Friday, October 31, 2008


Happy Candy Day, everybody.

Some Halloween-themed food links for your viewing pleasure:

The world's scariest foods. (No, not Sandra Lee.) [via Food & Wine]

A video showing how Candy Corn is made from Food Network's Unwrapped. [via Serious Eats]

Top 10 worst Halloween candies (Eww...Necco wafers!) [via Serious Eats]

And, OMG, these peanut butter crispy bars look a million times better than the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups I'll no doubt be scarfing all night. [via Smitten Kitchen]

Thursday, October 30, 2008

a prosh-er pear crisp

I've professed my love for fruit crisps and crumbles before, but my affection only grows stronger in the fall. Crisps are the perfect vehicle for autumnal fruits like apples, pears, and cranberries. And crisps are one of the best desserts for dinner parties when you just want to serve something delicious and unfussy. (What other desserts are ever as good as something simple, really?)

About a week ago, I found a recipe for pear crisps with vanilla brown butter. Smitten Kitchen described them prosh (am I the only one who didn't know what that means?), which piqued my interest, in addition to the brown butter. Brown butter! In a dessert! You could put brown butter on a newspaper and I would probably take a nibble. So I printed out the recipe and whipped it up for Megan's dinner, wanting something fall-ish and special. And, totally prosh, of course. Luckily this recipe delivered. The filling is delicious, but it's also the easiest and best crisp topping I've ever made.

One caveat: apologies to Gourmet magazine and SK (who really is the Queen of the Food Blogs in my book—very prosh indeed) but this recipe is misleadingly named. Yes, there's nutty brown butter and aromatic vanilla in the filling. But the flavor that really came through for me was from the handful of almonds in the crunchy topping. This is partially due to the fact that I, being cheap, substituted vanilla extract for an actual vanilla bean. (It's a recession, people.) Somehow buying a vanilla bean just seems too decadent, even for me. I obviously need to work on this issue.

Vanilla aside, the flavor is excellent, especially if you like desserts that aren't sweet-sweet. A dusting of confectioner's sugar on top was a nice finishing touch, but a scoop of vanilla ice cream will make this crisp so good your eyes will roll back in your head.

Pear crisps with vanilla brown butter
(Serves about 6 people)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour)
1 cup whole almonds with skin
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 lb firm-ripe Anjou or Bartlett pears (about 6), peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons pear brandy or eau-de-vie (I used Calvados, apple brandy)

To make the topping, pulse together flour, almonds, brown sugar, and salt in a food processor until nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and pulse just until blended. Coarsely crumble in a shallow baking pan (I put it in a small bowl) and chill at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees with rack in middle. To make the filling: if using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into a small heavy saucepan, then add pod and butter and cook over medium-low heat, swirling pan occasionally, until butter is browned and fragrant, about 4 minutes. While butter browns, stir together sugars, flour, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Add pears and brandy and toss to combine. Discard vanilla pod (or add extract), then toss butter with pear mixture. Spoon filling into gratin dishes (or one 9-inch baking dish) and sprinkle with topping, mounding it slightly in the center. In using ramekins, put them in a shallow baking pan, or just put the baking dish in the oven and bake 30 minutes. Rotate baking sheet and bake until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Cool to warm or room temperature before serving.

Monday, October 27, 2008

dinner for an old friend

Cooking a meal for someone is an incredibly intimate act. It may not be the most intimate thing you can share, but it's pretty close.

Dinner parties are all about making great food and wanting people to be full and happy. But when you cook for someone—whether you're nuking some nachos or preparing a five-course meal—you're also seeking approval. Does he like the salad? Is there too much salt? Are they really enjoying dessert, or just being polite? In between bites, you really want your friends and family to think you're clever, or cool, or talented, or maternal, or thoughtful, or all of the above. When I cook for Dan, I want him to feel cared for, when I cook for friends, I want them to be impressed, when I cook for my family, I want them to be proud of me. Of course, I want people to enjoy themselves. But deep down, at times unconsciously, I want people to like me.

My dinner parties are all about other people, but they are also about me. Does that make me a narcissist? Maybe. At least everyone's getting something out of it, right?

Last Saturday, Megan, one of my best friends from childhood, came over for dinner. From age twelve to nineteen, we spent hours on the phone talking about God knows what, shared Sassy magazines, went trick-or-treating together and later, to prom with our boyfriends. We swore we'd always be best friends. And then we went our separate ways to college and like a lot of high school friends, new experiences and people and interests formed an enormous gulf between us.

And now we're adults. With jobs, and serious relationships, and suddenly living in New York at the same time. It's kind of weird, thinking about what Megan was like when she was thirteen and now she's sitting in my living room, almost thirty. And I'm almost thirty too. So much time lost and so many things to learn about each other and catch up on—if we can get past the time lost.

I think we can.

It begins with a meal. A meal designed for a cool and rainy fall night, but also to help her see what I'm about now and what I've been doing all this time. Although we all know a meal can't really do that. At best, a good meal can silence the fumbling awkwardness. It can inspire people to sit a little closer and tell stories and listen and really, truly laugh.

Dinner for Megan
Lamb meatballs with yogurt sauce

Roasted beet salad with fried capers and parsley
Garlic soup with mussels
Pear crisp

Garlic Soup with Mussels
As Wednesday Chef says, this soup (shown above) puts moules frites to shame. It's the perfect impressive yet easy dinner party recipe.
(Serves 4 people)

2 lbs. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 cup dry white wine
3 Tbsp. olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 baguette, cut into 12 (half-inch) slices
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 cup (4 ounces) grated Gruyere
1 to 2 tsp. piment d'Espelette or chili powder (I used paprika)

Place the mussels, wine and 1 cup of cold water in a large saucepan over moderately high heat. Cover and cook until the shells open, 4 to 6 minutes. Strain the mussels into a colander, collecting the juices in a bowl placed below. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over low heat, add the garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, until pale gold, 3 to 4 minutes. Do not let brown. Add the mussel juice to the garlic, raise the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat to very low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the mussels from the shells. Lightly toast the bread. Remove the soup from the heat. Combine the egg yolk, vinegar and a couple tablespoons of the soup in a mixing bowl and beat vigorously with a whisk until the mixture gets foamy. Slowly pour the mixture back into the remaining soup, continuing to beat with a whisk. To serve, place a few baguette slices, 3 to 4 tablespoons of grated cheese and some mussels on the bottom of 4 wide soup bowls, cover with soup and dust with piment d'Espelette (or paprika).

Beet Salad with Horseradish and Fried Capers
Another winner from Wednesday Chef! The fried capers really make this salad, don't skip this step. I added sprigs of flat-leaf parsley for color and a bit of greenery, but you could also use watercress or maiche. I also recommend peeling the beets ahead of time because it's easier to peel them before you roast them and they get soft.
(Serves 4 people)

1 1/2 lbs. small beets, trimmed, scrubbed, and peeled
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for beets and frying capers
2 Tbsp. salt-packed or brined capers
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 Tbsp. horseradish, more to taste
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. sour cream
Salt to taste
Handful flat-leaf parsley, stems removed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place beets on half of a large piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil. Fold the foil and seal the edges. Lay package on a baking sheet and place it in the oven. Roast until beets are tender, 45 to 60 minutes. (Test by poking a fork through the foil into a beet.) Remove from the oven. Be careful when opening the foil; steam will race out. When they've cooled slightly, slice the beets into wedges slice into wedges and place in a bowl. Soak salt-packed capers for 10 minutes, drain, rinse, then pat dry. (If using brined capers, drain and pat dry.) Pour 1/2 inch olive oil into a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot enough to toast a bread crumb in 30 seconds, add capers. Be careful; oil may sputter. Fry until capers fluff and begin to brown on edges, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on paper towels. In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, horseradish and vinegar. Whisk in 1/4 cup oil, followed by sour cream. Pour half the dressing over beets; mix. Taste, adding more dressing or salt, if needed. Plate the beets and sprinkle with fried capers and parsley.

Friday, October 24, 2008

strawberries for fall

I ate roasted strawberries for the first time a few weekends ago at a new restaurant in our neighborhood called Bussaco. Dinner was good, but it was a dessert that really got me: a milky vanilla-bean infused panna cotta topped with roasted strawberries. When roasted, the berries took on a deeper flavor and color, and a bright, rosy sauce I literally licked up with my fingers. I've always thought of strawberries as purely summer fruit, but when roasted they're so fall. Of course I had to try to make them at home the night after our dinner out. While vanilla-based desserts really allow the berries to shine (rice pudding or ice cream would be heavenly) they were also very tasty with chocolate pudding.

Roasted strawberries

(Serves about 4 people)
2 pints fresh strawberries, washed and de-stemmed
1/4 cup light brown sugar

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the berries on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the sugar, tossing them to coat. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the berries are soft and slightly shriveled. Reserve the juice. Try not to eat it all with a spoon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

chocolate pudding two ways

I'm crazy about pudding. I know, I know. Granny food. Sludge from a packet. Bill Cosby.

Pudding tends to get a bad rap, but hear me out. When made from scratch, it is really, really, good stuff, even dinner party fare. It's the homiest of desserts—warm, and rich, and comforting. Especially when eaten out of a mug. And so easy to whip up, not much more complicated than making a powdered mix that comes in a box. I think chocolate pudding was the first recipe I memorized by heart from making it so many times. Although my version isn't quite Cooks Illustrated material.

Slapdash chocolate pudding
(Serves 1 person, give or take)
Grab a pot. Pour in two big spoonfuls of cocoa powder, two big spoonfuls of cornstarch, three or four big spoonfuls of sugar. Stir until combined. Pour in 1 cup or so of milk. Turn on the heat. Stir until the mixture comes to a boil, bubbles, and thickens. Throw in a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips and turn off the heat. Stir the chocolate and a splash of vanilla extract until it is combined. Eat your pudding out of the pot and scrape up any remaining traces of it with your fingers. Chocolate pudding smeared across your face is a nice look.

Last week I got my usual cool-weather hankering for pudding, but while rummaging through our cabinets for cocoa powder, I considered the idea that maybe my pudding could be a smidge better. My method, while somewhat unreliable (on the rare occasion it can be cloyingly sweet or too thin, but it's always edible), is mindless and fast when you just NEED dessert and there aren't any cookies in the house. And, between us, it's also an honest representation of the way I really cook. But maybe a proper recipe, with eggs, and a dab of butter, and, uh, actual measurements would be better? Worth a shot, anyway, right? I pulled out my Food & Wine 30th anniversary issue, which is full of great recipes (archived here), and found Richard Sax's double-chocolate pudding. The copy promised it had "intense flavor and a silky texture that’s still firm enough to stand a spoon in." Sold!

Double-chocolate pudding
The addition of eggs makes this pudding thick and rich, as advertised. But be sure to whisk the cornstarch liquid as thoroughly as possible to avoid lumps—which mine had. Or maybe because I didn't bother to strain it? Whatever. When Dan asked what the lumps were, I just told him they were bits of unmelted chocolate. And he believed me!
(Serves about 6 people)

2 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
5 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used chocolate chips)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract
Whipped cream, for serving

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of the milk with 1/4 cup of the sugar and the salt and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat. In a medium bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the cocoa and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until blended. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of milk and whisk until smooth. Whisk this mixture into the hot milk in the saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer, whisking constantly, until the pudding is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk the whole egg with the egg yolks. Gradually whisk about 1 cup of the hot cocoa mixture into the eggs until thoroughly incorporated, then pour it back into the saucepan. Cook the pudding over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until it just comes to boil, about 2 minutes. Strain the pudding into a medium heatproof bowl. Add the chopped chocolate, butter and vanilla and whisk until the chocolate and butter are melted and incorporated and the pudding is smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer the pudding to six 6-ounce ramekins (or one large bowl) and refrigerate until chilled. Serve with lightly whipped cream.

Monday, October 20, 2008

guest post: a little mood music

Hi, all. Dan was nice enough to contribute a post on a subject he knows volumes about: music. I'm a little biased, but his taste is pretty impeccable, especially when selecting soundtracks for our dinner parties.

First of all, let’s get something straight: I’m a decent cook. I typically make dinner at least a couple of nights a week, and it almost always ranges from edible to pretty damn good.

That said, when it comes to cooking, I can’t even hold my wife’s apron strings. So when we have dinner parties, I’m usually nowhere near the kitchen (except insofar as everywhere in our apartment is near the kitchen). If I was, you’d hear the clatter of pans falling out of cabinets onto my head and the slopping of water and sauces onto the floor. My culinary style is not fit for company. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have tasks. When I ask Lisa what I can do to help, her answer is always two-fold: help clean the apartment and choose some music for the party. Lucky for you, this is not a post about apartment cleaning.

I’m not a big background music guy. I like to listen to music when I’m listening to music, you know? Trust me, though, you don’t want to be the host who tells your company to shut up because they’re missing a clever lyric or a wicked bass line. I’m also not a big fan of shuffle mode on the ol’ iPod. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather listen to a whole album from beginning to end. But again, we’re talking about a party here, and that Pet Sounds box set can get a little monotonous after the sixth disc of outtakes from the “Sloop John B” sessions. The trick is coming up with a playlist that’s assertive enough to give your party a boost without distracting your guests who are there, after all, to eat and talk. You also need enough variation to keep things interesting while at the same time creating a cohesive mood.

With that in mind, here are three albums I’ve turned to recently when Lisa told me it was time to do my part:

1. What’s Happening in Pernambuco: New Sounds of the Brazilian Northeast
Really, any of the Brazil Classics compilations on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label would work. This, the most recent volume, has a dancier, more contemporary feel but is chill enough for cocktails and dinner.

2. The Oxford American music issue, companion CD
This year’s OA music issue should be out in the next few weeks, but the last few years’ worth are still available on-line, and they’re all excellent. Throw on three in a row, and you have an evening’s worth of smartly curated country, blues, soul, jazz, rockabilly, and novelties (Andy Griffith, Marilyn Monroe!). For the first time last year, they even acknowledged the existence of rap music in the South!

3. Digable Planets, The Blow-Out Comb
Speaking of rap music…I know, it was nerdy to dig the Planets when you were in high school, but have you heard their second album? Live instruments, more of a blaxploitation vibe than the coffee house thing you remember from “Cool Like Dat.” Awesome. Really. And perfect for the post-dinner wind-down. All hail Ladybug Mecca!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Hi everybody. Here's some piping hot links for your viewing pleasure.

Imagine a dinner party at your home cooked by Ferrán Adrià. A Times writer went shopping with the chef in Chinatown and then took him to his home to cook a meal. The menu sounds a little all over the map, but fairly normal (by El Bulli standards, anyway): red snapper and scallops with passion fruit and saffron; dragon fruit squares topped with tomato seeds and balsamic olive oil; cheese curd wrapped in basil leaves; shrimp with black pepper; upside-down portobellos with bay scallops; scrambled eggs with burrata cheese. [via the NYT]

If you're looking for Halloween treats beyond fun-sized Kit Kats, here's a recipe for chocolate-dipped apricots. [via the Kitchn]

Looking forward to (gasp) Thanksgiving, Gourmet has a round-up of vegetarian main dishes if you're forgoing the turkey. Some could easily double as side dishes or everyday veggie meals. [via Gourmet]

Fab-looking acorn squash quesadillas with tomatillo salsa from Smitten Kitchen. [via Smitten Kitchen]

Over at Delish, ideas for a BYOH'D party (bring your own hors d'oeuvres) by yours truly. [via]

Monday, October 13, 2008

dinner on the cheap(ish): steak

Steak's not exactly a budget-friendly meal, whether you eat in or out. But certain cuts of meat can easily stretch to feed a lot of people when you slice them thinly and add some hearty side dishes. I found organic skirt steak for $13.99 a pound at my local specialty foods store last weekend. I consider skirt steak a middle-of-the-road cut of beef. Flank, cube, and hanger steak are usually cheaper, but rib eye, T-bone, porterhouse, and of course, filet mignon are usually more expensive. When you're cooking for yourself, it's always easy to go cheaper. When you're having friends over, sometimes you want to go a little more expensive. Skirt steak is good for both occasions.

A brief word about meat: Unless you live on a ranch, beef probably shouldn't be an everyday meal. I already preached about the rising cost of food last week, so I won't go there. I'll just leave it at this: factory farmed meat of any kind is bad. Bad for the environment, bad for the animals, bad for you. This doesn't mean I never eat a steak in a restaurant or buy regular ground beef at the supermarket. In some places, sustainably-raised meat is nonexistent. But if you can find it, it's worth the few extra dollars on the occasion you do want some meat.

That said, here is a meat-centric menu that per person is way less than eating a good steak dinner out.

Beef, it's what's for dinner

Grilled skirt steak with Chimichurri sauce
Roasted acorn squash with maple syrup and nutmeg
Chocolate pudding with roasted strawberries

Grilled skirt steak with Chimichurri sauce

This recipe, by Mark Bittman via Food & Wine, feeds a lot of people. One pound of meat is enough for about two people, so you can easily reduce this to feed a smaller or bigger party. The bright grassiness of this parsley and garlic-based condiment livens up a plain grilled steak. I use a food processor when making the Chimichurri because it's faster and gives a more saucy consistency.
(Serves 8 people)

2 cups chopped parsley
2/3 cup. olive oil
6 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
4 lbs. skirt steak

Heat your grill or grill pan. In a food processor combine the parsley, oil, lemon juice, garlic, and red pepper. Process until chunky, then add salt and pepper to taste. Season the steaks with salt and pepper and grill over high heat until the meat is charred outside and rare within, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Thinly slice the steaks across the grain. Serve immediately with the sauce on the side.

Roasted acorn squash with maple syrup and nutmeg
Mmm...I love this dish. This recipe is based on my mom's way of cooking acorn squash, but I added nutmeg for more flavor. When cut in half, acorn squash creates a nice little bowl for a fragrant mix of butter, maple syrup, and nutmeg that you mash into the squash. It's great with the steak, but hearty enough to eat as a vegetarian main course with a side of brown rice.
(Serves 4, or 6 to 8 people if quartered)

2 medium-sized acorn squash
4 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. nutmeg
4 Tbsp. butter
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the squash in half. Rub the cut side with a small amount of olive oil. Sprinkle each cut side with nutmeg. Place the squash in a roasting pan, cut side down and roast for 25 minutes, or until you can easily insert a sharp knife in and out of the squash. Remove from the oven. With tongs, flip over each squash half. Add 1 Tbsp. butter and maple syrup to the center of each half. Sprinkle with salt and serve. Cut into quarters, if desired.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

dinner on the cheap: Mexican chicken soup

Having people over for a meal is one of my favorite things in life. I like planning menus and trying new recipes and putting out the flowers and candles and all that jazz. But most of all I love the luxury of an unhurried evening with my favorite people. No reservations, no overpriced drinks, and no rude waiters rushing us through a meal. Restaurants and bars have their place, but, really, I'd rather just stay in. I have to admit, though, that it's getting kind of expensive to feed eight or six or even four hungry people. In the larger picture, this is a pretty frivolous complaint when lots of people are having trouble putting food on the table at all. At the risk of sounding like a bad stump speech, whatever your circumstances, the rising price of food is one thing that touches everyone.

That's not to say I'm throwing in the towel. Now more than ever, you need your friends and family around you, good food, and strong drinks. (Especially after checking out your 401K. Eek.) On this note, I'm going to occasionally write about dinners on the cheap. Not Spaghetti-Os or a giant casserole that feeds 30 people for 10 cents each. Just normal, good, healthy food that's a bit more budget-minded. I like the challenge of doing dinner for four people for $10. Can it be done? Who knows? I'm game to try.

Our first installment, chicken soup, might be an obvious one, but soup is inexpensive, filling, and so, so good when made from scratch. A million times better than Campbells or the chicken broth out of a box. Michael Ruhlman, I finally see your point about stock. Soup is also great because you probably have half of the ingredients rattling around in your vegetable bin. In case you don't, here's the cost rundown plus a few optional extras I added in to give the soup a Mexican twist. (Prices are rounded up. Keep in mind these are New York City prices, which are exorbitantly, ridiculously expensive.)

Grocery list:
1 3 1/2 lb. whole organic chicken, $12
Bag of celery, $3.50
Bag of carrots, $3.50
1 onion, .50
1 bunch parsley, $3
1 bunch thyme, $3

Total cost: $25.50 ($4.25 per person when you are feeding six people)

Optional add-ins:
Green chiles

Mexican chicken soup
Dan said the scent of the broth reminded him of his mother's homemade matzo ball soup. The highest compliment a nice Jewish boy can give you.
(Makes 4 quarts of broth, serves about 6 people with additional broth leftover)

1 3 to 4 lb. chicken
1 onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 medium-sized carrots, chopped
3 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs celery leaves
2 bay leaves
1 15 oz. can hominy
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 handful chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp. chopped green chiles
2 cups cooked rice
Salt and pepper

Cut the chicken up into quarters, leaving the bones intact and rinse it well. Place the meat in a large stockpot and cover it with sixteen cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and skim off the foam that floats to the top. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat down to a low simmer and leave it alone for 30 minutes, only skimming occasionally. While you're waiting, make your bouquet garni by tying together your herb and celery sprigs with a piece of kitchen twine (or use a twist-tie). After 20 minutes, toss in the onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves, and the bouquet garni. Let simmer for 3 hours, then remove from heat. Let cool, then strain the broth through a fine sieve into a large pot or container. Reserve the chicken and vegetables, toss out the bouquet garni and bay leaves. Shred the chicken, discarding the bones and skin. Add the chicken and vegetables to the broth with the rice, hominy, cilantro, chile, and tomatoes. Stir to combine and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes, then serve hot.

Serve with:
warm tortillas
chips and guacamole
Tomato and avocado salad
Key lime pie

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

sweet and spicy

This pretty little concoction is from the kitchen nightmares dinner party. While storming around the apartment, deep down I knew all was not lost because at the very least we would still have cocktails. A good drink can really turn a dire situation around.

When planning that fall-inspired meal, I wanted something equally autumnal to drink before dinner. I thought about rum and apple cider, but that seemed too wintery. Cranberry juice is nice with vodka, but it reminds me of cosmos and some ill-spent nights in college, which makes me feel embarrassed. Apple-flavored vodka and creamy drinks like pumpkin pie-tinis make me want to wretch. Remind me why was I on a fall cocktail kick again?

I was about to throw in the towel and just serve wine, but then I started thinking about spices, especially ginger, which seemed perfect for fall. I could make dark and stormys--ginger beer and rum--but that combination conjured sandy beaches, not fall leaves. A quick search on Epicurious produced a sparkling ginger cocktail recipe, and I was immediately sold. I'll take any flimsy excuse to drink sparkling wine, and this drink is simple. You just take cold, bubbly Prosecco and spike it with a splash of spicy ginger syrup. I also coated the rim of the glass with ginger sugar, for an extra dose of sweetness and heat with each sip. It was the perfect early fall drink, more of a light sweater than a heavy wool blanket.

Sparkling ginger cocktails
I tweaked this recipe from Gourmet by adding ground ginger to the syrup, making it a bit spicier. I also created a faster (and better, I think) ginger sugar by replacing candied ginger with more ground ginger.
(Makes 10 drinks)

3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sliced fresh ginger
3/4 cup sugar
1 to 2 Tbsp. ground ginger
1/2 lemon
2 bottles chilled Prosecco or Cava

Simmer water, fresh ginger, and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan, uncovered, 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep 15 minutes. Strain syrup through a sieve into a bowl, discarding solids. Taste and stir in 1 Tbsp. ground ginger, if you'd like it a bit spicier. Chill until cold. Combine 1 Tbsp. ground ginger with 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl, then spread on a small plate. Run the cut lemon around the rims of each glass, then dip the rims into the ginger sugar. Pour 1 tsp. syrup into each glass and top off with Prosecco.

Perfect with a variety of apples (gala, granny smith, macintosh), cheese (buttermilk blue, sharp cheddar, and goat cheese), honey, and dark bread.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Happy Monday, everyone. Let's start the week with some links, shall we?

An appropriate cocktail to drown your sorrows in these scary times: the Old-Fashioned Bail-Out. [via Bon Appétit]

Smitten Kitchen's mom's apple cake looks delicious. [via Smitten Kitchen]

And more apple desserts from Gourmet. [via Gourmet]

New York magazine's totally awesome food chart of food trends from the past 40 years. 2008 is so jamon iberico, guys. [via NYMag]

And on a totally unrelated note, here are some rocks that look like food. [via The Kitchn]

Thursday, October 2, 2008

my favorite fall dessert

Oven update (I know you've all been on the edge of your seats): the appliance repair guy came Monday morning, and of course, the oven turned on immediately. No tinkering necessary. Not even a slight delay. Unlike the dozen or so times I compulsively tried to turn it on over the weekend. I guess it's like when you're horribly sick for weeks and all of your symptoms suddenly disappear in the doctor's office waiting room. I have no idea what went wrong last weekend, but at least we have an oven again.

So that night, I immediately cranked it up to 350 degrees and baked the pumpkin custard that had been sitting in our fridge, calling my name since Saturday. This is truly one of my favorite desserts. But pumpkin seems odd to eat in the summer (at least to me), so I always wait until fall and make it at least once a month until the end of winter, when I'm just barely starting to get sick of it. It's that good. Some naysayers might assert that it's just pumpkin pie without the crust, but trust me—it's so, so good. Instead of just being slapped into a pie pan, the custard is baked in a water bath so it's all light and eggy and delicious. Plus, it travels well for holiday get-togethers and it's healthy enough that I don't feel bad about eating it for breakfast—if there are any leftovers.

Pumpkin custard
(Serves 6 people)
1 12. oz. can unsweetened pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie seasoning (or 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. ginger, 1/2 tsp. allspice)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
pinch salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Stir until smooth. Pour the mixture into a greased 9-inch baking dish. Place the dish inside a metal baking pan with raised sides (not a cookie sheet). Pour hot water into the baking pan (try not to splash the custard), filling the pan about halfway. Carefully place the water-filled pan inside the oven. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the custard is firm around the edges and slightly soft in the center when you test it with a knife. Remove the baking pan from the oven, then carefully lift the custard-filled baking dish out of the boiling water-filled pan. Let the custard cool a bit before serving, and refrigerate any leftovers. It is equally tasty at room temperature or cold, or served with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.


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