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!