Food Company’s red pepper soup with poblano cream 

Not Your Mother’s Cranberries
Punch up those tired old side dishes with these quick and easy holiday recipes

By now you’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving dinner for two weeks, max, and Christmas dinner hasn’t even crossed your mind. I, on the other hand, have been thinking—no, obsessing—about it for months. In one of those crystal clear moments when time slows down and your superego or inner child (or whatever) starts telling you that you’re making a huge mistake but you can do nothing to stop it, I agreed to host both sides of the family for Thanksgiving. We’ll just skip the fact that that totals up to at least 11 adults, that they’ll probably have six or seven minors in tow, and that they’ll all expect to sleep and shower in my 3-over-2 house at some point. No, what’s got me in a tizzy is that I suffer from family-induced culinary stage fright. I’m no gourmand, but I can cook for hubby and myself, for two or three other couples, for 30-odd Super Bowl partyers, for the office party. But throw one blood relative into the mix and my souffle falls, my soup scorches, and my scones turn into some of the prettiest landscaping stones you’ve ever seen.

Lucky for me, one of the perks of working at a magazine is having daily access to dining critics. A professional foodie! I’m saved! So I ran to Nancy Nichols, D Magazine’s food and travel editor and a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a collection of civic-minded female professionals in the wine, food, and hospitality industries. I told her my problem.

"I’d like to help you, kid," she says. "But I don’t cook, and my idea of a side dish is a baked potato." I must’ve started tearing up then, because she whipped out her Les Dames d’Escoffier directory, saying, "But I can give you some names."

A few phone calls later, I’m armed with a recipe box chock-full of foolproof recipes for easy sides and appetizers from five of the city’s best. I’ve been practicing, and have narrowed the list down to a few favorites I’ll surprise the family with over the course of the long weekend. So this year, no more stage fright. This year, I’m gonna knock the family dead. Or something like that. 

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Food Company’s Cheddar Cheese Wafers
(serves 12)

 1     stick butter
 1/2  pound cheddar cheese, grated
 1     cup all-purpose flour
 1     teaspoon salt
        Cayenne pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine butter and cheese, and cream until smooth. Combine flour, salt, and pepper. Gradually add to butter and cheese. Dough will be very stiff. Form into roll about 11/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate overnight. Slice about 1/4-inch thick and bake on ungreased cookie sheet until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Serve immediately.

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Helen Duran’s Roasted Pepper and Mozzarella Salad on Mesclun with Toasted Garlic Vinaigrette
(makes 8 appetizer portions)

 1/2  pound mesclun mix
 1/2  pound red bell peppers
 1/2  pound fresh mozzarella
 2     cups olive oil
 2     large garlic cloves, sliced thin
 2     ounces balsamic vinegar
 2     ounces red wine vinegar
 1/2  teaspoon Dijon mustard
        Salt
        Pepper
 1     loaf French bread

Wash the lettuce mix, dry, and reserve.

Roast bell peppers over an open flame until the skin is charred. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool enough to handle. When cool, peel and seed and cut into a large dice. Dice mozzarella.

Thinly slice the garlic and cook in 1/2  cup olive oil over low heat until pale gold in color. Do not overcook. Let cool in the oil.

In a separate bowl, mix vinegars and mustard. Slowly add oil and adjust seasonings.
Marinate pepper and mozzarella with half the vinaigrette.

Slice French bread into 1/2-inch-thick slices; brush with olive oil and toast until crisp.

Just before serving, dress salad greens. Garnish with toast and pepper-cheese mixture.

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Food Company’ s Red Pepper Soup with Poblano Cream
(serves 8-10)
 
 3  tablespoons olive oil
 1  medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
 6  cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
 6  red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
 1  large Russet potato, peeled, cubed; and broiled until tender
 2  quarts chicken stock
     Salt and pepper to taste
 1  cup heavy cream (optional)

Heat oil in large saucepan. Add onions and garlic and cook until transparent. Add peppers and potatoes; stir to combine. Cover and sweat 5 minutes over medium heat. Add stock and simmer, about 15 minutes. Purée in blender or processor, then strain through fine sieve. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add cream and blend. Garnish with poblano cream and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Poblano Cream
 2     poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, and seeded
 1/2  cup sour cream
        Juice of half a lime 
        Salt and pepper to taste
        Toasted pumpkin seeds

Purée chiles with sour cream and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Paula Lambert’s Scalloped Potatoes with Leeks and Blue Cheese
(serves 6)
 
 3  large Russett or Yukon Gold potatoes (2 pounds)
 3  large leeks, sliced (3 1/2 cups)
 4  tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cut into small pieces
     Salt, to taste
     Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
 2  teaspoons minced fresh tarragon leaves or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
 8  ounces blue cheese, crumbled
 1  cup milk

Peel potatoes and slice about 1/8-inch thick. Set aside.

Cut green tops off leeks on a diagonal, exposing more of white interior, and discard. Cut remaining white part of the leek into 1/8-inch-thick slices, discarding root end. Plunge the leeks into bowl of cold water. Lift leeks from water with hands, shake to remove excess water, and place in a colander to drain. Repeat several times to remove all sand and grit.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Liberally butter a large, flat rectangular baking dish about 11-by-7-by-2 inches.

Cover bottom of baking dish with an overlapping layer of about a third of potato slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use half the leeks to cover the potatoes. Dot with butter and sprinkle on half of the tarragon. Distribute a third of the blue cheese over the leeks. Continue layering with the potatoes, the leeks, salt, pepper, tarragon, butter, and blue cheese, repeating until all ingredients are used. End with potatoes, and crumble cheese on top. Pour milk over potatoes. Dot top with remaining butter.

Bake 1 1/2 hours, or until cheese on top is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Copyright (c) 2000 by Paula Lambert, The Cheese Lover’s Cookbook and Guide, all rights reserved.

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Tina Wasserman’s Mixed Fruit Relish
(makes 1 quart)

 12      ounces fresh cranberries
 2        apples, pared, cored, and cut into chunks
 2        pears, pared, cored, and cut into chunks
 1        cup dark raisins
 2/3     cup sugar
 1/3     cup honey
 1/2     cup fresh orange juice
 1        tablespoon grated orange zest
 1 1/4  teaspoons cinnamon
 1/3     cup orange liqueur

Add all ingredients except liqueur to a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a slow simmer. Cook uncovered for 30-45 minutes, or until the mixture thickens slightly. Stir occasionally. Add liqueur and stir until thoroughly blended.

Refrigerate at least 3 hours. (This mixture lasts for months in the refrigerator and freezes well.) Serve chilled as an accompaniment to a poultry dinner.


Tina Wasserman, Andrea Hager, Shelley Barsotti, Paula Lambert, and Helen Duran are proud members of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a charitable association of professional women in the fields of food, fine beverage, and hospitality. Since its founding in 1984, the Dallas chapter has raised more than $600,000 in endowments, scholarships, and grants with its annual Raiser Grazer event. For more information, visit www.ldedallas.org.