

Now that’s regifting.

Orange Bundt Cake with Candied Orange Peel Glaze

Orange Bundt Cake with Candied Orange Peel Glaze

YIELD: Makes 12 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

2 cups sugar

5 large eggs

3 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup orange juice

½ cup very finely minced candied orange peel or grated zest of one orange

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 10-inch bundt or tube cake pan. In a large bowl beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add the eggs one at a time being sure to incorporate them thoroughly in mixture. In a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; alternating with the orange juice, gradually beat flour mixture into butter mixture. Stir in half the candied orange peel, then pour batter into prepared pan. Bake about 55 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on rack about 10 minutes.

Carefully invert pan onto serving plate. While cake is cooling, make the glaze by combining the melted butter, confectioners’ sugar and remaining half of candied orange peel; stirring frequently heat over boiling water. While cake is still warm, using a two-tined meat fork, poke holes all over top of cake; then pour on glaze and allow it to run down sides of cake and seep into top. Serve warm, at room temperature or freeze for later use. Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or orange sorbet.

Candied Orange Peel

Candied Orange Peel

YIELD: Makes four to five cups

INGREDIENTS:

4 large oranges or 6 small or medium

3 cups water

4 cups sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Peel oranges and remove as much of pith as possible. Reserve the fruit of the oranges for another use. Cut peel into quarter-inch julienned strips. Cook in large pot of boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain, rinse and drain again. Meanwhile, combine 3 cups of the sugar with 3 cups water; stir and bring to a gentle boil. Add the orange peel, bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until just tender, for 30 to 40 minutes.

With a slotted spoon remove peel from syrup and spread on cookie sheet. Reserve syrup for another use. Toss peel with remaining cup of sugar, spread out on aluminum foil or waxed paper and set aside to dry for 2 to 3 days, until slightly crunchy. Toss to expose all sides of strips to air once or twice a day. When sufficiently hardened, store in an airtight container. Serve with tea and cookies or as garnish or topping for desserts.

Raspberry-Chocolate Linzer Cookies

By Barbara Beltrami

There’s no day like Valentine’s Day to conjure up sweet talk, sweet sentiments in sweet cards and everlasting promises of eternal love and/or imminent romance. Those who subscribe to its traditions take them very seriously. Those who do not scoff at what they call the holiday created by the greeting card industry. Norman Rockwell-ish as it may be, there is something sweet about the old-fashioned image of a man holding a sumptuous bouquet of red roses and presenting a huge heart-shaped box of chocolates to his sweetheart.

Which brings me to another thing. No matter how Valentine’s Day is observed, or not observed, like any holiday, it provides an excuse for capitulating to that sweet tooth in all of us, that secret valentine of the appetite.

Raspberry-Chocolate Linzer Cookies

Raspberry-Chocolate Linzer CookiesYIELD: Makes three dozen cookies.

INGREDIENTS:

2¹/₃ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1½ sticks unsalted butter at room temp.

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon almond extract

2 cups chocolate chips, melted over boiling water

Raspberry jam

Confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time; add the extracts and beat to thoroughly combine. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat the dry mixture into the wet one. Gather the dough into two even pieces, enclose in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm and solid.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F. On a flour-dusted board roll out one piece of the dough to ¹⁄8-inch thickness and using approximately a 2½-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place on cookie sheet. Re-roll any scraps to form solid pieces for more cookies. Repeat procedure using second half of dough, except this time use a 1-inch round or heart-shaped cutter.

Bake cookies for approximately nine minutes and remove from oven just as they start to brown. With spatula, remove from cookie sheet and place on rack. When cookies are cooled and crispy, spread a level half teaspoon of melted chocolate on each large cookie; top with a level half teaspoon jam and carefully place another cookie on top. Dust tops with confectioners’ sugar and place on tiered or flat cookie plate. Serve with coffee, tea, milk, hot chocolate or dessert wine and, of course, love.

Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate Mousse

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup water

5 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

In the top of a double boiler combine the chocolate, sugar and water, stirring occasionally; heat until the chocolate is melted. Beating hard after each addition, while the double boiler is still over the heat, add the egg yolks, one at a time. Remove mixture from over the hot water and set aside to cool while you beat the egg whites until stiff. In a large bowl, gently fold the egg whites and vanilla into the chocolate mixture. Distribute the mousse evenly among  eight sorbet or wine glasses and refrigerate covered overnight or at least 10 to 12 hours. Serve with whipped cream, fresh strawberries and delicate wafer cookies.

Cherry Sauce

Cherry Sauce

YIELD: Makes 2½ cups.

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound sweet fresh or frozen and defrosted cherries, pitted

½ cup water

¹₃ to ½ cup light corn syrup (depending on tartness of cherries)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Fresh squeezed lemon juice, to taste

Kirsch liqueur, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, combine the cherries, half the water and the corn syrup and bring to a boil. With a wire whisk, stirring constantly, blend the cornstarch and remaining water with the cherry mixture. Over medium heat, cook until clear, about one minute. Add lemon juice and kirsch. Serve warm over vanilla or chocolate ice cream, sponge cake, angel cake, pound cake or cheesecake.

Caviar Dip

By Barbara Beltrami

Lots of crunchy chips accompanied by bowls of chunky or velvety dips are as necessary for the big game this coming Sunday as the buffalo wings, the salsa and guacamole and maybe even the football itself.

Who can sit there with an adrenaline rush watching the big game without one hand wrapped around a beer and the other hand in perpetual motion between those chips and dips? And the good news is that whipping up a bunch of those dips is only marginally more difficult than opening that bag of chips and emptying it into a bowl (actually probably easier given how hard it is to pry those bags open).

With basic ingredients like sour cream, mayonnaise and cream cheese, the addition of savory and intense seasonings and ingredients is limited only by your imagination and what you have on hand. If you want to take the edible dippers beyond chips, try crackers, veggie crudités, toast strips, fried calamari, fried chicken nuggets or clams, cooked crabmeat or shrimp or chucks of interesting bread such as pumpernickel, rye or multigrain.

Just to jump start you, here are a few usual and unusual dips that will have the resident referees tooting their whistles and the resident cheerleaders shaking their pom-poms.

Veggie-Herb Dip

Veggie-Herb Dip

YIELD: Makes approximately 3 to 3½ cups

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups sour cream

¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

¼ cup finely chopped fresh chives

½ cup finely chopped radishes

1⁄3 cup finely chopped peeled and seeded cucumber

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients. With a rubber spatula, scrape the contents into an appropriate serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with chips, broccoli and cauliflower florets, baby carrots or chicken nuggets, fried calamari or cooked shrimp.

Caviar Dip

Caviar Dip

YIELD: Makes approximately 1½ cups

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup freshly whipped heavy cream

3 to 4 tablespoons caviar

3 tablespoons minced red onion

1 to 2 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped

Freshly ground white pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. If mixture is too salty, add more whipped cream. With a clean paper towel wipe upper part of inside of bowl and rim. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with cucumber, toasted pita bread, cooked shrimp or crabmeat or water crackers.

Asian Dip

Asian Dip

YIELD: Makes approximately 1½ cups

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup sour cream

½ cup finely chopped scallions

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

¼ cup finely chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely chopped canned water chestnuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger

1 tablespoon soy sauce

DIRECTIONS:

In a small bowl combine all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with fresh mushrooms, fresh broccoli, rice crackers, cooked crabmeat, lobster or shrimp.

Retro Clam Dip

Retro Clam Dip

YIELD: Makes approximately 3½ cups.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups shucked and cooked fresh clams, finely chopped

6 ounces soft cream cheese

½ cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1⁄₈ teaspoon mustard

1½ tablespoons minced onions

½ cup traditional cocktail sauce (made with ketchup, horseradish and lemon juice)

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients except cocktail sauce. With rubber spatula turn mixture into appropriate serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Before serving cover top of dip with cocktail sauce. Serve with crackers.

Christine's Buttermilk-Brown Sugar Coffee Cake

By Barbara Beltrami

One of my earliest social occasions as a young married woman was the coffee klatch. Recently graduated from college, a new mother and far away from home, I was lonely and bored. The only people around were my grumpy landlady and the tenant in the apartment next door who spent eight hours every single day cleaning her three-room apartment and screaming at her husband.

I would walk up and down the hill where we lived or sit on the one bench in town, rocking the baby carriage and hoping to meet someone, anyone. But I met no one. Then one day as I was sitting in the laundromat, the woman who owned it invited me upstairs to her apartment to pass the time and chat over coffee and a cake she had just taken out of the oven.

That was my first coffee klatch and the beginning of my one and only friendship in that forsaken little town. It taught me the value of what can happen over a cup of coffee and a slice of warm cake. When I moved, a year or so later, I lost no time in inviting my new neighbors in to coffee klatch, and it soon became a regular Tuesday morning ritual as each of us took our turn hosting and baking, sharing stories, gossip, outgrown baby clothes, radical ideas (it was the ’60s) and, of course, recipes while our babies napped. Here are a few of those recipes, including the one from Christine, my laundromat friend.

Christine’s Buttermilk–Brown Sugar Coffee Cake

Christine’s Buttermilk-Brown Sugar Coffee Cake

YIELD: Serves 8 to 10

INGREDIENTS:

1⁄3 cup room temperature butter

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup packed brown sugar

1 large egg

1 cup sifted flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup buttermilk

1⁄3 cup packed brown sugar

1⁄3 cup chopped walnuts

½ teaspoon cinnamon

DIRECTIONS: Grease an 8-inch square or round pan. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, granulated sugar and ¼ cup brown sugar. Beat in the egg until completely blended. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and half teaspoon of cinnamon. Stir dry mixture into the butter mixture, alternately with the buttermilk until thoroughly combined. Spread evenly in baking pan. In a small bowl combine brown sugar, walnuts and cinnamon. Sprinkle on top of batter, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake 40 minutes or until cake tester or knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature with coffee or tea and good friends.

Liz’s Blackberry Coffee Cake

Liz’s Blackberry Coffee Cake

YIELD: Serves 8 to 10

INGREDIENTS:

¾ cup milk

½ cup unsalted butter, melted

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1 large egg

1½ cups flour

½ cup whole wheat flour

½ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

11⁄3 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed

½ cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3½ tablespoons milk

¼ teaspoon almond extract

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch square or round pan with butter, then dust with flour. In medium bowl, beat together the ¾ cup milk, ½ cup melted butter, vanilla extract and egg. In another bowl, combine the flours, granulated sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Stir dry mixture into wet mixture and half the blackberries. Turn mixture into prepared pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle top with remaining blackberries. Bake 30 minutes or until tester inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool 15 minutes. Meanwhile in a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, tablespoon butter, 3½ tablespoons milk and almond extract. Whisk until well blended. Drizzle over warm cake. Serve warm with coffee or tea, friends and neighbors.

Naomi’s Pecan-Crumb Coffee Cake

Naomi’s Pecan-Crumb Coffee Cake

 

YIELD: Serves 8 to 10

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup room temperature butter

One 8-ounce package cream cheese

1¼ cups sugar

2 large eggs

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup milk

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

½ cup flour

½ cup sugar

½ cup chopped pecans

¼ cup butter, cut into half-inch pieces

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8- by 13-inch baking dish. Cream the butter and cream cheese. With mixer on medium speed, add sugar, a little at a time, until mixture is light and fluffy; add eggs, one at a time and beat just until yolks disappear. Stir together next three ingredients and add to first mixture, alternating with the milk and making sure the flour mixture is first and last. Finally, stir in vanilla. In a small bowl, combine the half cups of flour, sugar and pecans with the quarter cup of butter; stir or whisk vigorously until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour batter into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with flour and pecan mixture. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until an inserted tester comes out clean. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving with coffee or tea and new and old friends.

Carrot, Squash and Ginger Soup

By Barbara Beltrami

Last week’s column was devoted to tummy warmers and so is this week’s. What kind of a food columnist would I be if I didn’t devote at least one winter column and maybe more to hearty winter soups? Especially in this weather!

Ah, soup, glorious soup. Anyone who’s ever shivered, had numb toes and fingers and chattering teeth knows how wonderful a mug or bowl of hot soup is. There are so many to choose from, and I love them all. That’s because not only are they comforting, nourishing and savory but also because they’re one pot meals full of nutrition and appetite satisfaction.

Moreover, they just keep giving and giving if you make big vats of them and then divide them into containers for freezing. And they are oh so easy! You pretty much just throw the ingredients into a pot, cover it and simmer till done. And here’s an idea you might like. How about using one of the thicker soups as a pasta sauce? You can puree it or leave it chunky and reduce the liquid. Whatever kind of soup you make, be sure to serve it with lots of crusty bread, a mixed salad and a light red wine such as Beaujolais.

Carrot, Squash and Ginger Soup

Carrot, Squash and Ginger Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

4 cups water or chicken broth

One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

¼ cup toasted sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS: Steam the squash and carrots until very tender. In a large pot heat the oil over medium heat; add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. When slightly cooled, being careful of spattering oil, add water or chicken broth, steamed squash and carrots, ginger, salt and pepper. Simmer until heated through, about 15 minutes; remove from heat; let cool to lukewarm. In 2 or 3 batches, puree in food processor or with immersion blender until smooth. Reheat, stirring frequently, and add more liquid if too thick; sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately with stir-fried veggies and brown rice or refrigerate for later use.

Escarole and Bean Soup

Escarole and Bean Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion chopped

6 cups water or chicken broth

1 head escarole, washed and chopped

1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

2 garlic cloves, minced

Salt to taste, if using water

1/4 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper flakes

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS: In a large pot, heat oil, add onion and over medium-high heat, cook until slightly golden; remove from heat. When slightly cooled, being careful of spattering oil, add water or chicken broth, escarole, beans, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes. Stir, return to heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover partially and simmer until escarole is completely wilted, about 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with grated cheese and serve immediately with crusty bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil or refrigerate for later use.

Mushroom and Barley Soup

Mushroom and Barley Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

6 cups beef broth or stock

2 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch slices

2 celery ribs, thinly sliced

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 pound thinly sliced white or baby portobello mushrooms

1/3 cup barley

1/2 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: In a large pot, combine all ingredients and stir. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium-low heat, partially covered, until veggies and barley are tender. Note: For an even heartier soup, if desired, add approximately 1 to 2 cups small chunks of cooked beef at the beginning.

Chicken Pot Pie

By Barbara Beltrami

The holidays are history. All those sumptuous hors d’oeuvres and cookies have worked their way to postholiday residence in my body, but in these temperatures I cannot bear to even think of my annual New Year’s resolution, to subsist on rabbit food and rice cakes to reverse the damage. Baby, it’s cold outside and New Year’s resolutions be damned!

Surely my body is smarter than I am, even has a mind of its own and is telling me that it craves no-nonsense tummy warmers … simmering soups, stews and bubbling casseroles. I don’t need much convincing. Before I know it I’m standing in the kitchen chopping and stirring. By the time it is dusk and I turn on the lamps, savory aromas waft through the house.

It’s starting to snow again or maybe it’s still snowing. I sip a glass of wine and remember why I insist that I like winter when the snowbirds challenge my decision to stay here rather than move to Florida.

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 whole chicken breasts, bone in

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (for chicken breasts)

¼ cup olive oil

5 cups chicken broth

½ stick unsalted butter

1 medium-large onion, diced

2 tablespoons flour

¼ cup heavy cream

More salt and pepper, to taste (for sauce)

Two 10-ounce packages frozen peas and carrots, cooked according to package directions

Nonstick cooking spray

Four 8-inch pie crusts

2 tablespoons milk

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 F. Place chicken breasts skin side up in baking pan; rub with olive oil and salt and pepper. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until skin is golden and meat is cooked through. Remove from oven. When cool enough to handle, remove skin and discard. Pull meat away from bone and dice. Set aside.

In small saucepan heat chicken broth. In medium saucepan, melt butter and cook onions over medium-low heat until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, about two minutes. Add the hot broth and, with wire whisk, stir vigorously over low heat until thickened. Whisk in cream, salt and pepper; stir in peas and carrots and chicken.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray four individual ovenproof bowls with nonstick cooking spray. Divide chicken mixture evenly among bowls. Top each bowl with rolled out pie crust; crimp edges and make a few slits in top. Brush crusts with milk, place bowls on baking sheet, then bake one hour, until crusts are golden and insides are bubbling.

Beef Stew

Beef Stew

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 cup flour

Salt and pepper, to taste

2½ pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium onions, cut into wedges

1 cup dry red wine

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

10 cups beef broth or stock

1½ pounds small red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

6 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

One 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice

½ cup chopped Italian parsley

1 bay leaf

DIRECTIONS: Combine the flour, salt and pepper; dredge the beef cubes in the mixture. In large heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil, then cook the meat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until evenly browned. Remove and set aside.

Melt the butter in the same pot, add the onions and cook over medium heat, until pale gold. Pour wine in pot and over medium heat with spatula scrape and loosen any bits from bottom of pot. Add garlic, tomato paste, beef and broth to pot; stir and bring to a simmer, cover and continue to simmer one and a half hours, until beef is tender. Add potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, parsley and bay leaf and simmer one more hour, until vegetables are tender. If necessary, add water or more broth during cooking. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Polenta with Sauteed Mushrooms

By Barbara Beltrami

Doesn’t polenta, simply a mixture of corn meal and liquid, sound so much better than corn mush or grits? Actually, they’re all the same thing. While the mush or grits may be just as delicious, their names still suggest a bowl of well, glop; polenta, on the other hand, sounds as if it could be an operatic aria, an Italian race car or expensive designer label. At the very least, it suggests interesting savory continental fare.

A staple in northern Italy, polenta is to that region what pasta is to southern Italy and it’s just as simple to cook. You basically combine water, broth or milk with a five-to-one ratio of liquid to cornmeal, stir it and let it absorb enough water to make it tender, and then serve it up with pretty much anything you would serve with pasta, potatoes or rice. It is particularly good with any dish that has lots of sauce or gravy that it can soak up.

Some people like polenta loose and creamy like porridge or mashed potatoes for a hearty accompaniment or main dish; others like it drier and firmer so it can be sliced, then grilled, toasted or baked. The firmer one makes a terrific base for anything from breakfast to canapés. Have leftovers? Even if originally creamy and loose, polenta will become firm when refrigerated. To make it creamy again, just add some liquid when you reheat it.

Basic Polenta

Basic Polenta

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

5 cups water, milk or chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup medium cornmeal

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter

DIRECTIONS: Pour the liquid into a large sturdy saucepan over high heat; whisk in cornmeal. Stirring frequently with a long wooden spoon, bring mixture to a boil. Continue cooking and frequently stirring until it begins to pop or spit; reduce heat to low and stir and scrape bottom of pan to keep it from sticking or scorching. When it is thickened and starts to pull away from pan, about 45 minutes, it is done. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and stir in olive oil or butter. Serve immediately with sauce, gravy or grated cheese or transfer to bowl or container, cover and chill until set. When ready to serve, cut into pieces; toast or grill; then add any canapé topping or spread you desire.

Creamy Polenta with Three Cheeses

Creamy Polenta with Three Cheeses

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups milk

2 cups water

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1⁄₃ cup shredded cheddar cheese

1⁄₃ cup shredded fontina cheese

1⁄₃ cup grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS: Prepare basic polenta (above) according to instructions but use 3 cups milk and 2 cups water. When polenta is done, remove from heat and stir in the butter and cheeses while it is hot enough to melt them. Serve immediately with pot roast, stew, chili, tomato sauce or on its own with a crunchy green salad.

Polenta with Sauteed Mushrooms

Polenta with Sauteed Mushrooms

 

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 recipe for basic polenta, chilled and cut into 2-inch by 2-inch squares, toasted or grilled

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

¼ cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

12 ounces fresh baby portobello mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

3 tablespoons dry white wine

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried

½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Melt butter with olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and parsley and cook until onion is opaque, about 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms. garlic, wine, and sage and cook, stirring a few times, over medium low heat until mushrooms release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar, salt and pepper, stir, and remove from heat. Spoon over toasted polenta squares and serve hot or warm with wine or cocktails.

Strata with Spinach, Bacon, Mushrooms and Gruyere Cheese

By Barbara Beltrami

Phew! Here it is Christmas Eve. Shopping done, presents wrapped, cookies baked, cards addressed and mailed (or not). And tomorrow is Christmas morning. Let’s see. OK, checklist: The kids put out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer and they have to get eaten; we’ve made sure the chimney is clear for Santa; better peek in and be sure the kids are finally asleep and dreaming of sugar plums, then put presents under the tree; and finally make strata for Christmas breakfast and put it in the refrigerator.

Strata? What’s that? It’s a wonderful eggy casserole-type dish with bread and whatever else you want to add — ham, cheese, bacon, sausage, cheese, onion, mushroom, spinach, broccoli, tomato, green pepper, fruit — whatever you’d put in an omelet or frittata or anything that strikes your fancy. It’s assembled ahead of time so the bread can soak up all the eggy liquid, then refrigerated and the next morning popped into the oven to bake while you sit and watch the kids open their presents.

Tip: It tastes best if you eat it while you’re in your pajamas.

Strata with Spinach, Bacon, Mushrooms and Gruyere Cheese

Strata with Spinach, Bacon, Mushrooms and Gruyere Cheese

YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 tablespoon butter

1 pound ready-to-eat crescent rolls, torn into chunks

12 large eggs

2½ cups half-and-half

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 pound crispy bacon, crumbled

1 pound fresh spinach, cooked and squeezed dry

½ pound fresh mushrooms, sliced thin

¾ pound Gruyere cheese, shredded

DIRECTIONS: Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with butter. Place half the crescent roll pieces evenly on bottom. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, salt and pepper, cayenne and nutmeg. Pour half the egg mixture over the crescent pieces. Let sit about 15 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Evenly distribute bacon, spinach, mushrooms and Gruyere in separate layers over soaked crescents. Top with remaining crescent pieces, then pour remaining liquid over them. Press down to ensure that all pieces are immersed. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove plastic wrap. Bake strata for 45 minutes to one hour, until top is golden and a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with hot coffee, tea or cocoa and a fruit salad.

Strata with Sausage, Eggs and Cheddar Cheese

YIELD: Makes 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

12 one-inch-thick slices of rustic white bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

½ cup cooked crumbled sausage meat

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

12 large eggs

2½ cups half-and-half

1 teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard

DIRECTIONS: Combine the bread, sausage and cheese and pour into a greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, half-and-half and mustard; pour over bread mixture and press bread down to be sure all cubes are immersed in liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 350 F, remove plastic wrap and place strata in oven. Bake for one hour, until top is golden and a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serve hot or warm.

Strata with Pears, Raisins and Pecans

YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

One 1-pound loaf cinnamon raisin bread, cubed

1½ cups diced, pared and cored pears

1 cup raisins

²⁄₃ cup coarsely chopped pecans

10 large eggs

2½ cups half-and-half

4 tablespoons melted butter

1⁄₃ cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS: Combine bread, pears, raisins and pecans; pour into a 9- by 13-inch greased baking dish. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, butter, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Pour over bread mixture and press top to make sure all bread pieces are immersed in liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 325 F. Remove plastic wrap; bake strata 45 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean and top is golden. Serve hot or warm with bacon, or sausage, maple syrup and hot coffee, tea or cocoa.

Russian Tea Cakes

By Barbara Beltrami

For me, a highlight of the winter holiday season is the annual cookie exchange hosted by my wonderful neighbor who gathers a bunch of her friends, neighbors and relatives to bake and share holiday cheer. Everyone brings her favorite cookies, deposits them on the dining room table and stashes an empty container somewhere to collect the assortment of cookies from other ovens later. Then we always gravitate to the kitchen to meet and greet, chatter, munch and sip.

As the evening winds down and the anticipation builds up, we adjourn to the dining room and line up with our containers to ogle the assortment of cookies on the table and select a few from each platter.

And what an assortment it is! Spread before us is each woman’s childhood favorite, treasured heirloom family recipe and often her ethnic root ID. Greek kourabiedes, German spritz, Scottish shortbread, English mincemeat tarts, French sables, Mexican biscochitos, Russian tea cakes, Italian biscotti regina, Finnish Finska kakor and Israeli sufganiyot are but a few of the ethnic cookies that over the years have rendered the assemblage of goodies a veritable United Nations.

As I’ve researched recipes for this wonderful but daunting list of ethnic holiday cookies, I’ve discovered that with few exceptions, every cookie, no matter its origins, calls for virtually the same ingredients: butter, flour, sugar and eggs and is really just a variation of another culture’s recipe. Give each of them a different shape and name and you’ll still have pretty much the same delicious cookie! Wouldn’t it be nice if the world could take a lesson from its cookies?

German Spritz Cookies

German Spritz Cookies

YIELD: Makes about 6 dozen cookies

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup butter, softened

²⁄₃ cup sugar

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2½ cups flour

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large bowl mix butter, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla thoroughly. Gradually work in flour. Divide dough into quarters; fill cookie press with one quarter at a time and force dough onto ungreased cookie sheet in desired shapes. Sprinkle with colored sugar and bake for 7 to 10 minutes until set but not brown. Serve with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, ice cream, fruit punch, eggnog or any liqueur.

Finska Kakor

Finska Kakor

YIELD: Makes about 4 dozen cookies

INGREDIENTS:

¾ cup butter, softened

¼ cup sugar

¾ teaspoon almond extract

2 cups flour

Dash of salt

1 egg white, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon sugar

½ cup finely chopped almonds

DIRECTIONS: In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, the quarter cup sugar and extract. Sift together the flour and salt and, working it in with your hands, gradually add to mixture. Chill for one to two hours. Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out dough to ¼ inch thick. Cut into 3-inch by 1-inch strips. Brush lightly with beaten egg white, then sprinkle with mixture of remaining sugar and almonds. Carefully transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. Bake about 18 minutes or until pale golden. Very gently remove to cooling rack until room temperature and crispy. Serve with coffee, tea, eggnog, milk, hot chocolate or amaretto liqueur.

Russian Tea Cakes

Russian Tea Cakes

YIELD: Makes about 4 dozen cookies

INGREDIENTS:

2 sticks butter, softened

½ cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2¼ cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

¾ cup finely chopped nuts

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS: In a large bowl cream together the butter, the half cup of confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Sift together flour and salt and along with nuts, stir into butter mixture. Chill for 1 to 2 hours. Preheat oven to 400 F. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and, while still warm, roll cookie in the remaining cup confectioners’ sugar. Then when cool, roll in the sugar again. Serve with coffee, tea, hot cocoa, milk, fruit punch, eggnog or any liqueur.

Zucchini and Carrot Latkes

By Barbara Beltrami

You don’t have to be Jewish to love latkes — those crispy pancakes or fritters made most often from grated potatoes and fried in oil to symbolize the cleansing and rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by the Syrians some 21 centuries ago. The Maccabees had only enough oil to light the menorah for one day, but miraculously it lasted for eight days.

Aside from this tradition, here’s the thing you must remember about latkes: They must be thin and crisp. In order to achieve that you must first coarsely grate the potatoes and any other vegetables in the recipe, then squeeze those grated veggies as dry as possible and discard the liquid that accumulates. You can add a little flour or matzo meal to the mixture, but that’s optional. A thin coating of oil in the skillet is sufficient for frying them.

While potatoes are by far the most traditional and popular ingredient, nowadays other vegetables such as sweet potatoes and zucchini have made their way into the customary Hanukkah fare. Follow the preparation procedure faithfully and create your own latkes. And you’d better make a lot, because they go fast before they even make it to the table!

Potato Latkes

Potato Latkes

YIELD: Makes 2 dozen pancakes

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and placed in cold water

1 medium onion

1 large egg, beaten

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Oil for frying

DIRECTIONS: Using a hand grater or food processor, coarsely grate the potatoes and onion. Place in a fine mesh strainer or clean tea towel and hold over a bowl while you squeeze out all the liquid. (The potato starch will settle to the bottom of the bowl; reserve that after you have very carefully poured off all the water.) In a large bowl mix the potato and onion with the starch; add the egg, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly to combine.

Place a griddle or large nonstick skillet over medium heat, pour in a thin film of vegetable oil, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Scoop about two tablespoons of the potato mixture with your hand or a large cooking spoon, flatten as much as possible, then drop gently onto griddle or into skillet. (Be careful as oil may spatter.) Flatten again with a spatula or the back of the spoon. Continue until griddle is filled but pancakes are not touching each other. Fry until golden, flip and fry the other side. Remove and place on a thick layer of paper towels, then press more paper towels on top of the pancakes to soak up excess oil. Serve immediately or reheat in a 350 F oven. Serve with applesauce or sour cream.

Zucchini-Carrot Latkes

Zucchini and Carrot Latkes

YIELD: Makes 2 dozen pancakes

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds zucchini, coarsely grated ½ pound potatoes, coarsely grated

2 large carrots, coarsely grated

1 medium onion, coarsely grated

²⁄₃ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

²⁄₃ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1⁄₃ cup flour

2 eggs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 garlic clove, finely minced

Vegetable or peanut oil for frying

DIRECTIONS: Drain, press and squeeze the grated vegetables to remove as much moisture as possible. Place in a medium bowl and add the cheese, parsley, flour, eggs, salt and pepper and garlic and mix thoroughly. In a large skillet, heat about ¼-inch of oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pan). Using a large cooking spoon or your hands, scoop mixture and shape into patties; drop gently into hot oil and press with back of spoon to flatten. Over medium-high heat, fry, turning once, until both sides are crispy and golden brown. Drain on several layers of paper towels and press more paper towels on top. Serve with tomato sauce or sour cream.

Sweet Potato-Apple Latkes

Sweet Potato-Apple Latkes

YIELD: Makes 16 pancakes

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and grated

1 apple, peeled, cored and grated

½ cup flour

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 2 large eggs, beaten

Approximately ½ cup milk

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

Oil for frying

DIRECTIONS: Coarsely grate the sweet potatoes and apple over a medium bowl. Drain, press and squeeze to eliminate as much moisture as possible. In another medium bowl, thoroughly mix the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper. Add the eggs and milk, a few tablespoons at a time, until the batter is stiff and moist but not runny. Add potatoes and apple and mix. Heat ¼ inch of oil in a skillet just to the point of barely smoking. Gently drop the batter in two-tablespoon measures and flatten with the back of the spoon. Fry, turning once, until both sides are golden, about 3 minutes each side. Drain on paper towels and pat tops with more paper towels. Serve hot with applesauce, maple syrup, honey or cranberry sauce.

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