November 30, 2010

The Biscotti Everyone Wants for Christmas!!

These biscotti are so incredible! I normally don't get too excited about biscotti, I find that it is usually too hard and often doesn't have a lot of flavor. These are not only slightly soft, but they are packed with hazelnuts, bittersweet chocolate and crystallized ginger, so flavor is not an issue! You may be surprised to learn that they also contain chili powder, which is often seen paired with chocolate in both Italian and Mexican cuisine. Often, you will see the gelato flavor of chocolate with chili in Italy (it's wonderful!). These are one of my Mother's favorite cookies- she requests them frequently!

These would make a great gift- you could put them in a mason jar and tie the jar with a ribbon, that would be a great presentation! The holiday season is approaching and I'm sure all the Moms out there need ideas for teachers' and sitters' gifts!

Biscotti with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Ginger
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
2 eggs (room temperature)
1 cup sugar
2 ounces crystallized ginger, chopped
2 ounces raw hazelnuts, chopped
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch sea salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder (I use ground cayenne chili powder)
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups flour (unbleached, all-purpose)
2 Tablespoons light (or heavy) cream

For the Dipping:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper, there's no need to grease either the baking sheet or the parchment paper. In an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, mix at a medium speed for 1-2 minutes until well combined. Add the chopped hazelnuts, chocolate and ginger and mix together gently. Next, add the cardamom, baking powder, salt, chili powder and cocoa powder, combine thoroughly. Add the flour, this will change the mixture from very liquid to somewhat clumpy. Once well combined, although forming clumps of dough, pour in the cream while the mixer is moving at a low speed. This brings it all together to the right dough consistency!

Now, separate the dough into three pieces and with each piece, form a log that is rather blunt on each end. This is important because you want the biscotti once cut to be close to all the same length. For smaller biscotti, form four logs. Place the logs on the baking sheet with parchment paper several inches from each other and bake at 350 for 20-22 minutes. They won't be completely baked at this point, they will still be slightly soft and somewhat raw on the inside. That is alright and that is what you want to keep them soft! Let the logs cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes, or longer, before you cut the logs into the biscotti. I use a serrated bread knife for this, it seems to work fairly well. These will be a little difficult to cut, they may crumble a little. Just be patient and proceed carefully and it will be fine!

Place the biscotti you have cut back onto the baking sheet and bake at 350 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and using a spatula, transfer to a wire rack to cool. You may need to do this in batches, or, if you'd like to move the process along faster, prepare one or two additional baking sheets.

While your biscotti are baking for their second time, or cooling, prepare the dipping chocolate! This really makes this cookie! They are delicious without this step, but this step really takes them over the top! Use 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, (I use 60% cacao), and microwave for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until melted. Mix well, and if necessary, transfer to a bowl or plate where you'll be able to get chocolate completely on one side of the biscotti. (If you're using a Pyrex measuring cup, you can turn it on its side.) I do this because hey! it saves me from having to wash more dishes!

You may use the same baking sheet you've been using that has the parchment paper on it for this next step! Make sure, though, that it will fit in your refrigerator, because you'll need to place these in the refrigerator to solidify the chocolate. Dip each biscotti in chocolate so that one whole side is covered (see the picture, the side that is facing down was dipped in chocolate). Place on the baking sheet, chocolate side down. Once finished with this step, place in the refrigerator.

These are just wonderful and I'm sure you are going to love them! If you do not care for hazelnuts, why not try walnuts or almonds? If you don't care for ginger, you could try candied citrus peel, which I'm sure would also be delicious!

November 28, 2010

Amazing Apple Pie

Who doesn't love a wonderful, homemade apple pie? Especially at this time of year! I used to be pretty intimidated by homemade pies- especially pies with elaborate tops. Then I came to my senses and realized, hey! those are made with cookie cutters! It's just as easy as making sugar cookies! And so it is. Here's my apple pie recipe- but the pie dough recipe and techniques can be used on any pie.

You'll notice a very beautiful pair of hands in these pictures, with an impeccable manicure. Those are not mine- I wish! Those are my darling sister's hands, who, as you can see, has incredibly attractive long elegant fingers!

Pie Dough
2 1/2 cups flour (unbleached, all-purpose)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup shortening, chilled
13 Tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2" cubes
8 Tablespoons ice water

Using a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Next, add the shortening in relatively small spoonfuls and mix, the mixture will resemble corn meal. Add the butter one piece at a time while mixing together, the consistency will still resemble small grains. Add the ice water while the food processor is on, in just a few seconds the dough will 'come together' and become a ball. Remove the dough, using a spatula if it is sticky, and separate into two equal sized balls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.

Apple Pie Filling
4 Rome Apples
4 Opal Apples
2 Tablespoons flour
juice of one lemon
zest of one lemon
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (from a whole nutmeg, not pre-ground)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
pinch sea salt

Peel the apples and cut into slices that are no larger than 1/2" at the widest portion. Cut off the core parts of the apple slices, using your fingers as your judge of what is too rough. You may also core the apples before slicing them, but I find apple coring rather perilous, it seems to take a lot of brute force and often the apples are somewhat slippery... if you have a husband or boyfriend that wants to help, perhaps they could undertake this portion of the recipe?

In a medium to large sized bowl, squeeze the lemon. Add the apple slices as you cut them, occasionally mixing with a spatula to evenly distribute the lemon juice. This will prevent your apple slice from turning brown. Add the lemon zest- the easiest thing to use is a microplane- here is one from Williams-Sonoma:

These are incredibly useful for citrus as well as hard cheeses. Add the remaining flour, sugar and spices and salt, mixing to distribute everything as evenly as possible. Some liquid will form, that is absolutely fine. This happens frequently when you add sugar to fruit. Keep the liquid, it's going in the pie, too!

Rolling and Shaping your Pie Dough

I use a french rolling pin, which, as you can see in the picture has no handles and is tapered at both ends. I find that this is not only pretty easy to use, but it also rolls the largest surface area at one time, which is the reason I prefer it, hooray efficiency! Anyhow, get yourself a large cutting board or clean surface on which to work with your pie dough. Place enough flour, and have some additional flour handy, you are going to use it as needed to prevent your dough from sticking. Take one of the two dough pieces out of the refrigerator. This is going to be your pie crust, the crust on the bottom. Roll the dough out, until you have reached about 1/4" in thickness throughout, and the size of it exceeds the outer edge of your pie dish- you'll need to eyeball this, but if you're worried, go ahead and measure. Now, here's how to get your pie dough from the counter into your pie dish:

As you can see in the video, you roll your pie dough around the rolling pin, then unroll it on top of the pie dish. You may need to move it around a little to place it in the best position, but you get the idea! Ok. If you are making a pie with a decorative top, you can cut off the excess dough around the lip of the pan. If you are making a regular, rolled dough top, leave the excess for now. We'll come back to that!

Place your pie dish with your wonderful pie crust in the freezer while you get your decorative top ready! Also, preheat your oven to 475 and place your oven rack at its lowest level. Retrieve your other chilled dough from the refrigerator and roll, using flour as needed, into the same thickness of dough. Now- you can either use plain cookie cutters, or specially designed cookie cutters that are especially for pies- this just usually means that there is a lever that presses a design onto the top of the 'cookie' also. Here is what I have:

For the pie featured here, I used oak leaves and one acorn in the center. But you can do whatever you like! Be creative and make it the way you would like it to be! It's your pie!

Now that our dough is ready, remove the pie crust from the freezer and add the apple pie filling. Mound it slightly in the center, and pour in the juice in the bowl also. Begin to cut out shapes in your pie dough and arrange them on top of the apples. There's really not a need to press them together, they'll stick sufficiently and once baked, attach to one another. I start in the center and work my way out in circular levels, I don't have any mathematical system, I just put leaves where it looks nice. In some areas, you'll need to slightly overlap the leaves, in others you won't. This is fine! What's actually useful and utilitarian about this method of topping pies is that you won't need to cut holes for steam to escape, which you do have to do with pies with traditional rolled crusts. Be creative, the leaves don't even have to be all facing the same direction.

When you're finished placing all the leaves, beat an egg white and brush the top of the pie with a pastry brush. If you don't have a pastry brush, you can actually use a paper towel to do this. Fold the paper towel several times until it is a long, narrow tube, then use one end the same way you'd use a pastry brush. If you start to have trouble with your dough while cutting out the shapes, if your dough becomes too soft, and it very well might due to the room temperature and the warmth of your hands, place it in the freezer for a few minutes to get it to firm back up.

Once your pie is brushed with egg white, it's ready to go in the oven! Now, reduce the heat of the oven to 425. Place your beautiful pie on a baking sheet. This is very important, it prevents you from touching the crust edges when you move the pie in and out of the oven, it's very much worth it. Place the pie, which is now on the baking sheet, in the oven and set the timer for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, rotate the pie, lifting only the baking sheet, and reduce the heat to 375. Bake for another 35 minutes- however, check after 15 minutes that the crust is not browning too fast. This often happens to me, so what I do is after 15 minutes cover the pie with foil and cook it with the foil for the remainder of the 35 minutes. It's important to let it cook for the full 35 minutes, even if you have to protect the top with foil, because it needs that amount of time to a) sufficiently cook the apples and b) sufficiently cook away the apple liquid.

After removing from the oven, lift (carefully) off the baking sheet and allow to cool on a rack for at least four hours. (Sometimes I leave mine overnight). Enjoy! This is a wonderful pie that I hope you will feel comfortable trying, and giving your own decorative flair to- I know you can!

Variation: For a traditional top pie, treat the top dough as you did the bottom- roll out and transfer the same way using the rolling pin. Arrange nicely on the top of the pie, cut four slits radiating from the center. Take the excess dough of the top and bottom, and, fold toward the inside. The folded dough should be even with the pie plate. Take a fork and gently press the dough on the edges against the pie plate edge. A beautiful traditional crust is now yours! Brush with egg white and follow the same baking directions!

Some other variations: Use a different citrus fruit, other than a lemon, but adjust for relative size. I would imagine grapefruit juice and zest would be delicious! I use Rome and Opal apples, but you can use different varieties- just try to have one somewhat tart apple and one sweeter apple variety.

November 26, 2010

Simple and Delicious Garlic Bread

You may never make garlic bread any other way again! I know I don't! Forget butter, forget lots of prep time- this garlic bread is a snap and it is incredibly delicious! I got this idea after attending a Spanish cooking class several years ago. Spanish cuisine has something called tomato bread, which includes a technique of using raw garlic cloves on hot, toasted bread. I got to thinking... what if I'm just interested in garlic flavor on the bread? This easy and delicious recipe was born! This uses olive oil instead of butter, which is great because it is slightly more healthy!

Garlic Bread with Olive Oil and Sea Salt
Bread slices
garlic clove(s)
olive oil
sea salt
I use relatively soft bread for this, like ciabatta, or a sourdough, or a boule without a very hard crust on the outside. The softness of the interior of the bread becomes irrelevant once you toast the slices, but the chewiness is wonderful. You may use a toaster or the oven, if you're using the oven, toast the bread slices on a baking sheet at 350 for 8-10 minutes. They won't really be turning brown yet, if you like your bread darker, you can toast the bread slices for longer.
Take a medium sized garlic clove- it needs to be something that you can hold on one end and have good control. Cut off the root of the clove, but cut a sufficiently wide area, you are going to rub this on the toasted bread. Here's a video of how to!

If you are not a huge fan of garlic, rub the bread all over on one side just once, for a bolder flavor, twice (I like twice!). Now, take your olive oil and distribute evenly over the bread. This is the butter substitute, so don't be stingy! Now, sprinkle large grain sea salt over the bread. Enjoy! I serve this with pasta, in the picture above it is featured with my Sausage, Fennel and Cream Pasta Sauce:

In Italian, this type of bread with olive oil and raw garlic is called 'Fettunta.'

November 24, 2010

An Apropos Read for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to gather with family and friends. It is a beautiful opportunity to give thanks for all the blessings in our lives. In addition to our blessings, the historical basis for Thanksgiving deserves some respectful contemplation.

I recently re-read a favorite book of mine just in time for Thanksgiving, 1491 New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, which you can purchase on Amazon:

This book is a detailed account of North and South America and its cultures before European presence. The relatively recent research is fascinating and is very different from what most of us learned in school.

Did you know that Native Americans invented the mathematical concept of zero before the Middle East? There are not only multiple written languages but even a recently discovered language that is 'written' three dimensionally in a binary form with intricate knots, colors and beads. One culture in Peru completely dispels the widely accepted theory that agriculture must flourish first for cultures to grow in sophistication. Instead, this culture had such an incredible bounty from the sea, it was sufficient to sustain a sophisticated culture without agriculture.

The Mesoamerican calendar has both circular (weeks and months) and linear (years) parameters and is actually more efficient than the Western calendar- each day has a unique name that doesn't repeat. The tribes in New England formed a sophisticated government that institutionalized individual liberty to such an inspiring degree that many believe our nation's constitution was founded on many of its principles.

Finally, the story of the Pilgrims, the Wampanoag tribe and Squanto (who was actually named Tisquantum, which wasn't his real name and meant 'the wrath of god,' his story alone is fascinating), is written with incredible perspective and detail. The reality was that the Wampanoag needed to align themselves with the Pilgrims to keep the Narragansett at bay- previous to this, no foreign visitors had been permitted to stay.

I was inspired by much of what I read and have a new perspective of our nation and its history. I hope that books like these will lead to a better understanding of the contributions of Native American cultures.

November 20, 2010

Chocolate Layer Cake, Decadent and Divine!

Is there anything more delectable than a well done chocolate layer cake? I used to be intimidated by layer cakes, they seemed like so much work. They are really not that bad! If you get yourself an offset spatula and a little cake turn table or lazy susan, the frosting is much, much easier! I prefer to use ganache instead of butter cream frosting. Ganache- if you are already familiar with ganache, you are probably nodding in agreement. If you aren't familiar with ganache, I have three words for you- heavy cream and chocolate! Ganache has two ingredients, seriously, two. One of the main reasons I like it more than butter cream frosting is that butter cream is significantly more labor intensive, but I don't think it is necessarily tastier. Butter cream frosting also contains more sugar. Ganache has no added sugar. That's probably why the wonderful heavy cream and bittersweet chocolate positively sing! While I love chocolate, sometimes I feel that a heavy dessert that is solely chocolate is a little bit dull. To give the cake depth, I add cinnamon and ginger to the cake batter and I also add cinnamon to the ganache- not enough to overpower, but enough to add a gorgeous complexity and depth to the flavors. Finally, you will probably be surprised to learn that this cake contains olive oil. Olive oil is used instead of butter in cakes in some regions of France and it seemed to me to be a good alternative- probably better for you too, although we certainly can't go around billing this cake as 'healthy.'

Chocolate Cake
(makes 2 9" round cakes that will be cut into 4 layers)
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup flour (unbleached, all-purpose)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup olive oil
2 eggs
1 shot of espresso, plus enough water to reach 1 cup

Preheat the oven to 350. You will need 2 9" round cake pans. I use Pam cooking spray, but you could use butter if you like. Pam is just faster and easier in my opinion and doesn't effect the flavor. Spray the pans with Pam, then place parchment paper rounds in the bottom of each pan. Here is how to trace and cut out parchment paper rounds:

After placing the parchment rounds in the bottom of the pans, either spray with Pam or butter, then add a sufficient amount of flour to coat the bottom of the pan. You can do this easily by holding the pan at a 45 degree angle with one hand and tapping the bottom of the pan with the other. With the hand holding the pan, you may need to rotate the pan to tap out the excess evenly.

In a standing mixer, combine all of the dry ingredients. Add the cream, milk, olive oil and eggs, mix until incorporated and then mix at a medium high speed for 1-2 minutes. To make the espresso and water, I usually pour the shot of espresso into a measuring cup, then add enough water to reach 1 cup. If you don't have an espresso machine, you can substitute 1/2 a cup of coffee and a 1/2 cup of water. Add this to the batter and mix until well incorporated, it will be on the runny side.

Pour, as evenly as possible, into the two round pans you have prepared. Bake at 350 for 30-32 minutes, until a fork's tines come out of the center clean. Cool in the pans on racks for 15 minutes, then invert on to racks and allow to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper, the bottom of the cakes may look a little lighter in color because of the flour, that is absolutely fine.

Ganache with Cinnamon
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
20 ounces (1 lb. 4 oz.) bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao)
1/2 (slightly heaping) teaspoon cinnamon

Heat the cream, either on the stove or in the microwave. Heat until scalded and very hot, but do not boil. In a metal or glass bowl, place the chocolate, either chopped or broken into pieces by hand. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for a minute or two. Using a whisk, mix the ganache well, until it is shiny and smooth. Add the cinnamon. Refrigerate.

When your cakes have cooled and you are ready to cut layers and assemble the cake, take the ganache out of the refrigerator. In order to speed up the process, I usually put the bowl of ganache over some simmering water in a sauce pan on the stove (a make shift double boiler). I get it to liquefy again (after solidifying in the refrigerator) and then I put the bowl in an ice bath to get the ganache to cool down and get to an in-between consistency that will be the easiest to work with.

In the meantime, you can cut your cakes into layers (once they have completely cooled, of course). I find it easiest to do this on a little cake turn table or lazy susan and using a long, narrow, serrated bread knife. Here is a video on how to do this:

One reason why it's important to make your cake layers as even as possible is that when you cut the cakes into layers, one layer can end up much more even than the other... Here's an example of when it goes badly. However, this is not a problem, you can still use this cake layer and the ganache layer will fix it and no one will notice!!!

Moving on! Let's assemble and frost this bad boy. Do you have an offset spatula? These are exceptionally helpful in frosting cakes. My offset spatula is about an inch wide, they come in various sizes, this size in the photo I find very useful with frosting desserts.

The cake turn table or lazy susan is also very, very helpful in frosting cakes. You turn the cake with one hand while you hold the offset spatula at an angle in the other hand.

If you have a cake layer that didn't turn out too well, use it on the bottom. Place some of the ganache in the center of the layer and spread evenly using an outward motion with your spatula.

Let's frost and assemble our cake!

Alternate cake layers and ganache, and when it is time for the final layer, try to use one of the layers that has a cake top (one of the two layers that was the top of the cake when you baked it).

When you've placed the final layer on the top, spread ganache over the top and as you use your offset spatula to evenly spread the ganache, allow the excess to fall over the sides. Then, you can evenly distribute the ganache on the sides to complete the frosting. You are done!!! I keep this cake in the refrigerator and when I'm planning to serve it, I let it sit out for about 20 minutes.

I hope this inspires you to make this delectable cake! Some variations you might try include nuts, you can add roasted chopped nuts to the layers and the top, you can use jam or jelly in each layer, or you could add chopped crystallized ginger. Use your imagination and you can come up with your own favorite variation!

November 17, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash, Easy and Delicious!

Butternut squash is so good! You barely have to do anything to it and it is delicious. Well, with the exception of, ahem, getting it into an edible form. This squash does take some effort to peel and dice. It's easier than you think, though! Here is how to very easily get your butternut squash ready, and this recipe for roasted butternut squash could not be easier. You'll be surprised that the only ingredients are squash, olive oil, sea salt and pepper!

A question I've been asked a lot in the past week is, 'what are you serving for Thanksgiving?' Now I love Thanksgiving, but I am not of the opinion that you have to eat the same thing every year. For example, instead of sweet potatoes, I am planning on serving this delightful roasted butternut squash. It's not quite as sweet as sweet potatoes, but it certainly still has some sweetness, which is brought out with the roasting and very nicely offset with sea salt. Enjoy!

Roasted Butternut Squash
1 medium sized butternut squash
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. One medium sized butternut squash is probably acceptable for about 4 side servings (you'll have to eyeball it). If I were having 6-8 people, I'd probably cut up 2, and 8-12 people, 3. It will depend a little on how big they are. You'll need disposable plastic gloves (like you see at the doctor's office, you can buy them at the drugstore), a 6 inch chef's knife and a vegetable peeler. You may be wondering why you need the gloves. It's my preference to use them for a few reasons. Butternut squash kind of stains your hands and really dries them out, it's really quite odd, because putting on lotion doesn't seem to help. It is as if your hands have been 'sealed' by the juices. Also, they can be slippery, so the gloves help a little. Finally, wearing the gloves makes it a little less gross when you take out the seeds. You don't have to use them, but you might be more comfortable. Here's a quick how to on peeling and dicing your squash. You want the pieces to be about 1 inch cubes or so.

Using your chef's knife, which you might notice in the video I hold with my thumb and pointer finger on either side of the base of the blade, you want to cut off the top part that has the stem. The reason it's good to hold your knife like this is that it gives you more stability and it is less likely to move from side to side. Cut the squash into about three sections, each section should be about four inches long. Then, take your vegetable peeler, and peel off the outer skin. You will probably see green veins. Try to peel the outer layer until the squash is about the same color as the center, this may take more than just once around. Once it is peeled, cut it into small pieces, about one inch.

When all your squash is cut into small pieces, place on one or more baking sheets. You'll want them to be spread out and not on top of one another, they won't roast well if they are crowded. Pour olive oil over the squash, and using a spoon, turn over the squash and move around until all pieces are coated with olive oil. I suppose you could do this in a bowl, but I think it's just as easy to just do it on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. A good rule of thumb when applying salt and pepper is that you'll want less pepper than salt.

Roast at 425 for 35 minutes, stirring a few times during the roasting. Stirring them will ensure even cooking and browning. Believe it or not, you are done! Baby likes these, so give them a try with your little ones, too!

Another question I've received is how do you make sure everything is ready at the same time? That is a tough endeavor and it certainly takes planning and execution. Here's the good news about this dish, though, you can prep the squash (cut it up) and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it. You don't have to worry about it turning color like potatoes. You know you'll need 35 minutes to roast them and getting them ready to go into the oven is a snap with just olive oil, salt and pepper, so you can do that when you're ready to put them in.

As if you needed more reasons to love butternut squash- did you know that compared to sweet potatoes it is lower in calories, carbohydrates and sugar? One cup of sweet potatoes equals 130 calories and the equivalent amount of butternut squash just 63 calories. Hooray butternut squash!

November 16, 2010

Smoke That Turkey, Y'all

Thanksgiving is upon us! I really like Thanksgiving. I like it because it is a holiday almost completely devoted to food and because there is no gift giving. Don't get me wrong, I love receiving a gift as much as the next girl, but sometimes the shopping for gifts can be stressful! I don't think I know anyone easy to shop for!

On to the food- you probably all know where you'll be eating Thanksgiving, or you are hosting. I myself am hosting, but on the Saturday following Thanksgiving (we have two Thanksgivings so we see all the relatives). This year, we are planning to smoke a turkey on the big green egg- I'm very excited about this, mostly to make the turkey taste, well, not like turkey. I wish I liked turkey, but I'm afraid I just can't get there. The only turkey I do like, seems to be smoked turkey. Now, while I am smoking my own turkey, you may not be able to. That is not a problem. Perhaps you have heard of Greenberg Smoked Turkeys, which is a company in Texas that sells mail order smoked turkeys. These have got to be tasted to be believed. We had the extreme pleasure of tasting one of these turkeys when we had our 'dinner calendar' after having our baby. For those of you not familiar with the 'dinner calendar' concept, a friend of the new mother organizes friends to bring dinner to the family over a few weeks. Our darling friend Jody sent us a smoked turkey from Greenberg. I remember saying to my family while eating it, "there is something so right going on in Tyler, Texas, y'all," and no doubt there is- because this turkey is so delicious, it tastes like ham. Here is there link!

What's funny about this is that although it is delicious, their smoking is quite intense and we found that it made the husband smell like smoked turkey for a while. That is the only downside (if that can be considered a downside).

Enjoy! More Thanksgiving related posts to follow!

November 15, 2010

The Day After the Dinner Party...

Sometimes I think we give little thought to the recuperation and clean up following hosting an event. We have developed- although I laugh a little when I say 'developed,' it is more like we are tired so this is what we do, but I have noticed that it is a pretty consistent pattern. No matter! Here it is.

After our fabulous and fun guests leave, we go to bed. We don't do any dishes, we don't start the dishwasher (partially because ours makes a loud beeping noise that wakes everyone up, even baby), we just go to sleep. The next morning, we feed baby at home and then, with me still in my pajamas, we get in the car, even the dog in the back, and we drive through Starbucks and we get breakfast sandwiches- you know, the kind with eggs and cheese and breakfast meats... mmmm... breakfast meat. My Dad has a new year's resolution every year to eat more breakfast meats. I'm not sure what it accomplishes, but I like where his head is. So we drive through Starbucks so we don't have to get dressed to go out in public. Actually, this is mostly just me, the husband does look presentable. But baby and Mommy, we're still in our pajamas. I want some footy pajamas too, don't they look comfortable?

We also go out to eat for lunch and we get take out for dinner- unless there are a lot of leftovers, we might eat those. During the day, we do a few loads of dishes. I would like to sing the praises of my dishwasher, we have a Miele, and it is hands down the best dishwasher I have ever encountered. I don't rinse any dishes. Really. I scrape off the big pieces of food and I just load them in without rinsing them. Almost 100% of the time, they get clean. For those of you interested in the water use differential, I was told that the dishwasher uses 4-5 gallons of water and if you rinse the dishes before putting them in, you use 19 gallons. Go figure. So by the end of the next day, nearly all the dishes are done, and no one was really stressed out by the clean up! Except maybe Pele. Weird things stress her out. She breathes really heavy in the drive through line at Starbucks.

So my message to you is that you get a pass after hosting people and doing a lot of work. Go ahead! Go to a drive through in your pajamas. It is exhilarating! And besides, our baby is too young to register any of this. I'll start being more adult when he's 2 or something :)

November 13, 2010

An Intimate Dinner for Four

Perhaps you are a little nervous about entertaining for a lot of people and you prefer to have a smaller dinner party. That is great! Having one couple over is wonderful, because you get to focus on them and spend time with them in a way that is more complete. We had a lovely, adorable couple over last night for dinner and it was so much fun!

Getting ready for another dinner party was surprisingly easier than I expected, since a lot of the prep work I had done for last week's dinner party helped me very much. I had less straightening to do, the houseplants looked pretty alright and I could use the salad dressing I'd made last Friday.

Our menu was:

Cheeses with cocktails

Mache salad with chevre crostini with bacon and honey

These are the crostini before and after going in the oven in the first step of their preparation. Take some french bread (baguette) that is at least one day old (two days is good, too), and slice into very thin slices (this is why it's helpful if it is stale, won't work otherwise). Place on a baking sheet and drizzle liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Bake for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees, until they turn this wonderful light brown color.

Have one as a snack, they are deee-licious. In a small bowl, combine 2/3 of a cup of goat cheese crumbles or chevre with 2 Tablespoons heavy cream, add a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground pepper. Mix well, then spread on the crostini. Top with some bacon lardons (small pieces of bacon pre-cooked) or crumbled bacon. Heat for 5 minutes at 350, drizzle with honey and serve as an accompaniment to any salad. We had mache with a dressing the was white wine vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard and some chopped chives.

Bacon lardons are wonderful! Cut raw bacon into small pieces and fry at a medium low heat until a lot of the fat has liquified and the bacon is not quite done. Drain on paper towels. Use on salads, crostini, the list is endless!

Lamb chops with rosemary and garlic

Mmmmmm... lamb chops! I love lamb. I think it might be my favorite meat. It is either lamb or pork. So these lamb chops are great, and not hard to make at all! In your food processor, combine:

6 garlic cloves
3 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons peppercorns
4 sprigs rosemary (leaves only)
1/8 cup olive oil

Combine until most or all of the peppercorns are broken and it resembles a paste. It will be mostly green in color. We have a little rosemary bush outside, so now I don't have to ever buy rosemary, it's great. Rosemary is surprisingly hearty, I don't really ever water it.

We used two racks of lamb chops that were already frenched, I just sliced them. You can go ahead and trim away more of the fat if you like. The rosemary and garlic paste you have made is more than you'll need for this, so reserve about 1/4 to 1/3 of it to use and store the rest in the refrigerator. Spread a little bit of the paste on each side of the lamb chops and let sit, I let ours marinate for about 3 hours. Cook either on a grill or on the stove to your desired doneness. Wonderful!

Potatoes with truffle oil

Here are the potatoes before they are roasted. I use yukon gold potatoes and a I peel about half of the skin off in parts. I'm getting rid of the eyes, but even if they didn't have eyes I'd probably peel them this much anyhow- it gives the outside a nice variation in texture once they are roasted. I did this, the peeling, in the morning on Friday and then I put them in a bowl of water (to prevent the exposed parts from turning color). To make the potatoes, remove from the water, coat with olive oil and place on a rimmed baking sheet or similar pan and roast for 1 hour 35 minutes at 350. After removing them from the oven, mash them together very coarsely (you're not making mashed potatoes, so they just have to break apart). Sprinkle with salt (you'll need more salt than you'd probably think) and freshly ground pepper, then top either with plain olive oil, or if you have it, truffle oil. Probably any type of flavored oil would be delicious, for example, garlic infused oil, or rosemary infused oil. These are so simple and delicious.

Chocolate pots de creme with cardamom and a hint of cinnamon

You can find the dessert recipe here:

During baby's afternoon nap I did my hair. Here's baby and Mommy in the kitchen! Here's also a shot of your dining room table and baby and Mommy getting ready for baby's bedtime. He looks so cute in his red pajamas!!!!!

November 12, 2010

Chocolate Pots de Creme with Cardamom and a Hint of Cinnamon

Chocolate Pots de Creme is actually quite an easy and fast dessert to make! What's also very cool about it is that you can flavor it in a multitude of ways... I am very fond of cardamom, so here is a variation that I enjoy!

Chocolate Pots de Creme with Cardamom and Just a Hint of Cinnamon
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup sugar
6-7 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 egg yolks

In a sauce pan over medium to medium to low heat, heat the cream with the cinnamon stick. Do not boil, keep the heat low enough to scald, but not boil. It is alright if a film forms on top of the cream. Allow the cinnamon stick to permeate the cream for about 10-15 minutes at this moderate heat. Stir in the sugar and the cardamom. Allow the sugar to dissolve, stirring as necessary. A whisk or a wooden spoon will be fine.

Chop the chocolate coarsely, I prefer to use Ghirardelli chocolate, I find that it's pretty widely available and it is leaps and bounds better than lower priced products. Ghirardelli makes good chocolate bar products for baking and also very good unsweetened cocoa powder. Place the chocolate in a metal or glass bowl, that is large enough to fit on top of the sauce pan you are currently using to heat the cream. Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow the hot cream to melt the chocolate for a minute or two. In the meantime, place a few inches of water in the sauce pan and bring to a simmer, this is going to be your makeshift double boiler in a minute.

The eggs you use should be close to room temperature. Extract the yolks only and discard the shells and whites (or reserve the egg whites for another use if you like). Beat the egg yolks together with a fork or a whisk. This next step is the only technically challenging step of making this dessert, but once you understand it, there are many applications for it, the most exciting perhaps being Gelato! The basic idea behind both this custard, because that's essentially what this is, and Gelato, is that you can't heat the eggs suddenly when you combine them with the cream. Heating them too quickly will cause them to solidify like scrambled eggs. What you want to do instead is gradually add the beaten egg yolks to the hot cream and chocolate mixture, whisking the hot cream constantly, in order to a) incorporate the eggs evenly and b) prevent 'scrambled egg action.' I have had that happen when making Gelato before- you can tell visually that something is wrong, your custard will be lumpy and the texture won't be smooth. So don't worry that you won't know how to tell if you're eggs heated too quickly, you will certainly know. So after your hot cream has melted the chocolate, stir or whisk well until smooth. Remove the cinnamon stick, trying to scrape as much excess chocolate cream off as possible. Now, using either the bowl that the eggs or in, or if you find it easier, you can transfer the egg yolks to a measuring cup with a spout, pour the egg yolks in a very slow and slender stream into the hot chocolate cream, whisking constantly. Don't pour the egg yolks in continuously, pause after each addition. I would estimate to get all the egg yolks added, it might take me two minutes or so. Congratulations! You now know how to 'Temper' eggs (the technical term). It only applies usually to yolks, egg whites have another wonderful purpose on their own, volume!

Now, take the bowl containing the hot chocolate cream and egg yolks and place over the simmering water in the saucepan. (By the way, you've created a makeshift double boiler. You don't need to buy a double boiler, although we have a lovely hammered copper one that was on our wedding registry. I use it occasionally, but this is just as good.) Whisk constantly for 7-10 minutes, I use medium heat for this. You may notice a slight thickening, which is great, and you might notice that the cream on the sides of the bowl may darken slightly. That is fine, too. Now, you will need 6-8 small ramekins or whatever cup you would like to use to serve this. We use little white ramekins, but you can be creative and serve this is many different things, like tea cups or saucer champagne glasses. Pour the chocolate cream into your ramekins or cups and allow to cool. Allowing them to cool for a little while before putting them in the refrigerator might seem unnecessary, but here is why it is important. If you don't wait for the custard to cool and you place plastic wrap over it and put it in the fridge, the condensation that forms on the plastic wrap will drip onto the top of your custard and leave unattractive marks. Part of the appeal of this dessert is its smooth creamy top, so that's why it's important to let them cool. You want to let them get down to close to the refrigerator temperature so the chocolate will re-solidify and the custard will be the right consistency before serving. You can make this several days ahead of your party!

I am confident that you'll find this not only quick and easy, but also incredibly delicious and rich. Enjoy!

November 11, 2010

Charcuterie Class

Here is an essay I wrote about my experience taking a Charcuterie class in New York. It was very interesting and enjoyable! I hope you enjoy reading it. My love of charcuterie began at a young age, our mother would feed us chicken liver pate spread on pita bread with raw onions- quite a delicious sandwich! While I certainly have my favorites in the charcuterie realm, there are things I don't care for, head cheese for example.

My first chacuterie class was last night. We changed into our uniforms (grey checkered pants, white double breasted chef jackets, white neckerchiefs, aprons, low white hats and sturdy shoes) and went to our class room. There were knife sets in black bags for each of us. Chef Jeff was our teacher, assisted by Chef Janet and Garrett, who hasn’t graduated yet. Chef Jeff is very serious. Chef Janet is a tiny blonde from Minnesota with a terrific accent. She worked in a slaughterhouse last summer.

A large, roughly 125 lb. pig was wheeled into the class room. Chef Jeff needed assistants to lift the pig and move it around and at that point I figured out why the class was 80% men. Chef Jeff asked who hunted in the class, about 60% of the hands went up. We looked at the pig, talked about slaughtering, and then Chef Jeff took the pig apart in pieces. First, he cut into the jowl and we talked about Guanciale, which is an Italian bacon made of jowl meat (I’ve never had it). I believe there’s a Southern equivalent called Jowl bacon, but I don’t think it’s considered high end in the US. Then, we took apart the rest of the pig, first the leg, which could become a ham, then the shoulders, then the mid section. Apparently, pork butt comes from nowhere near the rear. We looked at bacon and fat back. We cut the shoulders and mid sections and some additional pork butt into chunks that we’d make into sausage.

We then watched demonstrations on making a French garlic sausage with a sausage grinder and a smoother Bratwurst with a ‘buffalo chopper,’ which is like a large metal food processor. We split up into teams of four, I was with Natalie (French, taken many classes there before, a Food writer), Charlie (friend of Natalie’s, retired from advertising) and David (looking to start a restaurant with chacuterie on the North Fork of Long Island). First, we decided what type of sausage to make, the French garlic. This contains garlic, pistachios and red wine. We weighed our meat and measured our other ingredients. We then ground the meat and then using our hands in a large metal bowl, mixed in the other ingredients and worked the meat until slightly firmer and sticky (kind of like working dough). It’s important to keep meat cold when making chacuterie, otherwise it gets hard and tough. The bratwurst recipe in fact calls for crushed ice to be ground into the mixture. We then learned how to use a manual sausage machine that puts the meat in casings. For the sausage we were making, we used medium sized beef casings. We learned how to tie the ends, because they can be slippery and our group made 4 sausages (one burst, we had to do it over, we blame Charlie’s aggressive tying). We were done earlier than most groups, especially the bratwurst groups because they had to sauté their garlic and onion first. The bratwurst groups made a large coil of sausage instead of foot long links like we did. I watched Thomas (hunts, from Wisconsin, feeds his son venison beef jerky in the morning before school) shape the bratwurst into links, like it was a balloon animal. He gave me some bratwurst to take home and instructed me to simmer it in beer and chopped up onions, then grill and serve with the simmered onion (this was truly delicious). We also took home some of the garlic sausage, which was boiled and just needed to be grilled.

Other standouts from the class: We were fed a dinner of a romaine salad, cauliflower and broccoli gratin and rigatoni with ground beef and carrots and celery. There is a Peruvian man with a mustache that is very full above the lip and waxed to points half way out his cheeks. This is Kenten, who I rode the subway with after class. During class he wears a gauze surgeon’s mask over his lower face. There is also a man that has a pig farm, don’t remember his name. He is very into heritage breeds and there was a conversation during the butchering that worried about the leanness of some heritage breeds. There is a surly man named Jock (seriously). He’s really into talking to the guy with pigs.

My second chacuterie class was last night. Chef Pasqual led our class. He is French and was originally a butcher. Chef Jeff and Chef Janet were also there. We made several things that are curing and will be ready on Wednesday for us to eat, take home, or finish making at home. We worked in teams of 4 again, I worked again with Natalie (French, food writer) and our other team members were Dominic (took La Technique with Natalie, experienced in Italian sausage making, thinks I look like Hilary Swank and calls me ‘Hillary’) and Jock (not surly in fact and really nice, helped me quite a bit). The guy who raises pigs was drinking the cooking wine quite a bit, which was fairly humorous.

The first thing we made was a pate / terrine. Chef Pasqual talked to us about the importance of pork in pate and the ways you could combine pork and pork fat with other leaner meats, such as venison and other game that is quite lean. The ratio that is typically used is 2/3 pork and 1/3 other meat. We talked about other ingredients that could be complimentary, for instance, why not put carrots in a rabbit pate, or an herb that deer eat in a venison terrine. Chef Pasqual believes in authenticity of recipes, but also harmonious interpretation (i.e. the carrots in rabbit pate, but not necessarily in another kind). Chef Jeff prefers dried fruit in his pates, such as cherries, cranberries, apricots. Things like apples will not cook well and not be appetizing. Our pate contains duck liver, pork, foie gras, garlic, brandy, truffles and seasoning. There is a seasoning called pate spice, which we included, but Chef Pasqual said this could be many things. I am curious what it would taste like if you added something like ground cardamom or cinnamon. First, we sautéed the duck liver with the garlic and added brandy, and set it on fire. We chilled this, and then added it to the pork and fat back. We ground this together. We then mixed together the ground mixture with finely chopped duck breast and foie gras, from which I removed the vein(s). We added our other ingredients and mixed until it was sticky and the foie gras had slightly ‘melted.’ Then, it was time to pack the pate into a terrine mold. These are rectangular ceramic dishes that according to Chef Jeff, are becoming harder to find. There is one made by Le Cruset, however. (I will probably ask for one for my birthday, I love Le Cruset). Le Cruset was also referred to as ‘Le Robberie’ since it is so expensive. We lined the terrine mold with caul fat, which is like a white net with veins of fat. You could also use bacon, pork fat or nothing, but you probably want to use something because the pate is going to shrink. We used Madeira on our hands to pack the pate, so it wouldn’t stick to our hands. We are letting the pate cure until Wednesday, when we will cook it in the oven in a water bath until it is 145 degrees internally.

Next, we made a cooked salami. A cooked salami is different from a dry cured salami in that it is cooked, not hung and cured over a longer period of time. This salami recipe contains whole peppercorns, red pepper flakes and paprika. We were shown and allowed to try a venison salami Chef Jeff had made, which was shaped with dowels pressed into its sides to form a pattern on the edge. The venison salami was a lovely shade of violet and was very tasty, although I probably prefer a more refined or smoother grind, to make the pieces of fat back (which are the white spots in salami) smaller. We combined pork with tenderquick (this is our curing salt that contains nitrate and nitrite, which are the curing agents) and red wine and ground it together. We mixed in the other ingredients and pressed the salami into medium sized beef casings, like we did with the fresh sausage last week. Tightness in the sausage is important, otherwise mold can form in the air pockets. In order to ensure tightness, we put the fishnet casing over each sausage, like you see on salamis at the store. The fishnet casing is made of string and I was quite talented at putting it on the sausage. This was because it is like pantyhose, where you roll it up like you’re going to put on a sock and stretch it out a little. The men on my team were impressed, Natalie and I told them it was a ladies’ thing and was because we were very used to hosiery.

Next, we made a Jambon Blanc, which is a deli ham, but in the French style. Chef Pasqual talked about the difference in French ham vs. American, which in his opinion is the sugar content of the brine. Chef Jeff, who is American, prefers more sweetness. We made a brine out of rosemary, sage, garlic, tenderquick and a little sugar. We then injected this into a ham using a large metal syringe that is called a spray pump. This is going to be cooked and it is aging in the brine until Wednesday. Our final item of the evening was a duck confit. We each took a duck leg and we cut off the excess fat on the sides, but not on the top of the leg. We removed the lower thigh bone but not the bone that is coming out of the leg. We cut around the skin and fat on the upper bone left in. We placed this, skin side down in a perforated tray on top of another tray (like a colander). We mixed thyme, bay leaf, cloves, pepper, shallots and garlic into a mixture and spread it evenly over the top of the duck legs. Those are also aging and we will cook them on Wednesday. We’ve been instructed to bring containers on Wednesday to take these things home.

Last night was my last chacuterie class. All three chefs were there, Chef Pasqual, Chef Jeff and Chef Janet. When we arrived and set up our stations (get a cutting board, put a wet paper towel under it so it does not slide, take out some knives, get some kitchen towels), our terrines that contain duck liver, pork and foie gras were out on the counter. Our hams that were sitting in brine were on one of the side counters, still sitting in their large plastic containers of brine. Our salamis were cooking in water on very low heat. A large pot full of duck fat was slowly simmering our duck confit (after the curing mixture has been brushed away and discarded).

Our teams stayed the same, I was with Natalie (French, food writer), Dominic (Italian, very nice) and Jock (who is a doctor when he’s not cooking). The class had slightly thinned out; Charlie and Darryl were not there. Natalie told me later Charlie is a much better teacher than student and the ratio of men to women may not have interested him much either. There was no Inglenook (cooking wine) around, much to Bradley’s disappointment. At one point in the evening, Chef Jeff called Kenten’s extreme mustache ‘a chacuterie mustache if he’d ever seen one.’ The ovens at our stations were preheated. Each station is like a large kitchen island of steel, there is a counter area to the far right, with two levels of shelves underneath, a burner with a constantly burning pilot light to the immediate left, a griddle plate to the left of the burner and underneath this, a two shelf oven. Each island is made up of four of these joined together at the griddle plate.

The first thing we did was to tie up our hams. Using fairly thick cooking twine, we began tying the hams at the thickest part of the middle and using double knots (one knot, with the twine going over and under itself twice instead of once as in a typical knot). Then moving above and below in equal increments, we tied the ham with several more pieces of twine and once vertically. The hams then went into roasting pans with roasting racks with a small amount of water in the bottom (because the fat dripping off into a hot, dry pan will burn). We cooked these hams until they were 150 degrees in the center in a 400 degree oven. To prepare the terrine for the oven, we placed the terrine mold, covered in tinfoil, top only, in a roasting pan with (hot) water halfway up the sides of the mold (like baking a cheesecake). We placed this in a 350 degree oven and cooked until it was 145 degrees in the center. Since this was primarily pork and contains Tenderquick (curing agent), 145 is a safe temperature and with a terrine or a pate, erring on the side of slightly undercooked will yield a moister result. Chef Pasqual stressed the importance of ‘low and slow’ cooking when it comes to chacuterie. The objective is to retain moisture and also prevent extreme shrinking and toughness of the meat, caused by high heat.

One of our new projects last night was a chicken liver pate. While I have not tasted this yet, I am probably the most excited about this item, since my love of chacuterie begins with Sell’s chicken liver pate. When my sister and I were little, our Mom fed us chicken liver pate with sliced raw onions in pita bread, which we loved. Instead of a grinder, we used blenders for this recipe. We began with chicken livers, from which we removed sinew, fat back, milk, eggs, gelatin, spices, flour and cream. This was blended together first in a blender, then with a whisk in a bowl (adding the flour and the cream, you can’t blend with the cream, it will whip and separate). We then poured it into an aluminum loaf pan lined with plastic wrap. Some was poured into small ball jars. We talked about presentation in the small ball jars, which could be sealed with duck fat on top (will keep longer) or jam, which would be a lovely sweet and acidic counter to the rich pate. Chef Jeff asked us if we had had any good chacuterie lately and I told the class about the amazing chicken liver and foie gras pate I had last Friday at Orsay, that was topped with a jam, served in a ball jar with thinly sliced toasted baguette and fleur de sel. This excited everyone and we talked about the types of condiments you can have with pate and chacuterie. This was placed in a hot water bath and cooked at 350 until it was 160 degrees in the center (chicken needs to be cooked to a higher internal temperature than pork). The chicken livers and liver in general has a lot less protein than meat (pork) and that is why secondary binding agents, eggs and gelatin in this case were necessary.

Our next project was bacon and or pancetta, because the process is mostly the same. You start with a pork belly and you mix, on a per kilo basis, a curing mixture that contains Tenderquick, brown sugar, juniper berries, peppercorns, garlic and thyme. You rub this mixture over the non-skin side of the pork belly. You then cure this in a refrigerator for 1 day per inch (1 week for a 7 inch piece of pork belly), turning once each day. Then, if you are making bacon, you cook at 200 degrees, no hotter, otherwise the fat melts. If you are making pancetta, you roll it like a newspaper and tie it tightly, cover with a cheesecloth and hang in a cool, dry place with air circulation for two weeks. Pancetta is uncooked and bacon is slightly cooked. I don’t have anywhere to hang this in our little apartment, so I let Dominic take the bacon home.

We next talked about prosciutto and dry curing ham. Chef Pasqual took us down to the L’ecole wine cellar, where he ages his prosciuttos. They take one year to make. He then showed us a part way done prosciutto and we watched him prepare another. There is a curing mixture that contains a lot of salt and nitrate (not Tenderquick in this case), pepper and sugar. The fresh ham is trimmed of fat at the bottom and the pelvis bone is removed, the top bone left in. The skin is left on the top and roughly 75% of the ham. The salt mixture is poured around the top bone and rubbed over the entire surface; the ham is then placed in a large plastic bin on a cutting board that is held up at an angle by a bowl underneath. The remaining salt mixture is poured over the ham and then a cutting board held down by large cans of tomatoes (weights) is placed on top. This helps the ham to compress and gain its flattish shape as it dry cures. After curing for a while, the ham will be rinsed, covered with lard, wrapped in a cheese cloth and hung for about a year. We tasted one of the finished prosciuttos, it was delicious and a beautiful pink. Instead of the regular dinner, we tried nearly all of the chacuterie we made. We tried the baked ham (delicious and soft), the cooked salami (surprisingly my favorite), Chef Pasqual’s prosciutto, head cheese (I couldn’t do it), and the terrine (I was surprised, but I didn’t like it). We had accompaniments of cornichons, several different types of bread (an olive loaf that was terrific), and a traditional remoulade that was made with fresh, uncooked julienned celery root mixed with equal parts homemade mayonnaise and Dijon mustard (terrific). The lack of Inglenook was lamented… At the end of class, we packed up what we wanted to take; I have 1 duck leg confit, a small cooked ham, cooked salami and a chicken liver pate. Chef Jeff gave us little diplomas (I may frame mine and hang it up in the kitchen) and we talked about the class and feedback. I asked about a dry aging of beef class, and Chef Jeff said that class would probably only be about 45 minutes. Don’t butcher your meat too much and hang it somewhere that is a very controlled refrigerator without much humidity, put a padlock on the fridge if you have to.

November 9, 2010

An Adults' Cookie Decorating Party! (With Adult Beverages)

A few years ago, I had a cookie decorating and champagne party for my closest girlfriends. It was so much fun! The idea came to me at the beginning of the holiday season, very few of us had any children at that point and I thought, well, why can't we just get together and decorate cookies ourselves? I scheduled the party for the early afternoon, so people would have already eaten lunch or brunch (in those days, we rolled out of bed LATE and had 'adult' beverages with our brunch). That way, they'd be in good shape to have (another) cocktail or two and nibble on some cookies and a few other snacks.

What's great about this type of party is that there is actually not a ton of prep work for you- you make the cookie dough ahead of time, we had sugar cookie and gingerbread dough. But because your guests make the cookies as the activity of the party, you don't have to do that ahead of time! Feel free to come up with other cookie ideas, like snicker doodles (although I confess I don't know exactly what these are), peanut butter, chocolate chip, the list goes on! Break out a few cutting boards, some flour, a rolling pin and cookie cutters and you are in business. A chilled bottle of champagne (or three) couldn't hurt, either! You know how when you have people over they often ask if they can bring anything? This is an occasion where that is a terrific thing, because you can ask each of them to bring things with which to decorate cookies. You'll get a great variety that way- colored sugars from one friend, red hots and tiny silver balls from another, sprinkles from the next! It's also a fun and unusual thing for them to shop for.

We had such a great time- we wore aprons, some of the ladies had brought their own sweet aprons, one of which had been made by her grandmother, and another brought her copy of US Weekly and we had a blast discussing its top stories. By the end of the afternoon, our cookies were becoming increasingly imaginative, we started using nutella as a topping, some of our circus animals were bright pink, and the best cookie award went to Scottie, who created a pink bikini and matching sunglasses on an adorable rabbit!!! How cute is that!

I am particularly proud of my cookie cutter collection, I have many animals including a lobster, fall leaves, pumpkins, bells and gingerbread men. The lobster cookie cutter is always very popular with the New Englanders :) Your holiday cookie decorating party doesn't have to be all ladies, or even all adults! With a little planning you can have a wonderful afternoon and make enough cookies for everyone to go home with a few. Or, you can make enough for a future party you're hosting! Happy baking!

Expanding the Mommy and Homekeeping Repertoire in Portland, Oregon

I love visiting friends and staying at their houses. (Or even going over to some one's house for lunch or dinner!) I was recently reminded of how much I enjoy this by a recent trip I took with baby to see two wonderful girlfriends in Portland, Oregon. The friend we stayed with, Marianne, has a little boy also, who is just two months older than ours, so it was perfect. Our very close friend Jennifer also lives there and has a two year old girl, who is possibly the most beautiful little girl I've ever seen! What's so funny about her, though, is that she is not into being a girly-girl at all. We brought the little girl a present, a hair bow clip that is a festive red plaid for the holiday season and I was trying to explain to her that where we live in the South, little girls wear bows every time they leave the house, she looked at me with suspicion. (Although I am told she insisted on wearing the bow the next day to a play date). There is a woman some friends of mine know, (I haven't met her, although after hearing this story I thought, I would like her so much!) she has a phrase she uses with her girls, 'No bow, no go-' meaning you don't leave the house without a bow.

Why does food prepared by a friend taste so good? Our hostess, Marianne, was so gracious and sweet- she made us coffee every morning and served it in stylish china. (Our hostess is incredibly chic!) Her china is this fabulous owl print in a rich inky blue with burgundy accents on crisp white- she said she discovered it on a trip to Scandinavia. She even baked us muffins and scones with local huckleberries. Her baby currently loves huckleberries, our baby, not so much- oops, it's on the floor! So in my house, we don't worry about baby throwing things on the floor, Pele, our dog, knows just where to stand near the highchair to get every morsel. This is so apparent that we have noticed that we never have to clean the floor, except when we have a sitter feed the baby and therefore Pele is in her crate, so not on duty to clean up during mealtimes. (Truthfully, baby seems to enjoy feeding Pele, this morning we fed Pele two pieces of shredded wheat with a lot of shrieking and laughing. Also this morning, we decided that we don't wave at people, we only wave at dogs.) So what do you do if you don't have a hyper-active hunting dog to clean up under your high chair? Our hostess solved this problem with an electric sweeper that is stored smartly in the kitchen, I believe it is Shark brand. She said it is great, you plug it into the wall every now and then but that it held the charge for a while.

We also exchanged tips on stain removal from baby clothes- she was using Resolve Spray n' Wash and was very happy with it, so now that it what we are using. She doesn't recommend Oxy, she said that when it got on her hands while using it, it caused small blisters. Ouch! No thank you! We also exchanged food for baby ideas- we recruited them to our cult of chevre and we now enthusiastically serve baby many things she does- graham crackers are a great snack, the secret of putting heavy cream in the milk if baby isn't putting on weight, the list is quite long!
My greatest contribution may have been the horsey game we play- which I learned from my Dad. Bouncing on your knee with baby facing you, you say:

'This is the way the lady rides, tippity top, tippity top, tippity, tippity, tippity top'
(during the 'tippity top,' you move your knee up and down gently)
'This is the way the gentleman rides, gallop gallop, gallop gallop, gallop gallop, gallop gallop'
(during the 'gallop' you move your knee up and down more vigorously)
'This is the way the farmer rides, 'jiggity jog, jiggity jog, jiggity, jiggity, jiggity jog!'
(during the jiggity jog, you move your knee from side to side, supporting the baby well, but the idea is that it is sloppy and fun)

After I'd shown this to Jennifer's little girl, she smiled and said, 'again!' about five times!

While visiting, we went to a farm that had pumpkins, a petting zoo, hay rides and a corn maze. It was my first time in a corn maze, for all of us actually, and it might be our last. I don't think we understand the lure of the corn maze and truthfully, it stressed us out a little. The petting zoo and organic market of pumpkins was more our speed! Jennifer's little girl selected pumpkins of various sizes to represent her family, including the grandparents that were on their way to visit.

Something else Marianne had that we were intrigued by were retract a gates- they were made of a plastic cloth like material that retracted on one side of the doorway and could be drawn out to create a barrier. These were an attractive baby proofing option. We already have all the baby gates we plan to, but I was certainly attracted to these gates.

Jennifer had us over for dinner one night, which was delicious, her husband is an excellent, excellent cook. There were gorgeous gold and burgundy heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, pasta with sausage, which the little girl was in charge of adding Parmesan to- she sat on my lap and spooned it on carefully. Jennifer's little girl was not in a high chair anymore, but she had sweetly gotten it out of storage so we could use it. Coincidentally, we have the same high chair, a Graco wooden high chair with a removable and washable seat pad. Honestly, our high chair is sooooo nasty, it has so much food stuck to it. Jennifer's high chair was so nice and clean, it was hardly recognizable to us... I was also envious of Marianne's high chair, she has the Peg Perego Tata Mia high chair and it is great. The multiple trays that can come off and be rinsed are a better size than our Graco tray, and the seat being plastic can be wiped clean. When I got home I seriously considered buying one. I really like what I read in one of my baby books about high chairs, it was so honest, it said to just come to terms with the fact that your high chair will probably have to be cleaned in the shower. I will say that although we are still using our Graco wooden chair, I have become more enthusiastic about cleaning it- Jennifer's clean version reminded me that I can aspire to a cleaner high chair! And I'll consider the switch to Tata Mia in the future... That one is also cool because it's on wheels, wheeeeeeeeee!

Now Marianne had moved into her house just recently, and as I mentioned before, she's very stylish (as is Jennifer). They have casual chic down to a science. It is so easy and cool, they have perfect denim that they pair with their Louboutins, (they even know where to send their Louboutins to have rubber half soles applied that are also red), they wear slouchy jersey tops with just the right amount of jewelry. Anyhow, they are sooooooo cute. Here's what I found hilarious- Marianne was very distraught that I was visiting when she hadn't had a chance to do anything to her house yet (paint, remodel, etc). To which I said, 'Marianne, I'm embarrassed to be in your house without a pedicure!' It's so funny to me how we put so much pressure on ourselves and wanting to be well put together for our friends, and meanwhile, they aren't noticing what we're stressing out about because they are thinking of things they'd rather were more perfect for you. It's probably a great sign of friendship.

By the time it was time to leave, I wanted to move in with both of them! It's so nice to get such an insight into how people you admire run their homes. I've made many adjustments since visiting them and feel more in control of my home! Think about that the next time you're visiting a friend and wonder how they might do something differently than you do! (And enjoy the wonderful treats they are serving you!)

November 8, 2010

Chicken Pot Pie with Individual Puff Pastry Biscuits

I love chicken pot pie! I should specify, not the TV dinner variety. Made carefully, it is actually not only delicious and a wonderful hearty dish for fall and winter, but it is actually fairly healthy, with the chicken as lean protein and all the vegetables. In addition, the sauce is mostly broth and cooked down wine that has been slightly thickened with a small amount of flour and butter- and flour is not solely starch, as is cornstarch, but flour contains a component of protein, so it's not all bad! What's so nice about a well executed and delicious chicken pot pie is that it is a one dish meal and many of your children will like it also. Our little boy loves to eat the filling and pieces of the puff pastry as well. The pieces of chicken and vegetables are at just about the right size for him to pick up and put in his mouth himself (when he's not eating chevre!).

I started making this chicken pot pie last year, and after some variation, I've settled on a great recipe that leaves you plenty to freeze and the way I do the puff pastry makes it possible to serve it very easily without getting sauce on top of the pastry!

For the Filling:
Olive Oil (roughly 2 Tablespoons)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms (or dried mushrooms that have been soaked in warm water for 30 minutes)
3 medium carrots, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 cup white wine or dry vermouth
2 1/2 - 3 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
1/2 stick of butter (unsalted)
4 Tablespoons flour
2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
3/4 cup frozen peas
3/4 cup frozen corn
1/4 cup heavy cream

For the Puff Pastry:
1 1/4 cups flour
1 stick butter (unsalted), cut into small cubes)
ice water (roughly 3 Tablespoons)

To make the puff pastry, combine the flour and a few pinches of salt in a food processor. I prefer to use sea salt. Add the pieces of butter one at a time until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add tablespoons of ice water, one at a time, until the dough comes together, the amount of water may vary. Gather the dough together and wrap in saran or cling wrap, refrigerate at least one hour.

If you don't have a food processor and you are interested in making pastry, you might consider getting one. Until about three or four years ago, I didn't have a food processor. It wasn't an appliance my family had and used growing up, so I didn't see it's purpose. Honestly, once I had one, I started using it a lot! The thing that I find the most surprising and helpful is pastry dough. It comes together so, so fast in the food processor that it literally takes MINUTES to make. Not only can you make this type of pastry dough, you'll be able to make dough for tarts and pies and cobblers, too!!! I love mine so much that my biggest problem is that I probably need one that has a larger sized bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. I use a large dutch oven for this dish. Add the onion, mushrooms, carrots and celery, saute until wilted and some light browning has occurred. This dish is more flavorful if you use a variety of mushrooms, not just fresh white mushrooms. Porcini, for example, will give it a very meaty flavor. If you are using dried mushrooms that you have soaked in warm water for 30 minutes before chopping, save that liquid and use it as your stock (or part of your stock if there isn't enough). Mushrooms have an amazing, meaty flavor that can really add depth. Add the garlic, either through a press or finely chopped. Add the thyme leaves, you may also use fresh, but if you are using fresh, double the amount. You may also add other herbs if you like, rosemary and sage, for example, would be great additions to this dish. Saute the mixture for a few minutes once you have added the garlic and herbs, then add the wine or vermouth. If there are any browned bits stuck to the pan, the wine or vermouth will help get them up and include them in the dish. After most of the liquid had evaporated, add the stock, either mushroom, vegetable or chicken, or any combination of all three. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the butter and flour slowly, you may need to whisk the mixture to avoid clumping of the flour. Adding the flour slowly and stirring will help.

The chicken may be prepared either while you are making the base of the filling or before. Cut the chicken breasts into strip pieces roughly an inch or two wide and as long as the piece of meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fry at medium high heat until both sides are nicely browned. It is alright if the inside is not totally cooked and slightly pink. Once cooled, chop into small pieces.
The chicken may now be added to the filling, which should have a nice, slightly think gravy consistency. If the mixture is too liquid, add a little more flour and cook for a few minutes more. If it is too thick, add a little bit of stock. Once you have added the chicken, you may also add the peas, corn and heavy cream. Allow to heat thoroughly, then turn off the heat.

To prepare the individual puff pastry toppings, heat the oven to 425. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the puff pastry from the refrigerator and using a rolling pin (I prefer a French pastry rolling pin, that is the kind that is all one piece and has tapered sides), roll on a floured work surface until roughly 1/4 inch thick. Use either a ravioli die, which is what I use, or a cookie cutter or a glass to make individual 'biscuits.' A rectangle shape is your best bet, just because it will allow you to cover the top of the dish the most efficiently. Place the cut out 'biscuits' on the baking sheet with parchment paper. (Optional, brush with beaten egg yolk). Pierce the biscuits several times with the tines of a fork. Bake for 10 minutes.

To Finish up this great, comforting dish, spoon the filling into either a casserole dish or individual dishes. Place the 'biscuits' on the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 425. When you serve the dish, remove the 'biscuit' first, spoon the filling onto the plate, then place the puff pastry back on top.
To freeze: Do everything but baking it at 20-25 minutes at 425. Freeze. When you are ready to take it our of the freezer, either defrost it in the refrigerator for one day and then follow the same directions, with possibly a few more minutes in the oven (depending on the size of the dish, etc.). Straight out of the freezer, bake it for 45 minutes at 375.