Category Archives: Holiday Cooking

Pain Perdu with Caramel and Chocolate Sauces

Snow Day Feb-2014Wintry window scene – NYC

The photo above is what I woke up to this morning.  Yet another snowstorm and blustery day in NYC.  We haven’t really had a winter like this in the 14+ years I’ve lived here.  Then, the heat and hot water stopped working in my apartment.  It kicked back in a while later, fortunately.  I was going to cook up something really wonderful as a Valentine’s Day dessert recipe, but my inspiration faded fast with the drifting snowflakes and the temperatures dropping inside my home.

Faux setupFaux recipe set up

I had gathered up all the ingredients for a potential recipe, having even bought extra chocolate in a pre-storm grocery run, looked at them on the counter, and then decided to scrap the plan.  The laziness factor kicked in, and I didn’t want to mess with measuring cups and ovens and such.  Instead, I decided to recycle some recipes and to forage in the fridge and freezer for leftovers.  I love leftovers, and in the kitchens I’ve worked in, we try to make the most of everything, even leftover bread.  So, this Pain Perdu with Caramel and Chocolate Sauce was the first thing that came to my slightly frozen mind (plus, someone had mentioned wanting pain perdu this week).

Here’s how it came together:

Brioche rollsBrioche rolls

The best bread for this recipe is thick-cut slices of brioche bread.  I do have a whole loaf of it stored in my freezer, but I didn’t want to break into that.  I found these brioche rolls that remain from another cooking project shoved in the back, so they seemed perfect for this project.  I defrosted them and split them in half.

Milk left in bottleThis amount of milk left still means you have to go downstairs to get another carton

Fortunately, there was just enough milk left in the bottom of the carton for this project so that I could make the egg mixture for the Pain Perdu (basically, a fancy French Toast).  This is the same amount that my little brother used to leave in the carton so that he would not, technically, be the person to finish the last of the milk, so, thereby, not having to go downstairs to the back up refrigerator (yes, large families have a back up refrigerator) to get a whole new gallon of milk.  This was an on-going battle for years when we were growing up.

Chocolate SauceLeftover chocolate sauce

I know, that phrase doesn’t make sense, right?  I mean, who has “leftover” chocolate sauce?  Well, there was some remaining after I’d tested the recipe for Spice Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce last week.  I could have just eaten all of it directly from the container with a spoon, but I was trying to be a bit good.

Caramel Sauce bubbling awayCaramel sauce bubbling away

While chocolate takes center stage today on Valentine’s Day, and I really do love eating chocolate, I’m also a huge fan of caramel.  A little secret?  It is super easy to make at home, as I wrote about in this Millionaire’s Shortbread recipe.  The only down side?  Once you figure it out, you might be tempted to make it all the time, and then just sit there and eat it by the spoonful.  Or maybe that’s just my issue…

Pain Perdu with Caramel and Chocolate Sauce

Prep time: 30-45 minutes

Serving Size: 2 portions (if you share, you can stretch it to 4)


4 slices Brioche Bread (or 2 Brioche Rolls split in half)

1 Egg (in this case, size doesn’t matter, just whatever you have on hand)

1/4-1/3 c. Whole Milk (whatever is left in the carton)

1/4 tsp. Vanilla Extract

1 pinch Salt

1 tsp. Butter (again, just use what you have)

Chocolate Sauce (click link for recipe)

Caramel Sauce (click link for recipe)


Pain Perdu soakingBread in egg mixture

Warm up a skillet over medium heat.  While waiting for it to get hot, mix together the egg, milk, vanilla, and salt.  Dunk the bread slices in the mixture.  Toss the butter into the pan and let it melt.

Pain Perdu cookingPain Perdu cooking

When the butter has melted, remove the bread from the egg mixture and place it in the pan.  Let it cook for several minutes until it becomes golden brown.  Flip it over and then cook it on the second side until it also becomes golden brown.

Chocolate & Caramel SaucesChocolate and caramel sauces

While the Pain Perdu is cooking, set up the plate with the two sauces.  I spread the chocolate sauce in the middle of the plate and then surrounded it by a ring of the caramel sauce.  You could choose to do the opposite or to divide the plate evenly in half between the two sauces.  It’s up to you and your taste preferences.

Pain Perdu on the platePain Perdu with Caramel and Chocolate Sauces

Once the Pain Perdu finished browning, I added that to the plate on top of the sauces, the residual heat from the cooking process melted all of the sauces together, making them warm and gooey.

Cleaning the plateCleaning the plate

Then, I sat on the couch in front of the tv, watching as the snowstorm switched over to sleet and freezing rain, and ate the whole entire thing all by myself.  Sometimes snowdays are the best thing ever!

Buon appetito!

Spice Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce

Pair of Pears with ChocolateSpice Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce

Now that you’ve decided not to go out to some restaurant to spend a bunch of money on a Valentine’s Day prix fixe or to have a private chef fix a romantic meal à deux, you’ve got to figure out how to pull something together for next Friday night’s dinner to show your sweetie how much you care about him/her.  Sure, you can order up a rotisserie chicken and pick up some side dishes from the local gourmet food store, but what about dessert?  Chocolate, of course, is on the menu, but what about making something to impress just a little bit, to show that you did put some effort into making the meal a special one.  That’s where these Spice Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce come into the picture.

Spiced sugar syrupPoaching liquid

This dish is composed of several easy steps.  First is to create a poaching liquid for the pears of simple syrup combined with allspice berries, star anise pods, a cinnamon stick, and orange peel, giving the fruit a luxurious texture and delicate, exotic spiced perfume.  A rich, velvety chocolate sauce is poured around the center of the plate.  Then, pears are placed on a mound of creamy mascarpone cheese with finely chopped toasted hazelnuts as the base.  This dessert should be just the thing to win your honey’s heart this Valentine’s Day.

Spice Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce

Prep time: 30 minutes

Serving size: 2 portions


2 Tbsp. Hazelnuts

250 g White Sugar

250 g Water

1 Bosc Pear

4 Allspice berries

2 Star Anise pods

1 Cinnamon stick

Peel of 1/2 Orange

100 ml Heavy Cream

100 ml Whole Milk

1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

1 Tbsp. Confectioner’s Sugar

100 g Semi-sweet Chocolate (I used a bar with 70% cocoa.)

2 Tbsp. Mascarpone

1 tsp. Confectioner’s Sugar

Fresh mint sprigs for garnish

IngredientsGetting started


Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Put hazelnuts on a baking sheet and cook for 5-10 minutes until golden brown.  Set aside to cool.  Place sugar and water in heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the water is simmering.  You can stir it with a wooden spoon if the sugar seems to be hanging around on the bottom of the pan.  Add allspice berries, star anise pods, cinnamon stick, and orange peel.  Peel and core the pear and cut it in half.

Poaching pearsPoaching pears in spiced syrup

Place the halves, cut side up, in the spiced syrup to cook for 15 minutes until they are soft but not mushy.  The point of a knife or a cake tester should easily go through them.  Let the pears cool for 5 minutes in the syrup and then remove them.  Strain and reserve the poaching liquid.  This makes a great syrup for tea or a base for cocktails.  While the pears are cooking and cooling, make the chocolate sauce.

Chocolate sauceChocolate sauce

Heat up heavy cream and milk together on low heat until bubbles are on the side of the liquid.  Don’t bring it to a boil.  Add vanilla extract and confectioner’s sugar.  If using a bar of chocolate, break it into pieces and add it to the hot cream-milk mixture.  Stir with a whisk until chocolate is completely melted and incorporated.  Turn off the heat and set aside.  [At this point, the pears and chocolate can be refrigerated until ready to serve.  Pour chocolate in a pan or reheat in the microwave just before putting on the plate.]

Mascarpone addedChopped hazelnuts and mascarpone

To serve, place a mound of finely chopped hazelnuts on the center of a large plate.  Mix mascarpone with 1 tsp. confectioner’s sugar, and put 2 dollops of mascarpone, of about 1 tsp. each, on top of the hazelnuts.  Then, spoon chocolate sauce around the center of the plate, sort of moat-like around the chopped hazelnuts and mascarpone.  Slice pear halves lengthwise and place them on top of the mascarpone so that it isn’t visible.  Garnish with a sprig of mint, if desired.

Pears on tableSpice Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce

If you like, you can also serve this dish on two separate plates, but it is a little more romantic to present it on one and to share it.

Buon appetito!

Kitchen Witch Tip:

Coring pear

You know that melon baller that’s stuck in the back of your kitchen utensils drawer?  Well, it makes a great way to core apples and pears, making them easier to cut cleanly in half.

Vibrant Rioja and Your Thanksgiving Feast

Vibrant Rioja winesVibrant Rioja event

Rioja for your Thanksgiving feast? I know, it’s not a wine and food pairing that I wouldn’t have considered either, but after attending an event for Vibrant Rioja put on by Padilla/CRT last month, I wonder why I’d never thought of it before. Usually, the wines that we choose in our family for holiday meals come down to a. whatever is around b. whatever we can buy at the grocery store (being in Virginia you can do that, unlike in New York) or c. whatever I might have brought with me on my visit down South.  Food magazines offer suggestions for American Pinot Noirs or Zinfandels or some other vintage that happens to be the popular one of the season.  It all gets a bit confusing, not least because of the pressure to make a decision with the whole family relying upon my tastes, to the point where grabbing a beer from my dad’s stash just seems like the easiest route to go.

Wines and TapasWines and Tapas

Riojas tend to be low-acidity, food friendly wines, which was demonstrated to us that evening in the best way possible – by pairing different vintages with a variety of dishes.  The Marqués de Cáceres 2012 was the perfect way to get into the festive mood.  It’s bright pink color, berry notes and clean finish made this the perfect wine to enjoy while nibbling on sliced meats and Spanish tortilla while talking to the other attendees about what they do in the food business.

Chorizo Corn Bread StuffingChorizo Corn Bread Stuffing

My favorite pairing of the evening is one that would have pleased one of my wine instructors.  She taught us to pair smoky flavors with oaky wines.  Well, the Chorizo Corn Bread Stuffing, maybe something I can introduce to my family’s holiday table, worked beautifully with the round, ripe, deep, red fruit flavors of the Castillo Labastida Crianza 2010 which had been aged in American oak, picking up those notes.  It was a match that made me want to go back for seconds and thirds of the stuffing the balance between the wine and food were just so wonderful to enjoy together.

Dinner PlateDinner Plate

A wine that seemed to pair well with just about everything that we were served was the Conde de Valdemar Reserva 2006.  This wine was aged in American and French oak, combining the best characteristics of both while also letting the fruit flavors shine through on the palate.  We enjoyed it with the Duck in a Sherry-Citrus Sauce, the stuffing, the Carrots and Cauliflower in Romesco, and the Green Beans in Cream Sauce.  The diversity of tastes that this wine paired with would make it a great holiday meal partner.

Churros & Spicy Chocolate SauceChurros and Spicy Chocolate Sauce

For dessert, we had a wine that seemed to me to have a more sophisticated personality as well as a beautiful nose.  The Dinastia Vivanco Reserva 2005 was served alongside a platter of Churros and Spicy Chocolate Sauce.  The crisp, fried dough dusted with sugar dipped in rich, creamy chocolate with a kick of heat was a great balance with the wine, bringing out some of its spice notes.

Glasses of RiojaGlasses of Rioja

This year, I think I might try introducing Rioja to our holiday dinner table.  It might take some convincing, I know, given the entrenched tastes of my family members, but I’m game to try it.  I just really enjoyed how much these wines seemed to go so well with all the foods that we tried.  No matter what you serve for this holiday season, I hope that you are surrounded by family and friends and fellow wine-lovers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

St. Patrick’s Day Menu Ideas – Smoked Trout-Horseradish Pâté on Irish Brown Bread

Smoked Trout-Horseradish Pâté on Irish Brown Bread

In my last post with the giveaway for “Clodagh’s Kitchen Diaries,” I mentioned that for my culinary school menu project that was due last month I had created a menu for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner party.  My family emigrated from Ireland on both sides, but long enough ago that there’s no culinary heritage that has been passed down to my generation, unless you count a fondness for potatoes and pork products.  My goal was to explore the tastes and dishes usually associated with this country and to create an alterna-dinner party for this holiday: one that does not revolve around Corned Beef and Cabbage, which is not the Irish national dish.

Irish Brown Bread

Fortunately, I have many friends who were willing to come over during the recent showing of Downton Abbey‘s third season here in the U.S. to sample my recipe experiments so that I could get my project done.  This is an appetizer that I created that seemed to be a huge hit with everyone.  Hearty, nutty Irish Brown Bread is a staple in many household kitchens. Here, it is served with a smoky, creamy trout pâté, a nod to the resources of Ireland’s rivers, with a bite from the heat of the horseradish and lift of freshness from the lemon zest and the parsley.  It’s the perfect nibble to go with a glass of good cheer!

Smoked Trout-Horseradish Pâté

Smoked Trout-Horseradish Pâté on Irish Brown Bread

Prep Time: 1 1/2 hours, including baking time for bread

Serving Size: Makes approximately 24 portions (3 pieces per person for 8 people)


For the Irish Brown Bread:
(Recipe adapted from
1 3/4 cups Whole Wheat Flour, preferably stone ground (the coarser, the better – I used Bob’s Red Mill)
1 1/4 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
2 tablespoons cold Unsalted Butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup Old Fashioned Oats, finely ground
3/4 cup Buttermilk

For the Smoked Trout-Horseradish Pâté:
4 ounces Cream Cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons Crème Fraîche
4 teaspoons prepared Horseradish
2 teaspoons Fresh Parsley, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/8 teaspoon Black Pepper, freshly ground
Grated zest of one Lemon
1/4-1/3 pound Smoked Trout


Irish Brown Bread:

To make the Irish Brown Bread, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter bottom and sides of a mini loaf pan (5 1/2 x 3 inches).  Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl.  Add the butter into the flour mixture by using a fork or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles small pebbles, and the butter is blended in thoroughly.  Add the ground oatmeal and toss to combine completely. Stir in the buttermilk. The mixture will be sticky but all the dry ingredients should come together.

Dough mixed together

Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead it several times. Shape dough into a small loaf and place in the loaf pan. Bake bread for about 30 minutes, until knife inserted in the center of the bread comes out cleanly. Cool on a wire rack. (The bread can be made a day ahead, but should be toasted the day it is being served.)

Bread baked and cooling

About 30 minutes prior to serving the appetizers, preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the loaf of bread into 12 slices. Then, cut those slices in half diagonally to make triangle-shaped pieces.  Place bread triangles on an ungreased baking sheet on parchment paper and put them in the oven to toast. Do not allow the bread to take on any color. When the first side is lightly toasted, turn over and toast the second side. Remove toasted bread triangles from the oven when done and allow them to cool while making the Smoked Trout-Horseradish Pâté.

Toasted Irish Brown Bread

Smoked Trout-Horseradish Pâté:

To make the Smoked Trout-Horseradish Pâté, mix together the cream cheese, crème fraîche, and prepared horseradish until smooth with no lumps of cream cheese. Fold in parsley, salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Hold back about 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon of parsley for garnish.

Mixing in everything but the trout

Break the smoked trout into pieces, some large and some smaller. Go through the trout to make sure that there are no bones.  Gently fold in the smoked trout. There should still be some small and large pieces of fish visible in the mixture. This is a rough, chunky spread rather than a smooth one.

Break up Smoked Trout into pieces

To serve:

Place toasted bread pieces on a serving platter. Top each triangle with a spoonful of the smoked trout mixture. Sprinkle each piece with a little bit of chopped parsley and the reserved lemon zest. Serve immediately.

Smoked Trout-Horseradish Pâté on Irish Brown Bread


“Clodagh’s Kitchen Diaries” Cookbook Giveaway

Surprise gift box

One busy night after school, I came home to find a package waiting for me.  I knew I hadn’t ordered anything, so I was kind of surprised to see the big yellow box from Kerrygold.  I wondered if this was a butter delivery, which would have been terrific.  It was, instead, a St. Patrick’s Day party pack from them.  I’d recently completed my culinary school menu project, in which I’d created a menu for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner party, and had used a quite few pounds of their butter to test recipes, so it was especially interesting timing to receive this package.

Cookbook by Clodagh McKenna

Inside the box was a special treat – a cookbook by Clodagh McKenna.  For my project, I had featured the wide array of delicious products and produce that come from the Emerald Isle, so I really enjoyed leafing through the pages and seeing the dishes that she has created that match up with the seasons of the year.  I’m just sad that her show “Clodagh McKenna’s Irish Food Trails” didn’t seem to air in the NYC PBS market.  I realized, however, that I’d learned so much about Irish food and history in my research for my project that this book would find a better home on one of your bookshelves, so, thanks to the folks at Kerrygold, I’m offering it here to one of my readers.

The Rules (There have to be some of these, you know.)

Eligibility: U.S. mainland residents only

To Enter: Write a comment on this post with the answer to the following question: What is your favorite Irish food?  (and see why corned beef and cabbage is not the national dish)

You must also have a valid screen name (NOT “Anonymous”) with a corresponding email address to enter this giveaway. I’ll need to be able to click on it in order to contact the winner. If you list “Anonymous” or do not have a valid email address with your comment, you will be disqualified. I do not share these addresses with anyone, and they are only for the purpose of entering this giveaway.

Deadline: Is Friday, March 8, 2013 at 12:00 p.m. EST, based upon the date/time stamp on the comments. (I’m going to be very strict about this and make no exceptions.)

The Outcome: Only one winner will be chosen for this cookbook giveaway. I’m going to put all the entries into an online Randomizer (like this one) to come up with the winner.

Buon appetito!

General Tso’s Chicken by Appetite for China

Cooking via computer

A couple of weeks ago, at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting lots of writers, editors, and authors.  One person I had the chance to talk to was Diana Kuan from the site Appetite for China and the recently published The Chinese Takeout Cookbook.  During the season for Chinese New Year, she’s put together a virtual potluck of seven of the recipes from the book.  Each of the bloggers who make one of the dishes before the end of the festivities is entered into a drawing for some really great prizes.  I haven’t had much chance to participate in blogger events recently with culinary school studies, so I decided to take some time over the holiday weekend to throw together one of the dishes from the book.

Plated dishGeneral Tso’s Chicken

General Tso’s Chicken is one of my favorite Chinese restaurant dishes, and it was great to find an easy recipe to make this at home.  The crispy chicken had the perfect balance of sweet-tart-spicy when dressed in the sauce.    It was difficult for me not to munch on the searing hot chicken pieces the moment they came out of the fragrant sauce, leaving nothing to plate for the photo.  I used chicken thighs, as the recipe called for, but I also wonder about using chicken breasts or both the next time.  This dish would be a great addition to the Chinese New Year’s celebration table.


Chicken marinating

Chicken in cornstarch

Frying the chicken

Scooping chicken out of the fryer

Pile of crispy fried chicken

Sauce ingredients mixed together

Sauce reducing

Chicken dressed with sauce

General Tso’s Chicken

Buon appetito!