Sunday, December 28, 2008

How I saved Christmas (vegetables)

Christmas at the in-laws' was potluck this year, and I signed up for vegetables. Not a very exciting choice, but considering that Christmas vegetables are often an afterthought — often originating from the freezer or (shudder) a can —I decided to raise the bar.

I made my (inherited) cauliflower gratin recipe, and tried a new Brussels sprouts recipe. Here they are:



1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1 1/4 cup grated sharp cheese
1/4 tsp ground pepper
pinch nutmeg


Preheat oven to 350˚.

Steam cauliflower for ~10 min, then transfer to a casserole dish.

To make cheese sauce, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the flour to form a roux. Continue stirring for about 3 min until flour has cooked.

Slowly whisk in the milk. Once the sauce has thickened and no lumps remain, turn off the heat and add 1 cup of the cheese. Stir until cheese is incorporated. Season with pepper and nutmeg.

Pour the sauce over the cauliflower in the casserole dish, and top with a mixture of breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese. (I pulsed sandwich bread and cheese in the the food processor to make the topping).

Bake for 30 min.



2 lb Brussels sprouts
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup butter (room temp.)
1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsp lemon juice


Steam sprouts for 10 min (until tender). Meanwhile combine butter, mustard and lemon juice in a small bowl to form a paste.

Drain sprouts well. With pot on low heat, add butter mixture and stir in drained sprouts. Toss to coat for 1 min. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately.

Left – If you cannot find small sprouts, slice off bottoms and cut a small X in each (pictured left). After cooking, I immersed the sprouts in ice water to stop the cooking process so that I could finish off the dish with the sauce at the party (right). (That made for a smelly care ride through)

I'm happy to report that both dishes were a smashing success!




Christmas dinner: Herbed racks of lamb

After unsuccessfully trying to convince Shawn that I was going to attempt turducken, I proceeded to make my favorite rack of lamb recipe. From the back of the Windsor kosher salt box, it is simple yet sophisticated.



2 racks of lamb, frenched (ask your butcher to do this for you)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, slivered
2 tbsp herbes de Provence (sold as such; it's usually a blend of dried thyme, rosemary marjoram/oregano and lavender)
1 tbsp ground pepper
1 tbsp kosher salt


If desired, wrap each rib bone with foil. Brush entire surface of each rack with oil. Using a sharp paring knife, make a small slit in the meatiest part of each rib and stud each with a sliver of garlic. Rub herbs, pepper and salt into the fatty side of each rack. Place racks in a shallow roasting pan and bake at 425˚ for 25 min or to desired doneness. Cover with foil and let stand for 5 min before carving between bones to serve.

In case you were wondering, you can buy your turducken here.




Friday, December 26, 2008

Rethinking the (food) present

The bag and the pouch it folds up into.

So, having abandoned the tradition of homemade food gifts for Shawn's siblings. We bought them each lunch....

for 100.

Simply put: Each FEED 100 bag will provide 100 school meals to hungry children in Rwanda through the UN World Food Program. It's a small gesture when you consider the enormity of world hunger, but every effort counts.

I'd also like to add that despite the fact that I love cooking, giving food gifts to extended family and aquaintances was always tinged with stress and uncertainty for me — Will it be good? Will they like it? Are they allergic to it? Will they eat it before it goes bad? etcetera. And, while these worries might be slightly neurotic, I think I much prefer this new way of celebrating the season with food.

Merry Christmas!



Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hanukkah craziness

Happy Hanukkah!

On this, the forth crazy night of Hanukkah, I wanted to share something, well, crazy.

Curiously, the Lake Grove National Potato Latke Eating Championship has been all over the news lately.

This year, competitive eater "Furious" Pete Czerwinski (a Canadian by the way) crushed his competition by knocking back 46 latkes in eight minutes. (His closest competior downed a mere 29 in that time.)

As if the landslide victory wasn't shocking enough, it was revealed that Czerwinski had never eaten a latke before the competition!

Eating 46 latkes your first time trying them?!

Now on one hand that's crazy, on the other, unfortunately, I can kinda see how that can happen.




Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snowmageddon dinner: Sweet and sour meatballs

As pictured, I doubled the recipe for freezing, just in case....

Apparently thinking tropical, here's what I made for dinner:



1 can pineapple tidbits (or 1 fresh pineapple, peeled and cored)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
1/4 tsp hot sauce
1 tbsp corn starch


Drain pineapple juice into saucepan; set pineapple aside. To pan add garlic, vinegar, apricot jam, sugar teriyaki sauce and hot sauce; bring to boil, stirring. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 min or until sugar is dissolved.

In a small bowl, stir cornstarch with 2 tbsp cold water; whisk into pan until blended. Add meatballs, green pepper and pineapple; simmer, stirring often.

Serve over rice or glass noodles.

Note: I made two substitutions — rice wine vinegar for cider vinegar because I didn't have enough (and I don't know if you heard, but something termed "Snowmageddon" is raging outside), and granulated for brown sugar because I discovered today that the latter had turned to stone (probably from fear.) Anyway, the recipe turned out fabulously, which goes to show you what you can get away with when you have an idea of what you're doing.




A Snowmageddon breakfast

Snowmageddon finally hit over night, and the Sundays are not planning on leaving the house today. Shawn has recently broken his wrist making that prospect doubly impossible.

Problem is: we haven't done this week's groceries yet!! But, I'm resourceful, and there are still some holdovers from last week's run, not the least of which (or maybe the least of which) is a bunch of rotten bananas.

The path that I needed to follow this morning was clear.



1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter; melted
1 1/2 cup bananas; mashed (3 or 4)


Preheat oven to 375˚.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. Thoroughly beat together egg, sugar, butter and mashed bananas. Add to dry ingredients. Stir just until moistened. Fill greased muffin cups three quarters full. (I use a spring-loaded ice cream scoop for easy filling.) Bake on middle oven rack for 20 to 25 min or until top springs back when lightly touched.

*Not my title. This recipe from, Robin Hood flour, is one of the company's most requested recipes.

Stay tuned for dinner.



Saturday, December 20, 2008

This week at the grocery store...

We witnessed a historic event.

Me: Hey look at that (pointing).
Shawn: (yells) Oh, my God! What is that!!!
Handsome stranger: Monkfish. It's the poor man's lobster. It very rare that you see one with the head still attached. Your witnessing a historic event, right here.

True story.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The extent of my Christmas baking: Chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies with pecans and dried cherries

American cookies — big and chunky.

It just didn't feel right not to bake anything for the season. So I made these cookies for a meeting at work. I foolishly did not use a stand mixer (because I don't own one), but the batter is so thinck it really does require it.



1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups rolled oats, old-fashioned
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1 cup dried tart cherries, chopped coarse
3/4 cup chocolate chunks
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar, preferably dark
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350˚. Line 1 large (18x12-inch) baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. In second medium bowl, stir together oats, pecans, cherries, and chocolate.

In standing mixer fitted with flat beater, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until no sugar lumps remain, about 1 min. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula; add egg and vanilla and beat on med-low speed until fully incorporated, about 30 sec. Scrape down bowl; with mixer running at low speed, add flour mixture; mix until just combined, about 30 sec. With mixer still running on low, gradually add oat/nut mixture; mix until just incorporated. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.

Divide dough evenly into 16 portions, each about 1/4 cup, then roll between palms into balls about 2 inches in diameter; stagger 8 balls on each baking sheet, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart. Using hands, gently press each dough ball to 1 inch thickness. Bake cookies in two batches on the middle oven rack until cookies are medium brown and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will seem underdone and will appear raw, wet, and shiny in cracks), 8 to 10 min longer. Do not overbake.

Cool cookies on baking sheets on wire rack 5 min; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

 Here, things get a little tricky and Shawn has to step in.

Finally — dough in a manageable form!

I discovered some pretty interesting cookie discourse over at Slate. I ecourage you to check it out. After reading I realized that these perfectly fit the archetype of the American cookie; who knew?*

There haven't been many Sunday dinners because of social commitment so you'll have be satisfied with the cookies.




*ETA: This was later validated when I realized that this recipe originated from none other than America's Test Kitchen!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pepper tart (more peppers)

Here's a Ghost of Sundays Past for the busy season:



1 1/4 pounds sweet onions; such as Spanish or Vidal
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large red peppers
1 or 2 jalapeño peppers
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
5 grinds black pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 package (14-oz) frozen puff pastry; thaw overnight in fridge
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tbsp milk


Preheat oven to 400º.

Peel onions. If onions are very large, cut in half lengthwise. Thinly slice onions. In a large skillet over medium, heat oil. Add onions and sauté for about 10 min, stirring frequently, until translucent.

Meanwhile, core red pepper and jalapenos, if using; remove seeds and membranes. Cut red pepper into thin strips. Finely chop jalapenos. Add red pepper, jalapenos and sugar to onions and continue to sauté for another 10 min. Onions will be softened, peppers still a bit crisp.

Season with vinegar, salt, pepper and thyme. Remove the mixture from heat and set aside to cool while preparing the crust.

Roll out pastry into rectangle or square, depending on the shape of the pastry block and the size of your baking sheet. Pastry should be about 13 x 6 inches or 9 x 9 inches. Drape puff pastry over rolling pin to transfer to a nonstick baking sheet Scatter half the feta over the pastry, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Spread cooled onion and pepper mixture evenly over the cheese. Fold up the edges around the filling to make a freeform open-face tart, pleating the pastry as necessary to keep its shape.

Brush the turned-up edges of the crust with milk. Bake the tart 10 min, then scatter the rest of the feta over the filling.

Bake tart another 15 min or until pastry is puffed and golden.

Serve warm.




Let freedom ring!

Only in America.

These scented BLT votives, sporting the credo " Tomato = Passion, Lettuce = Love, Bacon = Freedom," can be purchased from The Grateful Palate — originators of the bacon-of-the-month club.

I have known about these for a while now, and finally, this Christmas, I thought that I would get the chance to gift them. But, sadly, GF does not ship to Canada.

So, that's just great — America has all the hope and all the freedom!




Make-it-yourself food gifts

Gifted in 2006. (Photo from [the late] Wish magazine.)
I shudder to think that there might actually still be some
of the ones that I made floating around out there.
(I have my suspicions about a few people. You know who you are.)

For the last few years I've been making homemade food gifts for Shawn's large extended family. I usually agonize over what to make, and last year ended in a white chocolate and caramel corn disaster, of which I will spare you the details.

This year, I'm going in an totally different direction, and saving myself a lot of stress in the process. (Stay tuned to find out what I gift; it is food-related!)

I made the cookie jars pictured above a couple of years ago, and I think they were by far my most successful venture. Here are the assembly instructions.

And the recipe:



1-1/4 cups butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 granulated sugar
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 chopped pecans


Cream butter until light and fluffy.
Blend in vanilla extract.
Add remaining ingredients and mix well with your hands.
Press dough into a 13 x 9-inch pan.
Bake at 325 F for 18-20 minutes or until light golden brown.
Cool completely and cut into bars.

I had a hard time finding an appropriate-sized container when I made these, so I stuffed the top with waxed paper, which kept everything in place in the jars and would come handy to the recipient when pressing the dough into the pan.




Monday, December 1, 2008

Sunday (retrospective) confessional: childhood heros

The only photo of the legendary Ernie slippers.

Today's birthday confession: I was a huge Ernie and Bert fan back in the day, and there's plenty of photographic evidence to prove it.
So, what does that confession have to do with food?

Only that it lead us to the Best. Cake. Ever. 

Enjoy your week!