Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year, Y'all!

I am on vacation in Charleston, South Carolina, but just wanted to stop in and wish you a happy new year. I hope you have great plans that involve a lot of Champagne.

I can't wait to tell you about all the great food I've been eating- this city is beautiful and full of food!

Happy New Year! (From the deck of an aircraft carrier)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Gingerbread House

Happy Holidays everyone! After visiting family, opening presents and feasting, I'd like to tell you about December's Baking Challenge. I actually made a gingerbread house! Many thanks to A for her creative input and the use of her Kitchen Aid mixer.

Frequently after complicated baking undertakings, I find myself in disbelief. This time was no exception, with A and I saying 'I can't believe we actually made a gingerbread house!' The project seemed to take on a life of it own, leaving us incredulous over the end result.

Everything in this project was very easy, albeit time consuming.

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

Spicy Gingerbread Dough
(From Good Housekeeping)

2 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups molasses
9 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger

1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with an electric mixer), beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.

2. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll.

3. Grease and flour large cookie sheets.

4. Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 3/16-inch thickness.

5. Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.

6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

7. Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave at least 1 1/4 inches between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.

8. Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.

9. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch. Do not overbake; pieces will be too crisp to trim to proper size.

10. Remove cookie sheet from oven. While house pieces are still warm, place poster-board patterns on top and use them as guides to trim shapes to match if necessary. Cool pieces completely before attempting to assemble the house.

Royal Icing:

1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Small Bites at the Front Room

There were so many things to celebrate last night that I called my friend Dawn of Appetite Portland to meet me at The Front Room. Since I now live up on Munjoy Hill, I got right to work exploring my new neighborhood bar. And what a neighborhood hangout it is. I was surprised to see a full house at 6:30 on a Monday night. I eeked out a seat at the bar and put away several drinks with Dawn before we turned our attention to the menu.

It seems Dawn is working on eating her way through the mussels dishes of Portland (stay turned for a top 10 list!), so we started with the mussels. They are cooked in garlic, wine, tomato broth, and herbs for $10.

And while they were good, they were nothing special. But we ate them all and were happy to have some good flat foccacia type bread for sopping up the sauce.

We both had a salad, I had the Caesar ($6) and Dawn had the Spinach ($6).

I had it in my head that the great grilled Caesar I'd had at 555 was served over at Smith's other 'Room,' the Grill Room. Fortunately I corrected myself, because I would have been very disappointed if I'd been served this salad when I was expecting that delicious 555 Caesar. So this salad was OK, a lot better that some of the offensive version of Caesar salad I've had. The salad is marked with an asterisk on the menu that warns you of the dangers of salmonella or something, so I took that as a good sign that the kitchen makes a real Caesar dressing. But again, didn't make my top 10.

For dessert, we had the special Grapefruit Martini ($8) which was Absolut Ruby Red, pomegranate seeds, and Champagne (or some sparkling wine). And we loved them, because they weren't too sweet- no Cosmo girls here!

So while the small sampling of food I had didn't blow me away, I hear brunch is their forte. I did, however, love the bar. They had a TV, but not on too loud (there was a small wimper from me when they briefly changed it from Monday Night Football to the Food Network), there's great people watching (from the guy with the watch chain in his vest to the locals drinking PBR Pounders and shots of Jack), and the beers are moderately priced. They also have great happy hour specials from 4-6pm.

Front Room & Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Baking FAIL

I utterly failed at making a cheesecake last night. And this is the most simple incarnation of a cheesecake out there. Simple, but delicious, you'd like to think it's impossible to mess up. But I found a way. It was more of a cheesecake custard, despite being baked for 40 minutes. I am still at a loss to explain how I messed it up- I've even made it before! I guess there are worse things than having an excuse to make another cheesecake.

New York Style Cheesecake
From Kristin

Graham Cracker Crust:
 Crush 1 package of graham crackers. Mix with 1/2 stick of melted butter and sugar to taste. Press into pie dish.

 2 8oz. pkgs cream cheese
2 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix ingredients together and bake at 350 for 25 min or until set & golden brown on top.

I realize there are lots of ways to make cheesecake, but does any one see anything inherently wrong with this recipe? I've made it before and it worked great!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mushroom Bourguignon

This dish, based on Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon, is great for when it's cold outside, you're on a budget, and you don't have a lot of time to put dinner on the table. (Check, check, and check.)

I used Smitten Kitchen's recipe, where she substituted Julia's beef for hearty mushrooms. I didn't miss the beef at all, and actually might prefer this version. It takes half an hour to make instead of 3, and you don't run the risk of having tough or dry beef. No skill needed, just a hot pan. Love it.

Mushroom Bourguignon
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 pound crimini or baby portobello mushrooms, in 1/4-inch slices
1/2 carrot, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup full-bodied red wine
1 cup beef or vegetable broth
1 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/4 teaspoon dried)
3/4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup pearl onions, peeled (thawed if frozen)
Egg noodles, for serving
Sour cream and chopped chives or parsley, for garnish (optional)

Heat one tablespoon olive oil and the butter in a cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms and sear until they begin to darken, but not yet release any liquid. Remove them from pan.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the second tablespoon of olive oil. Add the carrots, onions, thyme, some S&P and cook for 10, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for just one more minute.

Add the wine to the pot, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom, then turn the heat all the way up and reduce it by half. Stir in the tomato paste and the broth. Add back the mushrooms with any juices that have collected and once the liquid has boiled, reduce the temperature so it simmers for 20 minutes, or until mushrooms are very tender. Add the pearl onions and simmer for five minutes more.

Combine remaining butter and the flour with a fork until combined; stir it into the stew. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency. Season to taste.

Serve mushrooms over egg noodles, topped with sour cream and sprinkled with chives or parsley.

Serves 2

Monday, December 14, 2009

Obscure Holiday Cocktail Tasting, Vol. 1

My friends and I (the authors of Appetite Portland, Portland Food Map, and Edible Obsessions) conducted an Obscure Holiday Cocktail Tasting the other night.

To start, we had a Whiskey Mac (shown upper right in photo): 1 1/2 oz. whiskey (Johnny Walker black in our case) and 1 oz. green ginger wine. This cocktail was an encouraging place to start. Everyone enjoyed its strong whiskey smell and the meady taste imparted by the ginger wine. It paired nicely with a quadrello di bufala.

Next came the Rye Flip (shown upper left in photo):
2 ounces rye whiskey
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 whole egg

Shake the first three ingredients with ice. Strain into a glass and dust with nutmeg.

This cocktail fell flat, not because it didn't taste good, but because it seemed like a rip-off of eggnog. It was not as full-bodied as your tongue wanted it to be. That said, pairing the drink with Gabietou cheese actually filled the fatty taste out. But I still would rather be drinking some cheap Evan Williams eggnog.

The third cocktail was an utter flop. Called Christmas Pudding (lower right in drink collage), it is 5 oz. Guinness stout, 1 oz. Southern Comfort, and 1 oz. Drambuie. Sweet and disgusting, no cheese pairing (Landaff) could salvage it, and no one finished this round.

The winner of the evening was Glugg! Shown in the lower-left corner of the drink collage above, glugg kicks mulled wine's ass.

Glugg (Mulled Wine)

8 ounces water
1 cup raisins
3 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
12 cardamom seeds
2 dry orange peels

Boil ingredients for 10 minutes in saucepan, then add:

1 gallon port wine
One 750-ml. bottle brandy
16 ounces rum
1/2 cup sugar

Bring to boil and let simmer 1 minute, then turn off the burner and ignite. Allow the mixture to burn for about 15 seconds. Serve hot.

This drink was fun (and easy) to make, delicious, warming, and you get to light it on fire! Can you think of anything better?

Lastly, a sure winner, some homemade Lemoncello. Sweet and a great palate cleanser (to wash away those terrible Christmas Pudding memories).

I hope your holiday season is filled with delicious cocktails, great friends, wonderful nights out, and lots of cheese, like mine has been so far. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Herbed Maine Shrimp Dip

It's Maine shrimp season! How bout making some delicious dip? (Great for party potlucks.)

Herbed Maine Shrimp Dip
Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 pound uncooked Maine shrimp meat
2 green onions, coarsely chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 cup cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Salt and pepper

Bring medium saucepan of lightly salted water to boil. Add shrimp and cook just until bright pink and opaque in center, about 3 minutes. Drain; rinse under cold water. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add green onions, shallot, and dill. Mix in cream cheese and next 4 ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Focaccia Bread

A cold, but sunny, almost-winter day, perfect for baking bread. I guess that's one thing I like about winter. Possibly the only one. I discovered this Focaccia bread recipe from my friend Jesika, it's the Joy of Cooking's pizza dough but delicious-er.

Focaccia Bread
From Joy of Cooking

1 1/3 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine in a small bowl yeast and water. Let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl sift together flour, salt, and sugar. Add yeast mixture and stir until combined. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Divide dough into two and roll each piece out to 1/2" thickness rounds or squares. Cover dough in oil in a square baking dish or a round pie pan. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and place in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. 10 minutes before baking, press the dough with your fingertips to make indentations all over the dough. Drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil. Top with 2 tablespoons grated cheese, such as Parmesan or Asiago, 1 teaspoon dried herbs, such as rosemary, dill, basil, thyme, or oregano or 2 tablespoons fresh herbs, minced, 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt. Really, let your imagination run wild with toppings. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Makes two 8- or 9-inch round or square breads.

Serve warm, slathered with butter or slice horizontally to use as sandwich bread (if it sticks around long enough for that!).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

After enjoying Ruth Reichl's recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts, I now feel obligated to bring others onto the Brussels sprouts train (makes stops in DE,licious and PA,latable). So I took a Brussels sprouts gratin to an AmeriCorps book club potluck.

And what better way to convince people they like a vegetable than to cover it in cheese and cream?

I adapted this recipe from my new cookbook Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann. The original recipe is for Roasted Fennel Gratin.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Gratin

2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, quartered
2 T. olive oil
1/4 cup minced fresh thyme (or 1/2 t. dried thyme)
Salt and pepper
3 T. diced Pancetta or thick-cut bacon (optional)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup half and half or cream
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss quartered Brussels sprouts in oil and salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Flip sprouts and sprinkle with Pancetta. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes more until Pancetta is crisp and sprouts are browned and caramelized. Remove from oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees F.

In a skillet, add 2 T. butter and heat over medium heat. Saute shallots until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add cream and thyme and reduce until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Grease an 8x8 baking dish and layer Brussels Sprouts with half of cheese. Pour cream mixture over sprouts and top with remaining cheese and bread crumbs. Dot with remaining butter and bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs

Alright! So I fished an egg out of the ruby red brine, scooped out the yolk, mixed it with mayo, horseradish grainy mustard, seasoned it with salt and pepper and garnished it with a little chopped green onion. And yum! The pickled egg white added a great vinegar taste, although I didn't taste any distinct beet flavor. Maybe the beets are just included to show off their beautiful color.

My only complaint is that the pickling process seemed to make the whites a little rubbery, which was kinda weird to bite in to. But it's a small price to pay for something so tasty (and easy).

See preceding post for recipe.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Food Preservation Egg-stravaganza

Recently I made *family member spoiler alert!* preserves as holiday gifts with some girlfriends. We made blueberry jam (one with added cinnamon and one without) and a hot pepper jam. If you've never had hot pepper jam, it's a delicious combination of sweet and spicy. It's best served warm over a block of cream cheese with crackers as a party appetizer.

We used cute little 4 oz. jars, which are the perfect size for gifts, and can easily be covered with fabric to add a little holiday flair (just screw band down over fabric). I've included the recipe, because the one included in the Sure Jell pectin has a typo! It does not list sugar as an ingredient, and while you can add less sugar if you use the No Sugar Needed pectin, you can't skip the sweet stuff all together or your jam will not set and taste terrible. Not so great for gifts (although, I'm sure some of you could find some deserving family members!).

Hot Pepper Relish
From Kraft Foods

2 medium red peppers, seeded, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium green peppers, seeded, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
10 large jalapeƱo peppers, seeded, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
3 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl, divided
1 box Sure Jell No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin

Bring boiling-water canner, half full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.

Place red, green and jalapeno peppers, vinegar and water in large saucepot.

Mix 1/4 cup of the sugar (from the measured amount in bowl) and pectin. Add to pepper mixture in saucepot; mix well. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining 2 3/4 cups sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars rack in canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 min. Remove jars and place upright on towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lids spring back, lids are not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

My other current foray into food preservation is beet pickled eggs! I'm sure you've all seen the creepy jar at the bar and wondered, who actually eats those?? Well, not me, that's for sure. They're *supposed* to be kept in the refrigerator. So that's where mine are right now, pickling away. I'll devil them later and let you know how they turn out (I'm curious, since I don't actually like beets! I used to say I didn't like beets? That's crazy!).

Photo by Roland Bello

Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs
From Gourmet Magazine

3 cups water
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 small beet, peeled and sliced
1 small shallot, sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
12 hard-boiled large eggs, peeled
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted cooled
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Bring water, vinegar, beet, shallot, sugar, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan, then simmer, covered, until beet is tender, about 20 minutes. Cool completely, uncovered. Put beet mixture in a container with eggs and marinate, chilled, gently stirring once or twice, at least 2 hours.

Finely grind caraway seeds in grinder.

Remove eggs from beet mixture and pat dry (discard beet mixture). Cut in half lengthwise and remove yolks. Mash yolks with mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, and half of caraway. Season with salt and pepper, then divide among egg whites. Sprinkle with remaining caraway.