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Double-Vanilla Walnut Meringue w/ Vanilla-Sugared Cranberries {...inspired by Christmas in Connecticut}

Jeff is a man who dreams (literally) about food.  When stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean, deprived of food and water...he conjures up images of lavish spreads that he has seen in Smart Housekeeping magazine.  Those articles were written by food writer Elizabeth Lane.  Elizabeth ... the wife and mother who lives on a farm (complete with cow) in Connecticut and cooks mouthwatering meals while taking care of the homestead.  Or not.  This is what her readers and even her boss believe.  In reality,  she's a single, working girl who writes about meals made by her "uncle" Felix at the restaurant around the corner.  She'd rather wear an animal pelt than brush it.

So, you can imagine the crazy hijinks that ensue when Jeff is rescued from the raft and his nurse writes to the magazine with a special request for him to join in a traditional, family Christmas (and meal) with and cooked by Elizabeth Lane and her family.   From rocking chairs, to babies, to pancakes and chicken livers, to shot-gun weddings and falling in love...this film is full of crazy twists and turns.  Do you think Elizabeth can pull it off?
While I was thisclose to making pancakes ...and I even entertained the idea of chicken livers, goose, or a 5-course meal, I decided that I wanted to go with a dessert that I think Elizabeth would be proud to pass-off as her own.

It's actually something that "feels" like it would have been served in the 40's.  Whether or not it really would have, I can't be sure.  But the strangest thing happened to me when I took a bite.  My grandma's face popped into my head.  I don't know if it was the combination of walnuts, meringue, and whipped cream that reminded me of something she makes or has made at Christmases past (if so, I can't think of what it would be)...but something made me want to wrap up the plate and drive up to see my grandma and give her a slice.  I've actually decided that I'm going to make another one and bring it to our family get together on Christmas Eve...just so she and grandpa can try it.

It's a taste sensation, really.  Bits of strong, oily walnuts are folded inside of melt-in-your-mouth meringue and then topped with a drizzle of chocolate and a fat cloud of cool, whipped cream.  To top the whole thing off, tangy cranberries that are coated in a crust of sugar adding a tart compliment to each bite.  While it is fairly simple to make, the whole thing comes together with seeming decadence!
Double-Vanilla Walnut Meringue w/ Vanilla-Sugared Cranberries
from the kitchen of girlichef
yield: 8 servings 

Vanilla-Sugared Cranberries (yield: 2 c.):
2 c.  vanilla sugar 
2 c. water
2 c. fresh cranberries 
~1 c. vanilla superfine sugar

5 egg whites
3/4 c. vanilla superfine sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 c. finely chopped walnuts

To finish:
8 oz. milk chocolate
1 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Cranberries (start night before):
Combine vanilla sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring mixture until sugar just dissolves. 

Place cranberries in a medium bowl.  Pour simple syrup over cranberries and stir.  Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or up to overnight.

Set a strainer over a bowl to catch the simple syrup (which you can reserve and use for sweetening holiday cocktails).  Drain cranberries.

Place superfine sugar in a shallow dish.  Add cranberries in batches and roll to coat.

Transfer cranberries to a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.  I use the tines of a fork to do this.  Let stand at room temperature until  completely dry, 1-2 hours. (Can be stored in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.)

Preheat oven to 250° F.  Cover the removable bottom of a 9½" springform pan with parchment, then clip it into place.  Grease sides of the pan.
Beat egg whites in a large bowl until soft peaks form.  Gradually beat in the vanilla sugar, then add the vanilla extract and apple cider vinegar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.  

Carefully fold in the walnuts.

Scoop into prepared pan and smooth out the surface.  Place in oven and bake for 1½ - 1¾ hours, or until the meringue is lightly golden and coming away from the sides of the pan.  Turn off the oven and prop the door open.  Allow the meringue to sit inside until it is completely cool.
To finish:
Open sides of springform pan and take meringue out.  Peel off parchment and transfer the meringue to a serving plate.

Place chocolate in the top of a double boiler and melt (or do this in the microwave).  Drizzle warm chocolate over the top of the meringue.  Let sit to cool and harden.

Whip the heavy cream and vanilla until stiff peaks form.  Scoop big clouds of the cream over the top of the meringue, leaving a slight edge so that the chocolate shows.

Scatter about half of the sugared cranberries over the whipped cream.  (Save the rest for snackin'.) Serve!

*The meringue portion of this recipe was adapted from the book Apples for Jam: A Colorful Cookbook by Tessa Kiros.
I am hosting Food 'n Flix: Christmas in Connecticut right here at girlichef this month.  You have until tomorrow (December 23rd) to send in your inspired posts.
I am also sharing this post with:
IHCC theme: Holiday Goodies
IHCC Tessa Kiros Button crazy sweet tuesday sweet treats thursday SweetToothFriday sweets for a saturday