Butternut Squash, Chicken and Sausage Cassoulet

I am drawn to all the squashes being stocked at the groceries and markets. They are not only tasty, but pretty as well. There are tons of creative ways to incorporate them into your holiday décor. I am definitely partial to food that I can decorate with!

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I love that they are play the role of both vegetable and starch. It’s sneaky, they go both ways. In fact they double their character by being used in both savory and sweet sides of the kitchen.  This week though I stuck with the savory side, a cassoulet type soup/stew.  Rich and hearty and packed with fall flavors.

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1 pound raw chicken breast, diced into 3/4 inch cubes
1 tablespoon Herb de Provence
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 red pepper, roasted, seeded, skin removed and diced
1 green pepper, roasted, seeded, skin removed and diced
12 ounce sausage crumbles, turkey or pork
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and diced in to 3/4 inch cubes
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1 teaspoon chopped sage
3 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup sliced green onions

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Start by marinating the chicken with the Herb de Provence, salt and pepper. Allow the chicken to marinate at least 1 hour. Roast your peppers in high temp oven or over a grill and remove seeds and skin, then dice and reserve.

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Place a heavy bottom stock pot over medium high heat and add sausage crumbles. While stirring sausage add in the chicken, squash, onions, celery and sage. You may need to add a touch of oil depending on how much fat leeches out of the sausage. When onions are translucent and there is a bit of color on the squash and chicken pour in the chicken stock.

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Turn the heat to medium and allow to simmer for another 20 minutes. Add in the roasted, diced peppers and adjust with salt and pepper to your taste. Before serving add the green onions.

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Serves 4-6 guests

This is a quick and easy fall dinner, one that gets better with age, so it’s a perfect do ahead meal for your busy weeks coming up! Just have to sacrifice one of your display squashes!

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Warm wishes and happy Thanksgiving!!

Gooey Pumpkin Cheesecake- A Happy Mistake of a Non Baker!

My friend Jenny brought in her hometown favorite last year to a work pot luck, St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake. It was only one small bite that I took, which was all I needed to know that I would add this to my “must make list”.  I had no idea what it was; I didn’t recognize it as anything I have tried before, just rich, buttery, and gooey goodness.  When Gooey Butter Cake made it to the top of my must make list, I spent some time looking for a recipe, recalling Jenny telling me she uses Paula Deen’s version. I found the one, but ran upon Paula Deen’s Pumpkin Gooey Cake and could not resist trying this version.  I just wanted to make a small tweek…

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Pumpkin desserts need graham crusts.  Some pies, cakes, bars just do not reach their potential without graham bottoms.  I shun any key lime pie made with a plain butter crust, same is true for pumpkin and sweet potato.  So I knew right away that I needed to modify the great Paula Deen’s recipe to make it better, how could she not know this?

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Here’s what I did-

Crust:

  • 18 graham crackers, finely ground
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Filling:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350.  Add all the ingredients to a food processors and pulse until well combined.  You may need to do in two batches depending on the size of your processor.  If you are without a food processor try crumbling the crackers by putting them into a large Ziploc bag and then use a rolling pin to crush them.

Press the crumbs into the springform pan and bake for 10 minutes.

To make the filling:

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over graham crust and bake for 75 minutes until the center has a soft jiggle and a pick comes out clean.

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When I took it out of the oven, I couldn’t help but think this is not right; it looked just like cheesecake.  Crap.  This is not what I was hoping for.  All this time thinking about that bite of Jenny’s Gooey Butter Cake and this is what I get- cheesecake.  I cursed myself, first for using the pumpkin version instead of the traditional Paula Deen recipe, and then for changing it, thinking I knew better as if I was professional baker.  Crap.

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Wes came in from working in the yard and smelled the house, proclaimed it smelled like heaven.  I gave him a quick sigh of frustration and told him how stupid this cake was, that I was pissed. (Excuse my language, but I was super mad).  He didn’t really seem to connect with my frustration; all he saw was a perfect looking and smelling cake sitting on the counter.

When the cake had cooled completely I sliced into it, and saw that I was right, it had a cheesecake consistency.  This was not Gooey Butter Cake.  But I plated up the slice and took my photographs, just in case it came out tasty.  When I was done shooting, I took the bite off the fork and smiled with relief.  Deliciousness.

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The cake certainly was not what I planned for, Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake, but was one of the best pumpkin cheesecakes I’ve had.  Rich but not heavy and the pumpkin flavor was sweet but not like candy.  There was stronger pumpkin taste then in typical cheesecakes which I love.

I took a chance in the kitchen, which is not unusual for me to do, but I don’t typically mess around with baking recipes.  In this case I was lucky; my chance had a happy ending.  Jenny’s Gooey Butter Cake is still on my must make list, and this Pumpkin Gooey Cheesecake is now on the repeat list!

Newsworthy Ginger Pumpkin Soup

I had dinner with a few clients last week that were not only interested in planning their potential event; they also loved food- what a great conversation we had!  One of the questions they asked was how all the food based reality shows affect us, as Chefs.  I told him that most of us love it; the rise in foodies is great, as we now have even more opportunity to talk about our trade, our passion!  Most Chefs love what they do; they have to love it to be ok with the lifestyle it provides and we are more than happy to talk food with anyone and everyone. 

Another question that was asked was what dish am I known for, as a chef.  I’m not sure if I was just nervous, or my mind went blank but I really struggled with this question.  I gave a few answers after stumbling for a couple moments, but the question stayed with me causing me to think about the years of my career that led me to where I am, and what dishes or events stood out to me as milestones. 

Way back in 2006, I was working at the Disney’s Contemporary Resort, which not only catered in the convention center, but Magic Kingdom, Fort Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge, Richard Petty, and the Polynesian as well.  And in some cases we also would travel to one off locations- Orlando Science Center, private homes, even to the trails of Disney’s Wilderness Preserves.   One event in particular that stands out to me is a backyard holiday party that we catered.  It was at a lovely private home in downtown Orlando, with a beautiful yard and the most gracious hosts.  We drove our huge truck thru the old narrow neighborhood streets, and unloaded a kitchen, bars and tables up thru the driveway into the backyard which was transformed into a gorgeous dining venue under the old oak trees. 

A few hours later as the guests arrived, we were filling the backyard with scents of seared lamb and grilled beef.  I was busy roasting mini pumpkins and filling them with the soup I had made, which the guest adored.  Seconds and thirds were donned out with such pleasure.  There is no better reward for a chef then to have someone comeback for more, especially when you are just in the beginning of your career.  After the party came to a close, we packed the trucks up and drove back to the resort to unload.  Sitting next to the chef on the way home, he put his hand on my shoulder and told me I had done an incredible job, that’s all I needed to hear to fuel the culinary passion. 

The next week came and Chef asked me to write down my recipe for the soup; there was a food writer at the event and they wanted to share the recipe with their readers.  After I was sent a copy of guidelines for published recipe writing, something I still use today, I quickly sent off the recipe.  When I saw the recipe here I was pleased as punch. 

I would say this is one of my first dishes that I have been known for, and the best part is that today, almost 6 years later it still is a timeless dish! 

 Ingredients

  • 8 mini pumpkins
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallots
  • ½ teaspoon olive oil
  • 2-3lb pumpkin peeled, seeded, and diced ¾ “pieces
  • ½ cup brandy 
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 ¼ cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon white wine
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese

 

Method: 

  1. Cut small round in pumpkin and remove the top.  Clean out the seeds and pulp.  Brush with a bit of olive oil and place on a baking sheet.  Roast in the 400 oven for about 20-25 minutes before serving.
  2. Sweat the shallots in oil until translucent.  Add the fresh pumpkin and sweat until fork tender.  Add brandy and allow to cook, reducing volume by half.  Add chicken broth and pumpkin puree; simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Puree the garlic and combine with the wine and set aside.  Puree soup with hand held blender in batches.  Adjust to desired consistency with more chicken broth or water.
  4. A ½ hour before serving add a couple of tablespoons of the ginger and wine combo, cinnamon and fresh grated nutmeg to reach desired flavor.
  5. Serve with a spoonful of mascarpone cheese on top.

 Serves 8

** Note:  Adding the ginger to early or using the powder form can result in a spicier soup. With the dry ginger the longer a soup cooks with it the more of a peppery flavor it gets.

 Serving the soup in a mini roasted pumpkin is not only a creative vessel; but the flesh of the pumpkin enriches the soup adding an earthy complexity.

 To answer the question of what dish am I known for, this may be one of them, but to me it is more of an accomplishment that encouraged me to continue the path I was on.  We all have points in our career that are highs and lows, I would like to think both the highs and lows are equally important as lessons. 

Welcome to pumpkin season!

Pumpkin Waffles with Homemade Pecan Butter

Anyone else waiting for Turkey?  Anyone else wondering what to do with the leftover pumpkin from your pumpkin pie recipe?  Anyone else wishing they had more room in the refrigerator?  I was!

I made more room in the refrigerator by getting rid of a Tupperware and a crate of eggs with decision to make breakfast this morning and that alone makes it a win! Not to mention the smell in the air! 

Pumpkin Waffles with Home Made Pecan Butter

I found this quick recipe for Pumpkin Waffles at Taste of Home and adapted it as I didn’t have a ton of pumpkin left.  Then I glanced over at the bag of nuts and decided to dress up the waffles with Pecan Butter.  Easier than you think- took me 15 minutes! Just in time to start on the Black Friday Ads!

Pumpkin Waffles

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1-1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 4-1/2 teaspoons butter, melted

In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, sugar, baking powder, seasonings and salt. Whisk the egg, milk, pumpkin and butter; stir into dry ingredients until well blended.  Follow the directions on your waffles maker- Should serve about 4 pp!

Pecan Butter

  • 1 cup fresh pecan (toast them if you think they are stale)
  • 1 tablespoon soft butter
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • pinch of salt

    Chopped Pecans

     Grind all ingredients in a food processor until blended.

Pecan Butter

 
Doesn’t that look good??

Want a bite?

 
 
Turkey is on, got the paper in front of me, parade is getting ready to start, the family is gathered around the table and have a delicious waffle in front on me!  What a great Thanksgiving!!  I hope everyone’s day is just as special!  Happy Thanksgiving to all!
 
 

Cranberry Salsa!

I have an admission to make- I like canned cranberry jelly, ridges and all.  This is how I grew up-which is probably why I am ok with having the good old sliced cranberry jelly every so often.   HOWEVER- as long as time permits, I would much rather make my own cranberry relish or chutney.  This year’s planning session led me to find a recipe in Southern Living featuring a Cranberry Salsa, which I knew must be great being that all things “salsa” are always delicious.  It’s the cilantro I love, not to mention usually there are chips, and maybe a cerveza. This is a great alternative to a typical relish, or even the lovely canned cranberry jelly! 

Fresh Cranberry Salsa Mise en Place
Another great thing about this dish is that you can do it pretty far in advance, I made it on Sunday and the flavors are melding together already. 
 

Ingredients 

  • 1 (12-oz.) package fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 navel orange, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Preparation

  • 1. Pulse cranberries in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl.
  • 2. Pulse orange zest and next 5 ingredients in food processor 3 to 5 times or until orange, ginger, and pepper are finely chopped. Stir into cranberries; cover and chill 2 before serving.

 

Into the food processor!

You can chop everything by hand or use a blender if you are without a food processor or time! 

Can you see all that delicious cilantro!

 From start to finish it took me about 15 minutes- super easy!

The longer it sits the better!

 

I actually could eat this by the spoonful, out of the jar!

 
The last perk of this recipe is that I am guessing by adding a little cream cheese to it after Turkey Day is done, you will have a tasty tortilla chip dip!

Cranberry Salsa! Ole!

  Happy Holiday Cooking!!!!!!! And Happy Leftover Eating!
 
 
 

Forget the Oven- Grill that Turkey!

We have come to love grilling our turkey!  The last few years for Thanksgiving and Christmas we moved the bird from the oven and to the grill and found it to be amazing!  The weather is typically still in the high 70’s or even 80’s here in Florida so it is nice enough to be outside.   With the grill going in the backyard, the oven isn’t heating up the house,  and best of all there is plenty of room for all my sides and desserts to bake! 

The turkey cooks perfectly even, and is the moistest bird I have ever had- EVEN the breast!  Strangely when I tell friends that we grill our turkey no one seems to believe us, so last year we documented it for the non believers.  Thought it would be a good time to share as we are all in the midst of planning our feasts!

Here is the bird, with a creole rub on it!
You can use traditional herbs and garlic, a brine or any other way you are compelled!

Sir Wes, aka- The Grill Ninja!

 We buy about a 12-14 lb turkey and it takes between 2.5 and 3 hours over slow coals. 

We basted the turkey, just like you would in the oven.

We had to crinkle up the pan so it fit on the grill- but it was so nice not worrying about messing up my nice roasting pan!  I made pan sauce on the stove when the bird was done. 

Some snacks while we waited- the Blue Cheese Pecan Gougeres were delicious!

Nice part of grilling the turkey is that you feel ok if you open a beer or make a margarita while you wait for dinner!  

The turkey was a little big, so we covered it loosely with tin foil so the top of the grill didn't sit right on it.We used a disposable pan for easy clean up AND so we could make sure it fit on the grill!

My mouth is watering now just looking at it! 

Nice color, super moist and ever so tasty!

Turkey Leg Cart anyone??  

Incase you are wondering what we had for dessert- Pumpkin Meringue!

No matter how delicious the turkey is- at our table there is always room for dessert!
 
So for all the non believers out there- it is true- you can grill your turkey!  And it is incredible! 
 
Happy Turkey Cooking!