I received a message earlier this week from Diane of Lifestyle Filter asking if I'd like to contribute to a column she is writing on resolutions. I really like the idea of taking some time for a little soul-searching at the end of the calendar year. What did I resolve to do last year? Did I follow through on any of my resolutions? If not, why not?
Well, last year I wrote the following:
With the start of the new year, I've been contemplating some food resolutions. Most of them involve firming up some practices I already try to keep: cleaning the kitchen more often, buying only produce that is in season and grown locally, feeding the worms more often instead of just throwing away vegetable waste (I'm very lazy about taking compost out to the worms in cold weather).
My only new exciting resolution is this: to try at least one new food experience each week.
Well, I didn't do very well in 2005. My kitchen is still always messy. The worms are hungry in cold weather. Although I tried a few new foods, there is no way there were 52 of them. I did finally start going regularly to the organic market (thanks to the help and encouragement of Clotilde!), so buying food in season and locally grown was easier. I have broken down recently on the "locally grown" factor simply because the Boy gets tired of apples and pears for months on end and anyway the doctor prescribed bananas for a bout of gastric problems.
The problem with most resolutions is that they are either so ambitious that you will never follow through on them (finding something new each and every week) or they are based on a result, not a process (keeping the kitchen clean). Last year, I didn't give myself a way to keep the kitchen clean. So this year, I'm going to try something new and resolve to make reasonable changes in habit and a couple of goals that can be achieved in a day. For 2006, I resolve:
1) To clean the kitchen each night before going to bed.
2) To continue going to the organic market on average twice a month.
3) To stop using the fact that my Austrian grandmother is no longer around to teach me as an excuse for not learning how to make an apfel strudel.
4) To make a puff pastry from scratch.
5) To make bread at least once a month and use some exciting grains once in a while.
And as a follow on (and in response to David Lebovitz's famous Confessions a few moths ago) I have the following culinary confessions:
1) I have never cooked with a truffle.
2) I use store-bought pie crusts. Frequently.
3) We order from Domino's about twice a month.
Might have to work a bit on those too...
Wishing you and yours all the best in 2006 for a healthy and prosperous new year!
Frozen puff pastry allows you to make dishes quickly that feel fancy and time-consuming. That's because making the puff pastry itself is time-consuming. I'm sure professional pastry chefs would tell me its not as bad as all that, but I'm pretty grateful for frozen puff pastry sheets.
I don't use them for dessert, however. Almost all my puff pastry work has been with savory dishes. People are either salt or sugar oriented, and I've always been more inclined to reach for the salty cheese instead of the cookie on the counter.
One lazy morning, I remembered we had some salmon and salad goat cheese crumbles in the refrigerator and decided to make this quick pastry for the two of us. I love salmon, especially sliced very thin, and complemented with a sharp goat cheese. Somewhere in some mythological pantheon, I'm pretty sure there's a salmon god who gets it on with a goat. Or there would have been had the Greeks and the Northwest Native Americans ever met.
This was our breakfast, but would make a great lunch or light dinner with a green salad or a soup.
Metanote - I know that's not the best photograph ever, but this was a very difficult dish to photograph. I must have taken twenty and the one you see was the best of the lot. It looks a lot better in person.
Salmon and Goat Puff
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted 40 minutes
4 oz. thinly cut salmon
2 oz. goat cheese crumbles
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
Preheat the oven to 425
Put a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet
Unfold the puff pastry sheet and cut it in half perpendicular to the fold lines.
Lay half the salmon minus a tiny bit on each half of the puff, leaving a half inch or so border around the outside of the pastry. Sprinkle half the goat cheese minus a tiny bit on top of that, and top each with 1/2 teaspoon of dried tarragon.
Fold the puff over and pinch the edges together. For best effect, pinch them under the puff. It's important you make a seal.
Place the scrap salmon, goat cheese, and a sprinkle of tarragon in the middle of the tops of the puff. This identifies what's inside each puff and makes it look a little more professional.
Place the puffs on the prepared baking sheet and bake in the oven for 12 minutes. Check to see if the tops are golden brown. If not, let them bake for a few more minutes until they are.
Cut in half diagonally and serve.
On Christmas, the Critic likes, as he puts it, to "push the boat out". To large it. To make Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning look like the tight-fisted miserly sad case he is at the beginning of the book. In terms of food, this means buying not only the mandatory turkey, ham, sausages and bacon for our Christmas meal (and the minimum three accompanying vegetables) but also a selection of luxury foods such as salmon, tarama and foie gras. (Let us not mention the liquor bill which is also phenomenally large in December of each year.) This variety of food is wonderful when you have a dozen family members or more coming for dinner. When there are three, however, and one of those three is one year old and unable to appreciate anything too rich, you have way too much food. Large indeed.
So this year I decided to solve the usual problem of what-do-we-eat-on-Christmas-Eve? by making up a platter of snack-like party food. Elegant and luxurious as befits the eve of the big celebration and yet dead easy to prepare and not too heavy on the gut.
A Frenchified Platter of Finger Food
Canapé #1: 4 slices of Scottish smoked salmon, ripped in bite-sized pieces and draped over 16 or so bite-sized lightly toasted and buttered pieces of white bread. I toasted four pieces of bread and then cut them in quarters and buttered them. Drizzle a little fresh lemon juice over them before serving.
Canapé #2: 16 squares toasted white bread (again, four slices cut in quarters after toasting) spread with tarama (also known as taramasalata) and topped with a small spoonful of oeufs de lompe (lumpfish caviar).
Foie gras cigars: Take a couple of sheets of phyllo dough and brush them with melted butter. Cut them in strips about 3 inches/8 cm long. Place a thin stick of foie gras at one end and roll into a cigar. Bake in an oven at 200c/450f for about ten minutes, or until they are golden and crispy. I have had these several times at parties and they are delicious. Mine were thicker than the ones I've had before and next time I'll probably take the time to make them correctly as they are very rich. Optional touch: poke a little of the fish eggs in one end of the cigar or a plump little raisin. Very elegant and very tasty.
Mont d'or cheese: This is a cheese which is only available in the winter months and especially around the holidays. It is the one of the richest and most unctuous of French cheeses and yet relatively mild. Imagine an extremely ripe Pont l'Evêque that is not sharp flavored at all. If your cheese is properly ripe, all you'll need to do is leave it out for several hours in a warm place before serving. The center of it should be gooey and so runny you need a spoon to serve it. If it is not, put it in the oven with the foie gras cigars so that it is warm and runny when you serve it with crackers or a baguettes. It goes particularly well with whole-wheat crackers.
And so there you have it. It took about 15 minutes to prepare the foie gras cigars and while they were baking I put together the rest of the hors d'oeuvres. And so we nibbled away elegantly while we watched Christmas specials and the Best Christmas Moment Countdown on the television. For us, it made a festive little dinner for Christmas eve. I'm posting it now, though, in case anyone is casting about for ideas for the big party on the 31st!
Fellow Chicagoan Donny B over at Everything in Moderation has been let go from his job for posting about her recent book signing at the store where he worked. Jessa Crispin at the amazing Bookslut identifies the store as Sur La Table. His sin? Apparently claiming that Rachael Ray is not God.
His post is not very critical of Ray. It presents her as a pretty nice person who's turned into a phenomenon. Probably the meanest thing he says about her is that she has a bubble butt. Which she does.
Why Sur La Table would take exception is befuddling unless Ray took exception and there's no reason she should take exception to this post.
We had a couple of comments recently regarding a need to convert between metric (ml, liters, kilos) and Imperial measures (cups, teaspoons, pounds) If you're reading this blog on the net, you already have a simple way to convert from almost any measure to any other at your disposal - Google.
Go to Google and search for "500 ml in teaspoons". Google recognizes you're asking for a conversion, not a search result, and you'll discover it's 101.442068 teaspoons. Hm. That's a lot of teaspoons. Maybe that'd be better in ounces? "500 ml in ounces" gives us a search result of "500 ml = 16.9070113 US fluid ounces". In cups? "500 ml in cups" gives us "500 ml = 2.11337641 US cups". Much more useful. We can even make all those digits more useful ".11337641 cups in teaspoons" yields ".11337641 US cups = 5.44206768 US teaspoons"
It'll even help you remember the conversions within the Imperial system. Type in "1 cup in tablespoons", a conversion few of us do often, and you'll discover that 16 tablespoons go into a cup. That's why you generally see 3 tablespoons of an ingredient or a 1/4 cup.
Google has all kinds of tricks like this, but I find the units conversion one to be very helpful. Heck, if you live in the U.S. and type in "Mycityname weather", it'll give you a brief weather outlook to let you know if it's a good day to plan to bake all day or to head to the beach.
It's going to be 42 F in Chicago today. Oh, and Google tells me that's 5.55 C.
Here is my first, and quite probably my last, entry for “Too Many Chefs”. The reason? I only cook one proper meal a year, and that is Christmas dinner (and even then I have help from Meg). The rest of the year, I am perfectly content to adopt the persona of “The Critic”.
But yesterday was, of course, December 25th – the day when we excuse all manner of gastronomic excess because, well…after all…it is Christmas. And dinner on this day in the Cutts household is truly excessive: a 17lb turkey with chestnut stuffing, a baked ham, sausages, bacon rolls, roast potatoes (NOT mashed – this is not Thanksgiving), peas, carrots, sweetcorn: all accompanied by delicious gravy…and all on the same plate!
Addressing such a distinguished and knowledgeable audience as the readers of this food blog, I won’t bore you with the simple matters of cooking the sausages and bacon (grilled, not fried, if you are interested). Also, my simple art of boiling the veggies is unlikely to interest you greatly (except I must say that say that a handful of sugar in the water adds flavour). Nor will I go into detail about the roasting of the turkey…especially as this year, the gargantuan formerly-feathered beast needed to be put back into thee oven for an extra hour over the recommended cooking time. Instead, I will focus on the stuffing.
Now, as regular readers will realise, my beloved wife and I have somewhat different ideas about what makes turkey stuffing. She describes the rich chestnut stuffing I make for the Christmas bird as having the “density of plutonium”, while her dalliance with oysters and celery (I hate celery!) for the Thanksgiving turkey, just makes me thankful that I only have to endure that stuffing once a year.
Trans-Atlantic differences aside, even Meg agreed that yesterday’s stuffing was a triumph. Hence, although completely improvised, here is how I did it…and it was very, very good!!
The Right Way To Make Stuffing
12 oz./340 grams of fine bread crumbs (we made ours from dried out baguettes in the food processor)
600 grams cooked chestnuts
4 small onions
1 tsp sage
2-3 tsp poultry seasoning
400 grams sausage meat
1 bottle dry sherry
Puree the chestnuts in around 3/4 of the bottle of dry sherry. Don’t overdo the pureeing (is that really a word?) – a few “chunks” are really good for the flavour and texture. I used vacuum packs of chestnuts rather than the real thing this year, as the checkout assistant in the supermarket informed me that I should have weighed the bag of chestnuts before I arrived at the cash till. Rather than going back to the fruit/vegetable counter and having to queue again, I just set them aside. But the vacuum-packed chestnuts were just as good.
Add the breadcrumbs, onions and herbs. Gently fry the sausage meat, cutting it into small pieces as you do so. Mix it all together and ram hard into the turkey. After bird cooked, spoon all out, and eat! Simple, (except that this year, in view of the turkey’s reluctance to allow itself to be cooked on schedule, we zapped the stuffing in the microwave for around 15 minutes before gorging ourselves).
Well, there it is. Back to being the Critic for the next 364 days. What’s for dinner, Meg?
- The Critic
Today I went to pick up our turkey from the local butcher shop. I think I'm known there as "that strange American woman who always wants big birds". When I came in, the cashier started flipping through the book looking for my name. The third butcher behind the counter called out "Don't bother - it's the number 14 bird!" He disappeared into the back room and came back cheerfully bearing my bird. He held it for me as I paid the cashier and I noticed the two of them surreptitiously slip a paper covered bottle into the bag as I pocketed my credit card. I beamed. "Thank you so much! Bonnes fêtes!" The third butcher asked if I was on foot and I admitted that my husband was waiting outside in the car. Could he carry the bird out to the car for me? It was very heavy. No, thank you, I can manage. But it's very heavy! No, really, it's lighter than my son by a kilo! Laughs all around and I walked out of the shop with a big Christmas smile on my face.
If you live in France as an expat you get used to the relentless miserable moaning about service in Paris from the expat community. And it's true, that in many places (the cable company, for a good example) I have come across the most phenomenally bad service I have ever seen in my life. But we tend to forget the small shops, which give you service like you'll never see elsewhere in your life. It's like stepping into a Dickens novel, with cheerful, friendly faces and helpful suggestions. And a nice bottle of wine to go with my tender Christmas turkey. It's a million miles away from a trip to Jewel to grab a frozen beast and sling it into your cart and trudge down to the dozen cashiers lined in a row, all asking if you have a fidelity card.
An Australian friend of mine once told me how he and his wife became teary as they went to the market for the last time before moving back to Australia. "You see, friends and colleagues we can keep in touch with by email and with Christmas cards. But these people at the market had become a part of our lives and we know we'll never see them again or enjoy the special relationship we've had for these past four years." He was a wise man.
Boucherie de Tocqueville
80, rue de Tocqueville
Every good marriage has a solid base of a few key compromises. For the Critic and myself, one of the most basic compromises revolves around the issue of stuffing a turkey. It's not that we are on different sides of the fence for that divisive issue of "to stuff or not to stuff" (God forbid!). It just that there is His Way and Any Other Way. His Way is more dense than plutonium and requires sausage meat, chestnuts, chestnut purée (did I mention it's dense?) and breadcrumbs. We have it His Way on Christmas. And since I am American and therefore have the right - if not the duty - to celebrate Thanksgiving once a year with a turkey, I can also make it An Other Way, once a year.
I like to play with my stuffing, trying new ideas. Last year, I added raisins. I thought it was tasty, but the Critic didn't like them. Then again, he's always going to Criticize any stuffing that isn't made His Way. This year, I tried something I've wanted to try ever since I read about it in my mother's Fannie Farmer cookbook some 30 years ago: oysters.
Yes, I was a strange child. I liked oysters raw. I liked them smoked. (I still remember the look of disappointment on my mother's face when I tried my first one and said "That was great! Can I have another?" Great mom that she is, she swallowed her disappointment as was doomed to sharing her smoked oysters forever after...) Growing up in Chicago, some 1000 miles from any source of oysters, putting them in stuffing seemed like the height of elegance.
Thirty years later, I have access to proper fishmongers and fresh shellfish. And so I was able finally to realize my childhood dream (strange dreams we Future Foodies have) of making Oyster Stuffing.
I was a little daunted by the fact that it has been nearly ten years since I opened an oyster myself. (The Critic doesn't like them raw and so I've had no reason to bring them into the kitchen.) But in fact, it was a lot less work than I remembered. And I only got one bad scratch, while I distinctly remember needing to walk around with my hands completely coccooned in bandages in the old days after a confrontation with an oyster knife. Either age has brought me more confidence with the knife or maybe it was the fact that I didn't stock up on Dutch courage before starting? For whatever reason, it only took about 25 minutes to shuck 18 oysters and I was not reduced to tears by any of them.
The following recipe has been slightly altered to correct the amount of celery. The Critic rightly pointed out that it was too overpowering a flavor. Admittedly, he thinks ANY celery is too much, but in this case I think he had a point and would halve the amount used next time.
Otherwise, the recipe was lovely. The oysters added a richness to the stuffing without actually giving too much of a fishy flavor. If you have guests who think they don't like oysters you don't even need to tell them they are in the stuffing, as they simply melt into the breadcrumbs. Their flavor is there, but unless you know in advance what it is you could easily be confused by it. The leeks complimented the delicate oyster flavor beautifully and didn't overpower it as onions might have done. And although I wouldn't have expected sage to go well with oysters, it does.
So just in time for your Christmas goose or turkey, here is my recipe for a delicious (and elegant!) stuffing. I think it would work better than most stuffings as an Out of the Bird Dressing, thanks to the flavor kick of the oysters.
Oyster and Leek Stuffing
2 stalks of celery
9 cups of rough dried bread crumbs (or substitute toasted bread cubes)
6 Tbs sweet butter
6 Tbs dried sage
3 Tbs poultry seasoning or a mixture of thyme, basil and any other favorite spices
Clean the leeks and slice the white to light green bits in thin rounds. Clean and chop the celery into small pieces. Sauté the leeks and celery in the butter until soft but not completely melted. Sprinkle them with the sage and poultry seasoning and remove from heat.
Get a medium bowl and open the oysters over the bowl, carefully draining the oyster water (liquor) into the bowl as you go. Scrape every bit of oyster out of the shells and toss them in the pan with the leeks.
In a large bowl, mix together the oysters, leeks and breadcrumbs. Use the reserved oyster liquor to moisten the stuffing to a consistency you like. (Be sure to pour it through a fine seive onto the stuffing mixture so that you filter out the bits of sand and shell.) I found that about half a cup of the liquor was enough and stored the rest in the freezer, properly labelled, where it formed the basis of a wonderful fish sauce a few weeks later.
Either stuff this mixture into the bird, or, if you are faint hearted (some would say safety-minded) put it in a greased casserole dish and bake it next to your bird. If you do the latter, I would cover the stuffing for the first 45 minutes and then uncover for the last 15 minutes of baking.
A Bûche de Noël (also known as a Yule log) had its orgin almost 1000 years ago in Europe. It started as a pagan tradition celebrating the winter solstice, but Christians have continued it as a Christmas eve tradition that was thought to bring good luck in the coming year. A family would burn the largest log they could find in their fireplace, using ambers from the prior year's log to help light it. Over the last couple centuries, most people have moved from hearths to furnaces, and consequently, the Yule log has undergone some changes.
My first introduction to this fun desert was when a high school classmate (Christina Stephanides) convinced me that we should enter our French Club's Bûche de Noël contest for extra credit. I'd never seen one before, but since I was working at the public library (after school), I had the advantage of knowning exactly where to learn all about this cake. After picking through a few recipes and figuring out what it's supposed to look like (a log), we managed to bake a cake that did more than earn us extra credit, we won the contest.
A Yule log is sponge cake baked on a jelly roll pan, filled with flavored whipped cream, then rolled up and further assembled to look like a log. This recipe is a little different than most recipes because I became facinated with the sponge cake used in a recipe on the Food network. In this recipe, they replaced the traditional sponge cake with a variation of a genoise, a type of Italian sponge cake that increases the fluffiness by heating the eggs before beating them. Either type of sponge cake will work.
Bûche de Noël (Yule Log)
Genoise-like Sponge Cake:
3 eggs (yolks and whites)
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cake flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 Dutch processed cocoa (or, regular cocoa with 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons instant coffee
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar (sifted)
+/- 2 teaspoons cocoa
1/4 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweeted chocolate
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar (sifted)
2 tablespoons Kahlua
1 teaspoon vanilla
Baking the Sponge cake (30 (+ cooling) minutes):
Preheat oven to 400 degress farenheit. Line a 9X15 inch jelly-roll pan with wax/parchment paper and butter the liner.
Mix eggs, yolks, salt, and sugar together with mixer 30-45 seconds. Then place mixing bowl over double boiler (pan of simmering water), and wisk mixture until it becomes just warm to touch (approximately 100 degree farenheit for those who like to measure). Move the bowl back to mixer and whip on medium-high to high until the mixture has cooled somewhat and has doubled to tripled in volume. In the interim, combine flour, cornstarch, and cocoa in a separate bowl. Then slowly sift the dry ingredients (in 3-4 small divided portions) into the whipped mixture and gently fold together. Be sure to thoroughly fold with addition.
Pour the batter into the buttered jelly-roll pan and evenly distribute across the pan. Bake at 400 degress for 10 minutes, or until it has risen and firm to touch. After removal from the oven, immediately turn out cake onto tea towel. Gently peel off wax paper. Fold edge of tea towel over cake approximately 2-3 inches and then roll up cake, with tea towel rolled into middle to keep cake from sticking to itself (and to create a space for jelly). (You can also use extra wax paper for this is you are wierded-out by lint, but I warn you, it sticks a little). Cool for at least 30 minutes.
Making the cream filling (15 minutes):
Beat the cream, instant coffee, cocoa, vanilla, and confectioner's sugar until stiff (it will double to triple in volume). I recommend doing this first (and then refrigerating it) because it will stiffen easier in a cool room.
(Of note, you could replace the coffee and vanilla with Grand Marnier for an orange flavored filling).
Making the icing (15-20 minutes):
Chop chocolate in smallish bits and butter into pats. In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate together, stirring every few minutes until completely melted and mixed together. In the meantime, whip confectioner's sugar, sour cream, vanilla, and Kahlua together in a mixer. Add chocolate mixture into sour cream mixture and whip until smooth, scraping the edges intermitently. Dish into storage containers and refrigerate until ready to use. Will spread best a room temperature (or slightly warmer).
Constructing the Bûche de Noël (Yule Log):
Once the cake is cooled and the cream filling and icing are prepared, begin by unrolling the cake.
If you used extra wax paper during rolling, gently peel it off. Notice that the cake will not lay flat after it's been unrolled, this is okay.
I like to apply a thin layer of icing to the inside of the cake before applying the cream filling. I think of it as a barrier between the cake and cream filling (kind of like peanut-butter serving as a barrier to jelly in a PB&J). It also makes for a nice contrast between the cake and filling, especially is you make a non-chocolate sponge cake.
Next evenly spread the cream filling all over the iced inside part being sure to spread all the way out to each edge.
Now gently re-roll cake. Be aware that the filling will likely squish out everywhere, but it makes for fun tasting for everyone watching.
A lot of recipes tell you to cut off the edges before you apply the filling, but I always cut the edges off at this point because it makes for a prettier presentation. Cut off 1/2 inch at one end and 2-3 inches at the other end. Cut on an angle to make it look more like the edge of log.
Next make a little branch (or knot if you prefer) for the cake. Take the 2-3 inch end you just cutt off and cut off 1/2 inch from the other side so that both ends are cut clean. Take the angled edge and apply it the side of the cake with a little icing.
Now apply icing all over the cake where there would normally be tree bark on log. Be very careful not to apply icing to each end of the cake (there should be three now) or you won't be able to see "the rings" in your "log."
I think gently streaking the icing with a fork makes the cake look a little more authentically like a log. You will remove a lot of extra icing this way too, which no one seems to mind sampling.
A lot of people like to decorate the log using marzipan to make mushrooms, and maybe, if I get ambitious, I'll do that tommorrow. (I've also made mushrooms with large marshmallows and food coloring in the past). I usually sprinkle a little sifted confectioner's sugar on just before I serve it to look like freshly fallen snow.
That's all! I won't claim it doesn't take some time, but it's a fun and relatively easy activity to do this time of year. It would be a great activity to do with older children.
There were two more cookies in that dessert and they both came from the very first cookbook I ever bought for myself - a paperback classic now out of print called 365 Great Cookies and Brownies by Joanne Lamb Hayes and Bonnie Tandy LeBlang. It was $5.99 when I bought it back in 2000 and approaches cookies in a no-nonsense way. Get this stuff, do this to it, bake for this long, eat.
I've made many of the recipes in this book, and I think it's a great resource for anyone who likes cookies. That's a heck of a lot of people.
I reproduce the recipes for the pignoli and the lemon bites (which we made into thin lemon wedges) here. If you can find a copy of the book in a used bookstore, pick it up. Your dentist will thank you.
Pignoli from a recipe by Joanne Lamb Hayes and Bonnie Tandy LeBlang
1 cup pine nuts
2 sticks (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups flour
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread the pine nuts out on a cookie sheet and bake two to three minutes. Shake the pan, and put it back in for two to three more minutes so the nuts are nice and toasty.
In a medium bowl beat the sugar and butter together until "light and fluffy". Beat in the egg, vanilla, and lemon juice.
Add flour to the mix slowly and beat until blended well. Stir in the pignoli. Cover and refrigerate for one hour until firm.
Preheat oven to 300 F. Drop batter onto greased cookie sheet (or a Silpat or a sheet of parchment on a cookie sheet). Bake 20-25 minutes until edges start to brown. Remove to a rack and cool completely.
Lemon Wedges from a recipe by Joanne Lamb Hayes and Bonnie Tandy LeBlang
1 stick softened butter (8 tablespoons)
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons AP flour
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Juice of one lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on high speed until fluffy. Stir in 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, ad lemon extract. Press dough into an ungrased 9" round cake pan, leveling surface. Bake 20 minutes.
In the same bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy. In a small bowl stir together 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and baking powder. Add to eggs and beat until blended. Stir in the lemon juice and remaining zest.
Pour the egg-sugar mix over the warm crust and return it to the oven. Bake 20-25 minutes or until set. Remove pan to a rack and let it cool completely in the pan.
Run a knife around the outside of the pan and invert. If it doesnt come out easily (and it won't), whack the bottom of the pan or use the "gravity-assist" method of holding the pan flat about 10 inches from the surface you wish to turn it out on and dropping it.
Cut into 16 or 32 wedges (first 4, then cut those in half to get 8, then cut those to get 16...). You should get long, thin wedges. Arrange the wedges in the shape of the original circle on a serving plate, dust with powdered sugar and serve.
I love vegetables. Artichokes, beans, carrots...all the way down the line to zucchini (with the possible slight exception of green bell peppers which are just not me), I love them all. However, I feel like they are too often just a side issue on my plate. Yes, I'll occasionally toss in an interesting spice mix or maybe try a new vegetable casserole. But most of the time, my meal is about the meat. I'd like to say it's my cultural heritage or some kind of conscious decision, but actually it's mostly just laziness. I know that if I put a nice slab of meat-based protein on his plate my Critic will be happy. I can then play with the sauces and accompaniments to my heart's content, secure in the knowledge that he will at least accept the dinner I've made. It takes a lot of creativity to come up with a completely vegetarian dish that a meat eater won't feel is lacking in substance.
But there is always the exception, isn't there? Last night, the Critic was getting home late from a day of shopping in London and so I only had myself to think of at dinner time. I wanted to roast a big butternut squash so the Boy would have some for lunch this week. As I was reaching for the squash, I accidentally knocked the lid off the basin for my immersion blender, which still had the spices I had ground for a pork roast last week. Fennel, oregano, thyme...the whiff went straight to my head and I knew I had to try it on the squash. Just in case I was wrong about how gorgeous it would be, I only sprinkled it on half the squash, so the Boy could have his untainted by his mother's crazy ideas.
I was not wrong. It was gorgeous. Especially with a red wine onion sauce to top it off.
I had a long time to mull over ways to complete my squash as it slowly roasted in the oven. I played with a few ideas...
Stew? Too likely to become mushy and unpleasant.
Gratin? I made one at Thanksgiving and although the guests all seemed to like it, I felt it was lacking in flavor.
In the end, I decided the best thing I could do was to leave the roast in its glistening caramelized glory on my plate and serve it with some equally glistening caramelized onions. (By now the smell was driving me crazy and I felt a bit like the cat who frantically paces outside our bedroom door meowing from six a.m. every morning...) I was a little dubious about the red wine (can I confess that I thought it would look prettier with the red and orange combination?) but in the end it was the perfect note to round off the dish. The sweetness of the squash was set off by the spice mix and onions and the wine somehow just pulled it all together. My only regret was that I didn't make more of the onion sauce and only have a few tablespoons to go with my lunch portion of squash today. I should have more confidence in my instincts sometimes.
Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Wine and Onion Sauce
1/2 a Butternut squash
1 Tbs fennel seeds
1/2 Tbs oregano
1/2 Tbs dried thyme
2 dashes of salt, a grinding of pepper
6-8 medium onions
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1-2 glasses of red wine (I used a light Cotes du Rhone)
Preheat the oven to 200c/400F. Grind the spices with one dash of salt (about half a teaspoon) and pepper in a mortar and pestle (if you are masochistic) or your spice grinder/immersion blender container (if you are not). Scoop out the seeds and stringy interior of the butternut squash. Sprinkle it with about half the spice mixture. Bake the squash until tender. Mine was a decent sized squash and took just over an hour.
When the spices smell tantalizing and the squash is nearly done (at about the one hour mark) slice your onions in thick wedges. Toss them in a frying pan with the olive oil and turn up the heat to medium-high. Sprinkle them with the remaining spices and sautée, stirring frequently, until they are soft and a little brown on the edges. Pour in the wine and turn up the heat. Let it bubble away for a while, and then turn down the heat. Taste the sauce: it will probably need a good dash of salt.
When the squash is finished, slice it in thick slabs and pour the sauce over them. This works extremely well as a vegetarian main dish for non-vegetarians for two reasons: 1) squash is very filling and 2) the spice mix tends to "fool" your palate into feeling like you've had meat. I noticed this effect for the first time with Barrett's Egg Feta and Sage Sandwich; although there is no meat in the sandwich, the taste of the sage (it has to be dried to work) brings up the ghost of a taste of sausage. It's a lovely way to keep a meal light and yet extremely satisfying.
I feel like my vegetable street cred has just gone up a notch. I might even try it out on the meat-eating Critic!
Here's a heads up - Slashfood is having a "Spirit of the Season" day, and posting several recipes that include wine, beer, or liquor.
To paraphrase Norm from "Cheers", "Forget Jack Frost nipping at my nose, let's get Joe Beer nipping at my liver."
When holiday guests are in town, you need some tricks up your sleeve to keep the meals entertaining and tasty. Deliciously buttery puff pastry is the best of all these tricks.
I had two sheets of puff pastry left over from our dinner party. That's even after the cat walked through one of the other sheets. They're the standard sheet of letter-paper-sized puffs that come frozen. I also had two packages of portobello mushroom caps that we didn't use, which made for a quick meal that felt indulgent.
You'll notice there are two tarts in this post. Both have the same ingredients, but are built a little differently. One is closed with a pseudo-lattice crust and one is open to the world. Both are delicious. Don't make me choose which I like better.
Parmesan Mushroom Tarts
2 big portobello mushroom caps, cut in half, then cut into 3/4" strips
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed but still cool
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Cut two octagons out of the puff pastry. The octagons should use about 2/3 of each sheet of puff. Place these on a foil-lined baking pan.
From one set of trimmings, cut 1/2" strips about the size of the sides of the octagons. Lay 8 of these on top of the edges of the octagon. Repeat and build up the sides of the octagon, leaving a generous space in the middle that we'll fill later.
Roll the edges of the other hexagon slightly and prepare 1/2" strips as wide across as the tart from the scraps from the other sheet of puff. Sprinkle the bottom of each tart with 1/8 cup of parmesan cheese and set aside, away from the heat.
Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet until the butter foams. Add the mushrooms and salt lightly to encourage the mushrooms to relax. Sautee until the mushrooms are tender.
Add half the mushrooms(or as much as you can fit) into the center of each tart. Cover the tops of each with 1/8 cup Parmesan. Lay the strips for the second tart across the top of the mushrooms and pinch them to the sides of the tart in a grid formation. If you wish, sprinkle a little more Parmesan on the very top of the tart after laying the strips down.
Bake the tarts in a 425 oven for approximately 10-12 minutes until the puff pastry is golden. Let cool for three minutes before serving, and take the credit for a difficult-looking main course pastry.
Save leftover scraps of puff and one night, cut into strips, twist, bathe in sugar and cinnamon and bake for a quick dessert. Waste nothing.
First birthday. First cupcake. First sugar high. The sky's the limit now...
And the recipe? Just a simple vanilla cake from my Fannie Farmer. And lots of love. And sugar sprinkles.
The Boy's First Birthday Cake
115 grams butter
200 grams sugar
5 egg yolks
1 whole egg
2 tsp vanilla
200 ml milk (2 cups)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 180c/350f. Line cupcake molds with 18-20 paper cupcake liners. Or, if you are making cakes instead of cupcakes, butter and flour two 8 inch round pans. Cream the butter and slowly add the sugar, beating until light. Add the egg yolks and beat well. Add the whole egg, vanilla and milk and beat well. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and add to first mixture, beating until smooth. Pour into liners or spread in cake pans and bake 15-20 minutes for cupcakes or 25 minutes for cakes. If making cakes, cool in the pans on a rack for five minutes before turning out onto racks.
According to my Fannie Farmer, if you make the Lord Baltimore Filling and frost with 7 minute frosting, it's a Lord Baltimore Cake. Instead, I beat about 100 grams of butter with a couple of cups of powdered sugar and a splash of milk and a dash of vanilla. I'm afraid I never really measure the ingredients for my frosting; I just start alternating sugar and drips of milk until I have enough frosting and it's a good consistency.
Glögg is a velvet hammer. Who would think that combining wine, port, and hard liquor together would make for a easy to drink but strong libation? OK, pretty much everybody who has ever paid attention in Health class, but it took me by surprise.
Mulled wine and hot wine drinks of all sorts are a staple of the holiday party circuit. Take some adequate wine, some spices, heat it up, and add a cold day and you've got a drink that takes the edge off while warming you from head to toe.
I started with this recipe from 1979 from Craig Goldwyn. I didn't want to make a gallon of glögg, so I halved many of the ingredients and added some extra spices to give it more kick.
Ideally you should use an inexpensive American port and a slightly harsh red wine. An inexpensive rioja or beaujolais is ideal. The key ingedient is the aquavit. Port and aquavit are similar in many ways. Both port and aquavit are aged and concentrated traditionally by setting them in casks on a ship that travels great distances.
Aquavit, like vodka, is a potato based spirit. It is found in standard and "line" versions. In the case of "line" aquavit, the ship must travel across the equator and back. This smooths the harshness of the caraway and herb-infused white liquor. You can find aquvit at most good liquor and wine stores, and it should set you back only about $20-25/bottle.
Of course you can experiment with herbs and spices in your glögg. Some people don't like the almonds and raisins in their drink and some will complain about the grit from any undissolved spices. You can filter the drink, but I find the extra bits and pieces very nice.
This recipe serves about 8-10 glasses, so adjust for the size of your party.
Glögg from a recipe by Craig Goldwyn
1 750ml (standard) bottle red wine, preferably young and harsh
1 750ml (standard) bottle port wine, nothing too expensive
1/2 750ml bottle of a "line" Aquavit (I use Linie brand)
3 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon ground cloves or 8 whole cloves (whole is preferred)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
peel of one orange or two clementines, plus some for garnish
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds (not pods, not ground cardamom - seeds. Break the seeds out of the pods if necessary
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup blanched almonds - no skins
2 cups granulated suar
3 allspice berries, whole
1 star anise
First, be careful. You're working with flammable spirits near fire, which can be a very bad mix indeed.
Away from the stove, and nowhere near a flame, combine all the ingredients together in a big pot. Transfer the pot to the stove and turn the heat on medium-low. You want this drink hot, but you don't want to boil off the alcohol. Under NO circumstance should you let this mix boil. If it should start to bubble or roll, reduce the heat immediately.
Mull (that is, cook over the low heat) for 20-30 minutes before serving. Serve with a little of the rasins and almonds in each glass, and garnish with a little extra orange peel The longer you let it go, the more the spices will influence the flavor. You should taste a tart and sweet spice in each glass with just a hint of caraway from the aquavit in the afterbreath of each sip.
So far, Pim's second Menu for Hope, has raised over $8,000! It's not too late to participate by going to the UNICEF relief fund site. For every $5 you donate, you'll receive a virtual raffle ticket, potentially winning you one of a staggering variety of prizes. For the complete list, visit Pim's site. And if you have already looked at the list last week you need to look again, as she keeps adding more prizes. I thought I was done donating, but the chance to shadow a Michelin starred chef is awfully tempting...
Alright, let's get this out of the way. The REAL Post of the Week is Pim's call for donations to UNICEF. There are prizes involved and for every $5 you donate you get a chance at one of the prizes. So go donate now and come back here.
I. The season of marzipan is upon us and Deb over at Words to Eat By shows us the goods in an overview of almond paste goodies at Fortunato Brothers. Deb tells us they look great, but don't taste amazing. The photos are still a visual feast.
A. Carrot tops are not just for stock. They go very well in a carrot top and quinoa soup. When I saw "carrot top soup", I'll admit, I wondered how you get a washed-up bodybuilding prop comedian into a vat of soup. Then I got a little sick to my stomach.
1. We've been featuring some Christmas-y drinks here on Too Many Chefs. We haven't talked about beer at all. A Good Beer Blog fills us in on five good Christmas-y brews to enjoy this season.
Drink one of those brews while savoring a bowl of carrot top soup and staring at marzipan garlic bulbs, then CLICK to donate to UNICEF's Pakistan earthquake relief fund.
Photo by Paul Goyette
Sorry for the big photo, but I'm rather fond of it. This is the dessert from the dinner party this weekend. It consisted of three cookies and a pomegrante ice. I'll post the recipes for the pignoli and the lemon slice next week, and point you to Fresh Approach's recipe for rosemary shortbread, which was my favorite of all three cookies. Today we'll focus on the pomegranate granita.
A granita is an icy treat made of fruit juice, water, and sugar. Popular granitas include coffee, orange, and grapefruit. Think of it as an ice cream with an emphasis on the ice. And no cream. Actually, think of granita as its own thing. It deserves that much respect, at least.
Pomegranates are a tree/shrub fruit native to ancient Persia and cultivated across the Mediterranean world. The part of the fruit that is edible are the tiny sacs of juice that surround each seed. The seeds cluster inside the fruit in a way that always reminds me of honeycombs.
You can use fruit juice of any sort to make this simple dessert ice, either fresh or pre-packaged. Pomegranate juice is perfect. The color is deep and rich and sweetening the tart juice into an ice makes for a perfect palate cleanser.
Of course you can combine pomegrante with other juices, adjust the sweetness level, or add herbs to infuse the granita. But sometimes the simplest recipe is best, so see this as a base to experiment with or a finished dessert in itself.
4 cups pomegrante juice
1 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
One large cookie sheet with 1/2" or higher lip - 13"x9" is ideal.
Space in the freezer to lay the sheet absolutely flat
Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Make sure the sugar has completely dissolved, then add the pomegranate juice and heat through, stirring to combine. Taste and add more sugar as you like, up to 1 cup, making sure the sugar completely dissolves into the liquid. If you add too much sugar, add more water or pomegranate juice until the sugar dissolves. I like my granitas tart, so I stuck with 1/2 cup of sugar.
Pour the mix into the cookie sheet and let it cool to room temperature. When it gets to room temperature, VERY CAREFULLY pick the tray up and place it in the freezer to cool. This is a great recipe to do with kids, but an adult should handle the transfer.
Every 20 minutes (or more frequently if you want finer ice), take a fork and scrape the pan to break up the pomegrante ice that forms into smaller and smaller chunks. You shouldn't let any large clumps of ice remain. Repeat until all the liquid has frozen and the ice is broken into very small crystals. Depending on your freezer, this may take an hour or two.
Empty the ice crystals into a storage container and freeze for at least another hour before serving.
When you do serve the granita, dish it into martini glasses or ramekins and serve immediately. The ice will want to melt quickly, but once you taste it, you won't want give it that chance.
At last, a tart as black as my cold, cold, villainous heart!
This balsamic glazed garlic and shallot tart was one of the two main course tarts from a dinner party we threw this last weekend. I'll be presenting some of the dishes from it to you over the next few days.
The amazing thing about this dinner was that it was an entirely vegetarian Italian dinner (said the Scando-/ Anglo-/ Scando-/ Dutch boy), but had no pasta and no tomatoes. Can such a thing be? Why yes, of course it can.
This was one of two entrees (along with an eggplant and artichoke heart tart). Why two entrees? Well, I wasn't so sure this recipe would work and I wanted a backup in case it failed. I think it succeeded wonderfully, but I did notice that some guests greedily devoured their slice, while others seemed to concentrate on the other tart. It's one of those flavors, if you know what I mean. One inclined to provoke passion one way or the other.
I use elephant garlic to make the pieces match the size of the shallots and to get a milder garlic flavor. The sharp bite of garlic is muted in this preparation, as are the shallots. All that's left behind is a set of complex onion and garlic family flavors to play against the brown sugar and balsamic glaze.
It's a strange tart, I'll grant you. Make it and judge it after you've had a bite. You'll either be chucking the whole lot in the garbage or hiding it from your guests so you can eat the whole thing yourself. Or you could hide it and just TELL your guests you chucked it into the trash...
Balsamic Glazed Garlic and Shallot Tart
3/4 lb. shallots, peeled, but not cut
3/4 lb. elephant garlic (about a head and a half), cloves peeled and the rough attachment point trimmed, but otherwise whole
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
scant 1/4 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon or thyme, if available, dried if not
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 9" tart crust - I used this one from our kale and summer squash quiche recipe. Prebaked and ready to fill. You could use a frozen crust, but thaw it out and prebake it first.
Preheat the oven to 375 F
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Sautee the shallots and garlic until they take on color.
Sprinkle the sugar on top, add the balsamic, water, and herbs, and sautee, stirring frequently to cover the vegetablesas they carmelize until both the shallots and garlic cloves are fork tender. Taste and add salt and pepper as you see fit.
Sprinkle the parmesan over the tart crust, then spread the skillet contents evenly over the crust. Bake for 20 minutes or so until the crust and contents are beautifully colored and the tart is hot all the way through and fragrant.
Let cool for 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving. Garnishing with a dollop of creme fraiche or garlic cream would be dramatic.
Holiday drinks are great, but like eggnog or glog (which we'll tackle in the very near future), most require you to make a huge batch. This can be hard on the wallet and hard on the liver if you don't have tons of family and friends around to help you drink.
That's why I like this simple little recipe for a Hot Buttered Rum that can be done by the mugful, one mug at a time, and if you decide want more, you can make another mug in no time flat.
You can use either white or dark rum. I prefer dark rum in spiced drinks. The base recipe is a little watery, but very good, especially when you're faced with the prospect of snow followed by sleet as we are tonight here in Chicago. Use black tea or hot cider instead of water if you'd like more flavor.
Hot Buttered Rum, a Mug at a Time
for each mug of drink:
1 shot of a nice rum (or more, you lush)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon butter - does not have to be melted, but for Pete's sake don't use margarine for this purpose
1 1/2 cups hot water (or tea or cider or...)
spices (see below)
Spicing this drink is a matter of personal preference. I like cloves, but nutmeg or cinnamon or cardamom or star anise or a combination of the bunch would all be welcome. Add just a half a pinch of whatever spices you'd like - you don't want more because it will overwhelm the flavor of the drink. With nutmeg I personally get a strong cough going if I taste too much.
Put the sugar and rum in the mug with the spices. Stir. Add the butter then add the hot water (or tea or cider or...) over top. Wait about 15 seconds or until the butter melts. Stir and sip by the fireside.
I must be on the road to hell. Because all I ever see around me are good intentions, such good intentions. My mother is visiting and so Friday she met me at work for lunch. We went to a local café and each had sausage with a very heavy, creamy, greasy tartiflette. For those who don't know it, it's a kind of cheesy potato and bacon casserole, very satisfying on a cold day but also extremely high in calories. So that evening when we were shopping for dinner, I suggested we get a few pieces of nice fish, to give our waistlines a break. We picked out a package of three filets of cod and brought them home.
I was looking for something new to do with the fish and remembered the plastic container of oyster liquor in our freezer. When I made oyster stuffing for the bird at Thanksgiving I didn't need all the water I had carefully conserved from the oysters and so I froze it. Yum. And onions would go well. And what about mushrooms? And wine, of course. And then, if I wanted to serve it over a bed of pasta (we had rice for dinner the night before) of course I would need to thicken it a bit. Cream.
Good intentions, as I say. But Weight Watchers Hell.
I think you could probably substitute a tin of oysters with some of the oyster liquid if you don't happen to have a container of frozen oyster liquor in your fridge. But this dish does demonstrate my favourite mantra about cooking: Never Throw Anything Tasty Away. Freeze it.* If you use the canned stuff, I would add a few oysters and very little of the liquor and then taste it before adding any more. The canned stuff will probably be a bit saltier and stronger flavoured.
One of the beauties of cooking fish is how little time it takes. Start your rice or pasta boiling and then make the sauce. Once the sauce is simmering and the rice or pasta nearly done, you can start the fish and the whole thing will be finished and assembled on a plate in about 20 minutes.
Fish with Creamy Oyster Sauce
2-3 filets of white fish: cod, halibut, sole, whatever is fresh
1/3 cup oyster liquor
1/2 glass of dry white sparkling wine
3-4 Tbs unsalted butter
250 grams white mushrooms
1 clove of garlic
1 small onion
1 Tbs parsley
1/3 cup cream
Start some rice or pasta cooking - enough for two or three people depending on how many filets you have.
Place half the butter in a small frying pan over a medium high heat. Once it begins to froth, but before it browns, add the onion, sliced in thin half-rings. As they soften, wash and slice the mushrooms. Add them to the mix, adding a bit more butter if necessary. Once the mushrooms and onions are soft and fragrant, add the wine and reduce by half. Use a garlic press to add the garlic as it is bubbling away. Add the oyster liquor and allow it to simmer while you rinse off the fish.
In a separate pan, put a little butter to melt. When it froths, add the fish and turn up the heat. If you like (and especially if your fish is not robust enough to making turning it over feasible) you can cover the fish. Next time I might use monkfish, which is a much easier fish to turn over and does not result in unappetizing fish-flakes-on-pasta.
Turn down the heat on the sauce and add the cream. If you want to be absolutely sure that the cream does not separate, you should spoon a little sauce into the cream, mix it, and then pour the cream back into the sauce. I find that here in France, for some reason, the cream rarely separates. So I live dangerously. Stir in the parsley - fresh or frozen - and keep warm.
Plate your pasta or rice (pasta was a nice departure but much messier eating, as it was spaghetti) and pour a little of the sauce over it. Top with the fish and then spoon some of the mushrooms, onions and sauce over the fish. Serve with a nice dry sparkling wine, preferably the one you used in the sauce.
* And whatever you do, don't forget to label your container with the contents and date - I cannot tell you the pounds of Tasty Things I have had to throw away over the years simply because I didn't know what it was or how long it had been lingering in the back of the freezer. I now keep a roll of masking tape and a marker in a drawer in the kitchen and never tell the Critic it's there for fear he'll borrow them.
Meg's Egg Nog got our week of delicious alcohol-laden holiday drinks off to a strong start. I'm not much of an egg nog fan, though. I liked the egg nog Meg made one year for a Christmas celebration with her family, but most of the time I'd rather leave than take the nog.
What I do like is hot chocolate. It reminds me of childhood days, dragging a sled up the sledding hill in the suburb I grew up in. When I say "hill" I really mean an embankment for the Eisenhower expressway as it crossed the Northwestern railroad tracks. Usually the run we took involved jumping rusty junk in a hole at the bottom of the hill. "Suicide Run" was the steeper slope that led down the hill and emptied out almost directly onto the railroad tracks where freight and commuter trains whizzed by. We all loved that run and all got at least one good scare from it.
Looking back, we weren't the brightest kids, but somehow we all survived.
Anyway, after a long day of sledding, our friend's mother would make us hot chocolate with tiny little marshmallows floating in it. The frost would drop off our feet and our ears would warm from blue to a bright pink again as we sipped. These suggestions help recreate the feel of a warm hot chocolate on a cold winter day, but with the added bonus of booze. Enjoy!
Basic Hot Chocolate - 1 (makes two mugs)
2 tablespoons Droste or other Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons milk
3 cups milk
In a small bowl or cup, mix the 2 tablespoons of cocoa, sugar, and milk together until you have a loose paste. Heat the 3 cups of milk and mix with the paste. Don't boil the milk, but get it to a drinkably hot temperature. Serve as is with mini-marshmallows, or adulterate as below before serving:
For Peppermint Hot Chocolate, add three shots of peppermint schnapps and a drop of peppermint oil if you have it. The schnapps by itself doesn't quite give it the peppermint kick I like, but it pleasant enough by itself. If you garnish with a peppermint stick or candy cane, be aware that it will melt into the drink as time goes by, increasing the peppermint flavor of the chocolate (not unpleasantly so).
For Spicy Orange Hot Chocolate, add three shots of Grand Marnier or cointreau and simmer a bag of spices including cardamom, star anise, and cinnamon in the chocolate for ten minutes, still not letting the beverage boil. Remove bag and serve. Garnish with a curl of orange peel. If you wish, you may add a splash of nutmeg, and cayenne or ancho chile powder for more spice.
For Oaxacan-style Hot Chocolate, ditch the above method of making and get Mexican hot chocolate tablets (which usually contain some cinnamon), and prepare according to the instructions on the package. If you can't find these tablets, use the chocolate recipe above and add a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Add ancho chile powder, a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and three tequila shots.
There are dozens of possible combinations. Try hot chocolate with Bailey's or Amaretto or Frangelico or add dark rum and spices for a different sensation.
If a flavor goes with chocolate, try it in the chocolate. About the only plausible drink I don't think I'd try in the hot chocolate is port. I'm not optimistic about how that combination would taste.
We pride ourselves on bringing you ALL variety of food-related news here at Too Many Chefs. So how could we resist linking you to the most amazing donut to ever bust a rhyme?
That's right, I'm talking about JELLY DONUT! You've never seen jelly flow like this.
Start with an overview of the Jelly D phenomenon from Current.
The man dressed as a giant jelly donut is Andrew Bancroft of the comedy group Killing My Lobster. You can see the original freestyle rap competition here or view his video Maximum Wage (link goes to video that you can buy here).
Of course there is some crude language in the above videos, but hey, when pastry and poetry meet the results are never pretty.
Discovered on the amazing Boing Boing.
We are very pleased to announce that Pim has invited us to participate in the second Menu for Hope. The idea is very simple and the cause is very good. On Pim's site, you will find a list of participating bloggers, each of whom has donated a gift to the cause. For five dollars donated to the UNICEF relief fund for the disaster in Pakistan and Northern India (remember that earthquake?) you recieve a raffle ticket for one of the prizes. There is a comments section in the donation process where you can indicate which prize you would like should you be so lucky as to win one. Simple.
Here at TooManyChefs we are donating a basket of goodies including, but not necessarily limited to: speciality salt, foie gras, snails and any other fun French ingredients I can fit in the box. As an added bonus, we are throwing in a free copy of David Lebovitz's book on Chocolate, which we are hoping to induce him to sign.
So, in a twist on the Great Chicago Tradition, Give Early and Give Often. I could argue that it is the season for giving, but in fact charity knows no season. Just donate.
UPDATE: As we always knew, the readers of our blogs are extremely generous. 24 hours after the launch of Menu for Hope II, we have raised over $2000 dollars. I also forgot to extend our sincere and deep thanks to Pim for organizing this event!
Many years ago, I was wild and reckless and thinner than I am today. And so when the holiday season came around, I would make frequent large batches of eggnog. I love it. It's a girly drink, yes. Sweet and creamy, yes. But the way I made it was also highly alcoholic and rich to an extreme. The recklessness came in the fact that I never bothered to cook my eggnog, preferring to use raw eggs, as God intended. Or some bartender somewhere intended, anyway.
Now that I am older and fatter (notice I did not say "wiser") I tend to make a cooked eggnog. I'm not actually that worried about getting sick from a bad egg; this is pretty uncommon in France, a combination of the rarity of salmonella in general and the fact that eggs do not travel nearly as far to get to my refrigerator. Most visitors from the US are initially shocked to see eggs in the un-refrigerated section of the supermarkets. So the reason I tend to cook my eggnog is that my metabolism can no longer handle without serious weight gain the amount of eggs and cream you need to make a nice thick eggnog without cooking it. If your eggnog is actually a kind of a thin custard, you can use milk for part of the liquid and cut down on the eggs and still feel like it's rich. If you want it raw, you'll need a higher proportion of eggs to liquid and ALL the liquid should really be cream. Well, aside from the alcohol of course. I may cut down on the eggs or cream, but I'm never going to eliminate the hard liquor from my eggnog. Some things are just sacrosanct.
The following recipe is an amalgam of two separate experiments I made in eggnog. (The sacrifices we at TMC are prepared to make for you, the Reading Public, have to be seen to be believed.) The first mix had the right combination of spices, but lacked a little creaminess. The second time I tried to make a raw eggnog, decided I simply didn't have enough eggs in the fridge to make it right and cooked it instead (but didn't have the nice spice mix). So this one is the best of both worlds.
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup light cream
2 Tbs sugar
2 cardamom pods
a good grating of nutmeg
a dash of cinnamon
alcohol - a good dark rum or a sweet Bourbon whisky
Beat the eggs in a small saucepan with a whisk until thick and yellow. Stir in the milk, cream and sugar. Add the rest of the spices (but NOT the alcohol - you don't want to risk it boiling away). Bring to the verge of a boil (the liquid at the edges of the pan will start to buckle a bit) and then turn the heat down as low as you possibly can and allow to cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring all the while. When the cream and eggs coats the back of a spoon with a thick gloss, it is done. Pour the eggnog into a strainer held over a pitcher and either serve warm or cool it off first in the refrigerator. Straining the eggnog will remove the cardamom pods and cloves, and will also remove any bits that may have curdled. This stuff will curdle in the 5 seconds it takes your brain to process the thought "Hm, looks a little hot, perhaps I should turn down the heat..."
For a more traditional eggnog, leave out the cardamom and cloves. I think they add a welcome exotic touch and make the whole a lot more interesting than your usual eggnog. They go particularly well with a complex dark rum. And yes, please do not forget the alcohol. Otherwise, it's just empty calories.
Tonight, Dec. 9th - Sara Moulton, the Executive Chef of Gourmet magazine and Food Network personality behind Sara's Secrets will be appearing at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread, and Wine from 5:00pm-7:00pm, December 9th to sign her book Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals. Unlike some Food Network personalities I could name, this is a woman who knows how to cook. There will be sample noshing, I'm told. Definitely an event to attend.
2945 N. Broadway
* * * *
This afternoon, Dec 9th - Megaperky media force Rachael Ray will be signing her book Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats at Noon on the 9th at the Barbara's Books inside the State Street Marshall Field's. EVOO for everyone (That means Extra Virgin Olive Oil, by the way). Expect a mob - an annoying, perky mob.
Barbara's Bookstore at Marshall Field's
111 N. State Street
Chicago, IL 60602
OK, no pictures because I was busy with many other things (some of which you will read about later). Last night I cooked up a couple of halibut steaks for the two of us.
It's a very simple preparation and should work with any fish steak.
Quickie Halibut Steaks
2 halibut steaks
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons Herbs de Provence (more or less)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Let it get nice and hot over high heat, then add the halibut steaks. If they had been frozen (hello Trader Joe's), make sure you've defrosted them overnight in the refrigerator first.
Flip the halibut once you start to see color on the underside edges. Splash some lemon juice on it, sprinkle a generous amount of herbs de Provence and press them in with a spatula.
Sear for two minutes. Flip, splash ,sprinkle, and press again. Reduce heat and let fish cook through. Fish is done when outside has just a little color at the edges, and the center is warm to hot (use a knife to check on your piece).
Salt lightly, pepper generously, serve with a vegetable of your choice, and watch out for bones. That's it. Great when you don't have much time to cook but don't want to nuke a Lean Cuisine or order pizza.
One week after our Thanksgiving feast, I was starting to get a bit tired of turkey. As luck would have it, my dear spouse had a lot of evening engagements ('tis the season after all) and so I've been struggling to eat up all the leftovers. So Monday I decided to ignore the ever-present Tupperware container of turkey meat at the back of the refrigerator and picked up a lovely pork roast.
We don't have pork very often, mainly because I give in to the Critic's dislike of fatty or gristly meats. Pork chops can be both, and though I always get nice cuts his inherent prejudice always comes out when I tell him we are having it for dinner. It's kind of depressing when you announce in a bright cheerful voice what a delightful dish you've concocted and your dear husband responds with a disappointed, "Oh, really?"
This dinner, however, temporarily broke the mold. First, he could smell it when he came through the front door and it smelled absolutely fabulous. And secondly, it tasted fabulous. Sweet apples and sweet caramelized fennel went beautifully with the juicy pork. To be honest, I also bribed the Critic by roasting potatoes in a separate pan and making copious amounts of gravy; those two elements usually overcome any lingering prejudices over the choice of meat.
Roast Pork with Braised Fennel, Apples and Onions
1 pork roast (ours was about 1.3 kilos or 2 1/2 pounds)
1 Tbs fennel seeds
1 Tbs oregano
1/2 Tbs dried thyme
1 tsp salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
2-3 small onions
2 small heads of fennel
a little olive oil
a couple tablespoons of flour, water (for the gravy)
Preheat the oven to 350f/180c. Grind the spices and seasonings in a spice grinder or zap them in the mini-food processor attachment of your immersion blender. Lacking either of these, you could use a mortar and pestle, but it will take a good while. Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of your roasting pan and place the roast in it. Rub the outside of the roast with the spice mix, reserving a teaspoon or so. Wash the fennel heads and cut them in halves or quarters, depending on how large and woody they are. Place them, cut side down, in the roasting pan. Slice the onions in half, peel them and top them and add them to the roasting pan, also cut side down.
By now, hopefully, the oven will be hot. Slide the roasting pan in and you can go and do other things for a while. (This is one of the reasons I love a good roast, by the way.) About half an hour before the meat is done wash the apple, quarter it and cut away the core. Add it to the pan.
When the roast is done, remove it to a platter and cover it with tin foil. Put the vegetables in a bowl and place them in the still warm oven to keep warm. Put the pan on a high fire and reduce the pork juices by half. Shake a jar with a couple of tablespoons of flour and water (about a cup) and pour it into the pan. Use a spoon to scrape up any bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan and season with the remaining spice mix. Be generous with the salt as both pork and gravy need it.
Serve a couple of slices of pork with a mix of apples, fennel and onions and dribble gravy over the the whole mess. Savoury, a little sweet and incredibly satisfying on a cold winter night. Although technically the fennel isn't braised, the effect of caramelizing on the bottom of the pan and then soaking in the juices from the roast is the same end product. The vegetables and apple take on a lovely glazed sweetness as they bake and complement one another perfectly.
A note on the timing of the roast: I left mine in for an hour and a half, which is a bit long but was necessary as I seem to have misplaced my meat thermometer and I din't want to risk lockjaw. Santa, are you listening?
Sacrifice is what's needed for a great recipe and my wife sacrificed last night when she somehow punctured the meaty part of her palm with a small knife. Although this soup is very red, I can assure those non-anthropophagists (and I'm not entirely certain about Biggles) that no animal or spousal bits and pieces or byproducts are in the final pot.
If she'd made this soup with Winter tomatoes, the soup might have needed that red boost. Winter tomatoes in most of the Northern Hemisphere are sad, sad things. They smell like... nothing and the flavor usually matches.
The best, most flavorful, and reddest tomatoes for a soup in the winter are those that come from a can and were put in the can RIPE in the summer. That's what was used for this soup. One of the cans of tomatoes she used packed the fruits in paste, but the other did not. I'm not sure it matters. If you don't have tomatoes packed in paste, add some of your own or let the soup simmer longer to concentrate the flavors.
This is a thin soup, which is great for loosening up the sinuses. Make a big pot of this soup and enjoy it with grilled cheese on a snowy day, preferably after sledding down a hill into a snowbank.
So how exactly did the Redhead stab herself in the hand? I saw the whole thing, and I still don't know how it happened. She was putting a small knife away somewhat casually, and it bit her, point first. It's a good reminder to always respect the blade, because the blade knows when you're not paying close enough attention.
The Redhead's Tomato Basil Soup
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 32oz. cans whole or crushed tomatoes, with juice
15-20 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 minced scallions
4 cups vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
2 cups red wine of your choice (we used a California Zinfindel)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in the bottom of a stock pot or dutch oven. add the onions and garlic and sautee over medium-high heat until the onions are translucent, but before they take on much color.
Crush the tomatoes and break them up into very small pieces. Add the tomatoes with their juice and the stock and stir well.
Mince the fresh basil and add it and the dried basil to the pot. Stir well. Add the wine.
Simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Blend with immersion blender or in a food processor. Serve.
Simple soup, simple pleasure, and done right nobody gets hurt.
It's the start of the awards season with Accidental Hedonist now taking nominations for the 2005 Food Blog Awards.
We're helping out as well, offering prizes for the winners of the Best Food Blog - Theme award and Best New Blog, which should be a VERY tough category this year. There were so many great food blogs that started in 2005.
Head over and nominate your choice for the award. We nosed out the competition last year for the Best Group Blog Award.
To review, the 2004 winners were:
Best Food Blog - Restaurant Reviews; Chez Pim
Best Food Blog - Food Industry; The Food Section
Best Food Blog - Theme; Slice
Best Food Blog - City; Seattle Bon Vivant: Seattle, WA
Best Food Blog - Chef; Movable Feast
Best Food Blog - Wine, Beer and other Spirits; Vinography
Best Food Blog - Photography; 101 Cookbooks
Best Food Blog - Humor; The Amateur Gourmet
Best Food Blog - Recipes; Chocolate & Zucchini
Best Food Blog - Writing; Chocolate & Zucchini
Best Site Design; Chocolate & Zucchini
Best Non-Blogging Food Site; eGullet
Best Post; Domestic Goddess: How to Suck-up 101
Best Group Blog; Too Many Chefs
Best New Blog; Tiny Fork (sadly, no longer online as far as I can find. Looks like the domain was jumped on by a speculator, so no link)
Best Overall Food Blog; Chocolate & Zucchini
Go nominate your favorites for this year's awards now.
Dave and Oprah patched things up this week. It was inspiring. SO inspiring that Posts of the Week is willing to extend an E-V-O-Olive branch to Rachael Ray. Rach, here's the deal; come on our blog and we'll have a weepy reconciliation. I know you have a hard time getting media exposure, so please, take this opportunity. We get literally dozens of readers per day. You can't get that on basic cable, can you? Think about it.
1. Seriously Good is a great blog for seasonal recipes. The Paper Chef winner helps advance Calvin Trillan's Quixotic quest to have Fettucini Carbonara displace turkey as the holiday meal of choice. I've had one or two pasta comas that make me think that on one level, pasta carbonara would replace turkey nicely. Of course you couldn't make a soup with the pasta carcass the next day. Or can you?
A. "My philosophy: any dessert that first requires a trip to Home Depot can't be all bad." And no, Tarting it Up is not talking about blowing some R-30 fiberglass into a pumpkin. The topic is creme brulee, and the answer is MORE POWER!
I. At last, a competition I'm sure to enter. Food is seriously difficult to photograph. Rachael at Fresh Approach Cooking has come up with the "My Blog Went up in Flames" event, which "honors" the WORST food photos. Send her a sample photo before Sunday if you think you can compete with my awful photographic attempts from the early days of this blog. (I said, from the EARLY DAYS of this blog.) Ha! Puny mortals. Tremble before my bad photography.
Rachel, Alton. Alton, Rachael. Ra-chael, Al-ton. Al-ton, Ra-chael.
There are a few notable food-related events around town in the coming days:
Tonight - There's still time to register for David Lebovitz's Chocolate Holiday Treats class tonight at 6:30pm at Sur La Table. David is a pastry chef, author of The Great Book of Chocolate, and all around good guy blogger. Need incentive? The course description promises you'll learn how to make: "Parisian-Style Hot Chocolate - Chocolate Buttercrunch Toffee - Caramelized Banana Cake with Chocolate Chips - Spicy Cocoa-Glazed Nuts with Cocoa Nibs and Fleur de Sel - Chocolate Financiers - and Gateau Bastille with Malted Milk Creme Anglaise". All for just $65
Sur La Table
52-54 East Walton Street
Chicago, IL 60611
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Dec. 8th - Charlie Trotter is in attendance at Border's on N. Michigan Avenue for a food sampling and discussion in honor of the new book The Cook's Book. Trotter didn't write the whole book, but he's been roped into helping promote it.
830 N. Michigan Ave.
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Dec. 9th - Sara Moulton, the Executive Chef of Gourmet magazine and Food Network personality behind Sara's Secrets will be appearing at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread, and Wine from 5:00pm-7:00pm, December 9th to sign her book Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals. Unlike some Food Network personalities I could name, this is a woman who knows how to cook. There will be sample noshing, I'm told. Definitely an event to attend.
2945 N. Broadway
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Dec 9th - Megaperky media force Rachael Ray will be signing her book Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats at Noon on the 9th at the Barbara's Books inside the State Street Marshall Field's. EVOO for everyone (That means Extra Virgin Olive Oil, by the way). Expect a mob - an annoying, perky mob.
Barbara's Bookstore at Marshall Field's
111 N. State Street
Chicago, IL 60602
You have a cabbage. Your wife hates cole slaw. You just had a vegetable soup the night before. What do you do with your vegetative turban of cruciferous loveliness?
I looked online and found this recipe for Purim Hungarian Cabbage with Noodles. It looked good to me, but I of course made some changes to the original, and the final dish was great.
First of all, I halved the cabbage and noodles, but kept the supporting cast just about the same. I did add butter (he admits sheepishly), but not very much and the flavor difference was astounding. I could defend myself in butter court on this charge. ("Your honor, I do not wish to contest the charge, but here - eat, you look skinny!")
The ingredient I was most skeptical of was the sugar. Why add sugar to some perfectly respectable onions and cabbage? I think it's a shortcut to the carmelization of the onions, in case you have bad onions, but it works well in the recipe no matter.
Overall, this is a fast, low cal, low cost vegetarian dish for a cold winter night. Goes well with beer or soda. I don't know that I'd try to pair a wine with it. At least, I can't think of a wine I would have wanted with the dish, so "Nyet" to the wine and "Da" to the brewski.
Poppyseed Cabbage and Egg Noodles
1/2 package egg noodles (6 oz)
1/2 large head cabbage, sliced thin
1 onion, preferably red or 1/2 white onion and 1/2 a red onion if that's what happens to be in your refrigerator like me; sliced into thin half-moons.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons poppyseeds
salt and pepper
Salt the cabbage. The original asks you to let it sit and blot off the excess water. Forget it. My cabbage didn't give up any moisture.
Heat the oil in a broad skillet - 12" ideally - over medium high heat. Add the brown sugar and stir into the oil until hot. Add the onions and sautee in the oil until they start to lose their crispness.
Add the cabbage. Stir frequently, tossing with the onions. It might seem like too much cabbage at first, but it will reduce dramatically.
Put a big pot of water on the boil, salting the water liberally.
Continue to sautee the cabbage and onions. Taste and add pepper to taste as the cabbage softens. Somewhere in here, before taking the cabbage off the heat, add the butter and melt it down. Your total sautee time should be about 20 minutes. If the cabbage gets to the desired texture, turn off the heat and set the pan aside while you finish the noodles.
When the water in the pot boils, add the egg noodles. Boil until the pasta is a little past al dente. Drain.
Mix the cabbage and noodles together in a big bowl with the juice from the cabbage pan, if any. Add the poppyseeds, salt and pepper to taste, and serve in big bowls with a fork. Warming and tasty.
Variation - add paprika to bring out the "Hungarian" element in the dish. You might try with hot sauce or curry powder, too, but try the dish in its original first. It's surprisingly tasty.