Desserts to Make the Holidays Shine Brighter

Desserts are king during the holiday season, as diets relax and sweet indulgence reigns. Chef Denise Marchessault joins us to talk about her newly published cookbook, British Columbia from Scratch: Recipes for Every Season, authored with photographer Caroline West. She also offers some tips on how to stay on top of holiday cooking and shares with us a few delectable dessert recipes just in time for the holidays.

Chef Marchessault is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu® Ottawa, in Canada, where she achieved Le Grand Diplôme®, a 9 month comprehensive programme combining pastry and cuisine. She teaches cooking classes in Vancouver, Canada, and also penned the Master Class Series for EAT Magazine with photographer Caroline West.

British Columbia from Scratch book cover

MasterCook: Tell us about the “from scratch” part of your book. As a chef, what do you see as the benefits of cooking from scratch rather than using processed foods?

Chef Marchessault: Well, it’s healthier, more economical, and more flavorful than anything you’ll find in a box, packet or cube. Cooking is not a chore to endure, it’s is a pleasure in itself. Fortunately, there’s a new wave of cooks, young and old, who are discovering, or rediscovering, the simple pleasure of cooking from scratch.

MasterCook: Since your cookbook is inspired by the flavors of British Columbia, will readers outside the province be able to find the ingredients to make the recipes in your cookbook?

Chef Marchessault: Absolutely! I wanted a cookbook as practical as it is beautiful so I favored recipes with easily accessible ingredients. Seafood recipes are adaptable to any variety of fish and most ingredients are available at your local market.

MasterCook: As a professional chef with lots going on outside the kitchen–including a new book to promote, teaching, writing, and raising twins–what is your advice to people trying to stay organized as they plan and prepare meals during the holiday season?

Denise Marchessault

Chef Marchessault: My best advice is to get a jump-start on food prep whenever possible. When I come home from the market, for example, I peel and chop several onions and store them in plastic containers, in the fridge. No matter how frazzled, I can always muster the strength to prepare dinner when armed with a fridge full of pre-washed and chopped vegetables.

Dressings and pestos can be made ahead, too, and they liven-up quick and easy meals like frittatas, roasted vegetables, pasta, legumes or fish. Most desserts and pastry doughs freeze well, so when you’re in the mood for baking, fill up your freezer!

Cranberry Meringue

I do as much as possible in advance, and break down recipes into manageable tasks. For example, I’ll make dough one day and roll it out the next.

MasterCook: What are you planning for your main holiday meal this year? Do you have traditional items you always make, or do you change the menu from year to year?

My daughters are Pescetarian, so I’ll prepare salmon in puff pastry, rather than a traditional turkey. I’ll include an assortment of traditional side dishes, such as cranberries and garlic-roasted mashed potatoes.

The last few years I’ve prepared Christmas dinner entirely in advance. Re-heating a meal, rather than cooking all day, means I’m enjoying a relaxing day with my family.

Chocolate Mousse with Pear Chips

Chef Marchessault has kindly provided us with two recipes from her cookbook, “Cranberry Meringue” and “Chocolate Mousse with Pear Chips.”* For more information on Chef Marchessault, please click on the following link: You can view a video preview of her book here, or purchase British Columbia from Scratch at Amazon by clicking here.

* For those who are using Le Cordon Bleu® Recipes from MasterCook, these recipes have been automatically added to your online recipe collection and is ready to sync with your desktop version of MasterCook, where it will be added to Le Cordon Bleu® Blog Cookbook.

Cranberry Meringue

Makes 10 – 12

¼ cup cranberry purée (recipe below) or strawberry jam
4 large egg whites, with no traces of yolk, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar, preferably superfine or berry sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon white vinegar

You’ll need a baking sheet lined with parchment. A pastry bag is handy for portioning the meringue but not essential.

Preheat oven to 250 °F

To keep meringue uniform, draw circles onto your parchment-lined baking sheet, using a teacup as a template, with 2” space between each circle. Turn the parchment over and use as a guide when spooning or piping the meringue onto your tray.

Whisk the egg whites in a meticulously clean bowl, at medium speed for about one minute or until a network of tiny bubbles have formed. Gradually add the sugar and increase the speed to high and whip until the whites have expanded and formed billowy, firm glossy peaks. Be mindful not to over-whip otherwise the whites will turn grainy and lose their shape. Reduce the speed to low and add the cornstarch and vinegar until just blended.

If using a pastry bag, spoon the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a ¾” tip. Pipe or spoon the meringue onto your prepared tray, using the template as a guide. Dip a butter knife into a bit of cranberry purée or jam and gently drag the purée around the unbaked meringues to create a marbled effect.

Bake for about an hour on a rack in the lower third of your oven or until the meringues are dry. Turn the heat off and leave the meringues in the oven until they cool. The meringues will crack slightly. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place.

Cranberry Purée

6 ounces, fresh or frozen and thawed cranberries, ½ standard package
6 tablespoons granulated sugar

Purée the cranberries in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour the puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a small saucepan, using the back of a ladle or a large spoon to press the solids against the strainer, extracting as much liquid as possible.  Heat the purée over medium heat with the sugar and reduce until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside ¼ cup for the meringue and use any leftover purée as a topping for ice cream or swirled into puddings, muffins, loaves, pancakes or cookies.

Chocolate Mousse With Pear Chips

Serves 4–6

The key to this rich, melt-in-your-mouth mousse is to have your tools close at hand. With only two ingredients, chocolate and cream, the recipe is more about preparation than culinary finesse.

Once the cream and melted chocolate collide, the mousse firms quickly, so have your containers nearby. A piping bag is useful for distributing the mousse into narrow glasses but a small spoon works too.

If you’d like your mousse to peer above the rim of the containers, as pictured, wrap parchment paper around the containers first.

The mousse is rich and best served in small sherry or shot glasses.

If you’d like to garnish your mousse with pear chips and chocolate leaves, plan to make these in advance.

8 oz (230 g) good quality dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream, chilled
Pear Chips (optional; recipe follows)
Chocolate Leaves (optional; recipe follows)

You’ll need a wire whisk and a spatula.

Place the chocolate and 1/4 cup (60 mL) whipping cream in a heat-resistant bowl placed over a saucepan filled with 1 inch (2.5 cm) of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is just melted then remove from the heat.

Pour the remaining whipping cream into a large bowl or the bowl of a standup mixer fitted with a wire whisk. Whisk the cream until just thick enough to form soft peaks.

Working quickly, pour the melted chocolate into the whipped cream, using a spatula to scrape any remaining melted chocolate left clinging to the bowl. Whisk the chocolate into the cream until the mixture is uniform in colour and has thickened.

Spoon or pipe the mousse into glasses and refrigerate until set.

Take the mousse out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving. Remove the parchment collar, if using, and garnish with a pear chip and chocolate leaf, if desired.

Pear Chips

1 firm, slightly underripe pear, washed
1 cup (250 mL) sugar
1 cup (250 mL) water
Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 200°F (95°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the sugar, water and lemon zest in a small saucepan over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Slice the pear paper-thin, using a mandoline or vegetable slicer.

Coat both sides of each pear slice with the sugar water mixture and place on a prepared baking sheet without overlapping any slices.

Dry the pear slices in the oven for 2–3 hours, carefully turning them over once. Allow the pears to cool for 10 minutes then gently peel the slices from the parchment. If the pears are not firm and crisp once cooled, continue to dry them in the oven.

The pear chips can be made a few days ahead of time and kept in a covered container.

Chocolate Leaves

6 oz (175 g) good quality chocolate, chopped into small pieces
8–12 small, firm non-toxic leaves such as holly or rose, washed and completely dried

Place the chocolate in a heat-resistant bowl over a saucepan filled with 1 inch (2.5 cm) simmering water. When the chocolate has melted, dip one side of each leaf into the chocolate and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Once the chocolate has firmed, carefully peel the leaves from the chocolate.

Create an Intimate Thanksgiving with a Festive Scallops Recipe

While turkey is the traditional choice for Thanksgiving, scallops offer a change of pace for those looking to shake things up a bit at this time of the year. There are many reasons to choose seafood over turkey for a holiday meal. For one, not everyone has a huge family to feed or else lots of free time available. Seafood can be prepared quickly yet is still exotic enough to qualify as a special occasion dish.

Calling it a “festive and sophisticated” recipe for scallops, Chef Elizabeth Whitt, an honors graduate from Le Cordon Bleu Paris, says she first encountered this recipe while dining at a friend’s Italian restaurant in Hollywood, CA. She was struck by the recipe’s delicious flavors and realized it would be very easy to create at home.

Seared Scallops with Sweet Potato Puree

One of the biggest obstacles for home cooks who want to try their hand at seafood is not knowing what to look for in the supermarket. With scallops, there’s reason to be cautious, because some fisherman soak them in additives to increase their size. Nevertheless, Chef Elizabeth shares her tips on how to choose them in her notes on technique in the recipe below.

“Seared Scallops with Balsamic Mushrooms and Sweet Potato Puree” is a perfect recipe for fall, as it contains in-season ingredients such as scallops, mushrooms, and sweet potato. Chef Elizabeth recommends serving it with a red wine: “The balsamic and the pinch of nutmeg help pair it well with red wine like a Pinot noir, red blend or even a nice California Zinfandel.”

Remember that if you are using the MasterCook desktop app, you can use the Wine List feature to keep track of your wine inventory, wish list, or make notes on wine pairings.

Chef Elizabeth has previously shared recipes with MasterCook users. For more information on Chef Elizabeth, please click on the following link:

MasterCook Wine List

* For those who are using Le Cordon Bleu® Recipes from MasterCook, this recipe has been automatically added to your online recipe collection and is ready to sync with your desktop version of MasterCook, where it will be added to Le Cordon Bleu® Blog Cookbook.

** You can follow Chef Elizabeth’s cooking steps by buying your scallops from Kodiak Fish Market, an online seafood store that sells direct to consumers. Their scallops are harvested in the Shelikof Straits, 40 miles west of Kodiak, Alaska. The scallops are dry and sorted by size and frozen at sea without any additives.

When you purchase $100 worth of seafood through Kodiak Fish Market, you’ll receive a free copy of MasterCook 15.  If you purchase a $150 worth of seafood through Kodiak Fish Market, you’ll receive a free copy of Le Cordon Bleu Recipes® from MasterCook. To take advantage of this offer click here and use the discount code “mcforkodiak.” Offer good through December 31, 2016.

Seared Scallops with Balsamic Mushrooms and Sweet Potato Puree

Seared Scallops with Balsamic Mushrooms
Level: Easy
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 4

10-12 ounces crimini or button mushrooms, halved if small or quartered if large
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt to taste
3-4 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
12 large sea scallops
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat a large skillet until very hot, then add mushrooms and 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil. Cook until they just start to brown (shake pan if they get too hot). Season with salt and continue to cook until tender, about 3-5 minutes.

Deglaze mushrooms with balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and reduce until thick, if necessary. Remove mushrooms from pan and set aside.

For scallops, rinse mushroom pan or use a new pan and heat until hot. When hot, add 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and add scallops (tip: place first scallop at the 12-o’clock position and continue clockwise so you know which one you put in first).

Cook scallops without moving for about 2 minutes or until nicely browned. Using a fish spatula or other flat-bottomed spatula, gently unstick from pan and turn to other side. Cook another 2 minutes on medium high-heat.

Place Sweet Potato Puree on a plate or platter, place scallops and mushrooms on the plate or platter and then drizzle with balsamic from mushrooms.

Ever have problems getting scallops to sear properly? The main issue is probably the type of scallops you are using. There are dry scallops and wet scallops.  Wet scallops will usually not sear as well.

Wet scallops–as their name suggests–are soaked in water, and usually chemically treated to preserve them longer. This means they absorb and retain more water, which will hinder the browning process of the scallops. So when you cook them, the water releases and inhibits the temperature from reaching the point where they will brown.

Dry scallops are the ones you want to get to achieve a nice brown crust. Dry scallops are not chemically treated and are not soaked in water. Their flavor is therefore more pure and concentrated, but their shelf-life is shorter, so eat them fast!

Another important step in cooking scallops and other seafood is to not wash or rinse the scallops. If they are dirty or smell funny and you feel they need to be washed, then you should return them and not eat them. You want to just place them on a plate lined with a paper towel or two and put a paper towel on top. I let them sit for about 30 minutes like this before I cook them.

Finally, it is important to have a really, really, hot pan and to not move your scallops until they have browned–moving them will remove them from the direct contact with the heat and will mean they will be less likely to brown (or will take longer to brown but still be cooking indirectly).

Sweet Potato Puree
Level: Easy
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 stick of butter or 1/3 cup of orange olive oil
Salt to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1 pinch nutmeg, or more to taste

Place sweet potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add 1 tablespoon salt to water and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce to a simmer and heat until sweet potatoes are fork tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Drain potatoes and put into an oven-safe bowl. Mash with a potato masher or fork and add butter or oil, salt, a pinch of cayenne pepper and nutmeg. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

Serve immediately or let cool. If making ahead, cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for 1-4 days. When ready to serve, remove from refrigerator, bake in 350 degrees F oven for 25 minutes or until hot.