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Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’

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I decided to participate in the 3rd Annual Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge organized by (not so) Urban Hennery.  The challenge is to cook one meal each week focused on SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients and blog about it.  I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a few months ago and have been looking for ways to incorporate more local food into my diet.  Because I live in a pretty fantastic part of the country for agriculture and food, I don’t really have an excuse to be eating stuff that’s been flown in from around the world.  Aiming to cook and eat local one night a week is a fairly reasonable goal.

I found out about the challenge a week into it, and with Thanksgiving prep, I didn’t have enough time to do a proper search for locally grown supplies.  And with all the leftovers, I couldn’t justify buying more food.  That said, I’m pleased to say that I’ve created a dish using only a couple non-local things, namely flour and baking powder, and possibly one other non-local ingredient which I’ll get to in a minute.  I hope to find some locally milled flour for future challenges, but for the time being, this is what I’ve got.

For my Turkey Pot Pie, I used leftover Thanksgiving turkey, which came from a farm in Sonoma.  The butter and cream are from Clover Stornetta farms, also based in Sonoma.  I made the turkey stock from the turkey carcass.  And all vegetables and herbs in the dish come from the farmers market, with the exception of the parsnip.  I had bought a few to mix in with my mashed potatoes, and had a giant one left.  For some reason, I can’t seem to find parsnips here at the farmers market so I resorted to the grocery store.  My grocery store sucks, and does not label where the produce comes from.  My guess is that it is from California, though I suppose I can’t be sure.  I probably would have omitted this for the purposes of the challenge, but since it will get eaten eventually, I figured I’d just toss it in.

The directions to the pot pie are vague, partly because I didn’t write things down as I did it, but in part because it’s a very easy dish to prepare and adapt to whatever you have on hand.    I have never had a pot pie with a biscuit crust before, but I wanted to try it out with sweet potato biscuits, using my leftover sweet potatoes.  I must say, I think I’m a convert now.  Biscuit crusts rock.  Flufflier and heartier than a pie crust.  So good.

To make the pot pie, I started with the turkey stock.  Most of the meat had been picked off the carcass, and I put that in a pot of cold water, with an onion, salt, and some bay leaves.  If you’ve got extra carrots or celery around, those can go in too.  Boiled it for about two hours, strained, reserved the extra meat, and set it aside.

Then I rolled out the sweet potato biscuits using this recipe.  I put the biscuits in the fridge, then preheated the oven to 350.

To make pot pie, you basically want to cook vegetables on the stove, then once cooked, make a sauce, pour into a pan, cover, and bake.  Start with the hardest, longest cooking vegetables first and work your way down to the softest, most delicate vegetables.  Hard root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and parsnips will need a good 8-10 minutes.  Unless they are already cooked, then just add them during the last minute or two to warm them up.  Leeks and shallots went in at the 5 minute mark, and my leftover green beans from Thanksgiving dinner got added in the last minute.  This is a pretty hard dish to screw up, so just use your judgment here based on whatever produce you have on hand.    I sauted everything in butter, though you can use olive oil or a mix if you’d like. 

Once the vegetables are cooked, add the turkey meat, whatever herbs you are using (I used thyme and sage) and some salt and pepper.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, and sprinkle everything with a few tablespoons of flour.  Add a couple ladles of turkey stock and a splash of cream.   Stir together until you get a nice gravy-like sauce.  Add a little more liquid or flour if you need to.  You want it to be rich and wet, but not runny.

Pour everything into a deep baking dish or casserole dish, and cover with the biscuits.  Brush the biscuits with an egg wash or some cream, and into the oven for 30-40 minutes.

When it comes out, let it sit for a couple minutes, then dig into the bliss.

I paired it with a chardonnay that my husband picked up on a recent trip to Napa.  Yes, I realize I’m extremely lucky to have all this good stuff in my 150 mile radius.  I think I’ll be eating well this winter!

 

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As I’ve said before, I could take or leave chocolate.  What I really like in dessert is ginger.  I keep bags of candied ginger on my desk at work, and I eat Trader Joe’s Ginger Cashew Almond granola every single morning for breakfast.  So, if there’s a way to get more ginger into a dish, I will do it.

Which brings me to my pumpkin pie.  I use a basic pumpkin pie filling, but I add in some fresh ginger.  Instead of a pastry crust, I use gingersnaps.  Then I top it all off with pepitas, candied with cinnamon and ginger.

I use the pumpkin pie filling from Joy of Cooking, plus 1/2 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger.  Feel free to use whatever you like.  This would even work well with a pumpkin cheesecake. 

Gingersnap Crust

Ingredients
5 ounces gingersnaps
5 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar

Directions
Using a food processor, grind the gingersnaps into fine crumbs.  Add the sugar and mix.  Add the butter and mix to combine.

Press into a pie pan and bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.  When it comes out, you may need to use a rubber spatula to smooth the crust out a bit, in case the sides slip down a bit into the bottom.

Let cool, fill with filling, and bake as directed.

Candied Pepitas
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients
1 cup (approx 6 ounces) raw pepitas
6 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg white, beaten
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of ground ginger

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Stir together all ingredients in a bowl.  Spread mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Bake until pepitas are golden and slightly puffed, about 10 minutes.   Stir gently, leaving some clumps.

After they have cooled completely, crumble them up.  Sprinkle over pumpkin pie when you are ready to serve.  Or, sprinkle it over just about any dessert, or just serve in little bowls as a snack.

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I adore cranberry sauce.  It is so simple to make that I don’t understand why people eat that weird stuff in a can.  1 bag of cranberries, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, boil, and done.  You can add spices and fruit to that, substitute juice or wine for the water, and reduce or increase any ingredient to get to the desired consistency.  And it’s pretty much fool-proof.

Last year, I made a pomegranate cranberry sauce.  This year, I decided to use satsuma mandarins.  They really are a perfect citrus for cranberry sauce – very few seeds, and a rind that’s not too thick, but has a lot of flavor.  If you can’t find satsumas, look for another tangerine with a medium-thick rind.  Something thicker than a clementine, but thinner than a regular orange.  I’d err on the side of thick and just add a bit more sugar, rather than use a clementine or something with a papery thin rind.  Whatever you use, expect to need more than the standard 1 cup of sugar – the rinds are bitter and you need a little more to cut through that.

Cranberry Sauce with Satsuma Mandarins

Ingredients
1 12 ounce bag of cranberries
2 satsuma mandarins
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Directions
Carefully cut up the satsumas.  You want some strips of rind with the fruit still attached, but try to remove any big hunks of white membrane.  I basically cut it in quarters, then ran my knife down the tip of each quarter to pull off what I could.  Then sliced each quater into little 1/4 inch strips.  It doesn’t have to be perfect and if you can’t get all the stringy white bits out, don’t worry too much. 

Heat a heavy skillet on medium.  Add the satsumas and 1/2 cup of sugar.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the satsumas have released their juices and the rinds are soft. 

Add the cranberries and the sugar and stir to coat.

Add the water and give it a gentle stir.  Simmer for a few minutes, giving it a gentle stir every now and then.  You want to stir it gently to keep the cranberries as whole as possible.  After about 3 or 4 minutes, taste test a berry.  If it’s too bitter, add a bit more sugar, and stir for another minute or so.  Otherwise remove from the heat and let it cool.

It should keep in the refrigerator for up to a week if you don’t eat it all before then.  To serve, let it come to room temp and enjoy.

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If kindergarten teachers watched me in the kitchen, they’d probably give me a lecture about following directions.  I’m not very good at it.  To me, recipes are usually just suggestions or loose guidelines.

So, when I found this James Beard recipe for persimmon bread, the fact that he is practically the godfather of modern American cooking didn’t really stop me from deviating from the script.  Clearly, I have no shame.

Despite my wanton disregard for Mr. Beard’s recipe, the finished product was delicious.  My husband, however, said that he would have preferred the original.  If you are like me and get the shakes if you don’t find ways to consume as much ginger as possible, my version is right up your alley.  Otherwise, I imagine the original is pretty spectacular too.

If you’ve never tried persimmon, you are missing out.  The ripe Hachiya persimmon, which is used i this recipe, is essentially this fragrant orange pulp held together by a thin skin. 

 I just had to squeeze it slightly and it burst.  I just picked out the skin and membrane and no further preparation was needed.

Ginger Persimmon Bread
Adapted from James Beard, as found on David Lebovitz’s blog

Using the higher amount of sugar will produce a moister and, of course, sweeter bread.

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups sifted flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter and cooled to room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1/3 cup cognac, bourbon, or whiskey
1 cup persimmon puree (from about 2 squishy-soft Hachiya persimmons)
2/3 cup minced candied ginger

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter 1 loaf pan and dust with flour, shaking out any excess.

Sift the first 6 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Make a well in the center then stir in the fresh ginger, butter, eggs, liquor, persimmon puree.  Mix gently, then add the candied ginger.  Stir until everything is combined and the ginger is evenly distributed.

Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

The bread will keep for about a week, if well-wrapped, at room temperature, and should freeze well.

The bread was delicious.  Persimmons have a subtle spicy taste to them, so they worked well with the ginger, cognac, and other spices.  It was almost like a really gorgeous tasting fruit cake. 

 

 

 

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I wanted to make a cranberry dessert for a Thanksgiving potluck.  Martha Stewart had this recipe for a New England Cranberry Duff.

I am from New England and have never heard of a duff before.  After playing around with The Google and learning way more about this dude than I have ever cared to know, I learned that it’s usually made with plums, and better known as plum pudding.

Also, it looks nothing like this recipe.

So between Martha’s screw up, and my changes, I’m calling it a snack cake.  A very delicious, buttery, fruity snack cake.

And if it’s not cranberry season, I think this would be excellent with fresh berries.

Cranberry Snack Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients
1 cup unsalted butter, (2 sticks), softened
1 12 ounce bag of cranberries
1/2 cup ground almonds
2/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 
 
Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, being careful not to brown., and set aside to cool slightly.

Line a 9X13 glass baking dish with parchment paper and generously butter it, using about 4 tablespoons of the butter.  You don’t want this to stick, so just spread it thick.   Then, pour the cranberries evenly over bottom of dish.

Sprinkle the ground almonds and 2/3 cup of sugar on top and set aside.

 Mix the eggs, the remaining white sugar, and the brown sugar in a bowl, until thoroughly combined and thick.  Add the vanilla extract.  Gradually stir in the flour and salt.

Add the melted butter to the mixture slowly, stirring until smooth.

Slowly pour batter into pan to cover cranberries, making sure that they stay spread out evenly.   Bake until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes.


Let cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge to loosen, and invert to unmold.  It will be somewhat upside down cake like, so you want to flip it so the cranberries are on top.


I sliced mine into 28 wedges, which made for a perfect size for a party with lots of desserts.  If this was the only dessert you were serving, you would probably want to cut bigger slices.  You can serve it warm or at room temperature, with forks or without. 

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This delicious little cake from Gourmet, via Epicurious, has been all the rage on the food blogs lately, it seems. It sounded so good, and I thought it would be a wonderful Christmas morning breakfast. Unfortunately, as I discovered earlier this fall, cranberries are in short supply out on the west coast. After checking at several stores, all of whom said that they stop carrying cranberries in November, I found a small, overpriced pint of them at the fabulous Ferry Building on Christmas Eve. They were $6, but I didn’t care. Cranberry vanilla coffee cake would be mine.

The recipe is easy and absolutely delicious. It’s not too sweet and it smells heavenly.
Ingredients
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (6 ounces)
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, divided
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
Note: I actually used an addition splash of milk…probably about 2 tablespoons worth. The batter seemed incredibly sticky and it just wasnt’ absorbing all the dry mixture. You may find you need to do the same. Also, while the recipe calls for a 9 by 2 cake pan, I think I will do this in a spring form pan the next time I make it. It would probably make the cake easier to remove.
Directions
Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan. Line bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter parchment.
Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into a food processor with tip of a paring knife (reserve pod for another use if desired). Add sugar and pulse to combine. Transfer to a bowl.
Pulse cranberries with 1/2 cup vanilla sugar in processor until finely chopped (do not purée).
Whisk together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt.
Beat together 1 stick butter and 1 cup vanilla sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down side and bottom of bowl. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour, until just combined.
Spread half of batter in pan, then spoon cranberries over it, leaving a 1/2-inch border around edge. Top with remaining batter and smooth top. This was the trickiest part because the batter is thick and hard to spread. I just dollopped it on in small spoonfuls all over the cranberries and gently spread the dollops together with a spoon.
Blend remaining 1/4 cup vanilla sugar with remaining tablespoon each of butter and flour using your fingertips. Crumble over top of cake.
Bake until a wooden pick inserted into cake (not into cranberry filling) comes out clean and side begins to pull away from pan, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 30 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely, crumb side up.

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Good god.

I had a holiday party to go to and wanted to make Christmas cookies for it. I was torn, however, between making really delicious cookies and making really beautiful cookies.

Then, this piece about Zimtsterne, the German meringue-like Christmas cookie,popped up on my blog reader, prompted me to seek out a recipe, and I realized I could have the best of both worlds.

While the end result does indeed live up to that goal, it did not happen without a lot of hard work, patience, and cursing.

Thankfully, they taste amazing and while not flawless, still pretty damn beautiful. They taste unlike any Christmas cookie I’ve ever had. They are both crunchy and soft, and have such a wonderful flavor. Once I got the hang of it, they got a little easier, but they do take a long time (particularly if you want the Martha-esque frosting and almond topping). If you are patient and ambitious, I highly recommend attempting these things. Or if you really want to make a gluten-free holiday dessert and are a glutton for pain.

Inspiration from these recipes comes from David Lebovitz, and the recipe used comes from the Food Network. I’ve changed the directions significantly, based on other information I read online before embarking on this project (many from the Food Network commenters) and my own trial and error attempts to make these cookies.

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
Lots of granulated sugar for rolling
15 ounces sliced almonds, with skin (about 4 1/2 cups)
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

The one nice thing about this recipe is that it’s very forgiving, flexible dough. I could see using other spices or other nuts in the mixture, so I think you could adapt this based on preferences and what you have in the cupboard.

While the recipe calls for lemon zest, I used orange zest. It seemed more holiday-like to me. This was a good choice. The cookies are more cinnamon-orange flavored than almond flavored, so I think if there were lemon there, they might taste a little strange. A couple other recipes online used either Kirsch or brandy in place of the zest. I think those would be good too, particularly because it would be good to have alcohol on hand for when you are ready to throw the dough out the window. Vanilla extract would probably work well too, though you’d lose the nerve-soothing qualities of something more alcoholic.

Also, the Food Network recipe called for confectioners’ sugar for rolling. Don’t even think about it. Use granulated. Other recipes online were split between the two sugars and when the confectioner’s sugar was giving me trouble, I switched to granulated and this became much, much easier.

Directions

The first thing I did, since I’m OCD, is sort through the almonds to find nicely shaped ones to use for decorating the cookies. I don’t know if all sliced almonds are as broken and chipped as mine were, but I wanted perfect cookies, so I painstakingly combed through my almonds to make sure I had enough perfectly shaped ones to use for the tops. Skip this step if you aren’t insane.

Ugly Almonds for grinding

Pretty almonds for decorating

Sift the confectioners’ sugar. Put 1/2 cup of the sifted confectioners’ sugar, 10 ounces (3 heaping cups) of the almonds and all the cinnamon in a food processor. Process until the nuts are finely ground, with just a few larger pieces.

Whip the egg whites in a large, clean bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until they hold soft peaks, about 1 minute. Gradually add the remaining confectioners’ sugar while whipping, until the whites are thick, creamy and somewhat stiff, about 2 minutes more. Set aside 2/3 cup of this meringue for topping the cookies.

Fold the ground almond mixture and the lemon zest into the remaining meringue to make a stiff dough. The dough is going to look chunky and weird. Don’t worry.


Divide in into two portions, wrap it in plastic wrap, and stick it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, though longer won’t hurt it.

Now the easy part is over.

The recipe recommends laying parchment or wax paper down to roll the dough out. I didn’t have any, and frankly, I’m not sure it would make a difference. Instead, dump a handful of granulated sugar down on the counter (or the paper, if you want to use it), and spread it out, like it was flour and you were making normal, sane people cookies.

Take one of the dough balls out of the freezer and put it down on the work surface. Keep the plastic wrap and put that over the dough to roll out (actually, here I think wax paper probably would be helpful). Roll the dough until it is about 1/4-inch thick. I found it helpful to keep turning and lifting the dough, and adding more sugar beneath it whenever I thought it was sticking to the counter. As I said before, it’s forgiving, so if you tear it, you can just roll it back together.
Cut cookies with a 3-inch star cutter and place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

Cutting the cookies is also a pain. Don’t do this:

You will never be able to get them off the counter.

Instead, cut one star, use a butter knife to get underneath it, and carefully move it to the cookie sheet (greased or lined with parchment) and poke it through the cookie cutter onto the cookie sheet.

Keep a bowl of lukewarm water handy and rinse your cookie cutter off every couple of stars.

The saving grace in all of this is that excess dough can be rerolled, over and over again. I just would put it back in the freezer for 5-10 minutes before doing it because it does make things much easier.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats, or just grease them.

At this point, I stopped taking pictures because I was covered with sugar and getting kind of cranky.

Use a small spoon, brush or offset spatula to spread the reserved meringue over the top of each cookie, taking care not to let the meringue drip over the sides. I used that weird-shaped butter knife thing that comes in most cutlerly sets. That worked well, since it has a little point to it, making it easy to spread the frosting on the star points. It still takes forever though, and then you get to painstakingly press remaining sliced almonds in a decorative pattern into the meringue.

See? Total labor of love.

You could also just grind up more almonds and sprinkle those on the meringue. Or save yourself the headache, and leave the meringue plain.

Bake cookies until bottoms are light golden brown and meringue is set and crisp, about 30 minutes. (Adjust this time based on the size of the cookie cutter. Food Network recommended 30 minutes for a 3 inch cutter. I did it for 20 minutes with my 2 inch cutter.) I think this is an area where you can use your judgment. Cook them the maximum time if you want them crispy, cook them for less if you want them chewy. I’d just keep an eye on them. When they are done, turn off the oven and open the oven door to release heat and dry cookies out in the oven for 10 more minutes.
And there you have it.

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