December 31, 2007

Mmmm Mussels

Happy New Years!!! Almost!!! I had mussels for dinner tonight, and they are so good and so easy, I wanted to share this super quick and simple way to a seafood feast. No straining involved, I promise. Trust me, I spent the day at the Met herding my kids (Tapestry exhibit is marvelous by the way!), so the last thing I wanted to do was anything involving large amounts of effort. You will enjoy this.

5 lbs. mussels
3 T. butter
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
6 oz. white wine
3 cloves garlic
2 stalks celery, or the heart of the celery, with leaves
Italian parsley if you have it

If you buy your mussels from a good seafood purveyor, then they should be scrubbed and ready to go. All they should need is a nice rinse.
Mince the garlic, and cut the celery paper thin, and chop the leaves small. Chop the parsley if you're using it.
In a nice big pot, heat the butter and oil and sweat the garlic and celery, reserving the leaves. When soft, you can add the leaves and then the wine.
Bring the wine to a boil, add the mussels and put the lid on the pot.
Steam the mussels until they open.

I like to serve this with a nice baguette to sop up the delicious broth that will be created, and a nice white wine.

Tonight I used a lovely baguette that had whole garlic baked in. I toasted it on an open griddle, and paired this all with a nice Traminer Riesling. Oh yes! This was a great way to say farewell to the old year and to prepare for the new one! Can't wait for fondue tonight!'s a midnight thing.

December 29, 2007

Chicken Liver Pâté with a Difference

This is a delicious pâté that was the most popular at Christmas Dinner. I was surprised actually, because it's not what I consider a normal pâté, in that it contains fruit soaked in alcohol. But maybe that was the trick!

The original recipe calls for currants, and you're welcome to try it that way, but I have to say, I used dried sweetened cranberries and it was fantastic. I also used rum and creme de cassis instead of cognac and port, used less butter in the pâté than the recipe called for, and made ghee for the top, which I think has a much nicer flavor than simple clarified butter. The original recipe comes from the 1995 edition of "The Martha Stewart Cookbook" and it's called Chicken Liver Pâté with Currants. This is my version.

1/3 c dried sweetened cranberries
5 T mixture of rum and creme de cassis, or cognac and port, or other sweet and/or fruity alcohols of your choice
4 T butter
1- 1&1/4 lb. chicken livers
1 garlic clove, minced. Use a nice generous one.
sea salt and pepper to taste
a little minced thyme

Soak the cranberries in the alcohol overnight.
Clean and wash the livers. If the livers are very dark and bloody, soaking them in a strong salt water will improve them.
Sauté the livers in the butter until lightly done, meaning the interiors are still pink. Remove the livers from the pan, leaving the pan juices. Drain the alcohol from the cranberries and add to the skillet with the garlic, salt, pepper and thyme. After pan is deglazed, remove from the heat.
Purée the livers as smooth as you like your pâté to be, adding the liquid from the skillet.
Mince the cranberries, and stir them into the pâté. Pack into a crock or terrine or bowl or whatever you want. Seal with the ghee, a depth of about 1/4 " is perfect and let this pâté sit in your refrigerator for 2 days before serving. The flavor really does improve with the sitting.


You know, I was just thinking that pâté is one of those weird things that is usually considered a special occasion, fancy dish, which usually means time consuming and expensive, but it's really quite easy and inexpensive to create. Did chicken livers used to be a more expensive meat? Perhaps because pâté de foie gras is pricey? Did you know that using fancy accents on every French import word is fun?

Sorry about the fuzzy nature of this photo, but it's the only one I took of this pâté for whatever reason.

December 27, 2007

My Christmas Dinner or Gooses Geeses

I have been off enjoying myself and I hope everyone has had a fantastic holiday! I had a wonderful Christmas. Family, friends, food... it was great! I wanted to talk Goose and share a couple of photos. I also wanted to share a recipe for pâté that turned out fantastic, so I'll post that tomorrow. Back to the Goose. This is a Roast Goose which was one of the traditional foods my family likes for Christmas. To me, Goose is very Dickens...and God bless us, every one! The meat is very dark, if you've never had goose before, and the bones and joints are not like a chicken, so be forewarned if you're going to try and joint the thing. Another thing about a goose is the enormous amount of fat that bakes off of the bird. Use a deep roasting pan to make sure that the rendered fat has somewhere to go other than all over your oven. I removed a lot of the visible fat from around the goose cavity when I was preparing the bird, but still got quite a bit in the bottom of the roaster. Also, you want to prick the skin of the goose gently with a fork to help the fat render out, especially on the breast.

The rub is equal parts ground fennel, coriander and white pepper. The cavity is stuffed with 2 oranges, quartered, and some fresh thyme and rosemary.

Here is the Goose still in the roasting pan.

Here is some sliced and on a plate.

I've decided to make Rillettes out of the goosey leftovers. Mmmm. That's almost better than the original. :)

December 20, 2007

Orange and Cardamom Rice Pudding

I made rice pudding last night. There's something very relaxing and homey about rice pudding. Comfort food, if you will, though I know that term gets bandied around quite a bit. But back to the pudding, I was asked by the church I've been attending to donate a dinner for two, so I wanted to make something that would please a large palate spectrum, and something that would be cheerful and comforting.

I started making a plain vanilla rice pudding, and it smelled very nice, but I thought it could use a bit of spicing up, a bit of Christmas-y flavoring. So I ground fine in my mortar two pods of cardamom and added that to the simmering milk and arborio rice, and zested an orange and added that with the sugar. The result...a very delicious rice pudding with hints of orange and cardamom that I hope you enjoy.

2/3 c. arborio rice
5 c. milk
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out or 1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 cardamom pods, seeds ground fine
pinch of salt
1/2 c. sugar
1 orange, zested

Bring the milk and rice to a boil, then lower the heat, add the cardamom, salt and vanilla bean, if you're using it and simmer until the rice is soft. This takes about 30 minutes, and please give a stir often. Then add the sugar and orange zest and vanilla extract if you're using it, and simmer another 10 minutes until thick. Yay! It's done...well, almost.

If you want a richer, thicker pudding, you can add a beaten egg or two. Laison the egg, by adding a bit of the hot milk to the eggs whilst stirring, and then adding it all back into the pudding. This will keep the eggs from curdling. A good time to do this would be at the same time you add the sugar and zest.

Now take that orange that you zested, and make supremes (segmented oranges that have all the peel and pith removed) for a lovely garni and there you have it. Isn't this stuff terrific? So simple. Old technique as well, to make a dessert that doesn't need to be baked, back before household ovens were commonplace. Puddings are sort of old fashioned in that way, but I think that's part of their charm.

December 17, 2007

Svenska Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs)

Swedish Meatballs with Cranberries and Dilled Potatoes

Today, I'm writing about last night's dinner. A most delicious concoction called Svenska Köttbullar, or the ever-tasty, Swedish Meatballs. This the most well known name for the dish in the States, though as you can imagine, Scandinavian regional varieties abound, and even within the Swedish genre you will find multiple variations. I liken this phenomena to meatloaf. Meatloaf is meatloaf, but not all meatloaves are of the same ilk. One could ask...Are you of the ketchup variety meatloaf? or the brown gravy variety meatloaf? with or without chunks of onions and peppers? breadcrumbs or oatmeal? and on and on, ad infinitum, and most likely ad nauseum. However, I digress. I'm talking meatballs!

I've been wanting all things Christmas-y in keeping with the season, and Swedish Meatballs are a traditional Christmastime favorite in Scandinavian countries. Probably because they're darn tasty.

Anyway, this recipe makes wonderful, wonderful meatballs. A really good technique is to use your kitchenaid and let the paddle beat the meat mixture fluffy. I'm going to give you the basic recipe and tell you what I did, however, the recipe does allow for some improvisation.

For Meatballs:
2 lbs. ground meat. I used beef, pork and veal in equal thirds.
3 slices fresh bread. I used whole wheat.
6 oz. (3/4 c) milk. I used evaporated milk (ran out of milk!) and a splash of cream.
1 onion, minced and sweated in butter w/a pinch of salt
1 egg
sea salt
black pepper
1/4-1/2 t. fresh grated nutmeg
1/4-1/2 t. allspice (I also threw in 2 cloves and a cardamom pod..mmm)

For Gravy:
1/4 c. white flour
3 c. beef broth
1/4 c. cream. I used about 2 T.cream and 2 T. greek-style yogurt
chopped fresh dill

For Lingonberries and Substitutions a few ways:
Use store-bought Lingonberry jam
Simmer fresh lingonberries,cranberries or red currants until they start to burst, about 10 min and then add sugar to taste, and continue to cook until the sugar is dissolved.
Mix fresh lingonberries with sugar, about 1/2 c. per pound, and let sit for at least two hours and then use.
Just cover 1/2 c. dried sweetened cranberries in cold water, let soak while you are making the meatballs, and then microwave for a minute or two. The reconstitued berries (without the water) are wonderful on top of the meatballs.
Use red currant jam, or cranberry sauce

Tear the bread into pieces, and then soak the bread in the milk until absorbed. This can take 30 minutes, so in the meantime prep your onions. I used my kitchenaid to mix everything, so I gave the bread and milk a good beating first. Then I added the egg, onion, spices, gave it a whirl, and then added the meat and let it go until fluffiness achieved.
Easiest way I've found to form the balls, is to wet your hands and have go. It's the fastest in my oppinion. These aren't large meatballs, about walnut sized should do it.
Fry the meatballs in a little butter and then remove from the pan. Make a gravy with the pan-drippings, adding a bit of butter if you need too. If you need a step-by-step for gravy, then add the flour to the pan and stir until a nice golden brown. This is called a roux. This is a french term, so to pronounce just pretend the x isn't there. Then add your broth and stir or whisk until smooth. Lower the heat, add the dairy and the fresh dill and then add the meatballs back to the pan and simmer together until everything is nice and hot. Serve with the lingonberries or appropriate faux berry.

So what the heck is a lingonberry, anyway?
Good question. The latin name is Vaccinium vitis-idaea. It's the product of an evergreen, creeping shrub with a berry that is red, tart, and smaller than a cranberry. Found naturally in colder climes, this plant has more pseudonmyms than a romance novelist! It's called, just in English mind you, besides lingonberry, cowberry, red whortleberry, bog cranberry, alpine cranberry, red bilberry, lingberry, foxberry, mountain cranberry, northern mountain cranberry, whimberry, dry ground cranberry, rock cranberry, partridgeberry, and lowbush cranberry.

December 14, 2007

A Little Salt

Today was the second time in two days that I've seen on the television a report on how specialty salts make a great Holiday gift. And you know what? I'd be completely ecstatic to get a collection of salts for Christmas. Being the picky person I am, I would prefer the collection of the minerals themselves from various location rather than the salt blends of kind of salt with herbs, or truffle bits, or what have you.

One of the best lessons I ever had in Culinary School was the day my Chef did his salt comparison. I had never really before given salt much of a consideration. I guess I thought they were pretty much all the same, I mean, it's a mineral with a distinct chemical makeup. Well..yes and no. Table salt is technically sodium chloride, but true mined salt or sea-harvested salt has different make-ups and therefore different tastes. This opened up a whole new world to me.

We first prepared different foods to taste the salt with. Everything from hard-boiled eggs to fresh sliced tomatoes, to meat and grains. We tasted the salt by itself, and then with the different foods. I tasted salt from France- a few different varieties, harvested in different ways and all with different flavors. There was Japanese salt and Hawaiian salt which were both of a red-pink color, but with different tastes and size of crystals. I tasted Indian black salt which is a greyish color and had hints of sulfur and pepper in it that tasted fantastic with tomatoes. I tasted American salts, Carribean salts, Atlantic and Pacific salts, as well as inland mined salts, all from different parts of the world with different grains, textures and tastes. I tasted regular old table salt which became as nice-tasting as old rubber boots in comparison to the other salts which had some real Taste! to them. Until that time, I had not known that some salt was "saltier" then others! That you could alter the taste of food with different salts. That some foods tasted better with a certain variety of salt as opposed to others. That all salt is not created equal.

It was that day that I realized that you really must taste all your ingredients if you want to know how they're going to work in the finished dish. You need to taste your salt! You need to taste your butter, your olive oil and your molasses because they're not all the same, and accommodating your ingredient's unique flavor can really make a huge difference in your final product.

The picture above is of a French Atlantic sea salt. You can see that the grains are variegated crystals, they lean towards an off-white, greyish-beigy color, and are moist and a bit clingy to each other. I took the picture where you could see the snow in the background to get the color-comparison, though I think the reflected light brightens them up a bit. This particular salt has a very sharp salt taste and I like to use it when I want something to have a taste of salt, but not actually use a lot of salt, if that makes sense, or if I want to give a surprising salty-pow! :)

December 12, 2007

Musings on (what's in) Chocolate

Lately, because of different circumstances and people in my life, food ingredients and purity of ingredients has really been in the spotlight for me. I've been learning so much about different food additives, and also about how our bodies process what we eat, sugars and carbohydrates in particular. It's fairly mind-boggling. This in turn is redefining what I consider quality food products, and what I will and will not buy. My health is very important to me, and so is the health of my family and my clients. The more I know, the more I realize I have to know, because there is no one out there going to take the responsibility for my health and safety. I have to know what's good, and I can't rely on governments or food manufacturers to do my homework for me, or be in my health's best interest. Especially when that best interest comes into direct conflict with the bottom line.

So, a few days ago I talked about Chocolate, one of my favorite foods on the planet. I gave information on the "Don't Mess with our Chocolate" campaign, which I wholeheartedly support. But now I want to talk about what is currently in our chocolate. I've done a lot a research on what is added to the chocolate in particular. The two main additives that can be questioned are soy lecithin and PGPR. From what I can gather, soy lecithin, a chocolate emulsifier, of itself is not a problem. The problem lies in the fact that soy lecithin can be made from Genetically Modified Soy(GMO), and/or it can be manufactured by a chemical extraction process. The optimal soy lecithin for consumption is made by organically grown, non-GMO'd soy, manufactured by a mechanical process. As you can imagine, this is also the priciest lecithin product out there, so... good luck, label watchers.

PGPR is another emulsifier that is being used in chocolate. Polyglycerol polyricinoleates (PGPR's) are produced from esterification of polyglycerols with polymerised ricinoleic acid. Doesn't that just sound delicious?

Anyway, this product is supposedly derived originally from castor oil (which is something I love, personally, as a skin oil as long as it's cold-pressed) but which I'm not too impressed to find in some weird chemical soup in chocolate. It says right on Danisco's website (one of the European manufactures of PGPR) that "It can replace fat (cocoa butter) in chocolate while maintaining the same flow properties during production. Thus, when thin-flowing chocolate is required for enrobing or when producing hollow products, e.g. Easter eggs, GRINDSTED® PGPR can be used as a cost-effective alternative to a higher fat content."

Yay! Who needs cocoa butter, that pricey, pricey stuff, when you can use this new goop and cut costs and still get chocolate! Well, sort of, but that's OK. Americans will eat it!

Some pages worth reading:

"Organic Rules Tightening on Lecithin" By Ken Roseboro, Editor The new proposed labeling requirements actually made me happy. However, it's also disappointing to understand that as soon as labeling laws change, the first things companies do is try and figure out ways around them. They seem less interested in making their products safer or healthier. It's a little sobering to realize that even in health-food stores with health-food products, you can't just blithely throw items in your cart, secure in the knowledge that the higher price tag guarantees you quality. Because it doesn't.

'How to order "The Non-GMO Sourcebook"' Listed on The Organic and Non-GMO Report website. This website also has some good information on soy lecithin.

Twango's Tidbits Blog: "The Shopper's GMO guide", by Twango
I love the information on this page, and I want the book she's talking about! Very much worth a read.

Polyglycerol "Polyricinoleate (PGPR) Popping Up In Sugar-Free, Low-Carb Chocolates", by Jimmy Moore I'm not really on the low-carb bandwagon- I'm more on the eat the correct types of carbohydrates and in the correct proportions wagon, but this article has some good information.

December 11, 2007

Mad Holidays

So, Christmastime is approaching, (like you didn't know!), and so I've been busy thinking about gifts, and food, and gifts of food, which are some of my favorite gifts to give! That's a suprise, eh? In past years, I've made homemade bitter-orange marmalade and other jarred wonders, but I do love baking Christmas cookies. I've been narrowing down the contenders for Chris's Christmas Cookie Plate 2007.

So, let's see, of course I'm going to have the Melt-in-the-Mouths, because of their status as reigning champs in the Christmas Cookie division, but I've got some other ones that I think will be delicious additions. I have this recipe for a sesame seed cookie that really makes a great cookie. They're not sickly sweet, so it's sort of a nice break for holiday-overburdened sugar receptors.

I also have an adaption for Nanaimo Bars that I love, created out of necessity, the best mother of invention! I became addicted to Nanaimo Bars during a stint on Vancouver Island, BC. Not always having the traditional ingredients on hand during a nanaimo snack attack, I had to get a little creative. My favorite adaptation also reduces a bit of the sugar, but any Nanaimo Bars recipe should not be considered health food by any stretch! These things should be renamed Butter Sugar Bombs. Oh, they're so good! But anyway, I was reminded of them because every year I always subscribe to the Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies newsletter, and this year they had a recipe for a Nanaimo Bar. (I like mine better!)I need to work out the measurements so I can post it here, as it stands right now, it's just in my head.

I've also been pondering the idea of including a truffle of some sort. Something with chocolate and orange perhaps. I also want a butter cookie- something that has a delicious, buttery taste and that delicate, sandy texture that sort of crumbles in your mouth.... If anyone has a cookie that fits that description, share! lol

So that's where I'm at with the cookie plate so far. I want them to be fresh, so I'm not going to make them anytime soon. I've also started thinking about Christmas dinner. I'm probably going to have Roast Goose or Duck, and probably a Beef Roast for my not-so-fowl-ly inclined sister-in-law. I'm really in the mood to have some Duck Confit on hand, so maybe I'll make the duck.

Anyway, it always helps to get my thoughts organized by writing them down. I'll probably change my mind a time or two before it's over, but that's part of the fun of the whole thing.

December 5, 2007

Calamari Fritti

Sigh...I just had the best lunch. I even took a picture it was so tasty! I went to the grocers for a bit of seafood for a gumbo that I'm making, (I'll tell you about that later), and I noticed that they had an excellent deal on calamari. Suddenly the craving hit, especially after chatting with the fish guy and he was telling me his favorite way to eat calamari was fried, with just salt and lemon. How 'bout that! Mine too! It's so simple too. Let me tell you how I do it.

Just a few words in prelude.
1. I'm going to assume that you have cleaned, whole calamari. Many seafood shops will also include the tentacles as well. Personally, I think it's harder to find calamari that hasn't been cleaned, but I'm sure they're out there. I have seen several sites with squid-cleaning instructions online, fyi. However, if you need help let me know.
2.I'm going to assume you know how to fry. That being said, you have two choices. You can deep-fry, or you can pan-fry. Deep-frying is fool-proof and easier, the down-side being you use more oil. If you're confident in your frying abilities, you can pan-fry with excellent results, especially with a small batch. The only key is to make sure both sides are golden. I pan-fried my lunch today because I wanted to use extra-virgin olive oil for the taste and I didn't want expensive waste oil.

Calamari Fritti

oil for frying
calamari, rinse calamari and cut the body into rings. Let excess water drain.
white flour
sea salt
fresh lemon, cut into wedges

Place the calamari into the flour and mix until coated. Place them into a sieve and toss gently to remove excess flour.
Add to hot oil and cook for a few minutes until golden. This really doesn't take long, under 5 minutes for sure.
Sprinkle hot calamari with sea salt and serve with the lemon to be squeezed on as you like.
Serve immediately.

A few words in addendum:
I've seen recipes where people like to add herbs to the flour like basil, italian parsley or thyme, both fresh and dried. I've also seen thicker batters for the calamari that include egg and sometimes milk. I am a fan of the simple and straightforward for this dish and prefer to have the taste of the calamari shine unadulterated. You, however, can do what you want!


December 3, 2007

Melt-In-The Mouth Cookies

Ok, foodies. I'm here to get into the season! No more bah humbugs for me. Let's eat some cookies! This particular recipe has been a Christmas favorite with my family since I can remember Christmas cookies. I believe it was my Grandmother who clipped this page along with a few others from a magazine who knows when. I'm going to guess it was a Women's Day magazine because it says Women's Day Kitchen, but you never know. The originals are in pretty delicate condition by now. I have no idea what actual year they're from, but the coloring is the kind that looks like a black and white photo that was inked in common in the 50's. Well, see for yourself, I've scanned in a copy of the original. Below is an exact copy of the recipe. These cookies are wonderful. Enjoy!

Melt-In-The-Mouth Cookies

Makes about 8 dozen
Women's Day Kitchen

1/2 cup butter
1 cup light-brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
3/4 c sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts

Cream butter, add sugar, vanilla and egg; beat until light. Add sifted dry ingredients and nuts. Drop by scant teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Bake in hot oven, 400* F., for about 5 minutes. Cool for 1/2 minute. Remove to wire racks.

December 1, 2007

HFCS and Bah! Humbug!

Well, it's December now and it's snowing out which is nice, but I'm feeling a little peeved. Actually, I'm feeling a lot peeved and more than a little poisoned. I'm getting extremely tired of finding newer and scarier concoctions added to my food. I'm tired of being on guard every second of every day to try and limit my poison intake. I don't even hope to be able to really purify my food. I've accepted that the reality is I can do my best, but I don't have absolute control over the food that I eat. I do have to rely on the integrity of others to place the quality of their product in a higher position than the bottom line. Touch the cashflow? Oh my! No wonder it seems like a futile, and never ending battle!

High fructose corn syrup is high on my hit list for it's varied and numerable offenses, synthetic sweeteners for the same reason, soy lecithin is suspect as the most vast and inexpensive supply of said soy lecithin is from GMO'd soy. Forgive me for being suspicious, but honestly, how many times do we have to be taught the lesson that the more you process and chemicalize our food, the worse it is for us and the scarier the results are? I mean, it's mind boggling how much "stuff" I have to look out for to avoid. The high fructose corn syrup alone knocks off an amazing amount of food from all major brands in the US, not to mention the synthetic sweeteners, modified food starches, hydrogenated oils, and synthetic this and that.

Remember when butter was bad for you and hydrogenated margarine was the saviour of mankind? Now it's come out that trans-fats are bad, very bad. Remember when low-fat was king and it was good for you even if it had a million carb calories and half a dozen chemicals as long as it had no fat? and then no sugar? Then it came out that the carbs and synthetic sweeteners are killing us. Notice a trend? High fructose corn syrup has replaced natural sugar in just about every commercial product that I look at that's not specifically made not to include it. It just amazes me that the connection between the recent trend of American obesity and the Type 2 diabetes running rampant through our population and this product isn't being shouted from every rooftop. Instead, I feel that the lines are being drawn between the increasingly paranoid, health-conscious, label-reading "conspiracy nuts" like me, and the rest of the population who contently or uninformatively consume high fructose corn syrup by the pound every month.

I found three good articles on the topic of health and high fructose corn syrup and added them for you viewing pleasure. I think they do a good job of transferring information.

"High Fructose Corn Syrup: It's everywhere", by By Keecha Harris, Dr. P.H., R.D.

"Sugary Sodas High in Diabetes-Linked Compound", By Theresa Waldron
"Sickeningly Sweet: The Effects of High-Fructose Corn Syrup", By Marin Gazzaniga

More ranting:

According to the website "Don't Mess with Our Chocolate" , which I highly recommend taking a peek at, the U.S. Chocolate Manufacturers Association whose members include Hershey's, Nestle's and ADM, along with 11 other food industry associations, have joined with the Grocery Manufacturers Association in petitioning the FDA for approval to change what the legal definition of chocolate is so that they can remove the cocoa butter (too expensive! it's cutting into the profit margin! wah!) and replace it with hydrogenated and or/ modified cheaper vegetable fats and other wonderful things like milk substitutes and synthetic sweeteners and still call it chocolate. Ooooh joy. Apparently, up for review are the current requirements for a number of food categories, of which chocolate is included. I would love to learn what else they're trying to do to the unsuspecting consumer and what garbage they're trying to shove down the American gullet. The petition is recorded with the FDA as Docket # 2007P-0085.

Oh, but definate kudos to Guittard Chocolate Company and Mars, Inc for saying that they are opposed to removing the cocoa butter in chocolate for other ingredients, though they are members of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. In fact it is Mr. Guittard who is responsible for the "Don't Mess with Our Chocolate" website. It's nice to see someone in the commercial food business who a diamond ring sparkling at the bottom of a cesspit, a glimmer of hope in the toxic sludge that has become our food supply. Sound dark to you? Bah! Humbug!

I remember being in elementary school when the big joke was "Hey- did you know that a McDonald's milkshake has all the ingredients minus one used to make plastic? Hahaha!" Why did we find that so funny? I mean, even if that's remotely the case, then the joke's on us.

November 26, 2007

Incarnations of Kir

My sister and I were standing around chatting and eating Thanksgiving snacks du jour- ah..devilled pate eggs and artichoke dip are surely food of the Gods! when I noticed the drink in her hand of a very becoming shade of violet. "Sister dear" says I, "what, praytell, is gracing your wineglass?" "It's called Kir," says she. "Shall I make one for you?"

So she grabs the Chambord and splashes in a bit, and then tops it off with Chardonnay. Ah, the lovely purple pleaser is now mine! Mwah haha. It was actually quite charming. The Chambord did a nice job of taking the edge off of the Chardonnay. I'm personally not the biggest fan of Chardonnay, I get displeased when I find my mouth making that peculiar pucker when I taste dry and oakey in excess.

The origin of my sister's Kir is from her good friend's husband that hails from France. This is what he called it, however, in 90% of the Kir recipes that I could find, Kir is made with Creme de Cassis and not Chambord. Most popular seems to be the Kir Royale, made with Creme de Cassis and Champagne or sparkling wine. I even found a recipe for one called a Kir Cardinale that uses red wine instead of white. Oh yum! I made it with a drinkable, but not spectacular Cab, and it transformed into a really fruity, really porty-licious glass of Wow!

I look forward to more experimentation with Kir in all it's incarnations.

Kir Cardinale

November 20, 2007

It's Squash-o-licious

You're in for a treat. This is one of my favorite recipes for winter squash. You're lucky I'm sharing! You don't have to use butternut squash in this recipe, you could use acorn, pumpkin, delicata, even spaghetti, but I'd prepare it a little differently in that case.

Alrighty, with winter squash in hand, let's proceed. You have a choice, you can split the squash into halves and cook and serve it that way, or peel it and cube it and allow for spoon serving.

Ok, ok, you recipe exacters, you're not going to like me for this, but you know, for once, I'm just going to go for it and risk the wrath. This recipe is not an exact science..I wing it. *gasp* I do "what looks good". *double gasp* So...there it is. Maybe I'll get around to doling out some precision, but until then, hold on to your desk chairs, cuz here goes!

Bacon, diced
Dollops of butter
Fresh rosemary, minced
Maple syrup
salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350* However you've decided to cut your squash, place on a baking sheet -parchment is nice, always- and drizzle on the above listed ingredients. I find it easier to control the proportions to my taste by melting the butter and mixing it with the syrup and rosemary. The bacon I just sprinkle on raw. If you must have absolutely crispy bacon, I would recommend cooking it first and then sprinkling it on, but more towards the end of cooking. If your squash is in halves, sprinkle the mixture on the cut side and then bake cut side down. About half-way through, say, 20 minutes or so, flip them over and make sure there are goodies on the top and continue baking until done. If your squash is in cubes, take it out of the oven periodically and toss to facilitate even distribution of the goodies and even cooking of the squash.
If you're making this ahead of time, I would recommend cubing your squash, as it's very easy to store in a casserole and reheat at serving time without deterioration. The halved squash I would take immediately to the table.

Believing that this dish has its origin in Germany, genießen Sie Ihre Mahlzeit und wischen Sie Ihr Kinn ab!

November 17, 2007

Pecan Pie - with NO corn syrup!

Well, it's just about that Thankful time of year, and people are making plans, gathering their old favorite recipes and planning the big meal ahead. There's plenty of really well-qualified people out there who can tell how to perfect a turkey, and make stuffing, but what I want to talk about is Pecan Pie. Pecan Pie that has pre-toasted, crushed pecans for the maximum ratio of nut-flavor per bite of pie. More importantly, Pecan Pie that is absolutely corn-syrup free.

***This is actually a picture of THE PIE that I made for Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy it as much as we all did!***

Pecan Pie Extraordinaire- sans corn syrup!

1.5 c pecans -toasted and chopped
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup water
1 lb. dark brown sugar -Use real cane sugar and weigh it. Not all sugar is created equal. (~2 cups by volume)
1/4 cup butter
pinch of salt
pastry for 1 bottom pie crust

Prick the bottom of your pie crust with a fork all over and bake for about 10 minutes, or until lightly golden in a 400* oven. Remove pie crust, and lower the oven to 275*.
Combine the sugar and the water and stir until sugar dissolves over low medium heat. Bring to a full boil for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat source and let it cool off a bit while you proceed. Add the butter to the sugar and let it melt in and continue to cool. Toast pecans in a dry skillet on medium heat, stirring fairly often to prevent burning. Alternately, you can toast them in the oven. Let the nuts cool and chop up. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until frothy and slowly whisk the hot butter syrup into the beaten eggs. Add vanilla extract, salt, and chopped pecans into the mixture. Pour into your previously made golden pie crust and let bake for 1 hour.

**Note, if you can only find light brown sugar, which I know happens to the best of us, add 1 T. of molasses or even Grade B maple syrup and that will give it a bit more flavor.


November 12, 2007


Ah, nutella. Elevating the humble hazelnut into a thing of beauty. Transforming boring lunchbox sandwiches into a serious bartering tool and popularity booster. Giving chocoholics everywhere yet another reason to nip o' wee bitty. Makes a pretty darn good dessert sauce too...which is what I'm going to talk to you about.

The other day I was given a pound cake as a gift. Fairly random, but always welcome. I was telling my Mother about it, who instantly told me to try a nutella chocolate sauce for the topping, because she really liked it and Oh by the way, can you have it ready for dessert at 7 with some Earl Grey? Ah, yes ma'am!

Nutella will seize up like other chocolate if you melt it first and then try to add milk or cream to it. The trick is to put the nutella and cream or milk together first and then heat it up, which you can do in the microwave by zapping it for 15-20 seconds at a time and then stirring. This is how you can easily melt chocolate chips as well, especially if your recipe calls for the chocolate to be combined with butter or cream.

Giada de Laurentiis in her book "Everyday Italian" recommends this ratio for nutella sauce: 1/3 c. nutella and 3 T. cream microwaved until melted for about 1 minute, stopping and stirring every 20 seconds. A fine sauce, a fine sauce indeed.

OK, for those of you who meticulously read labels like me and will not eat high fructose corn syrup in any shape or form, or other nasties, nutella stands up pretty well- considering it is a sweet chocolate concoction. It uses sugar, so bonus points for no artificial sweeteners, modified palm oil, so no trans fats- though I want to find out exactly what the "modified" means, cocoa, so no added chocolate fat, and skim milk which completes the nut protein and makes me happier when my little bunchkins want some "atella". Reduced minerals whey- pretty much what it says, produced by drying whey with some of the minerals physically separated out, according to ADPI- the American Dairy Products Institute by "precipitation, filtration, or dialysis" It has a whey, hence, dairy flavor, but I'll bet it's used because of cost factors, IE: it's cheaper than milk. Soy Lecithin, I've heard some debate on this one, concocted from soy, a common emulsifier in chocolate, and a good surfactant, which is the nerdy way to say it helps it spread well. Some extol it's virtues, some say it's horrible, I say research it yourself. The old way to get this sort of emulsification and spreadability was to use an egg yolk, which yes! you guessed it, contains naturally occurring lecithins. Granted, it's also very perishable, so I don't know how viable an option it is in commercial production of an unrefrigerated product. But, now, if you want to make homemade nutella yourself, you know what to use. They do get a ding on using vanillin- come on Ferrero USA! Real vanilla extract is the way to go! But all in all, I'll eat it. Most likely because I can't help myself!

So open that jar of chocolate hazelnut wonder and start cracking.

November 6, 2007

Taste of New York 2007

OK everyone! I went somewhere really fun last night!! Yes, I got out of the house and then some. I went to the Taste of New York event at the Puck Building. Ah- foodie heaven. It was crowded, it was noisy, it was really a lot of fun.
Quick overview: Lots of restaurants and vendors (51) get to set up tables, and show off their goods by wining and dining the crowd. What could be better than that? And then, to top it off, I got to take home a really very nice goodie bag.
Some highlights that stand out in my mind:
Butter: Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli - The little lamb popsicles with Green olive tapenade, Romanesco and crispy Rosemary were very, very tasty, the meat had a mild curried tang which of course just loves lamb, and Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli is a doll!
Allen & Delancey: Chef Neil Ferguson, offered Onion Knish with puree soubise. This was very nice- the little knish had a sliver of salt-preserved lemon and a few jewels of salmon caviar on top. Mmmm
Gordon Ramsay at the London: Chef Josh Emett, his offering was Butternut squash veloute with pan roasted sea scallops. Lovely soup, served in little plastic cups- lol! Simple and straightforward, that was the appeal. The broth was creamy, perfectly nappe and the scallops were sweet and tender. I just kept thinking- nice job, nice job!
Restaurant Daniel: Pastry Chef Dominique Ansel presented Light hazelnut cream with Gianduja biscuit and milk chocolate mousse. Oh my, oh my, oh my! I have to admit, I asked Chef Ansel how one would pronounce said biscuit, and I still can't reproduce it like he said with his charming accent, but it was heavenly. The biscuit itself was a crispy concoction of chocolate and hazelnuts and the whole thing was just mousse heaven. I had to remind myself of the finer points of personal restraint and decorum not to do another fly by or two on that table!
WD-50: Chef Wylie Dufresne's popcorn soup, pear, cranberry and anise hyssop deserves a mention just for sheer creativity. I asked Chef Dufresne how one went about making popcorn soup, and he explained how he pureed popped popcorn with water, added some butter and salt and voila. It was nice and smooth so I imagine it had been strained, and it certainly was creative. It was surprisingly maizey and nicely neutral. Similar to me in taste to masa.
Ouest: Chef Tom Valenti presented Gruyere and prosciutto custard with bitter greens. Wow, this was so delightful! The custard was everything a custard should be, soft and buttery, and the prosciutto in very small dice scattered throughout burst on your tongue with their little bits of salt and flavor. The small, fresh greens on the side were a nice foil for the rich custard.
Ciao Bella Gelato: Chef Danilo Zecchin, had 4 choices of gelato: maple gingersnap, chocolate hazelnut, cranberry orange sorbetto and the Lebanese yogurt which is what I tried- I was getting really full at this point! Very nice, very creamy, sweet, but still had a yogurt tang and was nicely palate cleansing.
Rickshaw Dumpling Bar:Chef Anita Lo. OK, this was cool. You know those Chinese sesame seed covered rice balls with the sweet bean paste inside that I love? Well, imagine this with black sesame seeds on the outside, and molten chocolate on the inside! In love yet? Believe it or not, there was almost too much chocolate! I know, I know, this does not sound like me, and I don't have a fever! I actually had to dump a little of the chocolate out to be able to eat this without chocolate disaster- though I think I did see a few people sporting bibs. Admittedly unstylie, but very smart for this dish.
Pegu Club: Chef Audrey Saunders offered two mixed drinks. I tried both actually....hehe. The Jamaican Firefly was nice and gingery, but I was convinced by fellow guests to go back and try the Gin-Gin Mule which was minty and even better actually!
Alto & L'Impero: Chef Michael White presented Sicilian-style Mediterranean sardines. It was an interesting dish because the sardines were large, not the small little things you think of when you think sardine, and fresh-pickle marinated, similar in taste to me to pickled herring but not as strong. I liked it.
Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns: Homemade V8 juice and buttermilk panna cotta. This was neat because everything presented had come from their farm. There was a thin little cracker across the little cup of V8 and panna cotta that seemed to me to have greens and edamame in a light vinagrette. It was crunchy, tasty and gone in two bites. The juice was herby and earthy and the buttermilk panna cotta had a surprising sweet note. It was light and refreshing all told.
Tocqueville Restaurant: Chef Jo-Ann Makovitzky presented Truffled Grits with Coddled Quail Egg. OK, I have to tell a story. My husband's family is from the Southern and Western parts of the United States and there has been more than one occasion when out to breakfast with hubby and pater-in-law that I have had to cringe and keep my eyes on my plate so as to not accidentally catch glimpse of them "prepare" their grits (typical southern fare, by the way) by smashing their softly cooked eggs with their forks and slopping it all together on their plate. So, when I was presented with essentially this homely grits and eggs smash- albeit with a nice slice of prosciutto and a fancy quail egg, I wasn't sure I could critique it with a non-biased judgement. However, I tried to push aside all past connections with anything resembling this dish and found it homely, but not un-tasty. The prosciutto, however, was by far my favorite part.
City Harvest: Yay! The non-profit partner of Taste of New York. I had a lovely chat with Daniel, the volunteer manager and I'm seriously interested in volunteering for this worthy cause. As someone who loves food- and wants everyone to have enough of it, and hates waste as all food comes at a cost, this charity really speaks to me. I'll keep you updated.

There were of course, offerings that didn't speak to me, a few that I felt were just mediocre foodstuffs wrapped in Chefly know the type. The large, grandiose explanations of ingredients that sort of repeat themselves in different languages, IE: au jus with juice, or genmai cha tea or use terms that don't really fit what they've put together except by a really far stretch of the imagination -but it sure sounds nifty! However, I'm not here to bash anyone, or be a naysayer, nor can I do a blurb on everyone, whether I liked their offering or not.

So, there it is. A little insight into the mind of Chris and a glimpse of Taste of New York 2007. Mwahaha. Enjoy! and you bet your bippy I'm doing this again next year!

November 4, 2007

Armenian Food

I love perusing the cookbook section of libraries and book stores. You can find some wonderful gems. I was in my local library the other day when I stumbled on a cookbook from the 70's on Armenian cooking. It's called "The Cuisine of Armenia", by Sonia Uvezian. From the recipes I've found in the book, Armenian food is really intriguing. It seems to have elements of Mediterranean cooking, middle eastern cooking, and eastern European cooking. Many of the ingredients are very familiar, but prepared and put together in different ways. I'm excited to continue researching and exploring this cuisine and I'll keep you updated.
So, I made an Armenian dinner, and it was so so, so so good. Let me tell you what I cooked. I roasted a boneless leg of lamb, studded with garlic. The lamb was accompanied by Noushov PrintzPilav which is an almond rice pilaf and Hunkar Beyendi, a delicious eggplant puree with sharp cheese. I used grana padano which worked very well. For a green vegetable, I served a simple mix of green and wax beans with baby carrots. All in all, a wonderful introduction to Armenian food. I'm going to enjoy my work here!

November 1, 2007

La Dia de los Muertos

La Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead is probably one of the coolest holidays that I've never observed. I keep meaning to integrate it into my autumn spooktivites, but honestly I get wrapped up in Halloween and I've never gotten around to making the little skeletal joys of La Dia de los Muertos. In my thinking though, decorated Candy Skulls are very festive looking, and Pan de Muertos which is the Bread of the Dead, other than sounding very Goth, is actually quite tasty.

When I lived in Las Vegas, I used to enjoy going to Panaderias to buy mexican pastries, and of course during this time of year, Pan de Muertos was everywhere. The loaves are round, sweet, and scented with orange and anise. They are decorated with bread "bones" on top and sprinkled with sugar. They even have smaller versions, more of an individual loaf (or kid-sized), dotted with colored sprinkles. This year, I'll make my own.

Pan de Muertos

1/2 c. butter, melted
1/2 c. milk,warm
1/2 c. water,warm
5.5 c. white flour
2 t. yeast
1 t. salt
1 T. anise seeds, whole
1/2 c. sugar
4 eggs, beaten
Glaze for the top **
  1. Mix butter, milk, and water together and heat until butter is melted.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar and 1/2 c. flour and add the butter and milk mixture. Add the yeast, salt and anise seed and eggs.
  3. Add the flour one cup at a time until the dough is soft but not sticky. .
  4. Knead lightly until smooth and elastic.
  5. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down and shape into 1 large or 2 smaller round loaves, using some dough to form "bones" for the top. Let rise for 1 hour.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the loaves on a sheet pan for 40 minutes, or until the tops are golden.
  7. Brush with the glaze of your choice.
**There are a few different choices for glazes. The first one is to brush the top of the bread with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. The sugar can be colored which looks festive. Go bright. Another tasty option is to bring 1/3 c. orange juice, 1/3 c. sugar and 1-2 T. of orange zest to a boil for a minute or two and then brush it on while warm. You can also add colored sprinkles for the kiddies. Yum.

Follow this link to a nifty photo of decorated candy skulls and Pan de Muertos and it leads to other rather cool photos of Day of the Dead accoutrements.

If you want to see some excellent photos of decorated Candy Skulls and perhaps try your hand at making a few, click here for a site that sells supplies.

Feliz Dia de Muertos!

October 30, 2007

Tea for Me

With the weather finally getting into chillier zones, I've started thinking about warming foods- especially since yesterday I could not get rid of my cold hands until I finally wizened up and wrapped them around a big mug of tea. This got me thinking about my favorite teas.

I'm very partial to GenMai Cha which is a Japanese tea made of green tea leaves and roasted brown rice. I've heard it referenced as Popcorn Tea, because according to tea sellers, some of the rice is supposed to pop during the roasting process. However, the brand of GenMai Cha I buy contains popped millet seeds mixed in with with the toasted brown rice and green tea leaves. I'm not sure if there are multiple variations, or if the addition of millet changes the name, but in any event, it's delicious. The tea is smooth, mellow and toasty, and actually works well with milk (stop cringing you tea purists!). I happen to like dairy in my tea- you can keep the lemon, thanks. I'm thinking about experimenting and making my own blend of GenMai Cha. I'll let you know how that works out.

This brings me to one of my other favorite tea drinks that I do make my own blend of. It's Chai! -of the Indian Subcontinental variety. The type of chai that I make is an almost-instant version compared to the traditional method which involves brewing a large amount of chai at once. With this method, you make a chai-spiced milk that you can add to your individual cup of tea so you can make just one or two cups at a time.

The spice blend is as follows:

1/2 t. ground cardamom
1/4 t. ground allspice
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/8 t. ground black pepper - I usually use double this amount for myself cuz I like the heat :p

12 oz. of milk **See the note

Place the milk and spices into a very clean jar and let sit for 24 hours in the fridge for the flavors to develop. Use a few tablespoons of the spiced milk per cup with the tea and sweetener of your choice.

**For a more "traditional" flavor, use evaporated milk, however any sort of milk can be used here- nonfat, soy, regular milk, 2%, half n' half. Be aware of the age of your milk and if it's been sitting open for awhile. Bringing it to a boil to kill bacteria might be a good idea if it's not so fresh. Watch out for boil-overs. :P

This Chai blend makes me very happy. It can be dressed in so many tea and honey, irish breakfast tea and turbinado sugar, oolong tea and jaggery, white tea and evaporated cane many teas, so many sweeteners, so little time....

Anyway, enjoy this chai recipe and tell me what you think!

October 29, 2007

Spicy Anchovy

I've never been much of a journal writer because I find it dull as Hades trying to go on and on about me. Dear Diary, today I woke up. Today I tied my shoelaces in a new knot...that sort of snorefest. This writing about food thing, though, this is exciting!

So today's topic is ...Spicy Anchovy.

My Mom and I went on a shopping spree and enjoyed ourselves by perusing through a predominantly Chinese market. I have to tell you that shopping in an international market is probably one of my very favorite things to do. Really, this is my idea of a grand adventure. Anyway, this market had a very nice selection of pre-made foodstuffs for sale. We ordered boba tea and snacked on jin dui- those wonderful sesame-seed coated, fried glutinous-rice balls with the sweet red-bean paste inside. They were very good, and perfectly made, fried large and golden, crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside with the filling only slightly sweet. I was glad I ordered only one, or I probably would have eaten all within my sticky grasp.

Snack accomplished, we began to browse and decided to find something unusual for my Father, fine connoisseur of many things strange and wonderful. We came across something that just had to be bought, because honestly, I couldn't imagine it what it would taste like. It was labeled Spicy Anchovy (Ready to eat). The ingredients are: anchovy, hot pepper, sugar, peanuts, dried tofu and seasonings. (?) As you can see from the photo, the anchovies are whole, tiny, crispy little fishies, tossed with chile flakes and sugar crystals. The tofu is in thin, chewy slivers and the whole thing is liberally sprinkled with whole peanuts. All in all, one of the most interesting dishes I've tried lately. The sweet, salty, crispy, chewy, fishy, peanuty tastes all work together, but are strong. I think this dish works best as a condiment for rice, but my Mom munched on it straight, so to each their anchovy own.

October 28, 2007

The Cucumber Trick

A few years ago I had an unexpected, fairly random and completely wonderful culinary adventure literally drop on my doorstep with grocery bags in hand. Her name was Natiya, we met for the first time the day before, and exchanged a fun conversation about Thai food and how much I love it! Natiya being from Thailand, and excited about my interest in her country's cooking, said that she would have to come over and cook me a Thai meal. I nodded politely and murmured something affirmative...sounded good to me, but people say things like that all the time and I didn't really take it literally. I have to admit, I was pretty surprised when she showed up the next day at my house at lunchtime, groceries in hand, prepared to cook us lunch. So, after my initial surprise at seeing her there I became ecstatic! I mean honestly, how cool is that?!

After she was done cooking, what we ended up with was two delicious coconut milk curries. One was green and one was red, with chicken, eggplant and potatoes being the main ingredients. These were scented with fresh basil leaves added right before serving, and accompanied by steaming jasmine rice. To those of you who are unfamiliar with Thai curries, they are really very different from what you might be thinking, especially if what you might be thinking contains that ubiquitous, dry, yellow powder stuff or cooked golden raisins (don't get me started). Traditionally, Thai curries are a pounded blend of herbs like cilantro, and lemongrass, roots, rhizomes and alliums like coriander root, galangal, ginger, shallots, and garlic, chiles, either red or green, spices like cumin, turmeric and coriander, and ingredients such as ga pi (shrimp paste made of fermented shrimp and salt) or nam pla (fish sauce of fermented fish and salt). Purists say the ingredients should be pounded, not ground, in a mortar and pestle, and in a certain order to bring out maxim flavor, and the shrimp paste should be toasted before use. This is all good information, and makes for a curry par excellence. However, Natiya brought out two containers of Mae Ploy brand curry paste, one red and one green and proceeded from there. I'm not going to argue that fresh and homemade isn't best, or that homemade coconut milk doesn't taste better than the powdered or canned kind, but sometimes there are different factors to consider such as time, equipment, availability and quality of ingredients, and skill level. This curry paste did a nice job, and would be very easy for just about anyone to duplicate. Of course this hasn't stopped me from acquiring a slew of homemade Thai curry paste recipes or making my own coconut milk..wink wink.

But back to my tale of lunch. Natiya dished us up her masterpieces, and we proceeded to eat. It was wonderful, but I have to say, this was some hot stuff, and I consider myself a lover of hot food. I was thoroughly impressed as Natiya added dried red chile flakes to her own bowl. Then, amidst all this bliss, disaster struck. Somehow I managed to get the chile heat on the outside of my lips. It was horrible. I was certain they were going to catch fire any second. I shamefully admitted to Natiya that my mouth was burning, and she laughed and said simply, "That's because you're not eating any cucumber." I think I must have been staring at her rather blankly, because she pointed to the raw cucumber between us that she had been slicing and eating the whole time. She told me that the cucumber cut the heat. I had never heard of this before, but I was very much game for anything at that point and grabbed a slice. I was sold when I rather desperately rubbed the cucumber on the outside of my mouth and was amazed as my lips stopped burning. I took a bite, and behold! it worked inside too! Cucumber conclusion: Forget milk or bread, cucumber does the job right!

So this is the story of the Cucumber Trick - and one of my best lunchtime surprises. Natiya had another one for me a few weeks later involving Pho, but I'll save that for another time.