Retox and Detox: 10 Favorite Holiday Indulgences

January 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Exhale.  Its all over.  The glorious gluttony.  The constant consumption.  The indulgent imbibing.  In place of the cream and sugar which has been dominating every nook and cranny of my kitchen I am happily welcoming my old friends, kale and quinoa back into my life.

Perhaps my  body may have an unnatural affection for greens and vegetables, but for the past six days I have been yearning for the super nutritious whole foods which usually grace my plate.  The future of my meals will look something like this: squash stuffed with quinoa and beans; kale and white bean casserole; sauteed greens loaded with nuts; garlic soup studded with brussel sprouts, onions and everything else cleansing.

Although, before I happily begin my post holiday purge, I would like to share some of my favorite indulgences of the past couple weeks.  After all, extravagance may be my favorite aspect of detoxification.

10. Biz’s Cookie Party.  Buckwheat and Quinoa Fig cookies, Mexican Wedding cookies, Peanut Butter chocolate chip, Basic Sugary bliss.  Need I say more?
9. Every Excuse for Champagne.  From Christmas morning mimosas, to raspberry champagne cocktails with dinner, to champagne shots at the stroke of midnight, this beverage has made an appearance too frequently in the past week.  My body always knows when I drank champagne the previous night.
8. Mallory’s Whiskey and Cider.  If there is anything better to warm you from the inside out than a piping hot thermos of Barnard’s apple cider mulled with cinnamon, cloves, a little vanilla, and a large glug of whiskey topped with some fresh whipped cream (spiked of course) please let me know.
7. Morning After Whiskey and Champagne Breakfasts.  Plates smothered with creamed chipped beef, cups filled with v-8 (and vodka?), ovens filled with stratta.  Any of the above are (almost) proven to expunge most nausea.
6.  Desert after every meal.  Leftover cookies, cakes, and meringues, make this mandatory.  Breakfast and that fourth meal between lunch and dinner included.
5.  Phyllo Dough.  What?  Yes.  Not the typical indulgence, phyllo dough has proven to be the perfect companion to everything oozy and gooy: baked brie au bleu, apple and brie quiche, feta and sundried tomato pizza, and endless cheese combinations (see below).
4.  Cheese.  Most of my cheese plates this year were compiled thanks to Talula’s Table.  Favorites included:  Sharp aged gouda, pungent and slaty shroppshire blue, lovely humboldt fog, smooth and delicate rosemary goat.  Similar h’ordeuvres were compiled from layers of phyllo dough brimming with  heavenly marriages of cream cheese and onion pepper jelly, brie with pears and brown sugar, fresh goat with cranberry and pistachio crumble, and gruyere with caramelized onions.
3.  Bacon.  It occurred to me that even as a see myself as a kind of closet vegetarian I somehow omit bacon from the realm of carnivorous consumption.  My new favorite party trick is to fabricate bite sized bowls from a slice of bacon and load them with everything good * instructions below.  Sliced mushrooms melted together with a gorgonzola cream somehow found their way into my cups of salted heaven.
2. My First Roast Duck + Duck Fat Fried Potatoes Everything. A Classic Christmas feast, duck is actually quite easy to make and produces a ungodly amount of animal fat suitable for making the ordinary roasted potatoes exceptional.  My duck was lucky enough to be smothered in honey and rubbed down with a blend of lavender and peppercorns leaving the skin insanely crisp and the meat dark and juicy.
1.  The people and parties which provide the opportunities for extravagance.  Maybe this is a cop-out or cliche but its true.  Eating bacon, cheese, and dessert three times a day may be enough to make one sick, but somehow the wonderful company of friends and family keeps me feeling healthy.  I supposed it could be the additional laughing and smiling around this time of year.  

Bacon Cups:

I used 2 packages of bacon but was not keeping track of how the yield or the actual number of slices needed.  The thinner, leaner cut bacon works best.  Fattier cuts will shrink more.  I also used a very small muffin tin which makes the cups bite sized as opposed to awkward two bite sized.

Cut a slice of bacon into 3 pieces:  first in half and then one of the halves in half.
Make a cross with the two quarters on the bottom of the muffin tin.
Use the long half piece of bacon to wrap around the circumference of  the muffin tin and secure by pressing the ends together.
Experiment with what you have.  This is simply what worked for me.
With all the cups wrapped, place the tin into a casserole dish and bake for 15 minutes or so at 500 degrees until the bacon is quite crispy but not burned.
Let the cups cool and then simply pop  them off, possibly with the assistance of  a spatula.
Load the cups with anything you heart desires.   

Simple Surprise Squash Soup

December 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Basically, this soup is perfect.  The grounds for this statement are just as simple as the preparations:

One: the ingredient list is minimal.
Two: the recipe is (almost) idiot proof.
Three: the flavor does not reveal statement one or two.

I like to make this soup with a wide range of flavors.  Sometimes it is gingerly sweet, sometimes it is savory and herbed.  This last batch revealed warm curry notes in the silky coconut broth.  But what ever flavor the bubbling pot may unveil, the backbone of the soup is, for the most part, unwavering.  

Squash Soup
One squash will generally make four servings, so increase the number of squashes and other ingredients accordingly.   Many times I use two varieties of winter squash for a more interesting flavor.

1 kabocha squash split in half length wise 
1 apple chopped
2 onions chopped (or 4 shallots)
1 cup coconut milk (or vegetable broth)
3 tablespoons red curry paste (or seasonings of your choice)
olive oil
sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Rub down the orange flesh of the squash halves with olive oil and sea salt and place on a baking sheet.  Roast until the skin feels like butter upon being pierced, usually 30 minutes.  This is just enough time to caramelize the apple and onions.  In a medium/large pot heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil on medium low heat, you don’t want the oil to smoke.   Now add the chopped apple and onion and some salt.  If you are making a herby soup add some of the herbs.  Cover the pot.  Check on the onions periodically and give them a stir.  After about 20 minutes remove the lid and let the steam escape for the last 10 minutes.  At this point everything in the pot should be a lovely golden color and have a silken glow, the squash should be emitting a deeply honeyed aroma and may even be sitting in a puddle of juice.  When the above criteria have been satisfied, remove the squash from the oven and let it cool for a moment.  (I would now remove some of the caramelized mix and reserve as a topping).  Then remove the skin by either peeling it off or scooping out the flesh and adding it to the pot of apple and onion with a pinch of salt.  Give everything a stir and add the coconut milk/broth and curry/herbs.  Add more water or broth to bring the consistency to your liking.  Top with caramelized onions or toasted nuts or maybe croutons for some texture.

Eat Happily.

 

Brown Butter Rice Crispy Cake

December 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Kids may have a simple and refined (think sugar not sophistication) palette but there is something to be said about a basic colorful mass of sugar and butter which even the most pretentious of eaters could not turn their fork away from.  Take the rice crispy treat for example.  The fundamental concept is hardly any different from a cake , with a few substitutions: crackling cereal for white flour,  pillows of sugar rather than granulated, and browned butter in place of the standard unsalted.  The last switcheroo is really the kicker.  Upon first nibble of this cake you will know that something is wonderfully different about it, and yet I dare you to pin the gorgeous nutty notes on the extra 3 minutes the butter needs to transform from simply melted to luxuriously brown.

Browning butter is my favorite thing right now.  After eating browned butter that is.  Once I learned how simple it is to melt butter past the point of liquidation but before the point of charring I began to make pie crusts and cookies with this liquid gold and have even spread it straight on my toast after letting it solidify and come to room temperature.   I am still working out how to bake with it as the fabulous flavor can sometimes be masked by spices or sugars.  Any excuse to bake more, I suppose.

Fortunately this crispy cake lets the nutty tang shine right through and tastes much more appetizing than it looks (unless you are four years old or the idea of eating florescent colors seems appealing).  I made it in the shape of a cake because we were celebrating a birthday for a wheat sensitive friend, but I think that I have found my new go to goodie for all kinds of eaters.

Brown Butter Rice Crispy Cake
Deb from Smitten Kitchen inspired rice crispy recipe.  She has a thing for brown butter too.  Or just follow the instructions on the box of Rice Crispy Cereal (but dont forget to brown the butter, seriously).

1 stick ( 1/4 pound) unsalted butter
6 cups rice crispy cereal plus 1 cup sprinkles for effect
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
10 oz bag marshmallows
sprinkles
and icing

How to brown butter
Melt the butter in a lage pot on medium heat.  Once the butter melts continue cooking it until it foams and the settles and then foams again, do not walk away, stir frequently to see when dark solids begin to form beneath the foamy butter.   When the butter begins to emit a lovely nutty aroma and you can see brown particles forming, get ready to remove the butter from the heat.

Rice  Crispy  Cake

Once the butter has browned stir in the bag of marshmallows.  If the pot has cooled down and the marshmallow is slow to melt move the pot back to the warm burner or a low flame.  Once everything has melded into a glorious puddle of butter and sugar add the cereal speckled with sprinkles and stir until each grain of puffed rice has been equally coated in a healthy amount the melted marshmallow/butter mix.  Be quick.  Now pour half of the warm mixture into a cake pan and the other half into another cake pan and allow them to cool for about 45 minutes.  Remove the cooled treats and spread a nice layer of icing upon the uneven (top) side of one of the cakes.  For aesthetic purposes place the other half of the cooled treat uneven side down atop the iced layer.  Now be creative and decorate this scrumptious mass in any manor you feel suitable.


My Cookie Counterpart: A Buckwheat, Quinoa, Fig, and Nut Delicacy

December 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

Sometimes I get carried away.  I mean, is it abnormal to buy 10 pounds of butter at once?  Typical or not, yesterday my rare visit to the supermarket in search of some unsalted baking butter left me in awe.  Two pounds of high quality butter was on sale for five dollars.  Now, I am not sure if you have noticed the price of the butter recently but it is not cheap.  Usually my go to butter for baked treats costs four dollars per pound alternatively my  bread slathering butter from lancaster costs seven dollars per pound.

Consequentially as I calculated the price of my Christmastime baking escapades my wallet cringed, belly smiled, and my pants tightened.  But now I have a refrigerator full of discounted butter, cabinets full of unconventional flours, and a computer full of bookmarked cookie recipes.  Let the Christmas giving begin.  

During my thorough recipe research to find the perfect cookie escort to Biz’s Cookie Swap next weekend I found what I hoped would be my baked soul mate.  Everyone has one.  Some people are a dense double chocolate.  Some are of the buttery and addictive persuasion.  While some are salty and crumby.  Think about it and I bet your favorite cookie will tell you more about yourself than you realize.  Maybe I have simply indulged in one too many personality tests for my own good.

Personally, I am sweetened with honey, figs, and brandy while still retaining my nutty foundation.  I like to surround myself with intriguing qualities like buttery buckwheat or  toasted quinoa doughs brightened with citrus and then douse myself with Gran Marinier icing.  Tell me about your cookie personality.

Buckwheat/Quinoa Italian Fig Cookies
The inspiration came from here, although the flour experimentation is thanks to Kim Boyce.    I made two exploratory batches; one substituting some buckwheat flour and one swapping quinoa flour in for the all purpose flour.  The buckwheat creates gorgeous blueberry color with a deep luxurious flavor and the quinoa bakes into a cookie which is nutty is appearance and flavor, it reminds me of peanut butter.  Also, I like to make half batches of dough because I make things so often, so I will give the measurements for both whole and half.  On the other hand I love fillings, so I doubled the ingredients, again both are listed.

For the fig, nut, and honey filling:

1 cup | 2 cups dried quartered figs (I used Kalamata, like the olives and Turkish but much prefer the Turkish as they are softer and sweeter.)
1/2 cup |1 cup raisins
1/4 cup | 1/2 cup dried chopped dates
1/2 cup | 1 cup honey
1/4 cup | 1/2 cup brandy
1 1/2 teaspoons | 3 teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon | 2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon | 2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon | 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon | 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (really, it makes a difference.  Go get whole nutmeg)
1/2 cup | 1 cup toasted and chopped almonds
1 cup | 2 cups toasted and chopped walnuts
a dash or two of salt
*optional dark chocolate chocolate chips not added into the filling mixture but placed between the filling and the dough

Soak the figs in the brandy while you prepare everything else (i.e. toasting and chopping nuts, grating nutmeg, and measuring).  Now chop all of the dried fruit in a food processor until the pieces are uniform.  If you want more textured cookies (next time I do) stir all of the other ingredients in a large bowl with the diced dried fruit.  Or you can potentially break a vital piece of equipment and add everything to the food processor and whirl it around.  Let the flavors unify overnight or at least 8 hours in the refrigerator.

For the buckwheat and/or quinoa dough:

1 1/4 cups | 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cups | 1 1/2 cups buckwheat or quinoa flour
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon | 1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar (I used Florida Crystals, an organic less refined sugar)
1/2 tablespoon | 1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon | 1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup, 1 stick | 1 cup, 2 sticks cold unsalted butter
1 egg | 2 eggs
1/3 cup | 2/3 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoons | 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon | 1 teaspoon orange (or lemon) zest

I toasted my quinoa flour, which is hardly imperative but very aromatic, and I would guess adds a wonderful dimension to the dough.  To toast the flour mix the quinoa and all purpose flour together and the put the mixture into a large skillet on medium heat, stir the flours frequently to check the bottom for browning.  My flours took about seven minutes to begin to brown and emit a vivd nutty scent.  Or just skip this and jump to the next step.

Mix the flours together then sift into a big bowl with the rest of the dry ingredients (sugar, baking powder, salt).

Grate the butter into the dry ingredients (Kim Boyce’s idea) using a cheese grater.  This makes breaking up the butter into the mixture much simpler.  Now you can use your fingers pinching to incorporate the grated (or cut into 1/2 inch pieces) butter into the flours until they are pea sized bits.

Add the slight whisked egg(s), milk, vanilla, and citrus zest and give everything a nice stir.  The dough will be shaggy so at this point I use my hands and gather, almost kneading, the dough into a nice ball.  If you are making a whole recipe you now separate the dough into two disks and let them sit in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.  I left mine overnight. 

Can you spot the difference in the two photos above?  One is buckwheat and one is quinoa.

When the time comes to bake:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the dough on a heavily floured work surface and begin to roll (with a floured rolling pin) the disk into a large rectangle (13 x 15 inches to be exact) the thinner the better.  My rolling pin is 14 inches so I can easily estimate.  Trim the sides down to a 10 x 13 inch rectangle and save the scraps.  You want to cut the rectangle into four strips 10 inches long, so quarter the long 13 inch side.

Using your most valuable tools, you hands, place a stripe of filling about an inch wide down the center of each strand of dough (here is where you can add the optional chocolate chips under the fig filling).  Wrap the sides of the dough around the filling pinching the edges to secure everything as it may try and escape in the oven.  Now flip each log so the seam side is down and cut each long segment into squares or rectangles depending on your size preference.

Bake the cookies in the middle of the hot oven for 16-20 minutes.

Repeat with the scraps or another disk of dough.

Make the icing while the cookies bake:
1/2 cup confectioner sugar
1/2 tablespoon Grand Marnier Liquor (or as much as you need)
1 tablespoon orange juice (or as much as you need)

Mix everything together until it is a gloopy liquid, adjusting to your taste.

When the cookies are out of the oven, have been transfered to a cooling rack and have cooled for about 10 minutes, coat the goodies with a couple delicate brush strokes of the icing.  Everything is done.  Let the cookies cool before eating too many because you have been staring at and smelling their indecency all day.  

Eat Happily.

A Nutty and Herby Cranberry Sauce from the Oven

November 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

This past Wednesday night began with roasting a perfectly sweet, tart, and herby cranberry and hazelnut sauce for Thanksgiving.  I got the inspiration here, and modified it until the recipe turned into my own.

Coat one pound of fresh cranberries in:

1 cup turbinado sugar
3 tablespoons walnut oil
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh sage
1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Roast the cranberries on a rimmed baking sheet in a hot oven (425 degrees) for about 7 minutes until the berries around the edge begin to split.  While the cranberries are in the oven heat 1/4 cup red wine with 2 tablespoons of water in a little sauce pan until it boils.   When the berries begin to split take the pan out of the oven and mix in the hot wine then return everything to the hot oven for another 10 or 15 minutes.  Stir the mixture a couple of times checking to see when the berries turn into a beautiful syrupy sauce.  Leave the oven on to toast the hazelnuts. The method for the hazelnuts is essentially the same as the cranberries.

Mix 1 cup of hazelnuts with 1 teaspoon each fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage in a rimmed baking sheet.  Then heat 3 tablespoons of red wine and 3 tablespoons of turbinado sugar until the sugar melts and mix with the herbed nuts.  Now heat the coated nut for just under 10 minutes in the hot oven.  Keep the saucy cranberries and the toasted nuts separate until just before devouring the mixture.

Eat Happily.

Taking Stock in Flavor

November 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Wednesday Night, I planned ahead and made the turkey stock required for the indecently rich giblet gravy and earthy mushroom stuffing.  I had never made my own stock before, and as it turns out, the whole process is quite simple and requires nothing but heaps of chopped veggies, pounds of turkey innards, plenty of chicken broth, and one steamy kitchen.  I used this recipe, and followed closer than usual.

I picked up 5 1/2 pounds of giblets from the Country Butcher in Kennett Square when I bought my very first Thanksgiving turkey and simmered the innards in a large pot with:

3 chopped carrots
4 small chopped celery stalks with the leaves attached
2 medium quartered onions
2 medium chopped leeks including the usually discarded green tops
2 bunches of parsley stems only
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 turkish bay leaves
12 cups low sodium chicken broth

Bring the pot of vegetables and broth to a boil and then simmer the brew for about 2 hours until the giblets are cooked.  Remove the turkey parts and save them to add extra flavor to the gravy then strain the stock into a bowl.  I let the stock cool so that the fat rises to the top and solidifies and can easily be removed before being added to stuffings, gravies, and roasting pans.  

Eat Happily.

Let the Brining Begin

November 24, 2010 § 2 Comments

As I walked through my kitchen door this evening I felt like a shop-a-holic.  The weight of my items were almost unbearable, and yet I found myself chuckling at the though of my spending habits.  My products were not boots, jewelry, body products, or any sort of typical merchandise.  The goods in my hands were mushrooms from the Mushroom Cap in Kennett Square; a fresh turkey with extra giblets and bacon on the side from the Country Butcher in Kennett Square; hazelnuts from Spring Run in Kennett; leeks, onions, sage, shallots, cider, and honey from Barnard’s.  Nothing could have made me happier than hauling my shopping bags into the kitchen and unloading my purchases.  I can completely understand how people become addicted to the feeling of new things.  Luckily for me my valuables tend to edible, so I always need more.

My Thanksgiving menu has blossomed into something I feel quite proud of.  Every flavor, from the woodsy mushrooms to the warm hazelnuts to the complexity of herbs, has meandered from one dish to the other.  And most dishes will be a compilation of recipes taken from articles in various magazines and basic knowledge.  I am a bit hesitant to be trying out new techniques and flavors with my usually quite traditionally palated family.  Although when it comes down to it, who could oppose bread pudding baked inside a pumpkin and drizzled with whiskey sauce, or wild mushroom, hazelnut, and olive bread stuffing? And roasting cranberries in red wine has got to outshine canned cranberry sauce, especially when they are mixed with spiced hazelnuts.  These are the dishes which I am fairly confident will be delicious; the bird is another story.  I hardly cook meat and a 14 pound turkey commands some loving care.  From all I have gathered, brining the gobbler will ensure a crackling layer atop a succulent frame, and just to go the extra mile I picked up some extra thick bacon to drape over the bird as he roasts provide some extra flavor and tenderness.  I mean, if I am going to eat meat it better be tender, juicy, and rich.

So tonight I brine and give the salt time to suck the juice fromt the body out to the skin.  The turkey will sit in a bath of citrusy salt for almost 36 hours and will be roasted Thursday morning.

Tomorrow I will roast the cranberries and toast the hazelnuts for the cranberry sauce as well as prepare the stock for the stuffing, basting, and gravy.

Thursday will be full of roasting, rotating, reducing.  The turkey will cook in my oven while I prepare the mushroom stuffing and pumpkin stuffed bread pudding.  Then everything will be transfered to my Grandmothers where the gravy will be made from the drippings from the turkey plus lots of extra innards, the stuffing will be baked, and the desert will be cooking while we indulge.

Recipes, regrets, and photos to come.  Please help me with any suggestions or comments!