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.

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.

Dreamy sweet onion bisque

I had this soup at the Capital Grill at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville recently and thought it was the best soup I had ever tasted. (If you read the ingredients you can see why!)They gave me the recipe and I was blown away by how easy it was to make. You MUST allow the 5 hours for the onions to sweat as that is the secret of the velvety sweetness the soup has. The toasted brie sandwich segment dropped it, plus the bacon and chives take it to even headier heights!

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4 to 8 servings.

10 large sweet Vidalia onions
1lb Plugra butter
1 qt heavy cream
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Smoked bacon, crumbled. Get really good quality bacon for this, chop it and saute until crispy
Freshly snipped chives
Brie grilled cheese sandwich

Peel and chop the onions into 1 inch chunks. In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter until it becomes foamy and add the onions. Add about 1 tbsp of salt at this point and stir to combine all of the ingredients in the pot and continue to cook for 5 hours until they have completely softened and exuded the majority of their moisture.
Keep in mind that you really don’t want to get any color on the onions during this process so if you see it happening, lower the heat more.
After the 5 hours, add the cream and just heat it through gently.
When everything is hot and combined, you need to puree the soup in a good quality blender. If you want that really velvety texture, pass it through a fine mesh strainer or a mouli after blending it but this is an optional step.

Season with salt and pepper, pour into the bowls and garnish with some smoked bacon, chives and a triangle of Brie grilled cheese sandwich.

Bacon wrapped dates with almonds and goat cheese

Unctious, divine and so easy.

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MAKES 24
24 large moist dates, such as Medjool
12 not-too-thick slices of bacon
2 oz. softened goat cheese
24 whole toasted unsalted almonds

Move oven rack to upper third of oven and preheat oven to 500°. Pit dates, tearing them open as little as possible. Set dates aside. Halve the 12 slices of bacon crosswise. Put the goat cheese into a pastry bag fitted with a round, plain ¼” tip.

Stuff cavity of each date with 1 almond. Pipe goat cheese into the opening of each stuffed date. Wrap 1 half-piece of bacon around width of each date and put dates, seam side down, on a baking sheet, at least ½” apart. Bake until bacon is golden and crisp, 6-8 minutes.
Set aside to cool briefly before serving.

Pesto chicken braise with cheesy dumplings

Oh my gosh, the BBC Food network has done it again! Divine and comforting.

 

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Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
12-15 chicken thighs, skin removed, bone in (or boneless, skinless, if you prefer)
7 oz smoked bacon lardons, chopped prosciutto or chopped bacon
1 large onion, chopped
4 celery sticks, peeled and chopped
3 leeks, chopped
4 tbsp plain flour
7 fl oz white wine
2 pints chicken stock
2 bay leaves
8 oz frozen peas
5 oz sundried tomatoes in oil, drained
5 oz fresh pesto
small bunch basil, chopped

For the dumplings
5 oz butter
9 oz self-raising flour
4 oz parmesan, grated
2 oz pine nuts, lightly toasted

Heat the oil in a large casserole dish. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown it until golden on all sides – you might have to do this in batches – remove the chicken from the pan as you go and set aside.
Add the lardons to the pan and sizzle for a few mins, then add the onion, celery and leeks, and cook over a medium heat for 8-10 mins until the vegetables have softened. Stir in the flour, season and cook for a further 2 mins.

Gradually stir in the wine and allow it to bubble away, then stir in the stock. Return the chicken to the pan with the bay leaves and cover with a lid. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 1½ hrs or until the chicken is tender.(Or you can put it in a 350 F oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours) The stew can now be cooled and frozen if you’re making ahead. Just defrost thoroughly, then gently warm through back in the pan before continuing.

Heat oven to 400 F
Add the peas, sundried tomatoes, pesto and basil to the stew.

To make the dumplings, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix in the grated cheese, season with salt and pepper and add about 4 to 5 fluid ounces of water, mixing with a cutlery knife to bring the crumbs together to form a light and sticky dough. Break off walnut-sized lumps and shape into small balls.
Roll the tops of the dumplings in the pine nuts so a few stick to the outside, then place the dumplings on top of the stew and scatter with any remaining nuts. Put the dish in the oven and bake for 25 mins until the dumplings are golden brown and cooked through. Serve with mashed potato or rice and a nice green salad.

Bacon, sausage and cheese muffins

Well, as it gets towards Christmas, I start thinking of lovely cozy breakfasts in front of the fire. Yes, even in Southern California we have fireplaces and use them a lot. These are steamy bites of savory goodness and are very addictive, so make double what you think you’ll need.

 

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1 cup cooked, chopped bacon
1 cup cooked crumbled sausage meat. I use mild Italian.
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 cup grated sharp or mature cheddar cheese
1/2 small yellow onion (diced)
8 large eggs
2 tablespoons whole milk
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large skillet, cook the bacon. Chop into small-medium bits. Set aside. Using the same skillet, cook the crumbled sausage meat. Set aside.
Chop the onion (you can use other veggies if you choose).
Grease tin cups in a 12 muffin tin pan with butter or shortening.
Whisk together the eggs and milk, a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir in the bread crumbs, cheese, sausage, onion and bacon, leaving just a handful of bacon and cheese for the topping.
Fill the muffin tip cups evenly with the mixture. Sprinkle the remaining bacon and cheese atop of the egg mixture for presentation purposes!
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, eggs should be completely cooked through (you can test with toothpick). To remove the muffins, run a small butter knife around the cups to loosen and pull up. Serve warm.

Chipotle chile mac and cheese with bacon!

I think this would be one of my “desert island’ dishes. Put everything down and make it NOW!

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8 oz bacon rashers
1lb Cavatappi pasta
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 cups 2% (or low fat) milk
1/2 cup half and half
3 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided. (It’s nice to use a blend of half mild and half sharp cheddar)
4 slices American cheese (I never thought I would ever put this sort of cheese in a dish! LOL)
3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
2 tbsp adobo sauce (from the chipotle pepper can)
3 oz BBQ potato chips, crumbled

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crispy, about 10 minutes. Transfer it to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. When it’s cool, crumble the bacon into small pieces and set aside.
Cook the cavatappi pasta in boiling, salted water for about 6 minutes. It should be al dente. Strain the pasta and run it under cold water to stop the cooking and prevent it from sticking.
Preheat the oven to 400 F

Now to the cheese sauce.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When melted, whisk in the flour. Whisking constantly, allow the mixture to cook gently for about 3 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Slowly add the milk and half and half and allow it to simmer, whisking constantly until thickened. This can take some time, say, 8 to 10 minutes until it can coat the back of a spoon.
Reduce the heat to low and slowly mix in 2 cups of the cheddar cheese and the American cheese.
When all the cheese is incorporated, mix in the chopped chiotles, adobo sauce and crumbled bacon.
Add the cavatappi pasta to the cheese sauce and mix until the pasta is well coated.
Pour the mac and cheese into a baking dish and top it with the remaining grated cheddar and the crumbled BBQ potato chips.
Transfer the dish to the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes until all the cheese is melted and it’s bubbly and golden.
ENJOY!

Leek and bacon pasta with creamy Boursin cheese

As well as inventing recipes, I love to share ones I find either on the internet, or in my many hundreds of books. The BBC Good Food website is my most favorite source for recipes, and this is a real winner.
There is nothing nicer than the combination of leeks and bacon and with the addition of melted Boursin cheese and pasta, who could want something more tasty and comforting?

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Serves 4
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb leeks, halved and finely sliced
8 rashers smoked bacon, sliced
1lb pasta (I used penne)
4oz Boursin cheese, at room temperature

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Add the leeks and 2 tbsp water, and cook for about 10 minutes until very soft.
Add the bacon, turn up the heat and fry until cooked.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta following the packet instructions. Drain and reserve a mug of the cooking water.
Spoon the cheese into the leek and bacon mix, adding some of the reserved cooking water.
Season and stir gently over a low heat until melted.
Toss through the cooked pasta, adding a little more cooking water, if needed, to help the sauce coat the pasta.

Coq au vin

We had a really lovely coq au vin last night with close friends, sitting outside on the patio. It was one of those really simple recipes that is full of flavor and you can make ahead and put in the fridge overnight. I served it with mashed cauliflower and a tomato, mozzarella, basil, avocado and red onion salad. It was divine.

 

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Serves 4 to 6
2 oz bacon fat or olive oil
4 – 5lbs chicken legs, thighs or halved breast, seasoned well with salt and pepper
6 thick slices bacon, chopped
3 celery stalks, peeled and chopped
3 leeks, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp flour
20 fl oz good red wine (one you would drink)
4 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tsp herbes de Provence
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
8-10 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
18 small pickling onions (last night I used a whole bag of frozen pearl onions, defrosted)
3 oz butter

Preheat the oven to 325F
Heat the bacon fat or olive oil in a flameproof casserole dish with a lid, like Le Creuset. Add the seasoned chicken pieces and brown on all sides.
Transfer them to a plate. Add the bacon, celery, leeks and garlic to the casserole and fry until the bacon is crisp. Stir in the flour and cook gently until it becomes a paste. Gradually add the wine, herbs and salt and pepper, stirring. Bring to the boil.
Return the chicken to the casserole, cover and put into the preheated oven for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, fry the onions and mushrooms in the butter for 5 to 10 minutes until nicely caramelized. After the 45 minutes are up, add them to the casserole. Recover and continue to cook for 1 hour or until the chicken is well cooked through.

 

 

Cheesey bacon and egg cups

Cheesey bacon and egg cups

Sometimes one has to have some fun with food, especially at breakfast which can get very tedious.
These are a lot of fun and really tasty
bacon
eggs
Seasonings of your choice
grated sharp cheese (optional)

On medium heat, fry the bacon on a skillet until lightly browned on each side, but still pliable.
Make sure it doesn’t get crispy because it will continue to cook in the oven and it needs to be able to bend in side the muffin tins.
Drain the bacon on paper towels and let cool.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line the muffin tins with the bacon slices. To make it easier, line the tin with the meat side on the bottom and the fat side on the top.
Cover the bottom of the muffin cup with a piece of bacon, then sprinkle it with some grated cheese.
Crack an egg into each cup. Sprinkle with seasoning of your choice, salt and pepper. (You can also sprinkle some more cheese over the top at this stage, or leave the egg visible.
Bake until set, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Loosen from the cups and remove. Enjoy!