Barefoot Contessa’s Pear, Apple & Cranberry Crisp

What I adore about a good fruit crisp is all the deliciousness without the crust angst.  Crust is my Achilles heel, and I avoid it whenever a better idea will provide a flavor-packed fruity dessert to grace our Thanksgiving table,  balancing against the cheesecake and chocolate cake we’ll be having.

Another appeal about this type of dessert is its make-ahead value.  Like a pie, a fruit crisp can be fully baked, allowed to cool, and then just covered and kept at room temperature for a day until time to reheat and serve.

What just came out of the oven, in my Homegoods bargain Emile Henry rectangular baker, is this:

BAREFOOT CONTESSA’S PEAR, APPLE & CRANBERRY CRISP

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INGREDIENTS FOR THE FILLING:

2 pounds ripe Bosc pears (4)…they are ripe when the stem end gives a little; the body of the pear will remain firm, but when you cut into it – so juicy

2 pounds firm Macoun apples (6 or 7)

3/4 cup or more (I added more) dried cranberries

1 tsp each grated orange zest and lemon zest

2 tbsp each lemon juice and orange juice

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

1 tsp cinnamon & 1/2 tsp nutmeg

INGREDIENTS FOR TOPPING:

1-1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 cup uncooked old fashioned oatmeal

2 sticks cold unsalted butter cut into dice

PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 350 and set a 9 x 12 baking dish onto a parchment-lined sheet pan.

In a very large bowl, add the cranberries, zests, and juices.  Peel and cut the fruit into large chunks and add to the bowl as you go, tossing to keep the fruit from oxidizing.  Add the flour, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, toss all throughly with your hands and pour into the baking dish.

For the topping, use your stand mixer with paddle attachment.  Put everything into the mixer bowl and run on low (#1) speed for about two minutes to form large crumbles.  Sprinkle the topping all over the fruit filling, covering completely.

Bake at 350 about 30 minutes, until top is brown and the fruit is bubbly.  Serve warm.  If making a day ahead, as I just did, allow to cool completely, cover with plastic wrap, and rewarm before serving

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Roasted Butternut Squash with Shallots & Sage

Today is make-ahead vegetable day – the stuffing is prepped and resting in the fridge, as are the blanched green beans.  And the butternut squash is roasting as I write this, soon to be done and laid out in an oval baking dish to be reheated tomorrow when the oven is committed to our turkey.  So helpful to have both a countertop convection oven and a new microwave to help with the warming up of things.

There’s no end to the many ways we can enjoy butternut squash, and I crave it in all its incarnations – roasted, puréed, in soup, in stew.  This dish roasting in the oven now is filling the house with the sweetest buttery aromas – I’m excited to have a little taste in just a bit.

ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH SHALLOTS & SAGE, & BALSAMIC SYRUP DRIZZLE

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INGREDIENTS:

4 pounds halved and peeled butternut squash, cut into 1″ pieces

2 tbsp fresh sage leaves finely chopped

2 tbsp dark brown sugar + 2 tbsp grade B maple syrup

4 tbsp melted unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

3 large shallots finely chopped

1 tsp Kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

FOR BALSAMIC SYRUP:

You can use the Balsamic Glaze sold at Trader Joe’s, or make your own by reducing 1 cup balsamic vinegar, 3 tbsp dark brown sugar and 8 sage leaves.  Reduce over medium heat until you have about 1/2 cup, and discard the sage leaves.  Cool and refrigerate

PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 350 and line two rimmed baking sheets with heavy duty foil.

In a very large mixing bowl combine all the squash ingredients, mixing with your hands to get everything well coated.  Spread the squash out in one layer on each of the baking sheets and roast for about 30 minutes, rotating the racks between the two shelves and turning the squash over at the halfway point.

Remove from oven and arrange in a large rectabgular or oval baking dish.  Can be served right away, drizzled with the balsamic syrup, or cooled, refrigerated, and reheated the next day.  If you do this, do not drizzle the syrup until ready to serve.

Serves 10.

Corn and Red Pepper Bisque

Today’s the day to be making our Thanksgiving soup.  One thing I always try to avoid in a menu is redundancy.  If there’s butternut squash as a side, there’s no butternut squash soup to begin.  And since that’s the case this year, we’re having a gorgeously golden corn bisque with red bell pepper.

This recipe first appeared in Bon Appetit in 1998; I discovered it a few years later and have had it on our Thanksgiving menu several times.  It’s one of those dishes that’s short on effort and long on flavor – but only if you use the sweetest, most golden corn you can find.  Otherwise the result will not achieve greatness.  Trader Joe’s Supersweet Organic Corn beats all other in this regard, and I make sure to buy mine well ahead of time because a few years ago they ran out…and my search for a substitute took forever combing the frozen vegetable aisles of half a dozen markets.Unknown

The soup is simmering now as I write this, and already it’s smelling a little like heaven:

CORN BISQUE WITH RED BELL PEPPER AND ROSEMARY

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INGREDIENTS:

1/2 stick unsalted butter (4 tbsp)

2 cups chopped sweet onions

1/2 cup each diced carrot & celery

7-1/2 cups Trader Joe’s Organic Supersweet Corn (about 42 ounces or 2-1/2 packages)

2 tsp minced fresh rosemary

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (this tiny bit adds a nice kick to the whole pot)

6 cups chicken broth

1 cup half & half

1 red bell pepper chopped

PREPARATION:

In a large heavy pot, melt 3 tbsp of the butter and sauté the onions, carrots and celery on medium high heat about 3 minutes.  Add 5-1/2 cups of the corn, the rosemary and cayenne and sauté another 2 minutes.  Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, pureé the soup in a blender (I originally did this step with an immersion blender, but the Vitamix works so much better).  Return soup to the pot, stir in the half & half and the remaining 2 cups of corn.  Season to taste with salt and pepper – it may not need any.

Melt the remaining  1 tbsp of butter in a large skillet over medium high heat and sauté the red bell pepper until almost tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir into the soup.  Done!

Can be made a day or two ahead of time and reheated.  This makes about 3-1/2 quarts of soup, enough for 12-14 first-course servings.

Lemon Ginger Cheesecake

As the Thanksgiving pre-prep rolls on, I was feeling a bit odd about not having a cheesecake in our dessert menu.  It’s been on the menu almost every year since I started hosting in the 1980’s, with all-time favorite being Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust and Bourbon Sour Cream topping.

There were some years when my dear friend Deb would bring an enormous cheesecake from J&S Watkins in Clifton Park, NY, so I’d make a fruit-based tart or pie instead, always gravitating to the more complex and/or labor-intensive choices.

This year Deb is bringing their Chocolate Decadence Torte and I have planned an Apple, Pear & Cranberry Crisp culled from Ina Garten’s website.  But this morning the absence of cheesecake hit me with a pang of guilt, and so I set out to make a smallish one – in a 7″ springform which, thanks to high school geometry, I knew would require just half the ingredients of a 9 or 10″ cake, and a slightly shorter baking time.

Using an Epicurious recipe for starters, we now have this addition to the menu for Thursday.  It just finished cooling and is resting in the fridge until the big day:

7″ LEMON GINGER CHEESECAKE

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Ingredients:

Crust – 1 cup finely ground Trader Joe’s Triple Gingersnaps combined with 2 T sugar, 1/4 t ground ginger, and 2 T melted butter

Filling – 2 8-ounce pkgs Philadelphia cream cheese at room temperature; 1/2 C + 2 T sugar; 2 large or extra large eggs at room temperature; 1/2 C Daisy Lite sour cream; 1/4 cup minced crystallized ginger (as I’ve mentioned before, Reed’s is the best…from Australia); 1 T grated gingerroot; 1 T fresh lemon juice; grated peel of one lemon

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 325.  (Used my Breville countertop oven for this)

Butter a 7″ round 3″ high springform pan and double wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Press the crust crumb mixture onto the bottom and 1/2″ up the sides.  Bake for about 10 minutes and allow to cool while you make the filling, keeping the oven at 325.

In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese to fluffiness, then add the sugar and beat until fluffy again.  Add eggs 1 at a time and beat thoroughly.  Then beat in all remaining ingredients and pour the filling into the pan.  Place the wrapped cheesecake into a roasting pan at least 1-1/2″ high and pour very hot water around it to about 1″ in depth.  Bake cheesecake in center of oven 50-55 minutes, until filling is set and top is golden brown.  Turn off oven and leave the cheesecake inside, keeping the door propped partly open with a wooden spoon.  This will keep it from cracking as it cools down slowly.

After about 30 minutes, remove from oven, remove foil, and allow to cool completely on a rack.  It helps to gently run a butter knife around the edge to further prevent cracking as it finishes cooling.  When completely cool, cover pan with foil or plastic wrap and chill overnight or up to 4 days before serving.

Remove from fridge about an hour before serving – transfer cheesecake to a cake platter and garnish with lemon curls or very thin lemon slices.

Haven’t tasted this yet, but I did lick the spatula and the filling was outstanding, so I’m optimistic about this one.

Kick-Ass Shrimp Cocktail Sauce

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if we started our cocktail hour without  colossal shrimp and spicy cocktail sauce.  As with salad dressings, I cannot fathom buying the bottled stuff that’s both insipid in flavor, loaded with preservatives, and overpriced.  Making your own is not only easy and economical, but far superior in flavor – and it keeps for a good long time in the fridge.  Back in 2006, when I catered my son’s college graduation party, we had 10 lbs. of colossal shrimp among the various appetizers.  I made a major tub of this sauce, and the leftovers kept for months.  No kidding.  The spices really help preserve this, provided you keep it in a tightly sealed container.

So if your Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s menus have shrimp on the list, make this…and adjust the spiciness to your taste.  We like ours super spicy.  Please note that all ingredients are estimates…not exact…taste as you go along.  The following makes enough for 2 lbs. of shrimp:

RONI’S SPICY SHRIMP COCKTAIL SAUCE

1 cup organic ketchup

juice of 1/2 large juicy lemon

2-3 tbsp very hot horseradish (Helluva Good is best if you an find it)

Couple of dashes of Worcestershire

Couple of dahes of Tabasco

(stop here if you’re not into seriously spicy…continue if you are)

Additional hots to add to your taste:  Thai chili sauce or sriracha; cayenne; more Tabasco

 

The Only Stuffing I’ll Ever Make

No matter what tweaks or additions I may make to our Thanksgiving menu, I have never departed from my stuffing recipe.  Discovered in Gourmet Magazine in 1987 in a column by the late great food writer Laurie Colwin, this has been my signature stuffing for every turkey we’ve enjoyed for the past 28 years.  Yes, in the bird, where it absorbs a flavor and moisture you just cannot achieve with a dressing baked in a casserole dish.  I did try making this one year with homemade unsweetened cornbread, but it just wasn’t worth the trouble – she calls for packaged cornbread stuffing so that’s what I use.  While she does recommend making your own turkey stock, I’ve used Better Than Bouillion Chicken Base in the past, and the discovery of their Turkey Base a few years ago was an epiphany:

LAURIE COLWIN’S CORN BREAD & PROSCIUTTO STUFFING

Ingredients:

2 med. sweet onions & 1 leek, including some of the green part, chopped fine

1 plump garlic clove minced

2 tsp minced fresh rosemary (optional…my addition)

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 pound diced prosciutto (have the deli counter cut a thick slab or 2 about 1/4-3/8″ and dice it yourself; no need to buy the Prosciutto di Parma…Citterio is very good)

14 ounce package Pepperidge Farm Cornbread  Classic Stuffing

1 scallion chopped fine

1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

1-2 cups turkey stock (or chicken stock in a pinch)

Preparation:

In a very large skillet melt the butter over medium low heat and sauté the onions, leek,  garlic, and rosemary (if using) stirring, until softened.  Add the prosciutto and continue stirring another minute.  Gradually add the cornbread stuffing, the scallions, parsley, and pepper to taste, and continue to stir until it’s all coated with the butter.  Remove to a large bowl and gradually add the stock, tossing it well,  until it’s as moist as you like but not overly wet.  Makes about 12 cups, enough to stuff a 16-18 lb bird.

I always do this the day before and refrigerate in a ziploc bag.  Then take it out at the same time you take your turkey out of the fridge and let both come to room temperature before stuffing and roasting.

 

Spiced Pumpkin Bread – Check

Advance prep for T’day continues with a large loaf of Spiced Pumpkin Bread in the freezer.  This is a sweet bread that goes as nicely with a scoop of vanilla ice cream as it does alongside a bowl of your appetizer course soup.

We ate three pieces last night, still warm, and with vanilla ice cream, and then triple-wrapped the rest for safe-keeping in the freezer until next Thursday.  Maybe Wednesday night, giving it plenty of time to defrost.

The original recipe first appeared in Bon Appetit in 1995, and as usual I used it as inspriation to tweak and make it my own.  This can make two loaves if you’re using a typical 9x5x3-inch loaf pan; I have an oversized Dansk loaf pan to make one very large loaf instead.  Of course you can halve the recipe for just one normal-sized loaf, but you won’t want to…it’s that good.

RONI’S SPICED PUMPKIN BREAD

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Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups light brown sugar + 1/2 cup Grade B maple syrup

3/4 cup vegetable oil + 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

3 large eggs

1 15-ounce can (used to be 16 ounces) solid pack pumpkin (not sweetened)

2 cups all-purpose flour + 1 cup oatmeal flour (process a cup of uncooked oatmeal in a food processor or blender until it’s got a flour-like texture)

1 tsp ground cloves; 1 tsp nutmeg; 1 tsp cinnamon; 1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp baking soda + 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts

1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 – on convect if you have a convection oven.  Butter and flour your loaf pan(s), shaking out the excess.

In a very large mixing bowl, beat together the sugar, maple syrup, vegetable oil and applesauce with a wire whisk.  Then beat in the eggs and the pumpkin.

In another large bowl combine everything else.  Then stir in the pumpkin mixture in 2 additions until well combined and pour into loaf pan(s).

Bake until tester inserted in center comes out clean – about 1 hour + 10 minutes.  Longer if necessary…you don’t want raw batter in the center, and if the top is in danger of burning, loosely place a piece of foil across the top.

Cool on rack for about 10 minutes and then turn out the loaf (loaves) to cool completely on the rack.

Enjoy a piece while still warm, then let the rest cool completely before wrapping in plastic wrap or foil to be enjoyed by everyone else.

One more item checked off the pre-prep list; one less thing to think about for another week.