Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs and Praline

~ Orange Almond Semifreddo, Port Wine Poached Figs, Almond Praline ~

What are you serving for dessert for Christmas? I am making this light and luscious semifreddo, cloaked in a heady sauce of port-wine poached figs. Fragrant with orange and spice, it’s reminiscent of English Christmas puddings and mulled wine. The semifreddo is an elegant frozen Italian concoction of whipped cream and meringue, flecked with toasted almonds and orange zest. Each bite is ethereal, melting on the tongue in a teasing airy poof. For a little extra oomph (it’s Christmas after all) a shard of caramelized almond praline crowns the dessert.

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs

Active Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus cooling and freezing time
Serves 8

Semifreddo:
3/4 cup whole almonds
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon orange liqueur, such as Gran Marnier or Cointreau
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Figs Compote:
1 cup Port wine
1/4 cup brown sugar
Zest and juice of 1 orange
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
12 large dried figs, stems removed, halved

Praline:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Prepare the semifreddo:
1. Line a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with plastic, leaving a 3-inch overhang.
2. Place the almonds and the 2 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add the orange zest and salt and pulse once or twice to blend.
3. Beat the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until they begin to hold soft peaks. Add the 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Transfer to a large bowl.
4. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the cream, orange liqueur, and vanilla extract in a clean mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream until no traces are visible. Gently fold the almonds into the egg whites until evenly distributed. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover tightly with plastic. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.

Prepare the figs:
Bring all of the compote ingredients, except the figs, to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and boil until the liquid reduces by half. Strain the liquid and return to the saucepan. Add the figs and simmer, partially covered, over medium-low heat until soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the liquid. (Figs may be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Refrigerate until use. Bring to room temperature to serve.)

Prepare the praline:
Heat the sugar in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sugar turns amber in color. Add the almonds and sea salt and stir quickly to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and spread into a thin layer. Do not touch with your fingers. Cool completely. Break into small pieces.

Serve:
When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from the loaf pan. Working quickly, cut in 3/4-inch slices and arrange on serving plates or shallow bowls. Spoon figs and juice over the semifreddo and garnish with praline shards. Serve immediately.

 

Healthy Holiday Appetizers: Warm Smoked Salmon and Kale Crostini

~ Warm Smoked Salmon, Kale, Lemon, Capers, Parsley ~

During the holiday season, it’s nice to have a few healthy appetizers up our sleeve for guilt-free nibbling before a big meal. Warm smoked salmon salad is an elegant, healthy and seriously tasty starter which can be made in advance. Spread it on crostini, scoop it with tortilla chips, or take it one step further and pile on kale leaves for a bigger heartier bite. Just be sure to make a big batch. The salmon will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, perfect for having on hand for unexpected guests, a light lunch and late night cravings.

Warm Smoked Salmon and Kale Crostini

Depending on the event, you can serve these as bruschetta or smaller crostini. For a lighter version, skip the bread and use the kale leaves as the serving vessel. Warm smoked salmon is available in fish markets and specialty stores. To learn more about how it’s prepared, read here. Makes 10.

12 ounces warm smoked salmon, flaked
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt or sour cream
2 teaspoons capers, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 baguette slices, 1/2-inch thick (or 5 slices levain bread, cut in half)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
10 lacinato kale leaves
1/2 lemon
Snipped chives, for garnish

Combine the salmon, onion, parsley, lemon juice, yogurt, capers, hot sauce and pepper in a bowl. Mix with a fork to thoroughly combine.

Brush the bread with olive oil and lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Toast in oven until light golden on both sides. Remove and cool slightly.

Tear 2-inch tips off of the kale leaves. (Save the rest of the kale for another use). Place in a large bowl and add 2 teaspoons olive oil and a pinch of salt. Lightly massage the leaves to coat and slightly soften, about 30 seconds. Place a leaf tip on bread. Spoon salmon salad over the kale. Squeeze with half lemon and garnish with snipped chives. Serve immediately.

Holiday Entertaining: Perfecting the Cheese Board

Food52 Cheese Basket
During the party season, let the cheese board take center stage. Cheese and charcuterie are a perfect accompaniment to cocktails, and, with a little thought, provide a stunning centerpiece. I never tire of arranging cheese platters and baskets, using the season and holidays for inspiration. For this wintry cheese basket I picked sturdy deeply colored greens with firm, spiky and frizzy leaves to provide the bed and border and studded it with woody gnarled garnishes such as burdock root and Jerusalem artichokes. The cheese selection was equally hearty and texturally diverse: Ash-rubbed goat cheese, crumbling blue veined gorgonzola, a pungent brandy-washed rind cheese, and billowy soft white cheese. The crisps and crackers were dark, rough and seeded, weaving through the cheese like paths in a forest.

cheeseboard tf
A cheese board can be lavish or simple. No matter the size or level of fanciness, try to balance your cheese selection in strength, texture, flavor and color. As a simple rule of thumb, serve a blue, a soft white molded cheese such as Camembert, a goat cheese and a hard alpine cow or sheep milk cheese. Vary the shapes as well, choosing wedges, bricks and molded rounds.

cheese
Use edible garnishes and decorations with a variety of colors and textures that emphasize the season. Snipped rosemary sprigs, mustard greens, chicories, purple kale, frisée, miniature red pears, black radishes, burdock root, gourds, black olives, pumpkins seeds, dried currants and cranberries are all great cold weather decorations. Scatter the crisps and snacks throughout the board, piled in small bowls or nestled in cabbage heads or radicchio leaves. Nuts and seeds, black sesame rice crackers, dried fruit and nut crisps, crisp flatbread, and chunks of dense fig and almond cake are perfect for December. Arrange the cheese on a background of black slate or a weathered cutting board, or place a cutting board in a large wide basket. Arrange smaller wooden plates or decorative bowls on the boards to fill with olives, nuts or to contain runny cheese. Finally, don’t skimp – enjoy and don’t hold back!

cheese garnish

Root Vegetable Mash

mashMashed Sweet Potato, Celery Root and Rutabaga

Root vegetables are winter’s best kept secret. Packed with nutrients, natural sugars and starch, the lowly root is a healthy and flavorful substitute for the ubiquitous potato, and a superb way to get your vitamins and nutrients in the cold weather season. A good peel of skin reveals a rainbow of colors ranging from magenta to ochre to creamy white, sure to brighten any dreary winter day – and your holiday table. Feel free to mix and match roots, such as sweet potato, parsnip, rutabaga, carrot, celery root, and of course the dependable russet, to your taste and preference.

Root Vegetable Mash

Choose a balance of sweet and savory roots for even flavor (I used 1 pound each of sweet potato, celery root and rutabaga) and mash to your desired consistency. I like to leave my roots a little chunky for a more rustic presentation.

3 pounds mixed roots
Salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel the root vegetables and cut into 1-inch chunks. Place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and cook until vegetables are tender and easily pierced with a fork. Drain and return to the pot. Let cool 5 minutes. Add the garlic, butter, sour cream, and yogurt. Mash with a potato masher or in a food mill to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon into a serving bowl and serve warm.

Prepare ahead: The mash may be prepared up to 1 day in advance of serving. Cool completely and transfer to a buttered, deep gratin dish. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator 1 hour before serving. Preheat oven to 325°F. Dot the top of the mash with 1 tablespoon butter and cover with foil. Bake in oven until heated through, 35 to 45 minutes.

Raspberry Almond Streusel Bars

raspberry bars tastefood
Raspberry Almond Streusel Bars

 

Raspberry Almond Bars

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Makes 16 (2-inch) square bars.

Crust and Topping:
1 cup almond flour (meal)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds, coarsely chopped

Filling:
1/2 cup raspberry preserves
6 ounces fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur, such as Chambord (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch baking pan. Line the bottom with parchment leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 opposite sides. Butter the parchment.

2. Combine the almond meal, flour, brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a food processor. Pulse to combine, 1 to 2 times. Add the butter and extracts. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 10 to 12 times. Transfer 3/4 cup of the mixture to a bowl, add the almonds and set aside for the topping. Press the remaining mixture firmly and evenly into the pan. Bake until light golden brown, about 12 minutes.

3. Place the preserves, raspberries, and liqueur, if using, in a bowl. Mix with a fork to combine, lightly mashing the whole raspberries but leaving some pieces intact. Spread the raspberries over the crust. Sprinkle the topping over the filling

4. Bake until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Remove from pan and cut in 2-inch squares. Serve at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

 

Holiday Sides: Kale, Quinoa, Pomegranate Salad

kale quinoa salad tastefood

~ Kale, Red Cabbage, Quinoa, Carrots, Pomegranate, Raisins, Almonds ~

Just because there’s a chill in the air doesn’t mean we should skip fresh salads. In fact, at this time of year it’s more important than ever that we boost our immune system with healthy greens and grains – and not just for keeping the doctor away. Hardy cold weather salads are a welcome addition to any holiday table. Deeply flavorful and unabashedly colorful, wintery salads are hefty enough to absorb copious handfuls of nuts, fruit and grains while providing a beautiful addition to a special meal. Even the non-meaters will gobble them up, while the vegetarians will be very pleased with this substantial option.

This is one of my favorite cold weather salads. Brimming with curly kale, red cabbage, and quinoa, it could be a meal in a bowl. The addition of dried raisins, toasted almonds and glistening pomegranate seeds adds all the extra bling necessary to invite this salad to your Thanksgiving dinner. The key to this recipe is to massage the kale. Yes, that’s right. By gently rubbing the leaves in oil, lemon and salt before assembling, the leaves will be coaxed into a softer and milder version of themselves, making for a delicious raw salad.

Kale, Quinoa and Pomegranate Salad

Unlike most salads, this may be entirely prepared up to 1 hour in advance, which is ideal for entertaining. Serves 6 to 8.

Kale:
1 large bunch curly green kale, ribs removed, torn in bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Dressing:
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salad:
1 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage (or radicchio)
1 to 2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 small shallot, very thinly sliced
1/3 cup cooked quinoa (I used red)
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

For the kale: Place the kale in a large serving bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Using your hands, gently rub the leaves to coat for about 1 minute. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes (or refrigerate for up to 2 hours).

For the dressing: Whisk the garlic, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.

Assemble the salad: Add the cabbage, carrots, shallot and quinoa to the kale. Add half of the dressing and toss to combine. Scatter the raisins, almonds and pomegranate seeds over. Gently toss with more dressing to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 hour.

Speculoos: Ginger Spice and Everything Nice Cookies

And one more cookie for the New Year:

speculaas

~ Speculoos: Spiced Holiday Cookies ~

Speculoos (or Speculaas) cookies are a Belgian and Dutch cookie. They are very spiced, but more fragrant than a gingersnap. What distinguishes a speculoos cookie is 2 things. The first is that they require a spice blend that reads like a laundry list of Asian and East Indian spices. The second is that Speculoos are traditionally prepared in a springerle mold, which produces picture-perfect cookies stamped with quaint images such as windmills, St. Nicholas, angels and cottages. The spice blend is easily prepared with commonly used spices, and you can make a large batch to keep on hand for extra cookies or seasoning breads and cakes. If you don’t have a springerle mold, no worries. The dough may be rolled and shaped with cookie cutters, or simple flattened into disks, as I have done in this recipe. While rolling and flattening may appear a tad less decorative and more homemade, once you take a bite of these spiced cookies you won’t mind one bit – happy new year!

Speculoos Cookies

Makes 3 dozen cookies

Spice blend:
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Cookies:
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons speculoos spice blend
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sliced almonds as garnish, optional
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
2. Mix all of the spice blend ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Prepare the cookies: Cream the brown sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the flour, the spice blend, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Add to the sugar and mix until combined without over-mixing.
4. Roll the dough into one-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a water glass to a 1 1/2-inch disk, approximately 1/8-inch thick. Press a few almonds into the top of each cookie and sprinkle with a pinch of Turbinado sugar. Bake until light golden and firm, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.