Chestnut Soup with Cognac Cream

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” Nat King Cole says it best (or should I say, sings it best). I grew up listening to these Christmas words among others sung by the voices of Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby and Johnny Mathis. When I close my eyes, I can still see the familiar scene: It’s evening. The light is dim and my mother is tidying up the kitchen. My father hasn’t returned from work yet. I’m in the living room, watching and listening. The tree is a-glow. Not a light, bow or berry our of place. They know that Santa’s on his way, he’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh. So calm and so serene. This is Christmastime.

Although I didn’t grow up eating chestnuts, since I’ve been with my husband I’ve eaten them every Christmas Eve. His family roasts them and eats them warm. It’s a real treat, so soft and flavorful. Recently, a good friend of mine shared this recipe with me: chestnut soup. It sounded unreal… I love soups. And to boot, a cognac cream on top. Hello! This recipe comes from Bon Appetit magazine, from many years ago. It makes a perfect starter to your Christmas meal. I bought whole chestnuts so I could get the full experience. To save on time, you have the option of getting vacuum packed, ready-pealed nuts. Either way, this one is worth the effort! Merry Christmas, everyone!

0

1

4

6

7

8

9

All Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco


Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients for Soup:

  • 2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp minced fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups boiled chestnuts* (see instructions below for cooking) or 2 cups vacuum-packed chestnuts (about 10 oz), halved

Ingredients for Cognac cream:

  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tsp Cognac
  • pinch of salt
  1. To boil chestnuts (1 lb nuts will make about the 2 cups you’ll need): using a sharp, small knife, cut an X in each chestnut. Cook chestnuts in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer the nuts to work surface. Remove hard shell and papery brown skin while chestnuts are still warm.
  2. Melt butter with oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add celery, carrot, onion and thyme and sauté until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add broth and chestnuts. Cover partially and simmer until chestnuts are very tender, about 30 minutes.
  3. Puree soup in batches in a blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
  4. To make cream, whisk whipping cream, cognac and pinch of salt in a medium bowl until thickened but not stiff. Bring soup to a simmer over low heat. Ladle into bowls. Swirl spoonful of Cognac cream into each bowl and serve. Enjoy!

Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit Magazine.

Kale + Chickpea Hummus Salad

2

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Since I’ve been married (it’s already been a year and a half!) I’ve been watching Food Network on television almost solely. So I’m now quite familiar with Bobby, Alex, Scott, Ted, Giada and the bunch of them. I even got to meet a few of them in New York recently which was surreal!! Love them all. When I heard about Giada de Laurentiis’s new cookbook Happy Cooking, I knew I had to get it. She is a little Italian powerhouse. And not to mention that blinding, beautiful smile! This tasty, hardy salad is in her new book. It may look simple, and that’s because it is! Simple yet full of good-for-you ingredients and flavor. It’s basically a hummus vinaigrette coated onto fresh kale and chickpeas. It takes less than 10 minutes to whip up. Not only is it quick, but it’s seriously satisfying for a salad. Don’t let these greens fool you! And, my favorite part: make it one day and have leftovers for lunch the next day. Kale holds up really well in the refrigerator, making it ideal for this. Get your healthy on and get Giada’s new book!


Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 5 cups shredded kale
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • ¼ cup slivered sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
  • Za’atar (optional, see note below)
  1. Warm a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the sliced garlic and cook just until the garlic is fragrant. Allow to cool slightly.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the tahini and lemon juice. Slowly add the warmed garlic oil, whisking constantly. Add the kale, salt, chickpeas, and sun-dried tomatoes, if using, and gently toss together, bringing the dressing up from the bottom to coat everything evenly.
  3. Serve, sprinkled with za’atar*, if desired.

Notes: Za’atar is a popular Middle Easter spice blend. It’s a mixture of herbs (basil, thyme, oregano) sesame and salt. You can also buy it here.

Recipe courtesy of Giada de Laurentiis, Happy Cooking, 2015.

1Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Roasted Cauliflower Gratin

4Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

This pleasant little dish is all the decadence you want from “macaroni and cheese” without the macaroni. Sub in roasted cauliflower for a gluten-free, vegetarian version. I was also so excited to use these little baking dishes– scored for $2/ea at a consignment shop. Oven-to-table cookware is the best! Cauliflower is such a nice vegetable. The smell of roasting it in salt, pepper and garlic is incredible. Alright: can we pause for a second and talk about gruyere? A Swiss cheese made from whole cow’s milk, it has a pale-yellow color and is wonderfully rich and creamy. It is perfect for melting and often used in fondue. It’s got a great little bite to it which I love. It’s not a exactly an everyday item (I’ve splurged at $19.99/lb for a the smallest block I could possibly find) but, when I have it in the kitchen I could eat it slice after slice till the block is gone. This is a bit like a casserole side dish, but would also make a nice lunch portion. It’s time to get steamy…close your eyes and picture this: you pour that gorgeous melted, creamy cheese over the roasted cauliflower and watching it seep into every nook and cranny. Then, you bake it until the top is browned and the cheese is hot and bubbly. If this doesn’t get your mouth watering I don’t know what will!! Don’t get me wrong: I’m a girl who loves her American mac and cheese. But I’m also a girl who loves roasted vegetables and fancy cheeses. The combo fulfils that guilty pleasure of eating a comforting mac and cheese, but guess what? Zero guilt. Eat your veggies, kids! No one ever said you couldn’t smother them in cheese.


Yield: 4-6 servings (depending on portion) — Prep time: 20 minutes — Cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 large head cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups gruyère cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs (panko, plain or Italian)
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F degrees. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower, olive oil, salt, thyme, and pepper. Place onto a lined baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 10 minutes, stir, then roast for an additional 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 375 F degrees.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan.  Add the shallot and cook for 3 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the flour to the pan and stir constantly with a whisk for 1-2 minutes, or until the flour begins to turn golden. Pour the milk into the saucepan, continuing to whisk until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, or until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg and gruyère cheese, reserving a 1/2 cup for topping.
  3. Spoon a little bit of the sauce into the bottom of a 2 quart glass baking dish (I filled four 6″ oven-to-table dishes). Pour the cauliflower into the dish and top with the remaining sauce. Mix together the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and the breadcrumbs. Spread evenly over the top and sprinkle with a little salt and freshly cracked pepper.
  4. Bake in the 375 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from The Two Bite Club & Ina Garten, www.foodnetwork.com

1

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

2

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

3

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Roasted Cheese Pumpkin Soup

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

A few weeks ago, my mom and I shared a memorable trip to a north shore Long Island, family owned farm. It was a beautiful, crisp autumn day. I went with the goal of finding a good cooking pumpkin to make this soup with. I found a lovely cheese pumpkin, which has been decoration until now (it has a shelf life of up to 1 year!) Today is Halloween, and although I really don’t care for it, it felt like the perfect day to cook my pumpkin. With my husband at school preparing for an exam, I found myself with some quiet time. I finished a few house chores (naturally, my reward is cooking) prepared candy for the trick-or-treaters, put on some old-timey Christmas tunes (don’t you say a word) and lit tea lights around the house. It was so serene. This is how I cook happy.

I learned that the cheese pumpkin is slightly sweet with a firm flesh, making it lovely for roasting, soup making and pie baking. It gets its name for the exterior resemblance to a wheel of cheese. Basically, it makes a wonderful puree. On a Saturday or Sunday when you have a little more time, it is actually very simple to make your own! Trust me. Once the pumpkin is roasted, it practically falls apart. All the good stuff comes right out. And once you’ve made it into soup, the flavor of the final product is subtle, rich, but not overwhelming– it has the smoothest, velvety texture. It is worth every effort. The addition of the coconut milk swirls and roasted seeds adds another layer of texture and interest to the bowl. You’ll also be able to say that nothing was wasted! Those seeds… they are a seriously delicious snack all by themselves. Do not be intimidated! Bask in the glory that is autumn and give this one a try! Sweet November, you are almost here.


(Gluten free… paleo… and vegan!)

Yield: 4 servings — Prep time: 5 mins — Cook time: 60 mins — Total time: 1 hour 5 minutes

2

3

1

4

5

Ingredients:

  • 1 small cheese pumpkin (about 3 – 5 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon dried sage
  • ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • ¼ teaspoon chile powder
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut pumpkin in half, discarding the top stem and scooping out the seeds (don’t throw the seeds out!)
  2. Rub 1 Tablespoon of coconut oil on a baking sheet and place halves of pumpkins cut side down on pan. Roast for about 35 minutes, until pumpkin is tender and can easily be pierced with a fork. Don’t be alarmed if the pumpkin looks deflated when it comes out, it gets very soft.
  3. Let pumpkin cool and then scoop out the flesh, about 3 cups. Discard the skin. Once cool, I pureed the 3 cups of flesh until very smooth.
  4. Add the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil to a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, and ginger and sauté for about 5 minutes, until onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant. Add the pumpkin flesh, thyme, sage, pumpkin pie spice, chile powder, and stock. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste (I added about 1 teaspoon of each). Garnish with a drizzle of coconut milk and roasted pumpkin seeds*.

To roast pumpkin seeds, first boil the seeds in a small pot of water for 10 minutes. Strain, so you lose any strands of pumpkin, and dry. Place in a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Roast at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. When they roast, they turn from a grayish color to a lighter browned color. Crunch away!

79All photo credit: Ashley Cuoco

Soup recipe adapted from In Sonnet’s Kitchen.

A little lesson on other pumpkin varieties good for cooking and baking:

Cinderella Pumpkin: Looking much like the pumpkins that Cinderella’s fairy godmother magically transformed into a carriage, the Cinderella — with a flattened shape and striking red color — carries a strong and sweet flavor.

Long Pie Pumpkin: Also known as “Nantucket Pie,” the five to eight pound Long Pie looks nothing like a standard, round pumpkin. As its name suggests, it has an elongated shape, and its bright orange flesh is smooth and nearly string-less.

New England Pie Pumpkin: Known for making delicious pumpkin soup, the New England Pie has a superior consistency — string-less and slightly less sweet than the Baby Pam — that also makes for a thick filling in pies.

Pumpkin varieties via The Daily Meal, www.thedailymeal.com.

Potato-Leek soup with Pierogi

1Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Potato soup: humble, comforting and satisfying. For the many reasons you love the soft interior of a good French fry, so you love potato soup. Savory is my kind of soup. The leek and potato combination is a wonderful flavor– full and complete. This was my first time cooking with leek and my impression is that it is really not far from the onion and garlic. Similar flavor and I have seen it described as a more mild version of an onion. Now, take a lovely potato soup and add pierogi, bacon and chives. Woah! First, render the bacon until nice and crunchy. Then take that delicious pan, filled bacon fat goodness and sear the pierogi until golden on both sides. Top at the soup’s center, sprinkle on some chives and there you have it. Beautiful presentation and great flavors. My personal opinion is that this is more of a starter dish than a main course. Or a great lunch item, as I enjoyed earlier today. When the temperature in New York drops to 59 degrees (welcome October!) warm up and try this dish!

Yield: 4 servings — Active time: 35 min — Total time: 40 min

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 bunch leeks (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced and rinsed well
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 russet potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 12 frozen or fresh mini pierogi (or 6 regular size)
  • Chopped fresh chives, for topping
  1. Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until well coated, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add 3 cups water, the chicken broth and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are very tender, 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Working in 2 or 3 batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a clean pot and stir in the cream; season with salt and pepper. Keep warm over low heat.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, stirring, until crisp, about 7 minutes. Transfer to paper towels using a slotted spoon. Add the pierogi to the skillet and cook, flipping halfway through, until golden brown and warmed through, about 5 minutes. Top each serving of soup with pierogi bacon and chives. Enjoy!

Recipe courtesy of Food Network Magazine, 2015.

Mini Chicken Pot Pies

1Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Ultimate comfort food: chicken pot pie. One spoonful gets you everything you want– buttery crust, chicken, and flavorful veggies. A great weekend Autumn meal. My favorite part about this recipe is the individual size. I used two 6″ diameter (yet pretty deep) oven safe dishes. Double the recipe and you can save the rest to bake another night! Another great time saver is the ready-made pie crust rolls. I save my homemade crust for things like desserts and pies. Don’t sweat this one– It’s ready in a little over an hour. And so worth it when you take that first bite.


Yields: (4) 6-inch pies (or in my case, (2) 6-inch deep dishes — Active time: 50 min — Total Time: 1 hr 20 min

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (or more chicken broth)
  • 2 cups shredded chicken breast, cooked
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 2 rounds refrigerated pie crust
  • 1 large egg

You’ll also need: 6-inch individual foil pie pans or alternative

  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring the vegetables around, until they start to soften, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and stir to combine. Cook the flour-coated veggies for 1 minute, then pour in the chicken broth (and wine, if using!) and stir to combine. Let it heat up and start to bubble and thicken, about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in the chicken, then add the turmeric and thyme, then season with salt and pepper. Add the half and half, then stir the mixture and let it thicken, about 3 minutes. If it seems overly thick, splash in a little more broth. Turn off the heat and let the filling cool to room temperature.
  3. Meanwhile, roll out the pie crusts slightly and cut out 8 (if making 4 pies) or 4 (if making 2 pies) dough circle. Press a dough circle into each pie pan, making sure the dough comes just to the top of each pan. Fill the pies with the chicken mixture. Lay a second round of dough over the top of each pie. Press the dough so that the edges meet, then pinch all around to close or use a fork to seal the edges. Mix the egg with 2 teaspoons of water and brush it all over the surface of the crust. Poke the top of the pie with a fork to vent.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the pies on a baking sheet and bake 25-30 minutes, until the crust is deep golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Enjoy!

If you make extra, freeze them by placing the pies on a baking sheet and flash-freeze 45 minutes. Then cover tightly with heavy-duty foil and freeze up to 6 months. To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the foil-covered pies for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake 30-50 minutes more, until hot and bubbly.

Recipe courtesy of Food Network Magazine.

2Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

3

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

4

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Salad with Parmesan Wafers and Poached Egg

2

Photo: Ashley Cuoco

This one comes from one of my all time favorite cook books, from my all time favorite chef– Aussie Curtis Stone! I’ve had his book Relaxed Cooking for years. It puts you in his favorite mood… nice and comforted! This salad is, as he points out, one of those dishes that really tells your body that you are being good to it. The texture of the leaves, crispy parmesan wafers against the gooey poached egg are the perfect combo! This was an A+ lunch. Thank you Chef Stone!


Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 large organic egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup grapeseed oil (I used extra virgin olive oil, cold pressed)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 4 large organic eggs
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped
  • 1 head butter lettuce, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  1. First, we make the dressing. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the egg yolks, mustard, and garlic in a blender and blend until the garlic is minced. Blend in 1/3 cup vinegar, then the grated Parmesan cheese. With the machine running, slowly add the oil in a thin, constant stream until the dressing is nice and creamy. Season the dressing with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the dressing from the blender and reserve.
  2. Next comes the Parmesan wafers. Place a nonstick silicone mat or a sheet of parchment paper on a large baking sheet. Evenly sprinkle the shredded Parmesan cheese over the mat, forming a thin 13″x9″ rectangle of cheese. Bake for about 7 minutes, or until the cheese is lacy and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Then break the Parmesan wafer into large pieces.
  3. Now it’s poaching time! Bring a large skillet of water to a simmer over high heat. Stir the water and add the remaining 2 tbsp. of vinegar. Stir the water quickly to create a whirlpool effect. Crack 1 egg into a small bowl and then gently transfer into the simmering water. Repeat with the remaining three eggs. Allow the eggs to poach for about 3 minutes, or until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Using a slotted spoon, gently remove the eggs from the simmering water and set them on a paper towel to absorb excess water.
  4. Toss the romaine lettuce, butter lettuce, and parsley in a large bowl with enough dressing to coat. Season the salad with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Divide the salad among 4 serving bowls. Place the parmesan wafers over the salad and top each salad with a poached egg. Sprinkle the eggs with black pepper, and serve.

Enjoy!

1

Photo: Ashley Cuoco

Recipe adapted from: Stone, Curtis. Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone: Recipes to Put You in My Favorite Mood. New York: C. Potter /, 2009. Print.