Sunday, December 28, 2014

"The Thanksgiving Book" - Country Corn Chowder - Christmas Day soup

Date I made this recipe:  December 26, 2014

The Thanksgiving Book – An Illustrated Treasury of Lore, Tales, Poems, Prayers and the Best in Holiday Feasting by Jerome Agel and Jason Shulman; Introduction by Willard Scott
Published by: Dell
© 1987
Recipe:  Country Corn Chowder – p. 23

Just like this year's Christmas cards (still unsent), I intended to make this dish on Christmas Day.  But we were invited to a Christmas open house and when one thing led to another, we got home way too late to assemble this soup and so you're getting the recipe the day after.  From a Thanksgiving cookbook, no less.  Well – these things happen.

This year, our Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were very low key which is fine by us as we merely switch our meals around to fit schedules.  Actually, this year, Thanksgiving came and went without so much as an overeating moment to our name.  We normally spend the time around Thanksgiving with members of Andy's family but this year everybody was scattered and so to keep things simple, we got a turkey dinner takeout from one of our favorite restaurants.   And for the first time, it was rather underwhelming so...huh.

So then Christmas time was upon us and we were once again faced with dinner(s).  This time around, we decided that our usual and customary pasta meal on Christmas Eve would be our big meal and since we had the open house on Christmas Day, a simple soup would serve as dinner.  And since friends from Iowa came bearing gifts of sweet corn to us this summer (that we then froze), we decided on a simple but good corn chowder.  And naturally, the recipe came from a Thanksgiving book, reminding us of what we missed this time around.  And by the way, since his mom is having an open house on New Year's Day, we are going to do the same drill we did this Christmas i.e. heavy meal the night before, soup the day of.

So.  Corn Chowder is one of our favorite soups and as soon as our friends gave us the corn, Andy suggested making it but of course, we didn't have the time or I, the inclination, to go searching for a chowder recipe.  And then Thanksgiving came along and the thought of finding recipes for all the components of a traditional dinner (turkey, stuffing, etc.) was so overwhelming that we opted for take-out.  Still, I flagged this recipe with the frozen corn in mind.

And so speaking of the corn, although this recipe doesn't require you to pre-cook the corn, neither does the cooking time allow for it to get good and done (if you are using frozen corn that is).  So I recommend taking the corn off the cob and then cooking it (either in a pan with water or a microwave) until it's a little tender and then adding it to the soup.  Andy though, said he preferred the texture of the corn "as is" and so he wouldn't change a thing.  But it's my blog so I win!

I also made two additions to the recipe that I hope won't get me sent to culinary hell:  a bit of leftover red pepper – diced, and then two chicken breasts that I poached and then diced.  I love chicken corn chowder but you won't go wrong if you make the recipe as is.

Country Corn Chowder – Yield 8 to 10 servings
Per our authors, this recipe was a house specialty from the Inn of the Golden Ox, in Brewster Massachusetts.  (

½ lb bacon or fatback, diced (Ann's Note:  This is not used to complete the recipe, only to sauté the vegetables so if you don't have enough or even either on hand, don't sweat it!)
1 large Spanish onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
½ cup flour
2 qt chicken stock, chilled
2 cups raw potatoes, diced
½ tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
½ tsp marjoram
4 sprigs parsley
6 peppercorns, crushed
1 clove garlic
6 ears sweet corn
2 cups half-and-half or light cream
Salt to taste
White pepper to taste
Unsalted butter (for garnish)

In a 4-quart stockpot, sauté bacon or fatback until fat is rendered.  With a slotted spoon remove bacon or fatback and discard, leaving fat in the stockpot.  Add onion and celery, and sauté until transparent.  Do not brown.  Sprinkle vegetables with flour, stir, and continue to cook over low heat for 10 minutes.  Do not brown.  Add chilled chicken stock and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce to a simmer and add potatoes.  Tie thyme, bay leaf, marjoram, parsley, peppercorns, and garlic in a cheesecloth and add to simmering soup.  Remove corn from cob with a sharp knife; add corn to soup.  Simmer until potatoes are tender.  Add half-and-half or light cream and return to simmer.  Season with salt and white pepper to taste.  Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with a dollop of butter.

 If you want to add poached chicken, place chicken breasts in a pan of cold water, and cover with water.  You'll need about an inch of water above the breasts for proper poaching.  Bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer, cover and cook for about 8-10 minutes.   Slice and dice as needed!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Christmas 101" - Savory Sausage and Cheese Bread Pudding/Strata for Christmas Day

Date I made this recipe:  Christmas Day, 2014 (breakfast)

Christmas 101 – Celebrate the Holiday Season from Christmas to New Year's by Rick Rodgers, author of Thanksgiving 101
Published by:  Broadway Books
ISBN:  0-7679-0399-4; copyright 1999 (an updated version was published in 2009)
Recipe:  Savory Sausage and Cheese Bread Pudding – p. 62

I haven't made a breakfast dish for this blog in I don't know how long, but this was a perfect way to start our Christmas Day.  Plus, later that day, we attended a very fun Christmas open house, staying way later than we planned, pushing back my easy soup dinner to December 26th.  When these holiday events stack up, they stack up!

Now, lest you think I was organized enough to put this together the night before, I was not, nor did I hop out of bed first thing Christmas morning to make it.  Andy and I are all about the "ease into things" approach in this house and since we don't have kids or pets or (this year) visiting relatives, there was no need to rush.  In fact, we pretty much ate this breakfast, changed out of our very comfortable loungewear and hit the road for this party around oh – 3:00ish?  Like Quarterback Aaron Rodgers told Green Bay Packers' fans a while back, "R-E-L-A-X."  After all, Christmas lasts all day.

So with that in mind, I wanted Christmas Day food to be pretty laid back (why strain yourself?) and I accomplished this with this easy-to-assemble breakfast pudding a/k/a breakfast strata.  Since all the heavy lifting came the night before with those damned stuff shells, having something that required only a few steps was a lovely Christmas present to myself.

Naturally, a book titled Christmas 101 was just asking to be used for the winter holidays (although there was a good ham recipe that you might want to save for Easter).  And when I found this book and an updated version (published in 2009) I put them right front and center on my shelf so I wouldn't forget. Well, as if anybody could forget Christmas! The only difference I can see between the two versions I bought was that the newer one had a few more recipes.

Many items in this book tempted me and I was "this close" to making Red and Green Lasagna (p. 60) for Christmas Eve, but just like the stuffed shells, that would have been a major production so I passed.  Then there were some appetizers that looked good but I wasn't in an appetizer mood, and some roasts I considered and also passed on, mostly for the expense of buying the meat.  In the end, I decided to make this dish for breakfast and a corn chowder from a different book for dinner but as mentioned above, we got all wrapped up in chatting with the folks at this open house and so dinner got back burnered.  But as the song goes, there are 12 days of Christmas and so I figured I had a window of time at my disposal.  Whew on that, right?

Since there's only two people in our household, I made half this recipe and I'm glad I did as it was just the right amount with a bit left over.  You can make this the night before or the morning of so long as you've let your bread sit out for at least 8 hours.  Also, I think you can be creative about what you add to the sausage mix.  This recipe calls for red pepper but I think you can add green if you like or maybe even artichokes or leeks (sautéed).  Knock yourself out!

This dish was very yummy.  Very.  Hope you enjoy.

Savory Sausage and Cheese Bread Pudding (a/k/a Strata) – makes 6 to 8 servings
Make ahead:  This pudding can be prepared the night before, covered tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerated.

Day of:  To reduce the baking time, heat the milk in a medium saucepan until bubbles appear around the edges.  Slowly whisk the hot milk into the eggs.  Bake the pudding until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chipped
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 pound sweet Italian pork or turkey sausages, casings removed
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 ½ teaspoons Italian herb seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly milled black pepper
1 quart milk
12 slices day-old, firm white sandwich bread, crusts trimmed (Ann's Note:  I went rogue and sliced up two large bread rolls and left the crusts on.  Don't tell anybody!)
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar (divided)

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat and add the onion and red bell pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with a spoon until it loses its pink color, about 10 minutes.  Drain off any liquid in the skillet and set the sausage mixture aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, mustard, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.  Gradually whisk in the milk.  Set aside.  (Ann's Note:  I could not find my Italian seasoning until after the dish was made – naturally – and so mixed together basil, oregano and parsley).

Lightly butter a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish.  Line the bottom of the prepared dish with (half) the bread, trimming to fit, if needed.  Sprinkle the bread with half the cheese, then spread with all of the sausage mixture. Top with the remaining bread slices.  Slowly pour the egg mixture over the bread, allowing it to soak in.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325F.  Uncover the pudding and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 ½ hours.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Ann's Note:  If you make half the recipe like I did, bake for half the time.  I checked it at 60 minutes and it was likely done but kept it in another 10 minutes for good measure.  

"Naples at Table" - Stuffed Shells with Ragu - Christmas Eve 2014

Date I made this recipe:  Christmas Eve, 2014

Naples at Table – Cooking in Campania by Arthur Schwartz
Published by:  HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN:  0-06-018261-X
Recipe:  Baked Stuffed Tubes with Ragu (Millerighi Imbottiti al Ragu) – p. 191-193

Well, here we are, we are here:  Christmas Eve.  Time to get out the Italian cookbooks!

As is traditional in my family, I made an Italian meal for Christmas Eve dinner.  And sure, I could have gone with my traditional spaghetti and meatballs like my mother made (except in years the church said "No" to meat in which case it was spaghetti with meatless sauce) or my Aunt Rose's homemade manicotti but that defeats the purpose of collecting and then cooking from cookbooks, no?

Exactly.  But still, I was craving something with red sauce (never white – gaaa!) and some kind of meat.  And for that, I needed to temporarily ignore any cookbooks focusing on the northern regions of Italy with their white sauces and gnocchi and whatnot, and look south.  Although Naples, housed within the region of Campania, is not the southernmost part of Italy proper, it is known for red sauces and I'm all about a red sauce.  Besides, red is a fitting color for Christmas, is it not?

Naples' cuisine is closer to my family's Sicilian fare than the northern regions so that didn't hurt.  There were a couple of recipes for meatballs (p. 269-270) or meat rolls (p. 280-281) that I was tempted to try as they used raisins and pine nuts (pignoli) which I know probably raises an eyebrow (but they're good) but I wasn't in that kind of mood that day.  (I am though, a major fan of pine nut cookies "pignoli" and should make them again for the holidays but alas, I get too distracted with other tasty recipes.)

Baked Ziti (p. 190) was also considered as I love baked ziti.  My cousin, Jerry, had a mean hand with this dish, but while good, it was too simple for what I had in mind and didn't contain meat.

In many Sicilian and Italian families, Christmas Eve signals the Feast of the Seven Fishes and I thought about making "a" (as in singular) fish dish (let's not get carried away) but nothing in this book floated my boat (pun intended).  I was "this close" to making squid (calamari) but didn't know if Coastal Seafoods carried any and didn't want to deal with their tiny parking lot just to find out.  And so I passed on that.

So with tax, license and much reading, I decided on the stuffed shell recipe.  Besides, it contained Italian sausage and I ask you – what's not to like about that?  I love Italian sausage.  With peppers.  Italian sausage with peppers, eaten on a boardwalk along the Jersey Shore in the good old summertime is the food of the gods.  But I digress...

And so it came to pass that pasta shells stuffed with a sausage and cheese mixture would do the trick for Christmas Eve and it did...sort of.

Faithful readers know that I get mighty irked by what I consider to be incomplete or worse, useless directions.  And right out of the blocks, I knew I was going to be challenged by this recipe.  So let's break it down:

Step 1 - cook the sausages and onions in a pot over low heat.  Seems easy, right?  And it was except I could tell that the author expected the sausages to yield way more fat/oil than they did and so instead of nicely sautéing the onion, I came close to burning it.  And considering this was step 1 out of 14, this was not a good start.

Here's an observation:  we in this country have a fat fetish.  We don't like fat on any of our meats anymore and so if you head to the meat section of a grocery store, you will find not only fat-free pork chops and steaks but "less fat" (equals less flavor) ground meats.  And now I have a sneaking suspicion that they aren't making sausages like they used to because no way did those sausages release anywhere near the fat they should. 

Then the next step:  Before the onions start to stick to the pot – about 30 minutes – add the wine.  Had I waited 30 minutes for this step, I'd be looking at a charred pot.  So I added the wine about 10 minutes into the process and besides, is there a bad time to add wine to anything?  I think not!

Okay then, after this, I was supposed to let the wine simmer briskly and nearly evaporate for about 5 minutes.  Again, that wine evaporated all right, in about the time it took me to rinse off a spoon.  And if I was a novice cook, that would be one thing but I'm not and so this irked.

Next, you add the tomato paste, water, salt and pepper and then gently simmer this mixture for 1 ½ hours which, of course, was way too long – again!  But my favorite part of this recipe had to be this:  "You should have 1 2/3 to 2 cups of thin ragu."

No.  I had a thick ragu and at best a yield of 4 tablespoons which even math-challenged me could figure out is not 2 cups.  Dammit!  And folks, for the first time in a long time, I cannot even tell you how to "fix" this.  Maybe add more water...or not...maybe add some oil to the pan when browning the sausages...or not.  I don't know.  I added a bit more wine to finish up my bottle but since the wine is meant to (nearly) evaporate, that didn't help with the volume (taste was another matter).  So in my professional pasta sauce-making opinion, I don't think it would hurt to add some crushed tomatoes to this dish, even if the recipe didn't call for it. And so there you go:  more tomatoes + more wine = passable sauce.  More wine = very passable sauce. 

And so at day's end, the only thing I did know for sure ( is that
in a pinch, Trader Joe's marinara sauce will do nicely!  And thank goodness we had some on hand because there was a strong chance that by the time I got done with this sauce, TJ's would have closed for Christmas Eve.  So hooray for them!

Also, the instructions said to strain the sauce, pressing the basil leaves and any solid onion against a strainer, then discard the basil.  Because if I had discarded the basil, half the sauce would have gone with it.  And I was already dealing with a sauce deficit so...

FORTUNATELY, the sausage portion of our program saved the day as it was so tender and good, it was ridiculous.  And when it was finely chopped and mixed with ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese?  Divine!  And as is usual in my family, I had to stop myself from eating half the sausage and cheeses before I put them in the recipe.  And you know, it could be argued that I was only evening up the ratio of available sauce to the cheese and meat mixture. In fact, that's it exactly!

This dish can be made with either manicotti shells or jumbo shells and I used the jumbo shells.  I make my own manicotti shells (they are easy to do) but they are soft and wouldn't hold up to the "stuffing" very well so jumbo shells it was. 

So all in all, I got my red sauce (miniscule as it was) and meat fix on and the entire dish was really good, plus it looked so pretty and that's a plus if making it for a crowd.  The sauce (what I tasted of it) was good but a tad too salty for my tastes.  I think a smidgen of sugar added to the tomato paste would help alleviate that problem.

So here you go folks, with more "Ann's Notes" (i.e. helpful hints) than I think I've ever included for any recipe I've made so far.  Brace yourself and make sure you have enough wine for the sauce and some for you.  Couldn't hurt, might help.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Baked Stuffed Tubes with Ragu = serves 6 to 8; makes 12 manicotti, or 32 jumbo shells
For the ragu
12 ounces sweet Italian sausage
½ cup finely diced onion
½ cup dry white wine
2 ½ cups water
¼ cup tomato paste
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
For the filling
15 ounces (1 container) ricotta
4 ounces mozzarella, cut into ¼ -inch cubes
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parigian-Reggiano
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup freshly grated Parmigian-Reggiano
8 to 12 ounces pasta (manicotti shells or jumbo shells works best)

To prepare the ragu:
  1. With the point of a knife, prick each sausage 2 or 3 times.  In a 2 ½- to 3-quart saucepan or stovetop casserole, over medium-low heat, combine the onion and the sausages.  Cover the pot and, stirring a couple of times with a wooden spoon, cook until some liquid and fat begins to collect at the bottom of the pan, about 10 minutes. (Ann's Note:  add about a tablespoon of oil to the pan or you will risk burning the whole thing.  There's just not enough fat in the sausages to cook the onions properly.)

  1. Uncover the pot and raise the heat slightly.  Cook, stirring frequently, until most of the onions are deep brown and beginning to stick to the pot, about 30 minutes.  (Ann's Note:  30 minutes is too long as you will risk burning the onions.  Check in every 10 minutes.)  The sausages will not brown much.  Before any onions burn, add the wine and stir well, scraping the bottom of the pot to deglaze it.  Let the wine simmer briskly and nearly evaporate, stirring a few times, about 5 minutes.  (Ann's Note:  again, keep your eye on the pot as the wine evaporated pretty quickly.)

  1. Stir in the water, the tomato paste, and the salt and pepper.  Cover the pan, increase the heat to medium, and bring the liquid to a gentle simmer.  Keeping the pan covered, adjust the heat so the liquid simmers very gently for 1 ½ hours. (Ann's Note:  I know I sound like a broken record, but these times are way off.  If you go for 1 ½ hours, you will have less sauce than I did and that means "not much!"  I simmered it for 60 minutes and even that was too long.)

  1. Uncover the pan, raise the heat slightly, and let the ragu simmer a little more rapidly so the sauce thickens and reduces a little, about 20 minutes.  (Ann's Note:  You know what I'm going to say about the 20 minutes so....Think "10.") Let cool slightly.

  1. Remove the sausages and set aside.  Stain the sauce, pressing the basil leaves and any solid onion with the back of a wooden spoon against the strainer to retrieve every last bit of sauce.  Discard the basil.  You should have 1 2/3 to 2 cups of thin ragu.  (Ann's Note:  Hahahahahahahahaha.  This yield is not even close.  And don't strain or you'll really be crying at the yield.  And then thank your lucky stars that this is the last step involving the sauce.)

To make the filling:

  1. In a bowl, combine the ricotta, the mozzarella, and 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano.

  1. Leave the casings on, finely chop the sausages from the ragu.  Add the sausage, meat, salt and pepper to the cheeses.  Mix very well.

To assemble and bake the dish:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

  1. Cook the pasta very al dente in plenty of boiling, salted water.  (Ann's Note:  I cooked the jumbo shells for 8 minutes; the package said 10.)

  1. Drain the pasta and place it in a bowl of very cold water.  Let the pasta cool.  Drain the pasta again and arrange it on a kitchen towel.  If holding it a while, cover it with a damp towel until you are ready to fill it.  (The pasta can be cooked while the ragu is cooking.)

  1. Spread 3 tablespoons of ragu over the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking pan.  (Ann's Note:  This will use up most of your sauce, oh well.)

  1. Fill each large tube of pasta (i.e. manicotti) with ¼ to 1/3 cup filling, or each jumbo shell with about 1 tablespoon of filling.  Is using shells, close the shells around the filling.  (Ann's "Rant:"  Getting some of the shells open in the first place was like trying to shuck a clam i.e. not fun.  So closing them was near impossible.  At this point, I just started swearing – in English and Italian!)  Place the pasta in the dish as each is filled.

  1. Spoon on the remaining ragu (hahahaha), coating the pasta well and letting the sauce drip into the pan.  Sprinkle evenly and thoroughly with the ¾ cup of Parmigiano, which will seem like a lot.  (Ann's Note:  it will seem like a lot, especially in comparison to the ragu. And by the way, this would be a great time to a) break out your favorite jar of pasta sauce for use with this recipe and b) pour a cocktail.  Or...several.

  1. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until an "inviting golden crust" has formed.  Serve immediately.

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Chutneys & Rlishes; "Make it Ahead - A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook;" "Williams Sonoma Cocktail Parties" - Holiday Party Food

Date I made these recipes:  December 7, 2014

Chutneys & Relishes by Lou Seibert Pappas
Published by:  Chronicle Books
ISBN:  0-8118-0840-8
Purchased at Goodwill – St. Louis Park
Recipe:  Cranberry-Shallot Chutney – p. 15
*Also made Granny Smith Apple Chutney – p. 13 and Pear-Anise Chutney – p. 17

Make It Ahead – A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
Published by:  Clarkson Potter Publishers
ISBN:  978-0-307-46488-0
Recipe:  Marinated Herbed Feta – p. 36

Williams Sonoma Cocktail Parties – Recipes by Georgeanne Brennan; General Editor Chuck Williams
Published by:  Free Press
ISBN:  13: 078-0-7432-7854-6
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores, Richfield, MN
Recipe:  Asparagus with Parmesan Dipping Sauce – p. 42

As is usual and customary at this time of year, we turn our attention to party food to serve our guests at our holiday soiree.  The first couple years we had this party, I relied heavily on cookbooks, setting aside potential candidates well in advance.  And although I did that this year, I ended up making more recipes culled from magazines, newspapers and the internet.  This does not mean I'll give up collecting the cookbooks, it's just sometimes easier to go with the bird in the hand than to start looking through books.  Besides, 'tis the season for publications to give us all their holiday best recipes.

So this year, I ended up with only three "new" cookbooks to use for the party.  Some recipes we made – the tried and true – were from cookbooks I've used for previous parties but since my "rule" is to only post a cookbook review once, you'll just have to revisit previous blog postings to find them.  I will tell you that Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook provided the ever-popular almond bon-bon recipes (posted December 2010) and these suckers fly off the table every time I make them.  In fact, I ran into one friend about a month before my soiree and she whined (yes, "whined") "Can you make the bon bons again?  Because you didn't make them last year, you know!"

Well, no pressure there!  By the way, just like the lemon bars (see below), I goofed when I made the bon bons the first year and added double the almond paste.  No wonder they're popular!

At any rate, coming in at #1 in the "hit" parade of party food this year was the trio of chutneys I made to go with a couple of pork tenderloins that we roasted the night before and served at room temperature.  All three were good but I'll only be repeating the Cranberry-Shallot Chutney below as I think it was the best one.  Plus, cranberries just scream "Holidays!" do they not? 

This cute little cookbook had a lot of recipes to try plus a section in the back with recipe suggestions and then, of course, the recipes.  To paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger, "I'll be back" (to try out some other recipes).

Also popular this year was Ina Garten's Marinated Herbed Feta.  One friend stood there pointing at the plate saying "I could stand here and eat this all day."  I agree. The thing about Ina's recipes is that they are often so easy and simple yet yield big rewards in the form of kudos.  The first year we threw this party, I made her lemon bars and after taking them out of the oven, I forgot about them whilst wrangling other items in and out of the oven.  The result?  The lemon filling cooked even longer on the stove top and became extra creamy, thus prompting an outpouring of cooing and a trashing of my cookie tray.  Since then, I've tried to duplicate that boo-boo (not easy to do on purpose, let me tell you) but haven't quite stuck the landing yet.

At any rate, this recipe is super easy and very impressive.  My only "complaint," and it's minor, is that it was hard to keep the feta from crumbling when I sliced it.

Overall, you cannot go wrong with one of Ina's books.  I made a variation of her ricotta cheese recipe (so easy) this year and that too, was a big hit.  Plus, I've met the woman and had her sign a few books and she is really nice so that's in her favor.  Why wouldn't I collect her books?

Finally, there is Williams Sonoma Cocktail Parties cookbook where I found a recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan Dipping Sauce.  While the asparagus (as well as roasted fennel and carrots) was a big hit, the dipping sauce was kind of meh.  Still, I won't hold it against Chuck Williams (he's the head of the Williams Sonoma empire) as I've had great success with some of his other cookbooks.  The problem with this recipe was the ratio:  too much Italian parsley and Parmesan cheese and too little yogurt.  So I added more yogurt and it was acceptable.  Still, other recipes in this cookbook looked inviting so maybe next year.

As to the other party food recipes, America's Test Kitchen, Better Homes and Gardens and other magazines usually publish special holiday issues and that's where the majority of the recipes came from this year.  And so since they aren't cookbooks, they don't qualify for this blog post but don't let that stop you from running to your local bookstore or grocery store and stocking up while supplies last.

By the way, I'm going to end the year with over 2,000 cookbooks in my collection.  My work here continues....

Cranberry-Shallot Chutney – makes about 4 cups – from Chutneys &  Relishes by Lou Seibert Pappas
3 cups (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
2 large tart apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 ¼ cups packed brown sugar
1/3 cup raspberry vinegar
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup (1 ounce) finely chopped candied ginger
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon curry powder
Finely shredded zest of 1 orange
2 shallots, minced
¾ cup (3 ounces) chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted (optional)

Ann's Note:  I made half the recipe and skipped the nuts.  I also skipped the canning process (fraught with peril) and froze my batch until it was time to serve.

Place all the ingredients except the nuts in a large saucepan.  Bring to a gentle boil and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes.  If desired, stir in the nuts.  Ladle into hot sterilized jars, seal and refrigerate.  Keeps for 6 to 8 weeks.

Marinated Herbed Feta – Serves 8 from Make it Ahead by Ina Garten
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried fennel seeds
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 ½ pounds Greek feta, drained and sliced ½ inch thick
3 sprigs fresh thyme
½ cup green olives with pits, such as Cerignola  (Ann's Note:  I bought some large green olives sans pits. It's just easier that way.)
½ cup good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toasted pita triangles for serving

Combine the dried thyme, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl.  Lay the feta slices overlapping on a 9 x 9-inch square serving plate.

Sprinkle the feta with the entire herb mixture.  Nestle the thyme sprigs and olives among the feta slices.  Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Serve at room temperature with the pita triangles.

Ina Garten noted that you can prepare the feta, wrap and refrigerate for up to a week and so I did.

Ann's Note:  feta cheese is pretty salt so I raised an eyebrow when she suggested we add another ½ teaspoon to the mix.  I passed on that one.

Asparagus with Parmesan Dipping Sauce – serves 12-14 from Williams-Sonoma Cocktail Parties
48 asparagus spears, ends trimmed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Dipping sauce
¼ pound freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Arrange the asparagus spears in a single layer in 2 shallow baking dishes.  Drizzle with the vinegar and olive oil, then sprinkle with the salt and pepper.  Turn several times to coat the spears well.  Roast, turning several times, until tender but crisp and the tips are lightly golden, 10-15 minutes.  Transfer to a platter.

To make the dipping sauce, in a small bowl whisk together the cheese, olive oil, yogurt and parsley.  Whisk in salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl and place alongside the platter of asparagus.  Serve at room temperature.

Williams-Sonoma notes that you can roast the asparagus up to 8 hours in advance, and the dipping sauce can be made up to 4 hours in advance.  Cover and refrigerate separately until it's time to serve; serve at room temperature.

Ann's Notes:  I have yet to find the perfect vegetable dip and sadly, this is not making the cut.  The ratio of cheese to yogurt and parsley needs to change.  I suggest more yogurt, about the same amount of Parmesan and way less Italian parsley in order to balance the flavors.  I also roasted some fennel and carrots to go with this dip and they were ridiculously popular.