Tag Archives: Williams-Sonoma

Pea & Mint Puree with Lemon

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A pureed soup is my favorite starter for a formal dinner.  It can be made ahead of time and the recipe can easily be doubled or even tripled to serve a crowd.  With the arrival of spring my mind has been turning to fresher and lighter ingredients and peas and mint are the ultimate spring ingredients.  Courtesy of Williams-Sonoma’s Soup of the Day, this soup has become my go-to recipe for spring entertaining.  The bright green color makes for a beautiful presentation with the mint adding a pleasant surprise for guests.  Served with Lemon-Parmesan Madeleines this is the perfect starter for a larger meal but can also stand alone with a green salad and some crusty French bread for a light lunch.

PEA & MINT PUREE WITH LEMON

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 shallots, minced

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

3 cups fresh or frozen peas, plus more for garnishing

1/2 cup chopped mint, plus small leaves for garnishing

1 Tablespoon sour cream

Grated zest of one lemon

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil for drizzling

  • In a large, heavy stock pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  
  • Add the shallots and cook until soft, 5 minutes.  
  • Add the broth and bring to a boil.  
  • Add the peas, reserving a few for the garnish and cook until tender, 3-5 minutes.  
  • Stir in the chopped mint.  Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
  • Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, food processor, or use a stick blender.  
  • Return to the pot, stir in the sour cream and warm over medium heat.  
  • Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon zest.  
  • Season with salt and pepper an serve, garnish with the mint leaves, peas, and drizzled with the olive oil.
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Tiramisu

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Tiramisu is the all time favorite dessert in our house.  Glenn and I discovered our mutual love of this Italian dessert early in our relationship over a late night dinner at Filomena Ristorante in Georgetown, Washington D.C.  Since that snowy January night, if tiramisu is on the menu, we order it.  Tiramisu was the dessert at our rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding (it would have been our wedding cake if I could have figured out how it could have been made in a tiered form), it is the cake I make for Glenn’s birthday every year, and it is becoming a favorite dessert for our formal dinners.

I’ve discovered that not all tiramisu is created equal. Cake that is too dry or filling that is too sweet yields  disappointing results.  This recipe comes from Williams Sonoma and in my opinion is the perfect combination of moist, yet not too wet, lady fingers and rich and delicately sweet filling.  Always make it a  day ahead of time. This lets the flavors meld together.  Of course, if there are leftovers, it is even better the following day.

TIRAMISU

1/2 cup sugar 

1/2 cup water

2 cups freshly brewed espresso 

1/4 cup dark rum 

45 ladyfingers

1/3 cup sugar 

6 egg yolks 

1/2 cup heavy cream 

1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese 

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 

Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting 

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the espresso and let cool to room temperature. Stir the rum into the cooled espresso mixture. 
  • Pour the espresso mixture into a wide, shallow bowl. Working in batches, briefly immerse the ladyfingers in the liquid, then transfer them to a plate. Set aside. 
  • To make the filling, select a heatproof bowl that fits snugly in the rim of a saucepan. Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into the saucepan and bring to a very gentle simmer.
  • Meanwhile, in the heatproof bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is pale yellow and creamy, about 2 minutes.
  • Place the bowl over, but not touching, the simmering water in the pan. Using a handheld mixer on medium speed, beat the yolk mixture until very thick and tripled in volume, about 6 minutes.
  • Remove the bowl from the heat and set the yolk mixture aside to cool completely, stirring frequently. 
  • Meanwhile, in a bowl, using the mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream until stiff peaks form.
  • Add the mascarpone and vanilla to the cooled yolk mixture. Beat with the mixer on medium speed just until smooth and well blended.
  • Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the whipped cream just until combined. 
  • To assemble, carefully transfer 15 soaked ladyfingers to a 9-inch square cake pan. Arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of the pan.
  • Using the rubber spatula, evenly spread one-third of the filling over the ladyfingers. Place another layer of 15 ladyfingers over the filling in the pan and evenly spread with half of the remaining filling.
  • Top with the remaining ladyfingers and filling, again spreading evenly. Gently tap the pan against the counter to settle the ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to overnight. 
  • Run a small knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the sides. Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the top with the cocoa powder. Cut into slices and serve directly from the pan.
  • Serves 8. 

 

Little Gingerbread Men (A.K.A. Gingerbread Cakelettes)

Dressed and ready for the party

I’m a sucker for cake pans.  Unique shapes, intricate designs,  or bite sized portions and I’m all over it.  From the sand castle bundt cake pan (which can also double as an ice mold) to the giant cupcake pan and individual portioned brownies so every piece has an edge crust, if it is a different pan, I have it.  After all, presentation is just as important as the taste!  So when I saw the individual gingerbread men shaped cake pans at Williams Sonoma a few years ago, I knew I had to have the pan.  This is one of those pans that only gets hauled out once a year but the resulting cakelettes always create a stir.  If you don’t have this pan and aren’t inclined to go out and buy one, you can turn the batter into cupcakes.

The recipe is originally from Williams Sonoma and came with the pan.  I call it a two-for-one deal.  I’ve added black pepper into the spice mix to give it an extra kick.





GINGERBREAD CAKELETTES
 
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) butter at room temperature
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
3/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup milk
1)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour the cakelette pan.
The pan that started it all
2)  Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.
3)  In a large bowl, use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat the butter until creamy.

Add the  brown sugar and continue mixing until the batter is light brown in color.  Add the egg and
molasses and beat until combined.

4)  Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the flour in three parts, alternating with the milk.
     Continue beating until it is fully combined.
5)  Spoon the batter into each cakelette pan, spreading it into the arms and legs. Make sure to fill the
      pans only half full.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a
      cakelette comes out clean.
6)  Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for give minutes before inverting the pan onto a
     wire rack.  Cool the cakelettes completely before decorating with an icing of your choice.
7)  Wash and thoroughly dry the pan.  Grease and flour the pan again and repeat until all of the batter is
      used.
Yields:  Approximately 20 cakelettes
 
 

Roasted Chestnuts

Chestnuts roasting in Ljubljana

Chestnuts are a perennial autumn nut.  Wander through any European city during the fall or winter months and you can see roasting on just about every street corner.  You can easily follow their distinctive sweet fragrance to the closest vendor.  There is nothing better than eating hot roasted chestnuts from a paper cone as you roam the streets.  This time of year chestnuts are also abundant in the markets.  From chain grocery stores to neighborhood shops and the grand vegetable markets, bins of the nuts are everywhere.  Not only are chestnuts good to eat “as is” they add body and complexity to other foods.  Whether combined with roasted vegetables and bread dressing or as a main ingredient in a  soup, they add rich complexity to any dish.

Roasting chestnuts at home isn’t hard but it is time consuming.  Last November in a fit of over ambitious insanity, we hosted a lunch for twelve two days before our sit down Thanksgiving dinner for twenty-four.  Thinking I could multi-task with my ingredients, I planned a chestnut apple soup for the lunch and a chestnut sage dressing for Thanksgiving dinner. Even with the able hands of my visiting parents (who for some reason haven’t visited since) Glenn and I spent hours trying to pry the roasted chestnuts from their shells.  I couldn’t figure out why they were being so stubborn and at that time I vowed that until we had access to shelled chestnuts I would not be including this tasty ingredient in any of my dishes.

Fast forward a year………….we are heading into Thanksgiving week and chestnuts are once again on my menu.  This year, however, my menu and guest list are saner and I have a plan.  I also did more research and I think I may have found an easier roasting and shelling method.  Chestnuts must be cooked before being eaten.  Various methods call for boiling, broiling, roasting, or grilling the nuts before shelling them.  In pure experimental mode, I used three methods for cooking my chestnuts:  grilling on the gas fired grill, broiling in the oven, and roasting in the oven.

X marks the spot
ROASTED CHESTNUTS

Regardless of which method you chose, it is necessary wash and score the nuts before cooking.  I used a small paring knife to cut a large “X” on the flat side of each nut.  Given the large quantity of nuts I had, this was a time consuming, and if one isn’t careful, dangerous task.  Fortunately I only stabbed my thumb once on this go around.



Oven Roasted Method:  Place the scored chestnuts on a piece of tinfoil, add a small amount of water, and wrap to form a packet.  Place the packet on a baking sheet and roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Chestnuts ready to roast

Grilled Method:  Place the scored chestnuts in a grill basket and grill over a 400 degree grill for 20 minutes.  Shake the basket every five minutes to ensure that the nuts cook evenly and none of them scorch.  You can also place the nuts directly on the grill but you will then need to use tongs to turn the nuts.

Chestnuts on the grill

Broiled Method:  Place the scored chestnuts on a baking sheet and broil under high heat for 10 minutes.

You will know the chestnuts are cooked when the nuts are fragrant and the shells split open.  Once they are cool enough to handle, peel the shells and the inner skin from the nut.

So which method did I prefer?  By far, the broiled nuts were the easiest to shell.  The grilled method worked well too but for some reason I found the roasted nuts to be extremely difficult to shell.  From now on if I can’t buy my chestnuts from a street vendor I’ll be cooking mine at home under the broiler.

The payoff

Try your chestnuts in the following recipes:

Fine Cooking’s Chestnut Soup with Crisp Prosciutto
Saveur’s Chestnut Pound Cake
Williams-Sonoma’s Pear, Chestnut, and Sage Dressing 
Williams-Sonoma’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Chestnuts

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