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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

Well, it's that time again.  Every year around this time, I resolve to spend less money and to lose five pounds.  And every year around this time, I have to accept and admit that I still need to spend less money and I still need to lose (at least) five pounds. Resolutions are a loser for me.

So, this year I'm trying something new.  I am actively resolving not to resolve.  I mean, resolving to do something has never really motivated me to do it before, so why set myself up for failure? Besides, life's too short to keep losing the same five pounds anyway.

I think the better plan of attack is to be happy with what I have instead.  I have plenty of shoes and clothes, so why buy more?   Am I healthy?  Yes.  Is my family healthy?  Yes. Am I happy?  Yes.  You've got the idea.  This resolution stuff seems kind of silly when you look at that way.

I am looking back on 2010, and I have to say that I'm pretty happy with the way it's wrapping up.  I finally had the chops to go ahead and start this blog, and everyone seems to be really enjoying it.  Our readership is growing by leaps and bounds.  I am working on lots of new ideas for the new year, including a weekly dinner menu guide, which I think everyone will really like.  There are other plans afoot, but I'm going to save those so I can surprise you later.

So, in honor of 2011, I think we all need to try and be happy with where we are in the world.  From where I'm sitting, we're all doing pretty well.  If you're healthy and your family is healthy, what else do you need anyway?  Certainly not more shoes.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Variations on a Theme

For years Charlie claimed not to like potatoes.  Who doesn't like potatoes?  Being the people pleaser that I am (those who know me well might disagree with this description), I just never made potatoes.  Instead we had pasta or rice as the "starch" course at dinner.

At some point several years ago, I decided that it was ridiculous that a kid was dictating our choice of side dish and I rebelled.  I rediscovered the beauty of the mashed potato.  Hello gorgeous.  Where have you been all my life?

My renewed "relationship" with mashed potatoes started with the recipe for Balthazar's garlic mashed potatoes.  The recipe called for a Paula Deen sized helping of butter, cream, and a ton of garlic.  They were sublime.   In my humble opinion, the Balthazar garlic mashed potato is the gold standard by which all other mashed potatoes are measured.
 
I didn't really grow up in a mashed potato eating family.  My mother didn't really have a recipe.  Just a couple of boiled potatoes, some butter, and a potato masher.  Nothing fancy, but tasty nonetheless.

But I digress.  Shortly after the Balthazar potatoes, I discovered Ina Garten and her buttermilk mashed potatoes.  How could I have known the happiness that could be brought with just a boiled potato?  The buttermilk version was easier and didn't quite have the artery clogging decadence of the first recipe.  Subsequently, Ina has published a garlic mashed potato recipe which is quite tasty as well.

The point of all this is that there are a million ways to make mashed potatoes and most all of them will produce something satisfying.  Charlie still doesn't like mashed potatoes but that's just too bad about him.  There's just no going back.

Balthazar Garlic Mashed Potatoes
(Balthazar Cookbook, 2003)

Ingredients:

10 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in thirds
2 cups heavy cream
6 Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons salt
3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Combine the garlic and the cream in a small saucepan over a medium flame.  Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook for 15 to 30 minutes, until the garlic is very soft.  Pour the mixture into a blender and puree.  (Keep a firm grip on the lid, as the heat from the cream mixture will force it up.)  Set aside, to be reheated either in a saucepan or in a microwave before adding it to the final dish.  (The garlic infused cream can be prepared a day in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.)

Put the potatoes in a large pot, cover with water by 2 inches, and add 1 tablespoon of the salt.  Bring to a boil and cook for 20 - 25 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.  Drain in a colander.  While still warm, press the potatoes through a ricer into a large bowl.  Reheat the garlic infused cream.

Use a rubber spatula to slowly fold in the butter with the warm garlic cream.  Season with the remaining 1 tablespoon of salt and the pepper.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sick Day

I have an awful cold so I'm calling in sick today.  I've had a temperature of 102 all day and I'm coughing and generally feel as though I'm about to die.  The only thing I've "cooked" is a cup of tea with honey and lemon and I don't think you need a recipe for that.

So, I'm taking today off.  See you tomorrow.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Crazy for Cocoa

I have created monsters.   When we moved to Pittsburgh eight years ago, I was hard pressed to find a bakery as delicious as the ones I left behind in Los Angeles.  I grew up on Bea's Bakery and the Beverlywood Bakery, and there was just nothing like either of those here in Pittsburgh.  So, I started baking cookies and cakes for my kids.  They have now grown accustomed to my homemade goodies and, with the exception of an occasional Mint Milano, rarely eat cookies not made at home.

My sister Jill owns a specialty baking company in Los Angeles (www.finesbakery.com) so occasionally she sends us a big box of her delicious danish and cookies.  But, with that exception, most of what Charlie and Kate indulge in comes directly from our home kitchen.

Now I have come across another reason I have created monsters.  Charlie and Kate has developed a taste for homemade hot chocolate.  For years they were happy with Swiss Miss, but now it appears that cocoa made from shaved chocolate and half and half is preferable to them.  I am not kidding.  What was I thinking when I did this the first time?

I am not saying that there is no Swiss Miss in their lives, but I think if they have their choice, they would go with the really good stuff.  But then again, who wouldn't?  I suspect that if you give this a try you'll feel the same way.  I'm just not going to experiment with my own homemade marshmallows.  There are limits to what even I am willing to do in the name of motherhood!

Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups milk
2 cups half and half
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chipped
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the milk and half and half in a saucepan over medium heat until just simmering.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in both chocolates.  When the chocolates are melted, add the sugar and vanilla and whisk vigorously.  If the cocoa has lost some of its heat, reheat over low heat until just simmering.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A New Friend

Hard as it may be for you to believe, I get excited about getting new things other than shoes and handbags.  This weekend I got the All Clad 8 quart stock pot and I am beyond excited.  Though "she" is new, I know we will get to know one another quickly and have a long and satisfying relationship.

Now, you may laugh about my excitement with this new acquisition, but having the right pot can make or break a recipe.  I already have a Le Crueset 8 quart dutch oven, which serves pretty much the same function as this new pot.   I love my dutch oven.  In fact, it may be my most used pot, but I do love All Clad.  It's a little lighter weight than the Le Crueset, and everything looks so appealing when it's cooking away on the stove.  I feel like a professional when I'm sauteing in just the right pot.

So, I decided to take my new stock pot out for a spin today.  Over the weekend I made a bunch of roasted vegetables.  I had some left over which got me started thinking about roasted vegetable soup.  When the weather is cold, there's nothing quite as satisfying as a big bowl of soup.   So, I decided to raid my produce drawer to see what else I had lying around to add to my already roasted vegetables.

The great thing about roasted vegetable soup is that you can make it with just about any veggies you have hanging around.  The vegetables don't even have to be all that fresh.  Or even that interesting.  Let me tell you, it's amazing how tasty a mundane carrot or parsnip can become when roasted in the oven and then pureed into soup.

If you have some homemade chicken stock in the freezer, all the better, but you can also make this using the boxed chicken stock.  (I use the low sodium variety when I'm using it.)  If you have some canned cannellini beans, throw those in as well.  Also, some little pastina is also a very nice touch and will make it a heartier soup, guaranteed to stick to your ribs.

The pot worked like  charm.  The soup was delicious.  So delicious, in fact, that I'm going to take a quart to my in-laws when we go to visit tomorrow.  I think the soup tasted even better than usual because of the new pot.

Roasted Vegetable Soup

Note:  Use these vegetables as a guideline but don't be afraid to use what you have at home.  Cut everything in like sized pieces so they all cook at the same rate.  Be prepared to add a little more or a little less chicken stock, depending on how thick you want the soup to be.

Ingredients:

6 small red potatoes
1 pound carrots
3 onions (1 onion small dice)
4 cloves of garlic, diced
2 fennel bulbs
1 pound butternut squash
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley
salt and kosher pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
8 cups homemade chicken stock (or use low sodium boxed stock)
2 ribs celery, diced
5 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400.

Place diced potatoes, carrots, 2 onions, fennel bulbs, and butternut squash on two baking sheets, each in a single layer.  Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and toss with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil  on each baking sheet.  Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, until vegetables are soft.

In the meantime, in a dutch oven or stock pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Saute 1 onion (small dice) with the celery for about 10 minutes, until soft.  Add garlic and the fresh thyme and saute another 1 to 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add 6 cups of chicken stock and heat over medium heat.

Remove vegetables from the oven and puree in a food processor in batches.  Transfer the pureed vegetables to the pot with the simmering stock.  Stir to combine and let simmer for 10 minutes.  If soup is the desired consistency then check for spices.  If it is not pureed enough, use an immersion blender to puree a little more.  If the soup is thicker than you like, add a little more chicken stock.  Let simmer for another few minutes.  Garnish with chopped parsley.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A First Time for Everything

Today I did something I've never done before.  I made a pecan pie.  Sure, there are lots of things I've never made before but somehow I can't believe I've overlooked making a pecan pie.  It's a classic and I am nothing if not a sucker for a classic.

Even more shocking than the fact that I've never made a pecan pie before is how easy it is to make one.  The hardest part was probably washing the pot I used to cook the corn syrup and the sugar together, which was a little sticky.

To be fair, I am a whiz at pie shells.  You just have to take charge (gently) and not let the process intimidate you.  A well floured counter is essential because a pastry crust that sticks to the counter is good for nothing.    The pastry crust below only has three ingredients plus a little water.  Patience is really the key here.  Make sure to add the water sparingly and very slowly.  Also, chill the dough for a full hour before you roll it out and place it in your pie pan.

The pie came out of the oven puffed and beautiful.  So beautiful it almost looked professional, which I love.  And the pie was absolutely delicious.  How easy it was to make can be our little secret.

Pecan Pie
(I started with the recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and then played around with it.)

Basic Pie Crust

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Put the flour, salt, and butter in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until it resembles coarse meal.  Slowly add 1 tablespoon of water.  Process for a couple of seconds.  If the dough does not come together, add another tablespoon of water.  Process again until dough comes together.  (2 tablespoons of water should be enough.  If it is not, add a little more water, a drop or two at a time until the dough comes together.)

Remove the dough from the bowl and press into a flat disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

Pecan Filling

Ingredients:

1 basic pie crust (see above)
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Pecan halves to decorate 

Preheat oven to 325.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour.  Roll out dough with a rolling pie.  Line a pie dish with the dough and trim edges.  Crimp decoratively.

Put the sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and remove from the heat.  Cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until they are just mixed.  Slowly pour the warm (not hot) syrup into the eggs, stirring briskly so that you don't allow the eggs time to scramble.  Add the butter and vanilla to the bowl and stir until the butter has melted and is evening dispersed.

Pour the chopped pecans into the pie crust, then pour the filling on top.  Decoratively arrange the pecan halves on top of the filling around the edge of the pie.  Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until it is a dark, caramel color with a slightly crispy surface.




Wednesday, December 22, 2010

News at 11

I thought, since you all showed so much concern, I would give you a little update on both Pebbles and my dishwasher situation.

First of all, you will all be very happy to know that Pebbles is doing much better today.  She's been dutifully taking her prescriptions and seems much perkier and back to herself.  She even had a little of my pancake this morning.  She doesn't usually get people food, but I've been feeling so sorry for her that my Jewish mother instincts have completely kicked in.  Please don't tell Dr. Gerson that Pebi is eating pancake. Bulldogs can become fatties in something like 20 seconds if they are fed anything extra.  At the moment, I am proud to say that she is bulldog perfection at 47 pounds, but that won't last if she keeps feasting on pancakes.

The dishwasher situation is not quite as rosy as the bulldog situation.  Apparently the computer board has gone out and is no longer available for replacement.   While I would ordinarily be very excited about getting a new dishwasher  (or at least as excited as one can get about having help with the dishes,) I am filled with anxiety about it.  Let me explain why.

At the moment, my refrigerator freezes everything on the left side.  My oven does not close properly so it is difficult to maintain a constant temperature inside.  And, to add to all that, I need a fan above my cooktop.  Every time I brown meat, the smoke detector in the hallway goes off.  Here's the thing.  All of my existing appliances are white, and I want to redo the whole kitchen using stainless steel.  I have in mind a beautiful new kitchen but I haven't actually done anything about actually designing it yet.  And we all know that redoing a kitchen is like moving a mountain.  Nothing happens quickly.  And so, I am left trying to decide how to handle the broken dishwasher situation.

To replace or not to replace, that is the question.  Do I go with a stainless steel dishwasher even though it won't match or do I just get the white and resign myself to a lifetime of white appliances?  What if I never get around to actually redoing the kitchen (not that that's really an option) and end up with unmatching appliances!  I am a "cooking professional" for heavens sake!

So in the meantime, while I am in dishwasher flux, I am developing a new appreciation for all modern conveniences.  All I can tell you is that while I am willing, although unhappy, about washing dishes by hand, if my washing machine and dryer die I will not be reverting back to a wringer!

Recipe for the Day:

Screw it.  We're ordering in Chinese.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I Had a Bad Day

One of the really nice things about having my own blog is that I can write about anything I want.  Usually I want to write about food; what I ate, how I made it, what made it special.  But sometimes writing about food isn't really what I want to do.  And sometimes I get to indulge myself and write about something else that happened.

Take today for example.  It doesn't go down as one of the all time great days of the year.  Or even this week.

It all started with Pebbles, our 4 1/2 year old English bulldog.  She is the world's cutest bulldog (that is, if you like bulldogs, which I do).  I'll spare you the details, but let's just say that she was a little under the weather.  Or a lot under the weather.  By mid-day, Pebbles and I took a road trip to Dr. Gerson so he could check her out.  One "procedure" and two prescriptions later, we were on our way home so Pebi could sleep it off.  I spent a good part of the day cleaning up from "the incident".

Then, just as I was finishing the last load of dirty towels from this morning's situation, I started making dinner.  At some point in there, I realized that the dishwasher had been on for at least six hours.  I opened the completely full dishwasher only to find it was completely dry with the dish soap tablet completely intact.  Further investigation revealed that the dishwasher was broken beyond repair, and I was left with what seemed like 1,000 dirty dishes.

Two hours and one manicure later, I finally finished hand washing all the dishes.  I'm done for now.  That is, until someone wants a snack.

Recipe for Today

Ingredients:

A good bottle of scotch
A straw

Monday, December 20, 2010

Left Over and Out

Saturday night Ted and I went to the Capital Grille for dinner.  There's nothing I like better than a good steak and in my vast steak eating career, I have decided that the Capital Grille is among the best.  I have to admit, I like the sides at Morton's better,  but I think the steaks at the Capital Grille are superior so, despite having both restaurants to choose from, we usually go with the Capital Grille.

So, Saturday night was a lovely evening out but Sunday night found me left out.  Charlie was in Connecticut visiting some college friends.  Kate was out to dinner and a movie with some of her friends.  And Ted was at the Steeler's game, freezing his ass off.  (Not only was it cold, they lost.)  I was responsible for dropping Kate off and then I was at home -- alone.  Now, I don't usually complain about an evening to myself but everyone was having such a good time, and I was at home doing the laundry.  It's true.  I didn't have to do the laundry, but what the hell.  It's not like it was going to do itself and I was home after all.

But what to have for dinner?  There was that nice steak left over from Saturday night.  A steak sandwich was just the ticket.  I started by slicing the steak really thin.  I toasted up a ciabatta roll.  Onto the roll, I added a really hearty layer of coarse dijon mustard.  I piled on some peppery arugula and some shaved parmesan cheese.   It was absolutely delicious.

So, I may have been left out and I may have had left overs but I guarantee you this.  No one at Heinz Field ate as well as I did on Sunday night.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Mix Master

My husband Ted is big into the cocktails.  More than the drink itself, I think he really enjoys the history of the drinks and the actual mixing of the drinks.  All of this is not to say that he doesn't enjoying the drinking of the drinks, but as if often the case with Ted, it's not so much the destination, but the journey that he finds inspiring.

In Pennsylvania, you have to purchase all of your liquor in state liquor stores.  This was something new for me because I'm from California where you can buy a six pack in a gas station.  Not only are the state liquor stores the only game in town, they tend not to have as full a selection of the gourmet liquors as an aficionado like Ted thinks he needs.  The answer to this is not to make do, something Ted has never been very good at, but instead to stock up when we're out of town.  Oh, don't look askance as us.  Ted's friend George does the same thing, and I have been regaled with numerous stories from other friends as to how they've actually gotten the contraband shipped to them here in good old PA.  Whenever we go up to New York, we make a stop at Astor Place Liquors and pretty much buy the place out.  I'm not kidding.  We drive up to New York, instead of flying, so we can bring back the booze.  Sad but true.  (It also makes it easier to bring back those big boot boxes after I take a trip to Barneys.  I don't like to pay shipping.)

Anyway, I thought it would be nice to share a cocktail or two with you this week in honor of the upcoming holidays.  So here, with a brief  introduction by Ted, is something nice with which to dazzle your friends and family.  Cheers!

And now, without further ado, my husband and chief mixologist, Ted...

French 75

What is more festive than a glass of champagne?  The same principle applies to cocktails, where those with champagne as a key ingredient somehow just seem zippier than the average Manhattan, Martini or Old Fashioned.  There is always the classic Champagne Cocktail (soak a sugar cube in 2-3 drops of bitters--you can use Angostura or orange or really almost any type of bitters--drop the sugar cube in a champagne flute and fill with champagne).  And, of course, famous cocktails like the Bellini and the Kir Royale are champagne-based.  But today we are doing the French 75, an old classic having a bit of a renaissance these days.   This drink is somehow named, by the way, after a type of artillery used during the First World War and is absolutely delicious.  Indeed, Nadine, not much of a booze hound, loves it and orders it whenever she thinks the bartender will know how to make it.

Ingredients:

1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce lemon juice, fresh squeezed
1 teaspoon sugar
5 ounces chilled brut champagne or other sparkling wine (should be eminently drinkable but don't use your most expensive French champagne for this)
Lemon twist for garnish

Shake gin, lemon juice and sugar with ice.  Strain into a chilled champagne flute.  Slowly top with champagne.  Garnish with a lemon twist.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Current Events

Earlier this week Time Magazine announced that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, was the person of the year for 2010.  He's 26.  Yes, you heard me, 26.  This begs the question: what have I done wrong?

By the time Mark Zuckerberg was 19 he had already started developing Facebook in his dorm room at Harvard.  Charlie is 19 and so far as I know, the only thing that he's developed in his dorm room at Carleton is a real skill at beer pong.  Maybe the problem is that he doesn't go to Harvard.  I don't know.  Nonetheless, despite being a little socially awkward, which Charlie is not, Mark Zuckerberg could be any of our kids.  And, let me tell you, his mother is not worrying about buying a retirement condo in Boca.

Now don't get me wrong.  Charlie has done nothing but make me proud, and the fact that he hasn't cured cancer or invented a computer application in his dorm room are not huge concerns.  (Well, maybe the beer pong thing doesn't make proud but other than that he makes me proud.)  I can take solace in the knowledge of the following facts.  First of all, Charlie isn't a science major.  In fact, he is trying his hardest to get through four years of college having never taken a math class or a science class more complicated than astronomy.  Second, he's not much of a computer whiz either.  He's a history major and, let's face it, the likelihood of ground breaking achievement probably has to wait until after graduate school.  Ka-ching.

Nonetheless, in honor of Mark Zuckerberg's many achievements and in honor of Charlie's soon to be many achievements, here's a befitting recipe.

Toffee Millionaires
(Martha Stewart)

Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for pan
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup finely chopped chocolate covered toffee bars plus 1/2 cup coarsely chopped chocolate covered               toffee bars (about 10 ounces total)
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 300 with the rack in the upper third.  Butter an 8 inch square baking pan.  Whisk to combine flour and salt in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium-high until creamy, 2 to 3 minutes.  Gradually add brown sugar, beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes more.  Reduce speed to low.  Add flour mixture, mix until just combined.  Using plastic wrap, press dough evenly into prepared pan.  With plastic wrap on, chill 45 minutes.

Pierce dough all over with a wooden skewer.  Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until golden brown and center is firm, about 70 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat finely chopped bars and cream in a saucepan, stirring constantly, over medium low heat until smooth.  Pour over shortbread in pan; sprinkle with coarsely chopped toffee.  Let cool slightly.  Cut into squares.  Let cool completely.  Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Feeling Festive

Today I went to the mall.  For someone who likes to shop as much as I do, you would think that I would love the mall.  Au contraire.  I hate the mall.  It scares me; so many people and so much merchandise.    All those stores, mostly filled with things I don't want, and all those people running around madly clutching shopping bags.  And no air.  I guess if they could make Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive into a mall I would feel differently about malls, but how many Pottery Barns and Banana Republics does the world need anyway?

Anyway, despite my general dislike of malls, I couldn't help but get caught up in a little holiday tra la la.  The music was playing, the giant Christmas tree in the middle was sparkling, and Williams Sonoma was sampling their peppermint bark.  As far as I'm concerned, peppermint bark is a huge reason to feel festive.

Now don't get too excited because I'm not going to give you a recipe for peppermint bark.   I think that's a food best left to the professionals.  Let's face it, there are some things not worth making yourself, and I think peppermint bark one of them.  If you make peppermint bark then please take note:  I'm impressed because it's not a project I've ever tackled.  You are a better person than I am.

But all this joyousness and twinkling lights got me thinking more about festive foods.  You know, all that stuff that we only indulge in at the holidays.  The reason that come January 1 we are all madly jumping on our scales and running back to the gym.  The really fattening stuff that we rarely eat otherwise.   For me, that food is fondue.

Fondue is a food that probably never should have been introduced to the American audience because we have no self control.  I guarantee you that the Europeans who invented it never dipped pound cake and marshmallows in chocolate fondue.  I also suspect that our fondue forefathers never wiped the bottom of the fondue pot clean with a chunk of angel food cake.  And, I haven't even gotten started on cheese fondue.  A heart attack waiting to happen.

So, in honor of the season and because dipping fruit into the fondue might take it from being total gluttony to being a health food, here's a little holiday fah la la.

Classic Chocolate Fondue

Ingredients:

1 3 1/2 ounce bar Toblerone chocolate
2 ounces dark chocolate
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon rum

Assorted fruits including strawberries, bananas and raspberries for dipping

Fill the fondue pot one-third full with water.  Place the porcelain bowl insert in the pot and heat it on the stove.   Chop the chocolate and place it in the porcelain bowl and then add the cream.  Stir until all the chocolate hasd melted.  Stir in the rum and continue to heat for 1 more minute.

Transfer the fondue to the table and keep warm over the burner.  Serve with assorted fruits (or pound cake, etc.) for dipping.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fruity Tootie

Ted may be the only person I know who actually likes fruitcake. I'm not saying that he tolerates the annual fruitcake.  He actually likes it and has been known to seek it out.  Several years ago I made him a fruitcake because he likes it so much.  Who knew that such a person existed?  Most people receive fruitcakes and use them as doorstops.  We receive a fruitcake and Ted eats it.

I, on the other hand, don't really like fruitcake.  At least not enough to waste the calories on it, especially at this time of year. But I do like to see my husband happy so I have found a compromise: the fruitcake cookie.  I have to say that these cookies are quite yummy.  They include all the things that are good about fruitcake: dried fruit and booze, and leave out most of what's less appealing: wildly colored candied fruit.  In fact, the only candied fruit in this recipe are cherries, which are pretty manageable when you're talking about candied fruit.

The other nice thing about this recipe is that you can adjust it to include the dried fruits you like.  You could also leave out the candied cherries, although I left them in because I thought they added a pretty color.  The original recipe is from Ina Garten.  She's always a good place to start when you're making something that includes a lot of expensive ingredients.

Customize this recipe to make it your own like I have.  That person you know who enjoys fruitcake will thank you.  You might even find that you like fruitcake, at least in cookie form.

Fruitcake Cookies

Ingredients:

1/4 pound dried apricots
1/4 pound dried figs
1/4 pound raisins
1/4 pound candied cherries
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces chopped walnuts
kosher salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 extra large egg
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

Coarsely chop the figs and the apricots.  In a medium bowl, combine the apricots, figs, raisins, candied cherries, honey, sherry, lemon juice, walnuts, and a pinch of salt.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, cloves, superfine sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  With the mixer on low speed, add the egg and mix until incorporated.  With the mixer still on low, slowly add the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt and mix until just combined.  Don't overmix.  Add the fruits and nuts, including any liquid in the bowl.  Divide the dough in half and place each half on the long end of a 12x18 piece of parchment or wax paper.  Roll each half into a log, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches thick, making an 18 inch long roll.  Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or until firm.

Preheat the oven to 350.

With a small, sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/2 inch slices.  Place the slices 1/2 inch apart on ungreased  sheet pans and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly golden.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Who Wants a Cookie?

I started my cooking "career" by learning to bake and for a long time that's all I could do in the kitchen.  If you asked me for an elaborate cake, I could deliver.  If you asked me for a plate of spaghetti, I would have had a problem.  In fact, in the early years of our marriage, one of my few dinner entrees was broiled chicken with lemon pepper.  Sad but true.

As you have seen, I have widened my repertoire considerably.  In fact I don't think I've made broiled chicken with lemon pepper in years.  I'm not sure I even have any lemon pepper in my spice drawer.  But the point of all this is that I still love to bake, and it's what I think I do best.

I am not a big holiday cookie maker.  First of all, I don't bake cookies to give as gifts, which is sort of a shame because I'm pretty sure people would enjoy receiving them.  Ted would probably agree because my sweat equity would save him a lot of money on gifts.  I'm not sure why I don't bake as gifts but I don't.  Second, if I'm not going to give the cookies away in an organized fashion, then why have dozens of cookies around the house?  True, Charlie and Kate are like vacuum cleaners when it comes to anything home made, but so am I.  That's why I don't need to have dozens of pretty cookies around the house.  Enough said.

Nonetheless, it's the holiday season and it's seems fitting that I pass along a recipe or two.   The other day on the Today show I saw Martha Stewart demonstrate a recipe for Glitter Balls.  They're a simple butter cookie sandwich rolled in sanding sugar with a ginger buttercream filling.  They're festive and feel just right for the holidays.

So, now having now made made these cookies, I guess I have no choice but to give them away.  And maybe in the process, I can save Ted some money.

Glitter Balls
(Martha Stewart, 2010)

Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Sanding sugar in assorted colors
Creamy Ginger Filling (see below)

Preheat oven to 350.  Beat butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt with an electric mixer on medium high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl as necessary.  Beat in vanilla.  Reduce speed to low, add flour, and mix until just combined.  Shape into 3/4 inch balls.  Place sanding sugar in shallow bowls.  Roll each ball in sanding sugar, and place on parchment lined baking sheets, spacing 1-inch apart.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are lightly golden, 15-18 minutes.  Let cookies cool completely on a wire rack.  Spread two cookies with just enough filling to allow them to stick together.  Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Creamy Ginger Filling

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 cup confections' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon honey

Beat all ingredients by hand or with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth.  Filling can be spored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Yesterday I spent the whole day running around.  There's snow expected, and I have become enough of a Pittsburgher that I feel the need to go to the market in anticipation of bad weather.  Now, don't get me wrong, I actually needed to go to the market anyway, but the threat of inclement weather motivated me to do it on a busy Saturday afternoon.  I also went to Costco because I refuse to buy laundry detergent and paper towels anywhere else. I also love a reason to actually have to go to Costco.

Anyway, enough about the weather and my warehouse shopping habits. I woke up this morning and realized that because I was so efficient yesterday I didn't actually have anywhere I needed to go today.  This is not something that happens very often.  Usually there's at least one errand to run, but Kate wasn't even going to tennis today because she has finals in school starting tomorrow.   So, here I was with a day at home.

The really nice part of having a day at home and having just gone to the grocery store is that I can cook something for dinner that I wouldn't have time to cook during the week.  For me, this means that I can make a roast for dinner.  A roast takes more time in the oven than I usually have to spend during the week.  It also feels like a meal that we should all sit down together and enjoy leisurely.  You know, that Sunday dinner thing.

So, I'm making a roast, and I'm going to roast some potatoes with it.  When I was at Trader Joe's the other day I bought a bag of diced root vegetables.  I'm going to saute those to go with the whole thing.  Dinner will be delicious.  Maybe I'll even make a dessert.  You know, that Sunday dinner thing.

Sauteed Root Vegetables

Note:  I bought a 2 pound bag of diced root vegetables (parsnips, turnips, rutabagas.)  I used about half the bag and to that I added:

2 large carrots, 1-inch dice
2 ribs celery, i-inch dice
2 tablespoons italian parsley, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

Melt the butter in a large saute pan.  When the butter is melted, add the root vegetables, carrots, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Saute to combine and cover with tight fitting lid.  Cook on low for about 10 minutes.  Add the celery, stir, and cover again.  Cook for an additional 5 - 10 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender.  If the vegetables get too dry add a few tablespoons of water.  Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Doctor is In

Several years ago a book came out called The Cake Mix Doctor.  At the time, it was a huge sensation.  It had dozens of recipes that used cake mixes as a base, and then you could add all kinds of things to make the cakes more like scratch baking.  I wasn't much of a baker in those days so I thought that my ship had arrived with the publication of this book.

The funny thing about The Cake Mix Doctor was that my mother, who really wasn't a baker, had been doing the same thing for years.  I remember her throwing a bag of chocolate chips and some pudding mix into a chocolate cake mix and coming out with a double chocolate cake that could rot your teeth.  Who knew my mother was on to something long before the book came out.

The point of all this is that I finally learned to bake from scratch, and I never really looked at the book again.  Then I had a daughter who loves to bring brownies to school.  The problem with my daughter is that she tells me she wants to bring brownies to school at 10:00 p.m. the night before.  This means that we do a lot of late night baking in our house.  I am here to tell you that there is no way I'm melting chocolate in a double boiler and whipping butter at 10:00 at night.  So, I slid down the slippery path of brownie mix.

I started with one box of brownie mix and before I knew it I had graduated to the 8-pack of brownie mix from Costco.  They carry the Ghirardelli mix, and Charlie informs me that it's the "cadillac" of brownie mix.  Next thing, I was embracing the brownie mix and "doctoring" it up on my own.

The great thing about brownie mix is that, while I would never use it to make "serious brownies," the end product is pretty good.  Not fabulous but pretty good and sometimes, like at 10:00 at night, pretty good is downright fabulous.

Nadine's Doctored Up Brownies

Ingredients: (for the basic recipe)

1 box brownie mix of your choice (I like the Ghiraradelli)
vegetable oil
coffee
egg(s)

Prepare mix according to package instructions substituting coffee for the same amount of water.  Combine well and bake according to package instructions.

Variations On the Theme:

For Peppermint Patty Brownies:  Prepare as above adding 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract.  Pour half of the batter into a prepared pan and then layer peppermint patties over the brownie mix.  Cover the candy with the remaining brownie mix, making sure to completely cover the peppermints.  Bake as directed on the package.

Candy Cane Brownies.  Add all but 2 tablespoons of the crushed candy canes to the batter.  Pour batter into a prepared pan and cover top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of crushed candy cane.  Bake as directed on the package.

Peanut Butter or Nutella Brownies:  Prepare as above.  Pour batter into a prepared pan and then dollop tablespoonfuls of peanut butter or Nutella onto the top of the brownie mix.  Swirl into the brownie mix using a knife.  Bake as directed.

Or try adding a cup of chocolate chips to the mix.  Or a cup of nuts.  Or a cup of Rice Krispies.  Or, my personal favorite, try topping the the brownies with mini M&M's.

Be creative and have fun.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Before I moved from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh, I never really thought much about the winter.  I didn't have to.  It was pretty much always nice in L.A.  I never had to think about how heavy a coat I needed on any given day because I rarely needed to wear anything heavier than a sweater.  I think I owned one turtleneck and that wasn't for warmth.  I'm sure I bought it because it was cute.

Now I live in Pittsburgh, and I am obsessed with the weather.  How hot, how cold, how humid, what's the wind chill.  The weather report on the 11:00 news is my pornography.  It's not just me.  Everyone talks about the weather -- constantly.  This is true especially when it's cold.

Last winter we had record snowfall.  I think it snowed about three feet in just a couple of days in February. This gave everyone something to talk about for months.  Discussions about snow removal, ice dams, and ultimately snow damage ran amok.  It was like living in an x-rated movie.

The point of all this is that, whether I like to admit it or not, I cook differently depending on the weather.  I guess we all do, but I totally ramp up the comfort food in the winter.  This is not necessarily good for my waistline but it is good for my mental health.  The winter comes and I show no self control.

So, although today is only December 8th,  there is going to be a high of about 25 degrees with mid teens wind chill.  We've had lake effect snow for the last three days, and Pittsburgh is starting to feel more like the polar zone than a city.  I think it's a good day for beef stew -- and some weather porn.

Beef Stew

Ingredients:

2 pounds chuck beef, cut in 1-1/2-inch cubes
1 bottle red wine
3 - 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
3 bay leaves
4 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup flour
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions, large diced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 pound carrot, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 pound small yukon gold potatoes
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 spring rosemary
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced thick
olive oil

Marinate the meat overnight in the red wine, smashed garlic cloves, and bay leaves.

Brown the bacon or pancetta in a large saute pan, over a medium low heat.  When it is brown, remove to a large dutch oven with a slotted spoon.  Remove the beef cubes from the marinade and reserve the marinade for use later.  Discard the garlic cloves and bay leaves.  Dredge the beef in a mixture of the flour, 1 tablespoon of the salt, and 1 tablespoon of  pepper.  Shake off any excess.  In batches, brown the beef cubes in the same saute pan, making sure to brown on all sides.  Remove the beef cubes to the dutch oven with the bacon or pancetta.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Using the same saute pan, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes, until soft, adding a little olive oil if necessary.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two.  Add the carrots and potatoes to the onions and garlic and cook for 5 minutes more.  Remove all of the vegetables to the dutch oven with the beef and bacon.  Next, saute the mushrooms for 5 minutes, adding a little more olive oil if necessary.  Remove to the dutch oven.  Add 2 cups of the reserved marinade and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the browned bits with a wooden spoon.  Add the beef stock,  rosemary, Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon of the salt, and 2 teaspoons of the pepper.  Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables in the dutch oven and bring it to a simmer.  Cover the pot and place it in the oven for 2 hours, stirring once or twice during cooking.

When stew is done and the meat is tender, remove the rosemary branch.  Ladle into bowls and serve.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ready for a Quickie?

I don't usually make dessert during the week.  I didn't say that I didn't eat dessert during the week, although I shouldn't; I just don't usually make something special.   But every once in a while a new recipe will catch my eye, and I go for it during the week.

With cranberries easily available, I have found myself with three bags of berries and nothing to do with them.  When I saw this recipe for a cranberry apple cake I thought I had hit pay dirt.   It was quick and I had all the ingredients in the house.  A win-win as far as I was concerned.

I am not kidding you.  This cake took about ten minutes to throw together and about an hour to bake.  I put the cake together just before I started making dinner, and it was done and ready to eat by the time we had finished our main course.  To quote Ina, "how easy is that"?

The nice thing about this cake is that you could actually serve it either for dessert at dinner or as a coffee cake at brunch.  It's not too sweet and more fruity than cakey.  You could even use pears instead of the apples, which I think would be delicious and a little unexpected.  I'm going to try it that way next time.

One bag of cranberries down, two to go.

Easy Cranberry & Apple Cake
(Adapted from Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?, 2010)

Ingredients:

12 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over for stems
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and medium-diced
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (2 oranges)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/8 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
2 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 teaspoon sour cream
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the cranberries, apple, brown sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon in a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs on medium high speed for 2 minutes.  With the mixer on medium, add 1 cup of the granulated sugar, the butter, vanilla, and sour cream and beat just until combined.  On low speed, slowly add the flour and salt.

Turn the fruit mixture into a 10-inch glass pie plate.  Pour the batter over the fruit, covering it completely.  Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle it over the batter.  Bake for 55 - 60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean and the fruit is bubbling around the edges.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Back to Pasta

For years I barely ate pasta.  I felt like pasta was the devil because it was a carbohydrate and that was bad.  I tried to develop a love affair with whole wheat pasta but I have to admit, I just could get into the "nutty" taste and texture.  To me, it tasted a little like cardboard.

I've gotten over my fear of carbohydrates and have rediscovered the joys of pasta.  One of the things I really love about pasta is that it's quick.  For those of you who, like me, have their busiest time of the day between 3:00 and 7:00 p.m., something that can be whipped up quickly for dinner is a sure fire winner.  I can make a more complicated sauce earlier in the day and all I have to do is boil, toss, and serve at 7:30 when everyone is "starving".

I have also recently discovered that I really love the simplest preparations best.  You know the old story about good ingredients being the key.  Well, I am here to tell you that that's absolutely true.  A little fresh garlic, some fruity olive oil, kosher salt, and maybe a little fresh parmesan and you can have a really delicious bowl of pasta in minutes.  It's taken me years to discover what Italians have known for centuries.  Less is more.

Ted was out at a business thing tonight and so it was just the two kids and me.  As I have mentioned in the past, dinner is a little simpler when Ted's not around, so I took advantage of this and whipped up a quick spaghetti with olive oil and garlic.  This is an incredibly easy thing to make.  There's barely a recipe required but it is packed full of flavor using only a couple of ingredients.  As I said.  Less is more.

Spaghetti with Olive Oil and Garlic

1 pound spaghetti
10 -12 large cloves of garlic, sliced thin
6 tablespoons fruity olive oil
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup italian parsley, chopped
freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving

Put a large pot of well salted water on to boil.  When the water comes to a boil, cook the pasta according to the package instructions.

In the meantime, in a large pan, cook the garlic in the olive oil until it just begins to brown.  Add the red pepper flakes and the parsley and remove from the heat.

Once the pasta is cooked, reserve some of the cooking water.  Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the oil and garlic.  Return the pan to a low heat and toss the pasta with the oil, adding a little of the pasta water to loosen it up if necessary.

Serve with fresh parmesan on top.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bah Humbug

The holiday season is upon us.  The stores are all busy, the Christmas music is playing on the radio, in the mall, and at the dry cleaners.  Yes, the holidays are here, and I can no longer put off thinking about them.

It used to be that the winter holidays didn't make an appearance until the day after Thanksgiving.  That's just how it was.  The day before Thanksgiving, everything had sort of a harvest theme and then magically the day after Thanksgiving everything was covered in fake snow and tinsel.  Now, we can shop for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas all at once starting sometime in September.  What happened?

All of this early celebration has caused me to become somewhat of a Scrooge.  I mean, for how many months do I have to celebrate?   A couple of weeks of tinsel and good cheer is plenty for me.  

My real problem this year is my general lack of ideas about what to buy everyone.  Honestly, can't we all just agree that we have everything we need (and more)?  Truthfully, do any of us need more stuff?  I can only speak for myself when I say that I actually need to get rid of stuff instead of collecting more.  I can remember a time when I actually thought my behemoth of a house was too large for us.  These days, despite having a full basement and a third floor that no one lives on, I am starting to consider off-site storage as a way to get some of this stuff out of here.

So, in an effort not to add to everyone else's stuff, I'm thinking of going the consumable gift route this year.  I'm not talking about those tired Christmas cookies, but instead some really special food items, both homemade and purchased, that can be enjoyed and then finished.  

It all seems like a good idea but as always, motivation on my part could be an issue.  But, it's only the beginning of December.  I still have plenty of time to get to the mall if it all falls apart.

French Chocolate Bark
(Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics,  2008)

Ingredients:

1 cup whole salted, roasted cashews
6 to 7 ounces very good semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 to 7 ounces very good bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup dried crystallized ginger, 1/2 inch diced
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried apricots, 1/2 inch diced
1/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Using a pencil, draw a 9 x 10-inch rectangle on a piece of parchment paper placed on a sheet pan, then turn the parchment paper over.

Spread the cashews in one layer on another sheet pan and bake for 8 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Place the semisweet chocolate and half the bittersweet chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave on high for 20 to 30 seconds.  Stir with a rubber spatula.  Continue to heat and stir in 30-second increments until the chocolate is just melted.  Immediately add the remaining bittersweet chocolate and allow it to sit at room temperature, stirring often, until it's completely smooth.  Stir vigorously until the chocolate is smooth and slightly cooled; stirring makes it glossier.

Pour the melted chocolate onto the parchment paper and spread it lightly into the drawn rectangle.  Sprinkle the top evenly in the following order: first the ginger, then the cooled whole cashews, the cherries, apricots, and raisins.  Set aside for 1 to 2 hours until firm.  Cut the bark into 18 to 20 pieces and serve at room temperature.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

The LBD of Grains

As we have discussed in the past, everyone needs a little black dress.  You know, something that you can wear to lunch, dinner, cocktails, or a funeral.  It really should be called the little all purpose dress because it can be worn almost anywhere, and it's always just right.  Well, the little black dress of the grain family is couscous.  It can be a simple side or something much more elaborate.  It can be dressed up or down, depending on your needs.

The really great thing about couscous is that it can be prepared very simply by adding just some stock, salt, and pepper.  It can also be prepared to serve as a main dish, as is most often the case in Moroccan cuisine.  However it is prepared, couscous is very easy to make and is just delicious.

This recipe for Moroccan couscous can be a side or a really nice vegetarian main dish.  If you're feeling like really adding to it, and don't care about it being vegetarian, you can even add some shredded chicken.  However you make it, rest assured that like the LBD, you'll be ready for anything.

Moroccan Couscous
(Adapted from Barefoot Contessa in Paris, 2004)

Ingredients:

2 cups 3/4 inch diced butternut squash
2 cups yellow onion onion, chopped
1 1/2 3/4 inch diced carrots
1 1/2 3/4 inch diced zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 1/2 cups couscous
2 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the butternut squash, carrots, onions, and zucchini on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper.  Roast for 25 - 30 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender, turning once with a spatula.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil and turn off the heat.  Add the butter, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, the cumin, and saffron threads and allow to steep for at least 15 minutes.

Bring the chicken stock just back to a boil.  Place the couscous and cooked vegetables in a large bowl and pour the hot chicken stock over them.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.  Add the scallions, toss the couscous and vegetables with a fork, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rugulah Demystified


Today's proclamation:  I love rugulah.   I mean, what's not to love?  Little bite sized pieces of heaven filled with raisins, apricot or raspberry jam, or, my personal favorite, chocolate chips.  As far as I'm concerned, rugulah are the Manolo Blahnik of Jewish baking.  (I'll bet Mr. Blahnik has never had his shoes compared to anything Jewish, let alone a cookie.)

My love affair with rugulah goes way back to my childhood.  My mother used to buy them for us at Bea's Bakery, where they were called "delco's".  My Grandma Fanny used to buy them at the Beverlywood Bakery, where they were called rugulah.  It didn't matter what they were called, because I would have loved them under any name.

I'm not sure what it is about rugulah that has made them one of my all time favorite things.  In fact, I'm sure that if Oprah knew about rugulah she would include them on her list of favorite things, that's how yoummy they are.  But I digress, I think it might be the combination of the not too sweet cream cheese pastry and the  much sweeter filling, all rolled up together.  Whatever it is, it works for me.

So, imagine my pleasure when I saw that my beloved Ina Garten had a recipe for these tasty little treats in her Barefoot Contessa Parties cookbook.  There was only one problem.  The recipe was for rugulah with raisins and nuts, and I prefer chocolate chips, so I did a little adapting.  The end result was worthy of the Beverlywood Bakery (and for anyone who has ever been there, that's pretty high praise).

There is one hitch.  This recipe takes a little time and a lot of effort.  These are not your mother's slice and bake cookies.  There's rolling, sprinkling, and more rolling, so set aside some time to do this.  I promise, it will be worth it.  If you want quick, make toll house cookies.  If you want special, make these rugulah.

Chocolate Chip Rugulah
(Apapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties, 2001)

Ingredients:

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 9 tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1/2 cup fruit preserves (apricot, orange, or raspberry), pureed in a food processor
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

Cream the cream cheese with the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light.  Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the salt, and vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix until just combined.  Dump the dough out onto a well floured board and roll it into a ball.  Cut the ball into quarters, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

To make the filling, combine 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar, the brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, the chocolate chips, and walnuts.

On a well floured board, roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle.  Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons of the pureed preserves and sprinkle with a 1/2 cup of the filling.  Press the filling lightly into the dough.  Cut the dough into 12 equal wedges -- cutting the whole circle into quarters, then each quarter into thirds.  Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge.  Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brush each cookie with the egg wash.  Combine 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle on the cookies.  Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove to a wire rack and let cool.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Latkes: Friend or Foe?


I have kind of a love hate relationship with latkes.  I really love to eat them.  They're delicious and at no other time of the year can eating fried food be as justified as it is on Hanukkah.  The problem is that they're a mess to make, and the house smells for days afterward.  Some of my friends make sweet potato latkes or zucchini latkes, but I'm kind of a purist when it comes to my potato pancakes.  Russet potatoes and onions.  No fancy latkes for me.

Latkes are a lot like Pittsburgh.  There's no one right way to get to your destination.  In Pittsburgh, you never actually can make a wrong turn.  There's always another way to get where you're going that probably won't add more than a minute or two to your commute time.  Latkes are the same in that there are a million variations on the theme, and all of them will produce a tasty pancake.

The truth is, I think it's the frying that makes the latkes as delicious as they are.  The real key to success is making sure your oil is very hot when you start and keeping it that way as you fry.  I use my very well seasoned cast iron frying pan to fry up the latkes.  Let's face it, there's just nothing like cast iron for browning.   I also think the latkes taste best right out of the frying pan, but I realize that's sometimes difficult to achieve if you're cooking for a crowd.   If I have to cook ahead, I fry them all up and then reheat the latkes in a 400 oven until they are crisp again.  I find the low temperature oven that is favored by so many people can actually make the latkes soggy, which is definitely not the result you want.

So, despite the greasy mess I will have to clean up, I will be making latkes for my family again this year.  And although I will only be making them for the four of us, it will be a lot like cooking for a crowd.  Charlie is home from college on his winter break, and he can eat like a crowd.  There's nothing like a son with a big appetite to make the  clean up worth it.

Potato Latkes

Ingredients:

5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and grated
2 eggs, beaten
2 onions, grated
1/2 cup matzoh meal or flour
salt and pepper
vegetable or grapeseed oil for frying

Note:  My grandmother always grated the potatoes and onions by hand and my mother used the Manischewitz mix.  I split the difference and use the Cuisinart to grate the potatoes and onions.

Grate the potatoes and onions.  Place the grated potatoes and onions in a dish cloth or cheesecloth and squeeze out all the excess water.  The dryer you can get the potatoes and onions, the better your latkes will stay together in the frying pan.  Add the eggs and matzoh meal or flour.  If the mixture still seems a little loose, add a little more matzoh meal or flour.  Combine well.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a cast iron frying pan, over medium high heat, heat enough oil to cover the bottom.  When the oil is simmering, add potato mixture in dollops, depending on the size you want to make your pancakes.  I usually make them about 1 rounded tablespoon each.  Let them fry, without moving them for about 2 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.  Turn the pancakes and let them fry for about 1 minute more, until they are golden.  Remove pancakes from pan and place on paper towel lined racks to drain.  Repeat process with remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the pan as necessary.

To reheat:  Place pancakes on a baking sheet and reheat in a 400 degree oven until they are crispy, about 5 minutes.

Serve hot with applesauce and sour cream.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Oh Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel

I must admit, Hanukkah has kind of snuck up on me this year.  I guess had I consulted my calendar sooner, I would have realized that it begins on Wednesday.  But I didn't, so our latkes are going to have to wait a couple of days so that I can get it together and buy some gifts.  Had I been more on top of it, I could have done some shopping for others while we were in New York over Thanksgiving.  Instead I bought myself shoes.  Live and learn.

Having said all that, to me nothing says Jewish holiday like a brisket.  It was my mother's "go to" Jewish meal and it's stuck.  I have to say, I love a good brisket and there are a million different variations so it never actually seems like you're eating the same thing over and over.  My current favorite take on brisket is one that my friend Mona passed along several years ago.  I've played with it a little so I guess this version belongs to me.  My family loves it.

The thing with brisket is that I think it really benefits from being cooked ahead.  Like a day or two ahead.  I just stick the whole pot in the refrigerator overnight.   This way I can easily skim the fat from the liquid.  Cooling the brisket makes it much easier to slice attractively as well.  I make the same recipe regardless of the size brisket I'm using.  If it's a smaller brisket I just have a little more sauce.

The really great thing about brisket is that you don't even need a Jewish holiday to enjoy it.  It's a great cold weather meal.  It's also great smoked in the summer, which is one of Ted's specialties.

So, in an effort to get this holiday up and running, I did pick up a brisket today when I was at the butcher.  I'm going to make it tomorrow and who knows, it may inspire me to get out and do some holiday shopping.  I hope.

My Favorite Brisket

Ingredients:

1 4-5 pound brisket
3 large onions cut in half and sliced
4 tablespoons ketchup
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups red wine
beef stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
6 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced thickly
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
garlic powder

Preheat oven to 325.

Heat  2 tablespoons of oil in a large dutch oven.  Add the onions and saute until they are very dark brown.  Add ketchup and cook together with the onions for 2 minutes. Remove onions from pot.  Generously season the brisket with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the dutch oven.  Sear the meat on all sides. Remove the meat from the pot.  Add the wine and deglaze the pot, using a wooden spoon the scrape up the browned bits from the pot.

Return the meat and onion mixture to the pot and add the carrots and herbs.  Season with a little more salt and pepper.  Add enough beef stock so that the liquid comes up about 3/4 of the way over the meat and vegetables.  Bring to a boil.

Cover and place in the oven for about 3 hours, or until the meat is fork tender.

Cool and refrigerate overnight.  In the morning,  remove the meat from the pot and skim the fat from the surface of the braising liquid.  Slice the meat against the grain and return to the pot with the braising liquid.

In a separate skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and saute the mushrooms until they are soft.  Add to the pot with the meat and braising liquid.

Reheat over low heat until hot.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's All in the Technique

I have never been much of a risotto person.  It's not that I don't like it, because I do.  It's just that I don't like all the stirring.  I mean, who has that kind of time?  Risotto is delicious but also ranks a ten on the effort scale. So, I've either ordered it in restaurants or let someone else do the stirring.

But my moratorium on risotto making has come to an end.  The other week I picked up Ina Garten's new cookbook called How Easy is That?, and she has this incredible method for making risotto which involves just two or three minutes of actual stirring. That's right.  Just two or three minutes of stirring and then you have risotto.  It's magic.  I have to admit, but for my love of Ina, I might have dismissed this "quick risotto" out of hand.  But I thought I'd give it a try and see if it was all that.

There was only one problem.  I don't really like peas and the original recipe called for peas and parmesan as the main ingredients besides the rice.  What to do?  I started thinking about what I like in risotto and what I really like are wild mushrooms. And so I put together my own recipe and, if I do say so myself, the end result was pretty impressive.

I don't often tell you that you have to try something, but you really have to give this a try.  It will take risotto from being a rare entry on your dinner menu to something you can whip up just like that. And, once you have the technique down, which honestly will be no problem, you can add all sorts of other interesting things to it.  I know I'm going to.

Quick Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
4 cups simmering chicken stock (preferably homemade) divided
2/3 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1/2 cup dry white wine
1- ounce dried morel mushrooms
1/2 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced thickly
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced
1/2 cup shallots, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350.

Place the dried morels in a bowl and pour two cups boiling water over them.  Set aside for 30 minutes.  Scoop the morels from the water, reserving 1 cup of the liquid.  Strain the liquid through a paper towel  and discard the gritty solids.  If some of the mushrooms are large, cut into 2 pieces,  Set aside the mushrooms and the strained liquid.

In a large Dutch oven, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter and saute the pancetta or bacon and shallots over medium high heat for 5 minutes.  Add the morels and cremini mushrooms and saute for another five minutes.  Add the rice and 3 cups of chicken stock, and the mushroom liquid to the pot.  Cover and bake for 45 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente.  Remove from the oven, add the remaining cup of chicken stock, the Parmesan, wine, 3 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper, and stir vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes, until the rice is thick and creamy.  Serve hot.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Postscript: The Thanksgiving Sandwich

We all eat things that we are not particularly proud of.  For some, it's indulging in an entire pint of ice cream while standing at the kitchen sink.  For others, it's eating the frosting off of the leftover birthday cake (also done standing at the kitchen sink).  For me, it's the Thanksgiving sandwich.   This is something I have been making and consuming since I was a kid.  I'm sure lots of people make Thanksgiving sandwiches but to my knowledge no one has ever actually admitted to eating one.  Well, here I am.

My husband thinks the Thanksgiving sandwich is disgusting, but what does he know?  In fact, as far as I'm concerned, the Thanksgiving sandwich one of the major reasons to cook Thanksgiving in the first place.  In short, it's heaven in sandwich form.

There is no real recipe for the Thanksgiving sandwich.   It's actually something that evolves from year to year.  It really depends on how much and what you have left over after you've already had leftovers on Friday night.  Having said all that, here is what my ideal Thanksgiving sandwich would include, complete with building instructions.

Thanksgiving Sandwich

Ingredients:

Turkey
Stuffing
Yams
Gravy
Bread
Cranberry Relish
Vegetables (optional)
Pie

Building Instructions:

Layer one:
A nice slice of whatever bread you served at Thanksgiving

Layer two:
Turkey

Layer Three:
A little stuffing

Layer Four:
Another slice of bread soaked in gravy.  I call this the "super soaker."  Heat the gravy up before you start construction.

Layer Five:
Yams or whatever type of potatoes you served.

Layer Six:
Cranberry relish

Layer Seven: (Optional)
Vegetables.  I never include vegetables but if you're feeling health conscious, go for it.

Layer Eight:
Pie.  Pumpkin is best because it's actually a vegetable.

Layer Nine:
Another slice of bread.

I like to stick the whole thing in the microwave for a few seconds just to take the chill off.

I know what you're probably thinking, but don't knock it until you've tried it.  I promise you'll enjoy it (the sandwich and the couple of Alka Seltzers you'll take need afterward).

Next week we'll be back to the recipes you'll actually make.  Happy Black Friday and stay away from the mall!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some Reasons to be Thankful

1.  I am thankful for Ted, Charlie and Kate.  And for Pebbles, our English bulldog.

2.  I am thankful for my family and for Ted's family.

3.  I am thankful for my lifelong friends and for all my friends I haven't known quite so long.

4.  I am thankful that at the ripe old age of 50 I am getting to reinvent myself as a blogger.  Who ever thought I could do this? Two months ago, all I could do on a computer was check my email and surf the tennis tournament schedule on USTA.com.  I still can't operate my iPhone, but I'm working on that.

5.  And, I am thankful to all of you for reading You Little Tarte.  By listening to me ramble you have made me feel very useful.  I hope to continue my commentary on all things food for a long time to come.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is the Ultimate Really the Ultimate?

I am always worried when something is referred to as "the ultimate".  Does that mean that it's really the best? Things change.  Is it the ultimate forever or for just that moment in time.  I know, I know.  This is all a little deep for the day before Thanksgiving,  but I have to tell you something.  More than once I have proclaimed that I have purchased the ultimate shoes or handbag only to discover that there's a new ultimate the next season.  Need I say more?  (Ted says I should stop trying to buy the ultimate--there is no point.)

Having pondered all that, I have to say that I think these ginger cookies may be the ultimate and thus they are aptly named.  I don't even like ginger, and I love these cookies.  Kelly loves these cookies (although she did suggest chopping up the crystallized ginger a little more finely), and everyone who's tasted them loves these cookies.  They actually may be the ultimate ginger cookie.

I especially like these cookies at this time of the year.  They're not really a summer cookie.  They're more suited to the spicy, nutmeggy (is that a word?) autumn.  They taste spicy and warming all at the same time. They're delicious.

So, rather than going for the ultimate new shoes, save yourself some money and go for the ultimate in ginger cookies.  Your credit card will thank you.

Ultimate Ginger Cookies
(Barefoot Contessa Parties, 2006)

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flout
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 extra large egg, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups finely chopped crystallized ginger (6 ounces)
Granulated sugar, for rolling the cookies

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line 2 sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and salt and then combine the mixture with your hands.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar, oil, and molasses on medium speed for 5 minutes.  Turn the mixer to low speed, add the egg, and beat for 1 minute.  Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat for one minute more.  With the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Add the crystallized ginger and mix until combined.

Scoop the dough with 2 spoons or a small ice cream scoop.  With your hands, roll each cookie into a 1 3/4 inch ball and then flatten them lightly with your fingers.  Press both sides of each cookie in granulated sugar and place them on the cookie sheets.  Bake for exactly 13 minutes.  The cookies will be cracked on the top and soft inside.  Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to the wire racks to cool completely.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Off the Hook

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I'm thinking that this is not the week for macaroni and cheese.  What I am thinking is that maybe I should try and keep it lighter at dinner so I won't feel as guilty as I reach for a second serving of stuffing.  As such, this is a week for salmon.

I used to love salmon and then I didn't.  Now I'm back to liking it because it's kind of the chicken of the fish family.  You can do almost anything to it and it still tastes pretty good.  Plus, it's full of all those healthy omega 3's and that's good.  So, in order to justify reckless abandon on Thursday, tonight we're having salmon.

For a long time I made a broiled salmon dish that had a mustard glaze on top.  It was delicious but I started feeling like all that mustard was a little heavy.  I began playing with the recipe I was using and came up with my own version of broiled salmon with mustard, which I am sharing with you below.  The addition of lemon juice and lemon zest gives the fish just the right lightness. I like it better than the original.

If 50 is the new 40, can't salmon be the new chicken?

Broiled Salmon with Mustard, Lemon and Herbs

Ingredients:

4 salmon fillets, about 6 ounces each, with  or without skin
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
3/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
3/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
3/4 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoon white wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
salt and pepper

Preheat broiler.  Spray a broiler pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Sprinkle salmon fillets with salt and pepper and place on the broiler pan.  Broil the fish for 5 minutes.  In the meantime, combine the garlic, both mustards, rosemary, thyme, dill, wine, olive oil, lemon juice and zest in a small bowl.  Spoon the mustard mixture over the fish and continue broiling for another 5 minutes, until the top is golden brown and fish is cooked through.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Say Hello to Mr. Popover

Note:  There are two posts today.  Read on for "On the Side".

So, you have the turkey, the yams, the stuffing, a vegetable, and even the pies.  But you still need some kind of bread to complete the holiday spread.  Now, having gone to so much trouble to make all this delicious homemade food, are you really just going to slap some dinner rolls from the grocery store on the table?  I didn't think so.

Say hello to Mr. Popover, the perfect holiday bread.  I mean, how can you not love something so tall and puffy?  Popovers are absolutely my favorite aspect of any holiday meal.  If you've never made them before, you have missed out.  Now is your chance to make something that takes almost no effort and is a sure crowd pleaser.

If you have popover pans that's great, but you can also make them in Pyrex custard cups and they'll still be perfect. The great thing about popovers is that they are so easy.  There's only one rule: do not peek into the oven while they are baking.  That's it.  Just mix, pour, and popover.

You can mix the batter ahead of time and then just bake them off right before dinner.  I promise that no matter how many you make, they'll all be gone.  The good news is that since they're so simple to make, you'll always be able to make more!

Popovers
(Barefoot Contessa Parties, 2001)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus softened butter for greasing pans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 extra large eggs, at rooms temperature
1 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 425.

Generously grease aluminum popover pans or Pyrex muffin cups with softened butter.  You'll need enough pans to make 12 popovers.  Place the pans in the oven for exactly 2 minutes to preheat.  Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, eggs, milk, and melted butter until smooth.  The batter will be thin.  Fill the popover pans less than half full and bake for exactly 30 minutes.  Do not peek

Note:  I transfer the batter from the mixing bowl into a large measuring cup to pour into the popover pans.

On the Side

I have to start by saying that I'm not usually all that creative about side dishes, even at the holidays.  I've never made a green bean casserole although I'm sure it's very delicious.  As I have mentioned, no one in my house gets excited about the veggies at Thanksgiving, so I have to admit I usually just make one so that I can at least look like I'm putting something green on the plate.  (Ted is offended that I have not pointed out that he loves vegetables and especially these brussels sprouts.  To be fair, I have yet to find any food item that Ted does not love.)

But I do love the look of brussels sprouts, especially when they are available on the stalk.  They're just so pretty.  I almost feel like I could use them as a centerpiece (and I'm sure it's been done).  And, like artichokes, you have to give the first person to have eaten them some credit.  They just don't look edible.  But, alas, they are and they're quite tasty.

You can do lots of things with them as well.  Brussels sprouts are delicious roasted with a little balsamic vinegar .  They are also really good when they are sauteed.  But my favorite preparation of this particular vegetable is in a chiffonade with poppy seeds.  They require a little more preparation than other recipes but they are absolutely divine.  And once you get them all cut up, the cooking goes very quickly.

You should definitely try this recipe for brussels sprouts if for no other reason than you can look chic and gourmet when you buy them on the stalk.  (The recipe works just fine if you buy them already separated but the stalk is nifty just the same.)

Not only is this a really good recipe, it's very light.  This is a good thing after all the stuffing, yams, and pie.  And, as an added bonus, you get to toss around the word "chiffonade" which will make you sound like quite the chef!

Brussels Sprouts Chiffonade with Poppy Seeds
(Bon Appetit, November, 2004)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds fresh brussels sprouts, halved and cored
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Cut the brussels sprouts into thin (1/8 - 1/4 inch wide) shreds. Melt the better in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the brussels sprouts and todd until just beginning to wilt, about 5 minutes.  Add the lemon juice and poppy seeds; toss to blend.  Season with salt and pepper.