Absurdly addictive asparagus

This recipe combines so many of my favorite flavors and is going to be a firm favorite. Such a heady combination of leeks, pancetta, orange zest, pine nuts and parsley added to the asparagus is without doubt the best asparagus recipe I’ve encountered.

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Serves 4

4 oz pancetta, cut into 3/8 inch to 1/4 inch dice
1 tbsp butter
1 lb asparagus, woody ends trimmed and sliced into 2 inch pieces on the bias
1 1/4 cups leek, thinly sliced crosswise (white and pale green parts only)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
1-2 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large non-stick pan, sauté the pancetta, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until crisp and lightly golden.
Add 1 tbsp of butter to pan. Add the asparagus pieces and leeks and sauté until the asparagus is tender crisp, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the garlic, lemon and orange zest, toasted pine nuts and parsley and sauté for about 1 minute, until fragrant.
Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and salt and serve immediately.

Baileys Irish cream tiramisu

The combination of Ireland and Italy in a dish sounds nothing less than intriguing, but it is a combination made in heaven. A super recipe from Nigella.

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Serves 12

9 tsp instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 1/2 cups water (cooled)
1 cup Baileys
14 oz Savoiardi cookies
2 large eggs
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 lb mascarpone cheese
2 2/1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Mix the coffee with 3/4 cup of the Baileys in a shallow bowl. Dip the cookies into this liquid; let them soak on each side enough to become damp but not soggy. Line the bottom of an 8 1/2″ square glass dish with a layer of the cookies.

Separate the eggs, but keep only one of the egg whites. Whisk the two yolks and the sugar together until thick and a paler yellow, then fold in the remaining 1/4 cup of Baileys and the mascarpone to make a moussy mixture.

Whisk the single egg white until thick and frothy; you can do this by hand with such a small amount. Fold the egg white into the yolky mascarpone and then spread half of this mixture on top of the layer of cookies.

Repeat with another layer of soaked Savoiardi and then top with the remaining mascarpone mixture.

Cover the dish with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight. When you are ready to serve, push the unsweetened cocoa through a small tea strainer to dust the top of the tiramisu.

Best hot, baked Florentine artichoke dip

Here is another winner recipe after researching countless baked spinach-artichoke recipes for a family- friendly holiday appetizer. Hot and bubbling straight from the oven with a lovely crispy topping.

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makes 4 cups and is enough for 8 to 10 people

1 (10 oz) pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 (12 oz) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
12 oz cream cheese, softened
1 heaped cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 cup good mayonnaise
3 large garlic cloves, squeezed
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 & 1/2 cups French breadcrumbs (homemade)
2 tbsp butter, melted

Drain the spinach, press between layers of paper towels to remove excess moisture.
Combine the spinach, artichoke hearts and the next 5 ingredients in a bowl, stirring well.
Spoon into a lightly greased 11″ by 7″ baking dish.
Combine the breadcrumbs and butter, sprinkle over the spinach mixture.
Bake, uncovered at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
Serve with assorted crackers or breadsticks.

Best mac ‘n cheese with crisp, garlic breadcrumb topping. (to die for)

In preparation for Christmas dinner this year, I researched hundreds of mac ‘n cheese recipes with the only prerequisite being that ALL ages would love it, so nothing gimmicky, no strange flavors…
This recipe was a major hit with everyone and it’s well worth adding to your holiday cooking repertoire. The crispy garlicky breadcrumbs on top are also a wonderful addition.
I made it the day before, kept it in the fridge overnight, brought it to room temperature and baked it just before serving, so it really was easy.

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Serves 12

For the topping:
2 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for baking dish
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½ cup finely grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp kosher salt

For the macaroni and sauce:
14 oz dried elbow macaroni
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
16 oz coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar (about 6 cups)
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 1/2 tbsp English mustard powder

Special equipment:
9- by 13-inch baking dish

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in the middle of oven. Butter the baking dish. Set a large, covered pot of salted water over high heat to boil.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat the butter and oil until the butter foam subsides. Add the panko crumbs and garlic; cook, stirring, until the crumbs are golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the crumbs to a medium bowl, stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan and salt, and set aside.

Add the macaroni to the boiling salted water and cook until just al dente (avoid overcooking). Drain the macaroni and set aside. In a large wide pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Sprinkle the flour over the butter, whisking to incorporate and make a roux. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the roux is light golden, about 4 minutes.

Gradually pour in the milk and cream, whisking constantly to incorporate and make a béchamel sauce. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a low boil, whisking constantly. Reduce to a simmer, whisking occasionally, and cook until the béchamel sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes more.

Add the the salt, pepper and mustard powder. Add the cheeses in three batches, whisking until each addition is completely melted before adding more. Remove from the heat.

Add the drained macaroni to the pot with the cheese sauce and stir well to coat. Transfer the macaroni mixture to the buttered baking dish and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the macaroni and bake until golden and bubbling, 18 to 23 minutes.

Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

Asian sweet potato gratin.

If you like dairy-free food and Asian flavors, this is a great twist on a heavier, creamier potato gratin.
Sweet potato and peanut butter might sound like a bonkers pairing, but combined with the flavor powerhouses of chili, ginger and lime, the result is magical.

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Serves 2, but easily can be augmented

3 sweet potatoes
8 fl oz of coconut milk
1 tbsp peanut butter
A stem of lemon grass
A thumb of ginger
1 chili
1 lime
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat your oven to 350 F
Scrub 3 sweet potatoes, then slice as thinly as you can.
Place the slices in a medium sized baking dish.

Finely chop a chili. Peel a thumb of ginger with a teaspoon and roughly chop. Take 1 lemon grass stem and remove the tough outer leaves.

Zest the lime and juice half. Tip in 1 tbsp peanut butter, the lemon grass, chili, ginger, lime zest and the juice into a food processor.

Pour in 8 oz coconut milk. Blitz to combine all the ingredients.
Taste and season.

Pour the coconut sauce over the potato. Mix with your hands then flatten.
Cover the dish with foil and seal the edges tightly. Cook for 30 mins.

Remove the foil and cook for a further 20 mins till golden.

Check the sweet potatoes are cooked and soft by piercing with a knife. If still firm, place back in the oven and cook for a further 5-10 mins.

Smoked oyster and bacon stuffing

I couldn’t resist this recipe and will definitely be making it for one of the Holiday meals this year. You’ll need about 4 cups of unbaked stuffing for a 12-pound bird if you’re stuffing the bird, but personally, I like to roast the stuffing separately.

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Serves 8
1 loaf crusty white bread, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (8 cups)
3 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
1 medium yellow onion, diced medium
2 large celery stalks, diced medium
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 cup packed drained smoked oysters (from three 3-ounce cans)
1 cup crumbled cooked bacon (from about 8 slices)
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
On two rimmed baking sheets, arrange the bread in a single layer. Toast until dry and pale golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion and celery are softened, about 7 minutes. Add the oysters, bacon, thyme, and vinegar and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Add the parsley, eggs and bread; stir to combine. Add the broth in two additions, stirring until absorbed after each addition. Season generously with salt and pepper and transfer stuffing to dish. Bake on middle rack until deep golden brown on top, 25 to 30 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

** Tip.
Toast the bread up to 2 days ahead and store in airtight containers or zip-lock bags.

Butternut squash, mustard and Gruyere gratin

I love anything that has cream, cheese and vegetables in it and you might want to think about changing up your Thanksgiving meal by adding this to the repertoire.I highly recommend it.

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A small knob of butter (1 tbsp)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 or 3 garlic cloves, peeled and squashed
10 decent sized-sage leaves
10 fl oz pot double cream
6 fl oz whole milk (or use cream instead for an extra luxurious dish)
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, quartered and thinly sliced (about 2lb 2oz prepared weight)
1/4 tsp hand grated nutmeg
8 oz Gruyère, grated

Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan. Add the onions and cook slowly over a low-medium heat, stirring every now and then, for 10-15 mins until golden and soft.

Meanwhile, put the garlic and half the sage in a saucepan, add the cream and milk, and heat gently, not allowing the mixture to boil, for 5 mins. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for 10 mins, then fish out the sage and garlic. Stir in the mustard and season well.

If cooking straight away, heat oven to 350 F.
Layer the squash slices, (sprinkling a little grated nutmeg on each layer)the onions, most of the cheese and the infused cream into a large baking dish, finishing with a layer of cream. Once you’ve used the ingredients up, scatter with the remaining cheese and put the remaining sage leaves on top. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 mins.

Uncover the dish and increase the heat to 400 F. Cook for a further 20-30 mins until golden brown and tender all the way through. Leave to cool for 10 mins before serving.

Slow cooker spinach and artichoke dip

This couldn’t be easier and I highly recommend you go out and get a slow cooker, especially for around the Holiday times. I use it throughout the year. From the food blog called “Damn Delicious”

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Yield 8 servings

Simply throw everything in the crockpot (slow cooker) for the easiest, most effortless spinach and artichoke dip.

2 (14-ounce) cans artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
8 oz sour cream
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 oz cream cheese, cubed

Place the artichoke hearts, spinach, sour cream, onion, garlic, Parmesan, milk, feta, mayonnaise, vinegar and pepper into a slow cooker. Stir until well combined. Top with cream cheese.
Cover and cook on low heat for 2 hours.
Uncover and stir until cream cheese is well combined. Cover and cook on high heat for an additional 15 minutes.

Pumpkin Turtle Cheesecake Parfait

Sometimes you need to have a recipe like this that you can whip up fast. This is a lovely fall-like twist on a pumpkin cheesecake except it’s no-cook and a lot more chiffon-like. The recipe belongs to “The Midnight Baker”

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Serves: 4

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 pkg (size that serves 4) vanilla instant pudding
1/2 cup milk/cream/half and half, divided
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
8 oz (1 regular tub) whipped topping
chopped pecans for garnish
Store bought caramel sauce for drizzle

The instant pudding mix is used dry–DO NOT MAKE PER PACKAGE DIRECTIONS
Beat the cream cheese and 1/4 cup of the milk/cream in a large bowl until it’s smooth and silky
Add the pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, the remaining milk and the dry pudding mix
Beat for 1 minute
Fold in the whipped topping
Divide evenly into small dessert dishes
Garnish with chopped pecans and drizzle with caramel sauce

Stuffed pumpkin filled with “everything good”

You can do more with a good quality pumpkin than carve it and stick a candle in it — you can also stuff it, bake it and eat it all up.

That’s what cookbook author Dorie Greenspan suggests in her new cookbook,  “Around My French Table”. Greenspan says she loves her recipe “Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good” because it has “almost no rules.”

“So you can play with it. You can change the filling a million different ways, once I used some leftover cooked rice in place of the bread. It became almost like risotto. You can put in nuts, you can put in apples … you can put in chestnuts.”

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Makes 2 very generous servings but can be augmented to serve more

1 pumpkin, like a Hubbard, about 3 lbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 lb stale bread, sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 lb cheese, such as Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2–4 garlic cloves (to taste) coarsely chopped
4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped
About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment, or find a Dutch oven with a diameter that’s just a tiny bit larger than your pumpkin.
** If you bake the pumpkin in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but it might stick to the casserole, so you’ll have to serve it from the pot — which is an appealingly homey way to serve it. If you bake it on a baking sheet, you can present it freestanding, but maneuvering a heavy stuffed pumpkin with a softened shell isn’t so easy. However, since I love the way the unencumbered pumpkin looks in the center of the table, I’ve always taken my chances with the baked-on-a-sheet method, and so far, I’ve been lucky.

Using a very sturdy knife — and caution — cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (think Halloween jack-o’-lantern). It’s easiest to work your knife around the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle.
You want to cut off enough of the top to make it easy for you to work inside the pumpkin. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin.

Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper, and put it on the baking sheet or in the pot.
Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper — you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese, but taste to be sure — and pack the mix into the pumpkin.
The pumpkin should be well filled — you might have a little too much filling, or you might need to add to it.
Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin. Again, you might have too much or too little — you don’t want the ingredients to swim in cream, but you do want them nicely moistened. (But it’s hard to go wrong here.)

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours — check after 90 minutes — or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Because the pumpkin will have exuded liquid, I like to remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.

When the pumpkin is ready, carefully, very carefully — it’s heavy, hot, and wobbly — bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you’ll bring to the table.

When serving
You have choices: you can cut wedges of the pumpkin and filling; you can spoon out portions of the filling, making sure to get a generous amount of pumpkin into the spoonful; or you can dig into the pumpkin with a big spoon, pull the pumpkin meat into the filling, and then mix everything up. I’m a fan of the pull-and-mix option. Served in hearty portions followed by a salad, the pumpkin is a perfect cold-weather main course; served in generous spoonfuls or wedges, it’s just right alongside the Thanksgiving turkey.