Guest Blogger: Cooking with Caitlan
The holidays are the one time of year when everyone gets a chance to flex their culinary muscle. And whether it’s the simple cookies you present your host or the multi-course feast you prepare for the people you love the most, you want what you create to be the best thing people eat all season. I’m blessed to have cooking in my blood, but if it’s not natural to you to fire up the oven and whip things together, there are recipes that are so delicious and ridiculously simple that even the most inexperienced cook can accomplish them with ease.
In cooking, the fewer and fresher the ingredients, the easier and better-tasting the dishes are. The following are three of my favorite recipes. They are tried and true in their ability to adapt to whatever flavor profile is desired. And, as an added bonus, all of them may be prepared ahead of time.
APPETIZER: PARMESAN TUILLE
My favorite appetizer to make is a Parmesan Tuille. Quite simply, it is melted cheese with a sprinkle of fresh cracked pepper molded in muffin tins. They are exceptionally cost-efficient and may be made into different sizes depending upon the occasion – big bowls for a more formal sit-down dinner, or little cups for a passed appetizer. Whatever the size, I usually fill the bowls with finely-sliced romaine lettuce and drizzle with Caesar dressing. They are also wonderful, however, full of fresh berries kissed by a zippy lemon vinaigrette (the perfect way to play with the saltiness of the tuille). Store them in advance of service under loosely-fit plastic wrap.
MAIN COURSE: WHOLE ROASTED CHICKEN
For a surefire main course, I love to play with a Whole Roasted Chicken. It not only consistently wows my guests, it perfumes my home before they even arrive. A whole chicken is far more affordable than a collection of its pieces and it serves as a perfect canvas to whatever flavor I am choosing to showcase. Rolled into butter, seasonal herbs shine baked under the skin of a whole chicken. At this time of year the earthy flavors of rosemary and thyme are what I crave; at others it’s oregano, chive, even mint. Quartered lemons and apples and whole heads of garlic stuffed into the cavity take the experience to a whole other level. And even better, par-boiled root vegetables placed around and underneath the chicken throughout roasting make for the ultimate side dishes. They’re ready when the chicken is and are juicy from its drippings. Tossed in said drippings with a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and parsley, they complete the course.
DESSERT: FRESH FIG, MASCARPONE CHEESE AND HONEY
When it comes to desserts, I achieve the best results when I keep it truly simple. Fresh Figs are in season right now and available at most markets and some grocery stores. When sliced in half, they are uniquely beautiful and uncommonly tasty. At the end of a hearty meal, I serve them quartered and drizzled with melted mascarpone cheese and honey. Most people have never experienced a fig outside a “Newton,” so a fresh fig dessert dazzles instantly; the mascarpone cheese is just enough rich and the honey complements the figs’ natural sweetness.
Even after many years of cooking, it’s the simple things in life that taste the best. Once you’ve mastered the simple recipes above, play with the flavors and make them your own. The options are endless when you play with your food, so for the love of gravy, have fun.
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